Dos and Dont's of Life Story Interviews

Dos and Dont's of Life Story Interviews

This is an exercise suitable for anyone who wants to learn how to be an effective interviewer. It is adapted from the Open University's Free on-line learning materials which I co-authored.

Activity Title

Dos and Donts of Life Story Interviewing


To explore how to be an effective life story interviewer

Learning Outcome

Students generate a list of Interviewing Dos and Donts; and develop basic interview skills

Time required

60 minutes


Interview with James Lappin Video 1

Interview with Margaret Scally Video 1

Ideally one Tablet Computer for every 3 students


The videos, made in 1996, show interviews with residents of Lennox Castle, a Scottish Institution, both conducted by Howard Mitchell. Select short extracts from the two video interviews to show.

Ask students to observe Howard’s questioning style. What did he do well? What did he do less well? Did he use different techniques in the two interviews? What sort of questions worked best?

Make a list of interviewing Dos and Donts from the discussion.

Divide students into groups of 3. One to ask questions; one to respond; one to observe – and film with the Tablet if available. Allow 5 minutes for each role. Questioner’s brief is to ask the responder about their life as a child.

Debrief after each 5 minute role play. Ask the responder how it felt, what the questioner did well; what might s/he have done differently. Then ask the observer to do the same. If available, show the Tablet video of the interview.

Repeat so that everyone has a turn in each role.

Sum up the session by refining the list of Dos and Donts.

Ideas for follow up

Repeat the exercise, using a different topic, drawing on the revised Dos and Donts