For Educators

Teacher Resources – Classroom Tips


Interviewing is a strategy that most students enjoy. It is interactive, builds connection, sharpens communication skills, and requires students to think on their feet. Because most students are familiar with interviews on television and radio news and talk shows, interviewing also seems like a mature, real-world thing to do.

Interviewing is a great way for students to…

  • get information; learn something new
  • make history come alive
  • understand a point of view other than one’s own
  • build connections with another person
  • appreciate diversity in people’s experiences, feelings, and ideas

Interviewing is a useful technique when you…

  • want more than just a short answer
  • are interested in details and personal experiences
  • hope to find insight and surprises

To help students gain experience interviewing, it can be helpful to begin by inviting a guest to class to give a presentation with a Q & A afterwards. Using the Interview Planning Sheet and Tips for Interviewing handouts as guides, work with the class ahead of time to think about what they would like to know and prepare some questions in advance. If possible, arrange to videotape the session so the class can critique it afterwards.

Students can also practice with each other. The class can develop four or five questions (e.g., about hobbies, preferences, personal history, culture). Students can then work in pairs to interview each other.

Interviewing family members is also a good way for beginning interviewers to develop their skills. Such interviews are a low-key, enjoyable form of homework that can build home-school connections.


Surveys and polls provide another way for students to find out about people’s attitudes, beliefs, opinions, behaviors, and experiences. They don’t yield as much information as an interview, but the information is both simpler and more consistent — everyone gives the same information, or data. That means students can analyze the data mathematically.

Surveys and polls are similar, but they differ in scope.

A survey can have many questions.

  • For instance, a survey on bullying at school would have many questions to help determine how many students experience bullying, how serious or hurtful it is, where it happens, how students feel about it, and what they think should be done about it.

A poll is limited to one question. The question can have two or more possible answers. For instance, a poll might ask:

  • which of two people you’d rather vote for ( 2 possible answers);
  • out of four brands of chocolate ice cream, which you think is best (4 possible answers);
  • how you get to and from school most days (many possible answers).

For the youngest students, simple polls provide experience in gathering information, tabulating it, and representing it visually. A classroom birth month chart or a graph of favorite foods is a good start for children in the early grades. As students mature and become more aware of the larger world and more cognizant of multiple perspectives, they can use surveys and polls to probe opinions, explore issues, and more fully and accurately describe themselves, their classmates, their school, and the larger community. Questions of justice and fairness and decisions that affect their lives are of great interest to older elementary students, while middle school and high school students broaden their scope to include complex ethical issues as well as national and global politics and policies. Help students understand how to get the most from surveys and polls with the student handout Using Surveys and Polls.


Civil debate and discussion are essential to the development of responsible citizenship in a democratic society. Through these dialogic processes, students form and express their own opinions and philosophies and test them against the opinions and philosophies of others. They also learn to disagree respectfully and to value diversity of thought.

Collaborative Debate
Debate in its usual formal sense is a highly structured and essentially adversarial process. The type of debate presented here is less formal and more collaborative. The steps follow this format:

  • Choose and state the issue to be debated. This usually takes the form of a simple, clear statement that one can either oppose or support; e.g., “.Our school should adopt a uniform dress code.”
  • Divide students into groups of 4 or 5, assigning two in each group to the pro position and the others to the con position. Emphasize that the position to which students are assigned does not necessarily reflect their own personal opinion.
  • Students on the same side (pro or con) work in pairs or small groups to do research, seeking information and examples to support their assigned position. Students take notes on their research.
  • Students rejoin their debate groups. Each side presents its most compelling arguments in favor of its position. The other side takes notes while practicing active listening skills.
  • Each side presents the points made by the other side, who confirm whether they were properly understood.
  • Five to ten minutes of open discussion follow.
  • Finally, working individually, students prepare a summary chart with two columns: “Main Arguments in Support of…” and “Main Arguments in Opposition to…” Using the notes they took during their readings and while listening to others in their small groups, students fill in this chart.

For a different and more sophisticated form of collaborative debate, look at the materials on “academic controversy” in the lesson plans for the WIDE ANGLE program on the PBS Web site,

For younger students, who are unlikely to grasp the idea of advocating an idea you don’t agree with, this type of debate could be adapted as a whole-class exercise in which everyone together does the research and fills in the chart with both pros and cons.

Collaborative Discussion
Over the past 20-some years, there has been growing recognition that in order to develop language, thinking, and problem-solving skills, students have to talk to each other. When moral and ethical issues are involved, clearly dialogue is essential, and the old model in which the teacher talks and the students listen is counterproductive.

Here are some tips for encouraging collaborative discussion, with high participation by all students:

  • Do lots of brainstorming. In brainstorming, ideas are called out as fast as the recorder can write them down, without hand-raising. This frees up ideas and at the same time resists chaos, since the process is naturally limited by the speed at which the recorder writes.
  • Before posing a question to the group, direct them not to speak or raise their hands, but to think in their minds how they would answer. Then direct students to turn to someone sitting near them and exchange answers. Finally, ask for a few answers from the group. For each one offered, ask: “Did anyone else have that idea?” and acknowledge those who raise their hands.
  • Pose a question or topic and then have students discuss it in small groups. Ask that within each group, each student in turn will speak in uninterrupted time for about a minute while the others just listen. When everyone has had a turn to speak in this way, groups can engage in free-flowing discussion for about 5 minutes. To end, someone from each group can report out on the general tone of their discussion and the points that were raised, without divulging any one person’s opinions.
  • Encourage students themselves to formulate and discuss their own questions.