What is a conversation? Why do we talk to other people? Sometimes we want to tell someone something:

I’m hot.

You’re very attractive.

These pretzels are making me thirst.

And at other times we want to find out something from someone else:

How are you?

What do you think about my new brown, corduroy trousers?

What’s your favourite Seinfeld quote?

A conversation is an exchange of information. At the core there is a simple question/answer format. It’s this fundamental aspect of natural conversation that we can practice in the classroom with Interview Activities.

The Basic Version

Interviews can be used in a number of different ways. The most basic way is to give students one question, show them how it should be answered (if it’s their first time to practice this grammar) and just get them up and trying it. I find it helps to give them a bit of time before starting the activity to think about or even write down their own answer so they’re ready and confident to go. I often give them a target such as “Ask four other students then sit down” or “You have two minutes, ask as many people as possible.”

This kind of interview activity works perfectly as a quick warm up. It usually takes less than ten minutes to do. It can also be a good warm down for the end of the lesson, perhaps as a way of reviewing vocabulary taught during the lesson. Or you can try it as both. For example, start the lesson with everyone asking each other “What’s your favourite movie?”, go on to teaching adjectives and descriptions, then end with the same interview but tag on “Why?”. This way the lesson comes full circle and the application of the lesson’s topic is totally clear.

BINGO!

Another common way to utilize the Interview is in a game of bingo. It’s a simple game that nearly all students know already and can be easily explained via a large diagram on the board. Put a different question in each box of the bingo grid then set the students off on their quest. Once a question is answered the interviewee signs their name in the corresponding box on the interviewer’s sheet. Three signatures in a row means “BINGO!”

I used this in a 1st grade Junior School lesson. (Note the clear example at the top.)
I used this in a 1st grade Junior School lesson.  (Note the clear example at the top.)

For lower level and younger classes, around first and second grade Junior High for example, the Bingo Interview can be used as a final production activity where students use the grammar and vocab they’ve been practising throughout the lesson. In older and more advanced classes it works a bit better as a warm up or practice activity. To level up the activity don’t give them all of the questions pre-prepared, let them make or complete their own questions. And if you want to really challenge the class, give them a grid filled with answers instead of questions (such as randomly placed “Yes, I do.”/“No, I don’t.”s) and challenge them to make questions up on the fly.

Interview: the card game

Particularly at the early stages of learning a language it’s important to provide students with the answers to let them practice the grammatical formulae as well as pronunciation. One way I like to do this with an Interview Activity is via a multitude of dialogue cards. For example, if a class is learning the present continuous tense a basic Q/A format could be “What are you doing?”/“I’m _____ing _____”. To make the interview card game to practise this I would put an assortment of appropriate Object words (TV, baseball, English, pizza, etc.) on to some small pieces of paper and make a ton of copies. In class I would dump this mound of paper squares onto a desk at the front of the class and tell students to come up and to each take any three cards. Students then have to wander around the class and play Rock, Paper, Scissors with each other (this is called Janken in Japanese). The winner asks the model question “What are you doing?” and the loser chooses one of his own card and makes a sentence such as “I’m watching TV.” before handing that card over to the winner. The aim of the game is to collect as many cards as possible in the allotted time. If a student runs out of cards then they should come up to the teacher and ask for more (yeah, make a LOT of cards!) The best way to explain this activity is with two or three examples done with the students themselves.

For a lower level class this can be used as a production activity but I generally use it as a practice or review activity. It’s a good way to refresh students on relevant vocabulary.

Pre-cursor to Writing

In the real world, Interviews are primarily used as ways to gather information. This can also be done in the classroom. Have students record the answers they receive from their questioning. This information can then be fed into a subsequent writing activity. As an example, if the topic was comparatives and superlatives the lesson could begin with everyone conducting a survey to find the height of different people in the room. Using this data they could then form sentences comparing their classmates, such as “Kenta is taller than Mei.” or “Shin is the shortest.”. This could then be fed back again into a speaking section where all students present their findings to their groups or a few students present to the whole class.

This approach is affective in the latter days of Junior High and up. If enough thought goes into planning it’s possible to make an entire lesson plan that feeds off of the information garnered from that initial interview.

Interview Activities Rock!

I use interviews fairly regularly, and have done so in all the levels I’ve taught at. In Elementary it’s important to remember that there’s no reading or writing going on (at least it’s not commonplace yet …) so I’ve only ever really used the basic interview form or the card game with pictures on the cards. The amount of writing and dialogue complexity increases further up the grades.

Whatever way one chooses to implement an Interview Activity they can be a highly productive cornerstone to many kinds of lessons.

How often do you use Interview Activities in your class? What approaches do you use? Let us know in the comments then Like, Tweet and Share.

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2 thoughts on “Interview Activities

  1. Thank you for the card game. I used it this week, and it’s pretty versatile for practicing different structures. It’s great for getting students moving around and practicing with many different partners.

    An interview activity I have done is a yes/no tree. Before/after a school holiday you can ask a range of yes/no questions, such as ‘Will you play sports?’ The students follow their partners’ answers down the tree until they reach the end branch, which then tells them how their vacation sounds, e.g. ‘Your vacation sounds relaxing!’ A level-up would be to ask a follow-up question to any ‘yes’ answers, e.g. ‘What sports will you play?’ Surprisingly, some students are audibly entertained when they hear the end result! I guess simplicity can prevail sometimes!

  2. Thanks man, glad you liked it!

    I love the yes/no tree idea! That sounds really cool. I know what you mean about simplicity being effective. The most active part of the lesson I did yesterday was just about finding the names of insects and listing their attributes. It was actually kinda tough getting them to move on to the next part of the lesson!
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