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off-camera reporter: One who gathers news for television but does not report on the air. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Getting to the bottom of the Ebola virus while learning interviewing skills

Mitzi Wilson of Elyria High School in Ohio teaches journalism and advises the school newspaper, The Herald.

Mitzi Wilson
Elyria High School
Elyria, Ohio

Title: Getting to the bottom of the Ebola virus while learning interviewing skills

NCTE Standards:
Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge. Students use spoken and written language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information). Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

Generative Objects:
Students will be able to develop and ask open-ended questions when interviewing to obtain information for articles. Students will develop listening skills to capture important information and quotes for their stories. Students will be able to grow more comfortable conversing with interview subjects. Students will shift through information to write compelling articles.

Essential questions:

  • What is an interview?
  • Why do we interview?
  • What is a news story?
  • What is an open-ended question?
  • What is a close-ended question?
  • Which is better? Why?

Critical engagement questions:

  • What makes a "good" question?
  • Give some examples of good questions.
  • What makes a news story newsworthy?

Performance of Understanding, Rationale and Timeline:

Students will practice writing open-ended questions prior to interviewing subjects. Additionally, they will have to listen carefully, learn to think on their feet and conduct a conversation with the subjects in order to write a good news story. Chances are that most students will never have heard of the Ebola virus and will have to do some research in addition to their interviews. Class time should run two to three 45-minute sessions.


  • Activity 1 – Read Chapter 5 in Journalism Today text. Discuss the various open-ended and close-ended questions. Discuss preparing for an interview. Give examples of “good” questions. For practice, complete worksheet in the Journalism Today workbook on interviewing.
  • Activity 2 – Tell students that they are going to be conducting various interviews of people who were involved in witnessing the “death” of Charles Monet, the central character in the role-play. They will have to be prepared to write about their findings after interviewing all the characters. Most likely, they will not have heard about the Ebola virus and therefore need to be prepare accordingly. Tell students to prepare interview questions for the story. They will be interviewing seven different subjects, so they need to prepare lots of questions!
  • Activity 3 – Prepare seven students to role play from the handout (See role playing attachment.) Give students only their character and encourage them to be creative in filling in any blanks that aren’t provided in the role-play sheet.
  • Activity 4 – Students should research background information on the Ebola virus, such as where it started, what it is, is there a cure, etc. These sources should be cited in their stories. Have students research three sources on the Internet and write down their notes.


Students will turn in their interview questions and responses. They will also hand in their drafts, research notes and a finished article. Articles will be based on their compelling ability to draw out information from their subjects and their finished article. Articles should include multiple sources from interview subjects and research.


  • Preston, Richard, The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story. New York: Random House, 1994.
  • Ferguson, Patten, Wilson. "Making the Interview Work." Journalism Today. New York: McGraw, 2005. 98-113.

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