YES or NO. Copyright Martin Rhomberg
YES or NO. Copyright Martin Rhomberg

Popular TV programs with historical topics often consist of interviews with contemporary witnesses to recent events. Biographies containing life stories of famous and unknown people often head the bestseller lists. In the news, interviews are the order of the day. Universities host seminars about oral history research; archives, libraries and museums conduct more and more interview projects. There is something that touches us, when other people tell their stories.

The broad field of professional education offers a great many possibilities to use the actual experience of people, so that lessons will be enriched. The article at hand will outline clearly how to plan, conduct and present such a project, such a teaching unit.

Concerning the interaction between people, conducting interviews is a good method to show course participants, pupils and students, that they cannot find everything in books or on the Internet. Lots of information on practical things, manual skills or even on the general past, derives from life experience and is only to be found in people’s minds and memories.

Course participants or trainees themselves gather knowledge actively, evaluate it, sum it up and present it.

Often it isn’t the topic alone, but also the method that is interesting. I recall a most impressive seminar with nurses. All of them worked in the geriatric care area and were extremely interested in how to conduct conversations with elderly people about their personal history. In their experience it calmed new-arrivals to relate their own life story, offered them safety and demonstrated interest in their person.


Author: Mag. Werner Matt, Stadtarchiv Dornbirn, Marktplatz 11, A-6850
Dornbirn, Austria. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Homepage:


Don't Plan. Copyright Martin Rhomberg
Don't Plan. Copyright Martin Rhomberg

The task is to plan an oral history project and to present your design.

Prepare a presentation to show your work as a team.


The presentation should cover these topics:

a. Phrase the project topic.

b. Define the target group.

c. Which questions should be asked?

d. What equipment do you need?

e. Name possible partners and their contribution

f. How will you present the interviews?

g. What’s happening with the interviews after the presentation?


Don't make appointments. Copyright Martin Rhomberg
Don't make appointments. Copyright Martin Rhomberg

You should work in groups of three or four for this task.

1. Before you start, let’s play! Role play is a good training for
beginners. Assume both roles as an interviewer and as an interviewee – how did
it feel? Make a short interview about being a teenager.

  • How was the greeting?
  • Did everybody feel comfortable?
  • Was the project introduced sufficiently?
  • Was there any information about further use of the

2. Start planning the project:

a. Phrase the project topic as simple and as memorable, as if you were writing the headline of a newspaper article. That will help you with preparation, contact and interview as well as the presentation of the project.

b. Concept, project outline, milestone plan, deadline list, script… there are many labels for the plan of procedures, assignment of tasks within the project. But you already have to know during planning phase whether you want to present the interviews within an exhibition on open day at college or want to publish it in the local newspaper as a little series. The end results influence the approach!

c. The most important questions are: What is our aim? How do we want to achieve it? And who does what and when?

d. Define suitable interview partners. Are family members desired, do we want to select only entirely unknown people – or perhaps a mixture? The smaller the target group, the more exotic the topic, the more difficult it becomes to find suitable interview partners. Don’t hesitate to address the appropriate institutions regarding this challenge, as already mentioned above, or even take out a small ad. Often these institutions, employed with their particular topic, can provide suitable interviewees. Or you can enquire of the associations that are employed with the wanted group, and offer recreational programs for them.

e. How old, how young are they? Are interview, topic, and method of conducting it, befitting the age, state of health or the particular religious or social group?

f. What kind of interview technique do you want to use? There are interviews composed of only three questions, there are guided interviews, interviews focussing on one topic, personal history interviews… The choice of method depends on the topic, on who is in the task group and the desired result. The more eloquent your interviewer is, the more open an interview style can be chosen. If your trainees, pupils or students need more support, then you should choose a predetermined list of questions. This lends more structure to the interview, and it also enables the interviewer to concentrate on the interviewee. Otherwise it is very likely that the interviewer is thinking about the next question rather than listening to the answer.

g. What recording technique do you want to use? Some take notes during the interview to be able to complete the interview from memory afterwards. You can also send the questions and answers in written form if the interview partners live far from each other. But in most cases the best way to record an interview is to use a recording device. Technological progress has been remarkable over the past years concerning recorders. Many of the digital devices that we use in everyday life – the mobile phone for example – come with a recording option. Some of them can even create small videos, so that it’s possible to get a sound and vision recording of the interview.

3. Create a presentation covering these questions and present it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Working in a team
  • Covering all the topics listed on the webquests
  • Using technical equipment thats fits the selected interview technique
  • Adapting own behavior and approach to the target group, situation and body language of the interviewee
  • Answering any question in a confident way

Knowledge acquired

  • Basic knowledge of the steps necessary to create a presentation
  • Fundamental knowledge of team work rules and concepts
  • Fundamental knowledge of communication concepts, including active listening and body language
  • Fundamental knowlege of the concept of Oral History
  • Fundamental knowlege on how to conduct conversations and interview styles
  • Fundamental knowledge on role play techniques

Skills acquired

  • Define suitable interview partners
  • Select the interview technique and equipment to use based on the format of the end result (exhibition or article)
  • Take the necessary steps to create a presenation
  • Work in a small group to handle an assigned task
  • Conduct an interview assuring that the interviewee feels comfortable during the process
  • Plan, conduct and present an interview project

Competences acquired

  • Perceive an interview as a good method to gather information they cannot find in books or in the internet
  • Work in a team, assuming a specivic role and sharing the responsibility of decisions taken
  • Gather knowledge actively, evaluate it, sum it up and present it
  • Apply own behavior and approach to the target group, situation and body language of the interviewee


People have something to tell and the whole world is full of stories. If you decide to use the oral-history-method during lessons or for projects, then you have decided on a very lively method.