A Friends of Outdoor School project


To submit a written story, click here.

1. Pick a Storyteller

Start by deciding whom you want to interview. A friend?  A relative? An Outdoor School counselor? People may be reluctant to participate; that is normal. You can emphasize how important that person’s story is and how you think it is worth archiving. Let your storyteller know how much you appreciate them!

2. Create a List of Questions

Preparing your questions ahead of time is essential; it will greatly improve the quality of your interview. Think about your aims as a story collector. What are you trying to learn? With these things in mind, make a list of 5 questions (more if you'd like). Also, if the interview is about a loved on who went to Outdoor School, modify the questions below. Here are some examples:

  • What did you learn at Outdoor School?
  • How did Outdoor School impact you (or change your life)?
  • Before today, when did you last think of your time at Outdoor School? What triggered that memory?
  • How nervous were you before the trip?
  • Looking back, how would your life have been different without Outdoor School?
  • Where is your wood cookie now? What other items are with it?

The most important thing about crafting your questions: make sure the answer has to be more than just 'Yes' or 'No.' With a video camera in front of them, interviewees will often give a one-word answer, if possible. 

3. Gather Equipment

The recording equipment can be as simple as a smart phone.

If collecting stories is your passion, you can find both very basic and very complex (and everything in between) by doing some research online. Do you have a friend or family member with recording equipment? Ask to borrow it or, better yet, ask them to assist you.

But whatever recording equipment you choose, it is a good idea to practice with it before your interview.

Many people will be using their phones to record the interview. We recommend video. Here are some tips:

  • Hold the phone in landscape orientation -- so that it looks like a TV or computer screen
  • Make sure your hand isn't over the built-in microphone
  • If possible, prevent the main light source from being behind the teller
  • If possible, use a tripod or stand

4. Choose a Location

Pick the quietest place available.

Ideally, choose a carpeted room where you can turn the volume off on any device that is making noise and control the lighting. Hang signs on the doors that remind people that an interview is in progress. 

Too often, the ideal location may not be available to you. Or, the environmental context is essential to your interview. In these situations:

  • Choose the quietist spot available
  • Be prepared to pause the interview if things get too loud. Talking about this in advance can help things go more smoothly.

5. Begin the Conversation

Start the interview by stating your name, the date, and the location of the interview. For example, “My name is Gavin Mahaley. The date is June 17, 2016. Location: Portland, Oregon” Then ask your storyteller to state their name and spell it.

The questions you prepared in advance are there to support you. Choose your first question; any question! Go with what feels right at the moment. Stories are best when fluid. If something interests you, ask to hear more, but avoid talking while your storyteller is talking -- that includes saying “uh huh” or "yes." Instead, nod your head and smile to encourage the storyteller to keep going.

6. Keep it Going

  • Listen closely and take notes for follow-up questions.
  • Look your storyteller in the eyes. Nod your head. Smile. Stay engaged.
  • Stick with the topics you are excited about. Politely steer the conversation back, if it starts to wander.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask emotional questions. “How did that make you feel?” often generates an interesting response. 
  • If the teller doesn't want to talk about something, move on.
  • Be curious and great stories reveal themselves.

7. Time to Stop

Ask the storyteller if there is anything else that he or she wants to add. Then, thank them! Ppening up can be difficult, especially when being recorded. Let them know that it was an honor to collect to their story.

Don't forget to stop your recording.

8. Preserve and Share the Conversation

If you are interested in collecting stories for more than just Outdoor School, you might want to start your own archive or YouTube channel. Audio files are pretty small, usually, but video can take a lot of space on your computer. Depending on your setup, there are lots of easy ways to edit and upload video to YouTube, even from your phone.