When I first published The Craft of Ritual Studies, my son, as a joke, counted the number of questions in the book.

I was a curious kid who became an academic, so I’ve made a virtue out of what many consider a vice, asking way too many questions. Now that question-asking has become a “thing,” I have to step back and take a second look. 

My wife and I complain about people who don’t ask questions. You tell a story. It reminds them of something, so they tell another. Story-chains are fine, but we wish people would sometimes ask us perceptive questions.

Below are question-sets written by others.

Great Questions

by StoryCorps

© 2003-2017 StoryCorps, Inc.

Here are some of our suggestions for getting a good conversation going. We encourage you to use the ones you like and to come up with your own. This list is in no particular order. Choose one of the categories below, or scroll through and read them all.


  • Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
  • What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  • Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What is your favorite memory of me?
  • Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
  • Are there any funny stories or memories or characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
  • What are you proudest of?
  • When in life have you felt most alone?
  • If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What does your future hold?
  • What are your hopes for what the future holds for me? For my children?
  • If this was to be our very last conversation, is there anything you’d want to say to me
  • For your great great grandchildren listening to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
  • Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?


  • If you could interview anyone from your life living or dead, but not a celebrity, who would it be and why?
  • What is your first memory of me?
  • Was there a time when you didn’t like me?
  • What makes us such good friends?
  • How would you describe me? How would you describe yourself?
  • Where will we be in 10 years? 20 years?
  • Do you think we’ll ever lose touch with each other?
  • Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to tell me but haven’t?


  • Where did you grow up?
  • What was your childhood like?
  • Who were your favorite relatives?
  • Do you remember any of the stories they used to tell you?
  • How did you and grandma/grandpa meet?
  • What was my mom/dad like growing up?
  • Do you remember any songs that you used to sing to her/him? Can you sing them now?
  • Was she/he well-behaved?
  • What is the worst thing she/he ever did?
  • What were your parents like?
  • What were your grandparents like?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Are you proud of me?


  • When did you first find out that you’d be a parent? How did you feel?
  • Can you describe the moment when you saw your child for the first time?
  • How has being a parent changed you?
  • What are your dreams for your children?
  • Do you remember when your last child left home for good?
  • Do you have any favorite stories about your kids?


  • Do you remember what was going through your head when you first saw me?
  • How did you choose my name?
  • What was I like as a baby? As a young child?
  • Do you remember any of the songs you used to sing to me? Can you sing them now?
  • What were my siblings like?
  • What were the hardest moments you had when I was growing up?
  • If you could do everything again, would you raise me differently?
  • What advice would you give me about raising my own kids?
  • What are your dreams for me?
  • How did you meet mom/dad?
  • Are you proud of me?


  • When and where were you born?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What was it like?
  • Who were your parents?
  • What were your parents like?
  • How was your relationship with your parents?
  • Did you get into trouble? What was the worst thing you did?
  • Do you have any siblings? What were they like growing up?
  • What did you look like?
  • How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
  • What is your best memory of childhood? Worst?
  • Did you have a nickname? How’d you get it?
  • Who were your best friends? What were they like?
  • How would you describe a perfect day when you were young?
  • What did you think your life would be like when you were older?
  • Do you have any favorite stories from your childhood?


  • Did you enjoy school?
  • What kind of student were you?
  • What would you do for fun?
  • How would your classmates remember you?
  • Are you still friends with anyone from that time in your life?
  • What are your best memories of grade school/high school/college/graduate school? Worst memories?
  • Was there a teacher or teachers who had a particularly strong influence on your life? Tell me about them.
  • Do you have any favorite stories from school?


  • When and why did you decide to become a teacher?
  • Tell me about your first day as a teacher.
  • How is teaching different from how you imagined it to be?
  • Tell me about a time when teaching made you feel hopeful.
  • What are the most challenging and/or funniest moments you’ve experienced in the classroom?
  • How would you like your students to remember you?
  • Was there a teacher or teachers who had a particularly strong influence on your life? What did you learn about teaching from them?
  • Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself in your first year of teaching?


  • Do you have a love of your life?
  • When did you first fall in love?
  • Can you tell me about your first kiss?
  • What was your first serious relationship?
  • Do you believe in love at first sight?
  • Do you ever think about previous lovers?
  • What lessons have you learned from your relationships?


  • How did you meet your husband/wife?
  • How did you know he/she was “the one”?
  • How did you propose?
  • What were the best times? The most difficult times?
  • Did you ever think of getting divorced?
  • Did you ever get divorced? Can you tell me about it?
  • What advice do you have for young couples?
  • Do you have any favorite stories from your marriage or about your husband/wife?


  • What do you do for a living?
  • Tell me about how you got into your line of work.
  • Do you like your job?
  • What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What lessons has your work life taught you?
  • If you could do anything now, what would you do? Why?
  • Do you plan on retiring? If so, when? How do you feel about it?
  • Do you have any favorite stories from your work life?


  • Can you tell me about your religious beliefs/spiritual beliefs? What is your religion?
  • Have you experienced any miracles?
  • What was the most profound spiritual moment of your life?
  • Do you believe in God?
  • Do you believe in the after-life? What do you think it will be like?
  • When you meet God, what do you want to say to Him?


  • Can you tell me about your illness?
  • Do you think about dying? Are you scared?
  • How do you imagine your death?
  • Do you believe in an after-life?
  • Do you regret anything?
  • Do you look at your life differently now than before you were diagnosed?
  • Do you have any last wishes?
  • If you were to give advice to me or my children, or even children to come in our family, what would it be?
  • What have you learned from life? The most important things?
  • Has this illness changed you? What have you learned?
  • How do you want to be remembered?


  • What is your ethnic background?
  • Where is your mom’s family from? Where is your dad’s family from?
  • Have you ever been there? What was that experience like?
  • What traditions have been passed down in your family?
  • Who were your favorite relatives?
  • Do you remember any of the stories they used to tell you?
  • What are the classic family stories? Jokes? Songs?


  • When were you drafted or when did you enlist?
  • What do you remember about the day you enlisted?
  • How did you tell your family and friends that you were joining the military? Are there any conversations that stand out from that time?
  • If you enlisted, what were some of the reasons that you joined the military? How did you choose your branch of service?
  • How did you imagine military life before you joined? How did your perceptions change after serving?
  • What was basic training like?
  • Can you describe a funny moment from boot camp?
  • What are some of the things you remember about adapting to military life?
  • Where did you serve during the war?
  • If you deployed overseas, how did you tell your loved ones you were being deployed?
  • How did you stay in touch with family and friends back home?
  • What are some things you remember most about your deployment?
  • If you saw multiple deployments, how did they differ from each other? How did you change?
  • Can you describe how you felt coming home from combat?
  • Was there anything you especially missed about civilian life?
  • Is there someone you served with that you remember fondly? Can you tell me about him/her?
  • What are some fun things you and your friends did together while you were deployed?
  • Did any of your military friends play pranks on each other? Can you describe a funny one?
  • Did you ever get caught breaking any rules? Did you ever get away with something you weren’t supposed to do?
  • Did you ever learn something about a fellow service member that surprised you?
  • When did you leave the military? What was that process like?
  • What were your first few months out of the service like?
  • Was there anything or anyone that helped you during the transition from military to civilian life?
  • Do you have advice for others transitioning out of the military?
  • How do you think your time in the military affected you?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What are some of your hopes for the future?
  • What phrase or word will never be the same now that you served?
  • When you were first discharged, what are some things about civilians that were difficult for you to deal with?
  • Is there anything you wish civilians understood about military service?
  • What are some habits you developed in the service that you like? What are some that you dislike?
  • What are some things you miss about being in the service? What are some you are glad to have left behind?
  • What has been difficult to communicate to family and friends about your military service?
  • Do you have advice for other military couples?
  • If you have children, what do you want them to know about your military service?
  • Remembering the Fallen: What was your relationship to _______?
  • Remembering the Fallen: Tell me about _______.
  • Remembering the Fallen: What did _______ look like?
  • Remembering the Fallen: What is one of your favorite memories of _______?
  • Remembering the Fallen: How did you find out about _______’s death?
  • Remembering the Fallen: What has helped you most in your grief?
  • Remembering the Fallen: Do you have any traditions to honor _______?
  • Remembering the Fallen: Do you have any funny stories about the two of you together?


  • What was your relationship to _____?
  • Tell me about _____.
  • What is your first memory of _____?
  • What is your best memory of _____?
  • What is your most vivid memory of _____?
  • What did _____ mean to you?
  • Are you comfortable/ can you talk about _____’s death? How did _____ die?
  • What has been the hardest thing about losing _____?
  • What would you ask _____ if _____ were here today?
  • What do you miss most about _____?
  • How do you think _____ would want to be remembered?
  • Can you talk about the biggest obstacles _____ overcame in life?
  • Was there anything you and _____ disagreed about, fought over, or experienced some conflict around?
  • What about _____ makes you smile?
  • What was your relationship like?
  • What did _____ look like?
  • Did you have any favorite jokes _____ used to tell?
  • Do you have any stories you want to share about _____?
  • What were _____’s hopes and dreams for the future?
  • Is there something about _____ that you think no one else knows?
  • How are you different now than you were before you lost _____?
  • What is the image of _____ that persists?
  • Do you have any traditions to honor _____?
  • What has helped you the most in your grief?
  • What are the hardest times?

Our stories tell us who we are

Steve Otto

Originally published in The Healing Heart Communities

Edited by Allison M. Cox and David H. Albert. New Society Publishers: Gabriola Island, B.C. 2003

This list can be revised and expanded to meet the cultural and age differences of the specific audiences. Making the list appropriate to the group will be pivotal to the success of your program. The best stories are those that happened to each of us! Remember when you used to walk three miles to school . . . Uphill both ways . . . With snowdrifts over your head? . . . Barefoot . . . ? Well, sometimes our memories are better that way. Let’s go back in our memories and pick up some of those stories of events that made us what we are today.

  • Did you use outdoor privies?
  • Did your house have central heating?
  • On what kind of stove did your mother cook?
  • Did you always have electricity? What happened when you got it?
  • What other things do you remember about your home?
  1. FOOD
  • What was your favourite food? Why?
  • What was your least favourite food? Why? Did you have to eat it anyway?
  • Do you remember any special meal? Birthday, holiday, special day?
  • Where did you eat meals? Did all the family eat together?
  • Did you keep your food in a refrigerator, icebox, cellar?
  • Were you sick a lot? What happened?
  • Do you remember having your tonsils out?
  • Did you have a favorite doctor? Did he make house calls?
  • Did you or a sibling almost die? What happened?
  • What drugs did you take?
  • Did your parents make home remedies for you?
  • Can you remember a time you got sick at a very inconvenient moment?
  • Do you remember your first car? How much did it cost?
  • How much was gas? How long did the tires last?
  • Did you ever take a long trip?
  • Did your car have a heater? Air conditioner?
  • Do you remember learning to drive? The first time you took the car out by yourself?
  • Did you ever have an accident that you didn’t tell your folks about?
  • If you didn’t have a car, how did you get around? What did you do?
  • Can you remember a trip that you would NOT want to take again?
  • What kind of people were your parents?
  • How many children were in your family?
  • Did you play jokes on each other?
  • Did you have responsibilities at home?
  • What were some of the happy times you had?
  • What was the saddest time?
  • Did you do things together?
  • Did you fight with your siblings?
  • Do you remember something you did that you never told your parents? Did they find out?
  • Can you remember a time you got in trouble for something you had already been told not to


  • What did you do for entertainment?
  • Did kicks in your neighborhood play Kick the Can or Hide and Seek?
  • Do you remember the days of radio? Did you have a crystal set? What programs do you remember?
  • Did you play cards? Dominoes? What else?
  • Was going to the movies a big event?
  • Did you ever get caught sneaking into a movie or event?
  • The day the stock market crashed?
  • On V-J day?
  • When the Korean War began?
  • The day Kennedy was shot?
  • The day the first man landed on the moon?
  • Your birthday? Did you have a cake?
  • Christmas? Hanukkah?
  • What presents did you get? Did you ever have a holiday or birthday where you didn’t get anything, or thought you wouldn’t?
  • Did you celebrate any other religious or seasonal holidays?
  • Do you remember your favourite toy?
  • When did you get your first bicycle?
  • Were your toys handmade?
  • Do you remember losing something special?
  • What was your favourite gift?
  • What did you wear?
  • When did you realize that clothes were “important”?
  • Did you have a favourite outfit?
  • How much did clothes cost?
  • Did you stand in the shoe store and x-ray your feet?
  • When was your first date?
  • Did anything funny happen?
  • Do you remember your first kiss?
  • Did you marry him/her?
  • Can you remember the names of high school dates? What happened to them?
  • What did you on dates?
  • Where did you go?
  • Do you remember the marriage proposal? Who proposed?
  • What happened at your wedding?
  • Where did you go on you honeymoon? Did anything funny or bad happen?
  • What were the hardest times during you marriage?
  • What things do (did) you like best about your spouse? Least?
  • Where did you live when you got married? What did you eat?
  • What was your first job? How much did it pay? What did you do?
  • What was your first full-time job? Would you do it again?
  • Tell about your boss. What kind of person was he/she? Do you think that your boss was as good/bad now as you did then?
  • Did you change jobs? Why?
  • Did you ever have to work hard physically? Were you ever hurt on the job? What happened?
  • Do you remember the time when you got locked out when you needed to be somewhere?
  • Do you remember when your first impression of someone turned out to be completely wrong?
  • Do you remember when you learned something from your children?
  • Do you remember a time when you were lied to or tricked?
  • Do you remember a time when you almost won, but not quite?
  • Did you enlist or were you drafted? Why? What service?
  • Do you remember experiences of basic training or boot camp?
  • Was this your first time away from home?
  • Do you remember your First Seargent, etc?
  • What was your barracks like?
  • Were you shipped out to go overseas? Where did you go? How did you go?
  • Were you in battle? Tell about the experience. Were you afraid?
  • Did you lose friends? How did you cope with the experience?
  • Were you married at the time? What did your wife/husband do?
  • If you were left at home, what did you do? Letters, jobs, children?
  • In retrospect, was this good for you? What did you learn?