Los Altos High School,
Mountain View-Los Altos Union HS Dist.
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CALIFORNIA STATE STANDARDS ADDRESSED
English Language Arts/11/Listening and Speaking 1.9 Use research and analysis to justify strategies for gesture, movement, and vocalization, including dialect, pronunciation, and enunciation.
In this lessons, students will compare two similar (but actually very different) interviews. Both Stephen Colbert (on The Colbert Report) and Terry Gross (on NPR's Fresh Air) interviewed journalist Jose Antonio Vargas after he disclosed his status as an undocumented immigrant in a New York Times article. These interviews are very different, and while students are usually attracted by Colbert's style, they eventually see that Gross runs a much better interview.
Students will hone their interviewing skills by listening to examples. Generally, students can quickly learn how to write appropriate questions, take notes, and transcribe interviews. But the skill of getting their source to feel comfortable enough to open up and talk is much more difficult to master. This lesson will help them identify the skills that good interviewers use.
Students will be able to identify strategies that good interviewers use to get their sources to "open up."
- Access to the internet, and the ability to play sound files.
- Be sure to pre-screen the Colbert interview to make sure that you're comfortable with the language, and to pre-screen the NPR interview for length - it's 25 minutes long, and you'll certainly want to cut it down.
Anticipatory Set (Lead-in):
- Review basic interviewing skills: question writing. note taking. setting up appointments.
- Ask journalism students to describe the best and worst interviews they've ever conducted. Ask follow-up questions to get students to specify exactly what made these interviews good or bad.
Lesson Plan Procedure:
- Provide background information on Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize winnign journalist who "came out" as an undocumented immigrant via the New York Times in the summer of 2011. Many lauded his courage and politics, while others advocated his deportation.
- Play the Stephen Colbert interview, and instruct students to write down any ideas they find memorable. After the interview, ask students for their general responses, most of which will be positive because the clip is funny. Utlimately, the students should understand that Colbert does not allow his source to open up or speak his mind at all, and that this is indicative of a poor interview. But there's no need to press for this understanding just yet.
- Play the Terry Gross "Fresh Air" interview, and instruct students to write down any ideas they found memorable. After the interview, ask students for their general responses.
- Push students towards a deeper understanding of the two interviews with the following questions:
1. What are the most memorable parts of each interview? Who was talking during these parts (for the first interview, it'll likely be Colbert. During the second, it'll certainly be Vargas).
2. Who did most of the talking in each interview?
3. How do you think Vargas felt at the end of each interview?
4. Was the Colbert interview funny because of Colbert, or because of Vargas? What does that mean for the interview itself?
- As students begin to understand that as journalists, their goal should be an interview far more similar to Terry Gross than to Stephen Colbert, ask them to generalize how Gross does what she does. For example,
1. What sorts of questions does she ask? (mostly open-ended, but starts with just background information)
2. When does she interrupt her source? (for clarification only)
3. How does she ask for more information?
4. Does she ever seem to disagree with her source? How does she do so?
Closure (Reflect Anticipatory Set):
As closure, save a little face for Stephen Colbert by comparing the purposes of these interviews. Colbert's goal is to be funny, and he succeeds. But Terry Gross's goal is to provide information, and she succeeds equally well. This goal, of course, is far more inline with our goals as journalists, and thus is worthy of our study.
Finally, ask students to evaluate their good and bad interviews. How many of the skills displayed by Gross did they stumble across during that interview? And in the bad interview, how might these skills have helped them improve?
Assessments & notes
Plan for Independent Practice:
Students can engage in interviews for their assigned articles throughout the rest of the year in Journalism.
Assessment Based on Objectives:
Frequently, students are asked to engage in a self-reflection process for the interviews they conduct. They are also occasionally asked to review the recordings of their interviews with their editors and their adviser.