Here is another reason I think the Special Person interviews work so well: they allow students to create the picture of themselves that they want us to see. Interviews let students paint themselves the way they want to be perceived, rather than the way they have been known up till now. When students volunteer information about themselves they have something to live up to and this becomes a building block of community in the classroom.

The crucial, hidden storytelling skill that we develop in TPRS is a big part of this: No actor every looks bad in a story. Years of having fun asking stories while making student actors look good on the stage of the classroom creates a skill set in the teacher that does not let a kid be mocked or put down. They always come out on top. I may allow myself to appear inept, forgetful or awkward, but never a student.

In a similar vein, I never allow an interview to go south—there is no letting it deteriorate into something negative. There is something in every kid that is interesting, kind, admirable or amazing, and our job in the interviews is to find it. Students may not even realize it themselves, but if we earn their trust and keep asking the right kinds of questions (especially persistent follow-up questions) we can eventually tease it out of them.

In a good interview, a kid goes from an anonymous slacker to something amazing. What we coax out of them and then highlight to the class, gives kids a kind of superpower. We get to find out that underneath the meek, mild, unassuming exterior Clark Kent is actually Superman, or at least Pretty Darn Admirable Person. They share their secret with us and we begin to respect and admire them for it. And then they reciprocate that feeling. It is an upward spiral of grace and caring.

A skillful interview helps students to portray positive images of themselves and when they have established that, they step up their game to maintain that image. Once you get a certain percentage of the class moving in the direction of showing that they deserve the respect that has been given them in an interview, classroom management issues go way down. The trend goes from showing off and being rebellious, to listening, caring and cooperating.

Once they define who they are, their peers, without saying a word, challenge them to be the person that they said they are and want to be.

The process never ceases to amaze me, both in trust and in language development. The members of every class always starts off sharing cautiously, as is wise. At first the only information shared is of the basic job application kind: Name, rank and serial number. But as they see that everyone is listened to, that everyone is given attention and respect, the interviewees slowly begin to open up. And it happens to follow a helpful language acquisition arc: the first answers they share are simple, concrete, predictable and short. Then they move on to sharing activities that popular, safe and socially approved: cheerleading, football, volleyball, basketball. Still a limited vocabulary set, with a few helpful words we can naturally use like “team”, “game”, “to play”, “to win”, and “jersey”. After that less popular school activities begin to be mentioned: art, music, band, FFA, flag team. More varied vocabulary begins to emerge. Once it is seen that no one is mocked or put down, the floodgates begin to slowly open. We find out fascinating things about their interests, activities, skills, hopes, histories and goals. And the language follows.

I believe that if you are developing your TPRS questioning skills as well as your interpersonal skills, this social and language powerhouse will work for you and your students. Let us know how it goes.