Teaching with the Talk Show

Currently teaching Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle to my English 111 students, I needed a method which would not only involve the students, but also place them in the role of teacher.  After my morning class was practically mute while slumped in their chairs and hidden in their hoodies, I knew drastic measures needed to be taken.   Even after I passed out Hershey bars to instigate discussion (or a  sugar rush in the least) of Walls’ mother, Rose Mary, a woman guilty of nibbling on chocolate in secret while her children were starving, silence filled the room.   So, in an attempt to tempt lively discussion, I recalled reading Ellie Kemper’s “The Talk Show Circuit” lesson in Don’t Forget to Write.

Kemper, who plays Erin Hannon on NBC’s The Office and a contributor to The Onion and McSweeney’s, writes how she was once assigned an essay to write about a topic on which she was an expert.  A self-proclaimed “agonizer” over English papers, she came up with the idea of pretending she was a guest on David Letterman.

Adapting this idea for The Glass Castle, I put the students in pairs, with one being the host asking open-ended questions and the other being a character from the memoir.  What ensued far exceeded my expectations listed below:
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  1. The host must introduce his/her guest in a brief, yet accurate depiction. This includes name, profession, family, hobbies, interests, aspirations.
  2. The host must ask intriguing open-ended questions, questions which allow the audience a well-rounded view of the guest in question. Consider the entire memoir.
  3. The guest must answer questions thoroughly and accurately in full character. Consider using dialogue from the memoir.
  4. The host and guest must be able to correctly answer questions from the audience.

Engaged interviewing techniques were employed:  eye contact, listening, and spontaneity.  Case in point, a host accidentally fell from her chair (the chair was seated on a plastic mat).  The guest, an alcoholic Rex Walls proclaimed, “I thought I was the one with the drinking problem!”  In addition, students utilized props without being prompted (i.e. a water bottle disguised as a whiskey bottle and a pen disguised as a cigarette) to do so and created names for their television segments such as, “Dysfunctional Dads.”  Heads were not lowered reading verbatim from lined paper;  instead, a true exemplification of critical reading flourished throughout the room.  Who knew I had two sections of thespians simply waiting to release their Krakens?  My only regret being I wish I had the video camera rolling to capture these teachable moments.  Next semester!

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