Out of Your Comfort Zone

Joel Neden
New Paltz High School
New Paltz, New York

Title: Out of the Comfort Zone

To train students use their innate skills as intelligent thinkers to interview and report.

Overview and Rationale

Interviewing is intimidating for many people, especially high school students. It is hard for students to step outside their comfort zone and pursue an interview with someone they have never known. For this particular activity, I find it very successful to scaffold the activities until the students feel comfortable with the interviewing process. The art of interviewing is basically directed conversation.

Have students develop a thorough list of generic questions. The ultimate goal is to listen actively, take notes, and pursue a worthy story.

Goals for Understanding:

  • Essential Questions
    • What are the differences between open and closed questions?
    • How do I begin an interview?
    • What is the importance of prepared questions?
    • Why is it important to be a good listener when interviewing?
    • What is a personal profile?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • Before the interview why is research important?
    • Why is preparing generic questions before the interview important?
    • How does active listening lead to a better interview?
    • Why do you take notes during the interview?


  • Activity 1
    • Arrange the students in two concentric circles around the class. Ask the inside circle to look out and face the outside circle. As the instructor, facilitate a discussion around the room by simply asking a generic question. After several minutes, have the students (and teacher) switch to a different participant and continue the conversation with a different person. The trick is there are multiple conversations happening at the same time, so it really teaches students to listen to each other and limit the distractions.
    • Students need to work on asking more questions so the silence does not promote dissolution of the content.
  • Activity 2
    • Invite the Superintendent or the school principal into the classroom and conduct a group press conference with the class.
    • Have the students develop a list of generic questions to ask either administrator.
    • When the interview begins, make sure the students listen to the subject and develop the direction of the story that they wish to pursue.
    • Similar to the last activity, the students need to understand that they cannot depend on their formatted questions, but use their listening skills to take the work in an entirely different direction if need be.
    • Discussion follow-up is also particularly valuable. It is important to think about the process of being in a press conference and discussing how an interview can rapidly change direction quickly.
    • After the initial press conference, students will write an article using whatever angle they want to pursue.
  • Activity 3
    • Students are asked to leave the room for 45 minutes to conduct a random interview with someone in the building they have never met before. It can be a cafeteria worker, teacher, student, etc. Before they leave, we generate a list of random interview questions to get people talking. They are advised that their goal is to develop an unique angle on the story.
    • After they complete their interview/conversation students are asked to return to class, review their notes, and begin writing their personal profile piece.


The final assignment, the personal profile piece, will be graded as any writing assignment, with a rubric.