Character Interview: A powerful, fun tool for all

The Setting: An Imagined Classroom Frieze
The other day, I introduced improvised puppet shows to my K/1 class as a part of our Ideal Classroom Storyline experience.  This was challenging for young children on a number of levels:
  • They were playing in an imaginary, yet defined and structured, setting.
  • They had an audience (in this case, a small group).
  • They were playing a character that was neither them nor a character borrowed from a published source.
  • It was an imaginary, fictional situation, yet it was in a realistic context: set in a classroom, human character, etc.
For those readers with experience teaching primary grades, I imagine you're thinking, "Are you KIDDING, Carrie?  You're doing this with 5- and 6-year-olds at the beginning of the school year?"  Yep.
As the exploratory puppet shows progressed, I side-coached, nudged and asked some questions.  Throughout the six mini-shows, you may have heard me saying the following:
  • Try to keep your show in one area of the [pretend/frieze] classroom.
  • You've been eating snack for a while now.  Let something happen.
  • Did you notice that John (the character) ignored you, Hive (also a character)?  What are you going to do about that? 
A number of issues emerged organically as a part of these first attempts at character interactions in our Storyline.  Of course, many of these issues are present in our daily classroom experiences as well.  They range from students running around the classroom, to someone eating all of the community snack, to kids hitting each other in the classroom, to a new friend being quiet and letting someone else do all of the talking.  When I felt the scenes begin to stagnate, I often asked for the scene to pause so that we could interview a character.

As I heard my voice become too prominent in these discussions, I realized that I had reminded myself about a powerful, flexible tool: The Character Interview.  Once I started asking the children playing characters questions AS THEIR CHARACTERS, I remembered to back off and hand the tool over to my students.  They asked some amazing questions of the character puppets, including:
  • Why did you hit that kid?
  • How did you feel when that happened to you?
  • Why are you running around the classroom?
  • What should you do instead of eating everyone's snack?
Whether you're integrating improvisational theater into a content area, developing characters to play with over time, or connecting to characters in literature, The Character Interview is a tool that is perfect for K-12 students to use on multiple levels.  It instantly involves the audience members as thinkers and contributors, and it pushes the players to sink into becoming the character--empathizing, explaining, and justifying their actions.