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February 20, 2013

Mark Twain Primary Source: “Concerning the Interview”

By Lisa Prososki, High School and Middle School Teacher

Subject(s)

Language Arts, English, Secondary Journalism, Current Events, Communication Arts, Debate, Social Studies

Estimated Time

One class period, plus extended activities

Grade Level

9-12

Objective

Students will:

  1. Brainstorm and formulate opinions about the media using their prior knowledge and experiences
  2. Read Mark Twain’s essay “Concerning the Interview” written 1889-90 and address related questions using reasons, facts and examples to support their ideas
  3. Participate in small group and class discussion activities related to media laws, ethics and responsibilities
  4. Conduct research and present what they have learned about topics related to media issues, rights and responsibilities
  5. Complete a written response tied to the historical essay and what has been learned in the lesson activities
  6. (Optional) Compare the essay to Twain’s fictional “Encounter with an Interviewer” written about the same time. Explore the differences between fiction and nonfiction, different forms of rhetoric, and discuss which techniques are most effective

Background

This year, the Mark Twain Project is finally publishing the author’s uncensored autobiography. Finally, because Twain decreed that this document not be published in its entirety until 100 years after his death, which took place in 1910, when he was 75.

The autobiography, along with nearly a million pages of other material penned by Twain, including letters and notebooks, have been housed at the Mark Twain Project on the University of California Berkeley campus since 1949. Twain’s only surviving daughter, Clara, decreed in her will – that the papers go to Berkeley – where one of Twain’s biographers was teaching.

Procedure

  1. Begin class by facilitating a short discussion about Mark Twain and the media using questions such as:
    • Who was Mark Twain?
    • Why might a journalist or reporter want to interview Mark Twain?
    • When you think of the term “media”, what comes to mind?
    • What is the role of the media?
    • What is the role of an interviewer?
  2. Distribute “Concerning the Interview” along with the Discussion Questions and place students into small groups to read the article and formulate answers to the questions.
  3. As a class, discuss the essay and Discussion Questions handout to get a general feeling about how the students feel about Twain’s point of view regarding interviews.
  4. Explain that this essay was written by Mark Twain over 100 years ago. Then pose the following questions:
    • How do you think the media has changed over the past 100 years? Give examples.
    • What role has technology played in the way media is used and accessed by people?
  5. Explain that as a class, students will be working in groups to learn about various issues related to the rights and responsibilities associated with the media. Place the students back into the groups used in step 2 above. Using the questions below, have each group select a question to learn about and present to their classmates.
    • What makes someone a celebrity or public figure, and what rights do these people have when it comes to the media and the information that is reported about them?
    • As a journalist, what laws and ethical codes of conduct apply when it comes to obtaining a story and sharing it with others through various media outlets?
    • For a long time there has been a popular saying that reads “There is no such thing as bad press.” Explore this idea by finding examples of how even negative press can have a positive effect on the person or group that is the subject of the article or report.
    • Paparazzi vs. journalists-what is the difference?
    • Media bias-what is it and how can you spot it?
    • Journalists and the Bill of Rights-what are the laws about how information is obtained and reported?
  6. Using internet and library resources, allow each group to learn as much as they can about their designated question. Provide the group with time to formulate a way to present their findings to classmates in an interesting and entertaining method. This could be through a game students play, a quiz they take, a skit that is performed, specific video clips that are played to illustrate various ideas, or a power point or other multi-media presentation that illustrates the main ideas and information that has been learned through specific examples.
  7. Allow each group to present its ideas to classmates so that students develop a basic understanding of the principles that govern the media and methods is uses to obtain and share information.As a closing activity, ask students to complete a written response to a question such as:
    ” In his essay, Twain compares the interviewer to a cyclone. Would you agree with this comparison? Explain why using what you have learned from this lesson?
  8. The previously unpublished essay “Concerning the Interview” (~1889) provides a unique glimpse into the mind of Mark Twain, perhaps America’s greatest and funniest writer, and offers striking commentary on the role of the media in American society that still resonates 120 years later.

Extension Activities

Have students read this fictional piece entitled “An Encounter with an Interviewer” written by Mark Twain before the non-fiction “Concerning the Interview.” Ask students to compare the two. What are the points Twain makes in each? Which piece is stronger? Why? Why might Twain have tackled the topic both ways?

  • Tags:

  • Common Core Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Language Arts
      Writing
    • Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
    • Reading
    • Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
    • Listening and Speaking
    • Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
    • Viewing
    • Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
    • Media
    • Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media
    • Thinking and Reasoning
    • Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principle of presenting an argument
    • Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques
    • Working with Others
    • Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

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