MY HERO Lesson Plan ....

 Questions to Ask Yourself While Preparing a Profile
Reprinted and reformatted with permission from Susan Ager
and Detroit Free Press.

by Susan Ager

Subject Area:    Art/Music, English/Language Arts, Social Science, Technology/Media Literacy

Grade Level:    9-12, college


Columnist Susan Ager, from Detroit Free Press, shares her tips on writing profiles to help students become more effective MY HERO reporters.


Students will learn five different kinds of profiles, and become familiar with helpful ideas and questions to use during the interview process.



Activities and Procedures:

Why this person? Why now?

What kind of profile should I try to do?

1. Vignette: A moment in time
2. A day in the life
3. Fifteen minutes of fame
4. Full-life profile
5. Psychological profile

Do readers understand why they should care about my subject?

Do readers understand why they should care about my subject?

What's the payoff for readers? Can I provide insight and/or inside details about my subject?

What do average readers want to know?

What's the payoff for my subject? Why should he/she submit to this process?

Can I watch my subject work/live/play?

Will I keep the interviews conversational?

Will my questions be fresh, direct, specific? Will I ask about mundane details and touchy, intimate matters, too?

Can I make time for two, three or more interviews, even if they are

Have I talked to others who understand my subject or might see my
subject with different eyes?

Do I, by the end of my reporting, understand what motivates my subject, and will I make that clear to readers?

Is my story plump with vivid, memorable details about how my subject
works and lives? Will the reader want to recount those details to friends?

Are the quotes spicy and telling? Have I cut out all long, dull and predictable quotes?

Can the reader SEE my subject in a scene or two?

Are the turning points in my subject's life obvious to the reader, and explored for their lasting impact?

Is it clear how my subject is DIFFERENT than others who do the same
job or live the same life? Is it also clear how my subject is the SAME as everyone else?

Twenty-two Tips and Tricks for Profile Interviews

1. The BARSTOOD RULE: Pretend you're on a barstool next to your
subject. Remember this is CONVERSATION.

2. Don't be afraid of EMOTION: Allow yourself to REACT, to feel sad or

3. Ask early on about CLIPS: Any common errors? Any misconceptions?

4. Your most potent questions are these:
What makes you say that?
How did you feel when that happened?

5. Anytime you hear an ADJECTIVE, ask for more. How did you know you felt nervous? Without examples or anecdotes, adjectives are not

6. MULTIPLE interviews are essential, even if only by phone. Trust deepens. Questions - and answers - become more sophisticated and nuanced. As a result, understanding grows. Details emerge.

7. Talk in spots OTHER than the office.

8. Try different TIMES of day, early morning or late at night.

9. Use what other people have told you to leap into questions: "Your best friends say you're compulsively neat."

10. Use your own CONFUSION: "I'm not sure I understand why..." Don't pretend to understand what you don't.

11. Share your own STRUGGLES, as long as they're relevant, to create a human connection.

12. Ask ANYTHING and everything. You'll be amazed what folks are willing to answer.

13. When you feel yourself AFRAID, ask a question, you MUST ask that question.

14. Ask about TURNING POINTS and struggles directly. Be sure to get
visual details of turning-point moments that happened both inside and
outside your subject's head.

15. Ask about DETAILS: what's in wallets, car trunks, refrigerators,
what's for breakfast, what's parked in the driveway? Not all will be
important, but some will.

16. DO WHAT THEY DO. Haul fire hose. Slice through the hide of a deer. Lift road kill on a shovel, for the sake of sensual details.

17. Take notes on SENSUAL details: how things smell, look, feel. A tugboat captain's life is VERY sensual. So is a mail carrier's. And a deer hunter's.

18. Go to the BATHROOM! Take a few minutes to think, process, take
notes on stuff you saw.

19. LIMIT interviews to two hours, three at home. You'll be exhausted,
and so will your subject.

20. Keep an ear open for what's said AFTER you close your notebook or turn off your tape recorder.

21. Ask for every phone number you can get - their own, and those of
friends, relatives, enemies.

22. Before you write, make sure you understand two key things about your subject: What he/she most wants, and what he/she most fears.