Gerry is staring the Persona Especial interviews with his classes this week.  He and I have been discussing this amazing acquisition activity for a few days and he had some good questions about the process:

Okay, Bryce, I’m getting a little better grip on this.  Now I’m wondering about the nuts and bolts of this, like how many questions you start with while you are constructing the whole platform and teaching them to answer them.  Since I’m starting this well behind you, I want to be careful to nurture this through the beginning stages when I’m asking them to change and adopt this willingly.  Thank you!

Here is my first response to get him going:

To get an idea about the questions asked–both the number of questions and the content–just look at the bottom of each class on the Persona Especial document that I sent you.  The ones at the bottom were the very first students that we interviewed, so it is simple at the bottom of the list when students did not know much and more complex higher up as they have acquired more language.  The general pattern that has worked for me is:

1.  Name
Teacher to student:  What is your name?
Student to teacher:  My name is ___
Teacher to student:  Your name is ____?  Do you prefer ___ or ___?  Or do you prefer ___?
(I often make up wacky nicknames here just to have something to talk about)
Student to teacher:  I prefer ___.
Teacher to class:  Class, this girl is called ___.
Class:  Ohhh!
Teacher to class:  Clase, 1,2,3…
Class and teacher to student (waving):  Hola, ____!
2. Grade
What grade are you in?
I am in grade ___.
3.  Age
How old are you?
I am __ years old.
This question is where the interesting facts start.  I pick young looking students at first, then when the class gets this idea and can answer confidently, I pick an older student that is at least 16, because sixteen is a magic age–getting a driver’s license is a major rite of passage.  This is when interest picks up.
“Oh! You are sixteen?  Do you have your license?  Do you have a car?  What type of car is do you have?Do you have a job?”  Much of this can be handled with cognates and explicit teaching by writing the TL word and the English translation and pointing and pausing a lot.  this is where the exercise breaks out of the old, predictable template.  this is where the interaction begins to become customized.
4.  Home
Where do you live?
This question may not work in every school.  At ours, students come from at least five surrounding small towns, plus from farms in the country, so it can be interesting to find out where the other kids live.
5.  Origin
Where are you from?
I usually only ask this if the kid seems to be new to our community.  I can usually tell that a kid is new (even if it is from a new 9th grade class from which I know no one) by the dress, speech, demeanor, circle of friends and general level of comfort in our school and classroom. It is interesting for students to know where this new kid comes from–exotic places like California, Wyoming and Arkansas, usually.
6.  What do you like to do?
This is the gravy.  The answer here give us glimpses into what the person is really like. I usually do not get here until week two or three, but once students can understand and answer this one, we go right to it after the name question.
Keep in mind that we go SSSSLLLLOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWW.  I give a quiz after each five students and we interview just two to three students per week.  I have heard frustrating stories from teachers that have tried to rush it and have given up in frustration when their students did not understand or like the process.  After nine weeks of school we just had our 4th quiz–that is only 20 total students interviewed so far this school year.  We also review all the time.  I regularly ask the class to review by telling me five to ten facts about a student I point out, rapid fire but controlled by raising hands and speaking one at a time.
I want you to have success with this because it is so powerful and enjoyable when it works.  Does this explanation help to clear it up a bit?