If you have not started doing personal interviews it is definitely not too late to start doing them. You can jump in at any time. Here is how I do it. I start the first round with just a couple of questions:

(1) What is your name?

(2) What name do you prefer?

(3) What grade are you in?

I model language use by talking about myself (1st person) and I also ask questions directly to the student (2nd person) who I encourage to answer with complete sentences (1st person), then I turn and “report back” to the class (3rd person). So students are hearing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd persons in every interview.

Afterwards, I ask questions about the student and the rest of the class can answer with a short answer. Later, I ask what we know about the student so far, so there winds up being lots and lots of repetitions. When we are done speaking, I let them get out their notebooks and write the information they remember about the recently interviewed student. They can work with a partner on this, if they wish.

The first round can go fairly quickly because there is not much information. In the first round I can do 1 or 2 students in a class period. I do not rush it. I focus on each student and really try to begin to get to know them. I stop frequently and talk to the rest of the class about the student. I write out their name and nickname on the board. I have the class say “Hello, ___!” to them in the target language. At the end of the interview, we applaud them. Most students really like this. They sit up straighter when we pay attention to them like this. They feel like somebody has noticed them, at least in this class. Somebody knows their name. They belong here. We are working our way up Maslow’s hierarchy with each student.

After a couple of interviews, if the class seems to be getting it, I add another question:

(4) How old are you?

I teach them to say “I am ___ years old.” in the target language. In Spanish this involves the verb “to have”, and if I happen to ask a student that is 16 years old, we have hit gold.

Armed with the verb “to have” I can now ask some questions that involve cognates in Spanish:

–Do you have your license?

–Do you have your permit?

–Do you have a car?

I can also ask:

–Do you have a job?

Answers to those questions always engender more questions, like:

–Why do you not have your license?

–Do you have your permit?

–What kind of car do you have?

–What color is your car?

(There are question words posted in the classroom and I shine my laser pointer on the ones they are not sure of yet.)

And then we can also ask:

–Do you work?

–Where do you work?

–Do you like your job?

–Do you like your job a lot or a little?

–Do you want to work?

–Where do you want to work?

Most of those questions can be added without a whole lot of extra vocabulary, and because it is compelling information, students are anxious both to share and hear about the answers.

When we get to 5 students, we have a quiz. For the first quiz, I just point at the students we have interviewed and the students have to write what they know, which is not much at this point: Their name, nickname and grade. I have them write in complete sentences. They only have to write 10 sentences, but by this point they know much more information about these classmates, so almost everybody gets an “A”, which I want to have happen on the first quiz–that is not crucial, but it is encouraging to them because it lets them know that it is possible to succeed in this class; another step up Maslow’s pyramid.

From there, we add more information. For the second round of interviews we add:

(5) Where do you live?

(6) Where are you from originally?

Those questions can generate some interesting information and give us more to talk about, often with very little additional vocabulary, such as:

–How long have you lived in (name of our town)?

–Do you have family in (name of town they are from)?

–Do you go to (name of town they are from) much?

Simply adding questions #5 and #6 can get a lot of interesting conversations going, but when the energy fades for those, we ask:

(7) What do you like to do?

This is where the personalities really begin to come out. Students really identify with their activities and they will begin to speak with more interest and pride when we ask them this question. This will also open up a lot of new vocabulary, but not an insurmountable quantity, because student activities and interests are a relatively closed set.

With any luck, the first few will be athletes, which will have very standardized vocabulary, such as:

to play



…and accompanying cognates (in Spanish) to ask questions or comment like:




We can also ask a lot of questions about their sport, like:

–What position do you play?

–Is it an offensive position or a defensive position?

–For how many years have you played?

–Do you play on a team here at (name of our school)?

–What team do you play on?

–What is your number? (Jersey number, not phone number)

–That’s fantastic!

–That’s fabulous!

THIS IS IMPORTANT: If a kid does not feel like talking, I do not make them talk. We will come back around to everyone later and they may think of something to say then. It could be that they do not know if they can trust me or the class yet. Later, they may. It could also be that they feel self conscious about speaking in another language. That will probably come later too. Whatever the case, I do not force them to speak if they do not want to.

For the second quiz, I ask the students to write 20 sentences about their classmates. They can no longer write “His/Her name is…” because now I give them the names of the students, rather than just pointing at them like we did on the first quiz. This is because the amount of language they can use is greater and we also know a lot more about one another. Most students do very well on this quiz too.

Does this make sense?