With the help of scores of questions in the last couple of weeks, we are zeroing in on the steps of the process for “Special Person” interviews. There are many misconceptions and most of us go way too fast.
This is a paradigm shift in that we are using our TPRS skills to zero in on a particular individual. The focus is the student rather than our grammatical syllabus, vocabulary list, or even our list of questions.
Here is an updated chart of the steps that can make interviews successful: Steps of the Process


By |2016-08-19T20:54:32+00:00August 19th, 2016|Categories: Uncategorized|9 Comments


  1. Senorita P September 11, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    I have some questions about how you grade Special Person quizzes, as well as how and if you correct errors. I’m getting ready to grade my first Special Person quiz from my 8th graders, who already had Spanish every day last year for 45 minutes. Because of their experience, our first Special Person quiz was 10 sentences about one person. I used your Special Person Quiz form, and I know your criteria is understandable and factual, as is mine. But I’m wondering…

    1.) If there is no verb? Example: “Ella no deportes.” Meaning is somewhat clear, but still I specifically told them to make sure they had a verb in each sentence. My lowest Ss are the ones who still omit verbs.
    2.) If incorrect verb was used? Example: “Eva estoy en Canada. Eva estoy en Saint Clair Shores.” He was trying to say “Eva is from Canada, but lives in Saint Clair Shores.” I would say the first sentence is incorrect because Eva is not in Canada currently.
    ***I would assume that incorrect conjugation of the verb is ok at this point still!!!!
    3.) How do you handle error correction? Obviously most of my students are making lots of little mistakes- using ella instead of su, using incorrect verb endings…I wouldn’t take off points for these, but should I write in the corrections? I don’t want to overwhelm them with error correction.
    4.) How do Special Person interview mistakes inform your instruction? Do you just provide more input about the language features that the kids are omitting or writing incorrectly?

    • Senorita P November 5, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      So at this point in the year I’ve done about 6 Special Person Interviews with my 7th and 8th grade classes.

      My 7th graders seem to look forward to the interviews still and eagerly volunteer to be interviewed.

      Quite a few of my 8th graders, however, have been acting restless during the interviews, are trying to play with pencils/water bottles during the interview, and are trying to talk out and talk to the interviewee or have side conversations.

      This is frustrating, because I want the activity to feel special, students to be engaged, and the Special Person to feel honored and respected.

      Another teacher I know give students a note-taking template to fill in during the interview. I haven’t tried that yet. I experimented with having my 7th graders write notes in their notebook during the interview. Some did excellent, some did not, some wrote in English, etc.

      What is your opinion on note-taking during the interview? Does it depend on the students’ level? I do feel that, without note-taking, students hear the structures more and get more input from the oral recap and partner writing. Otherwise, if they listen to the interview and takes notes during it, it stops there.

      Let me know what you think. Have you ever had students that acted restless and bored during Special Person Interviews? How did you handle this?

    • Senorita P November 5, 2018 at 5:30 pm

      I just posted a comment, but I’m wondering if my 8th graders are bored because I’ve been asking the same questions so far…What’s your name? What do you prefer? Where do you live? Where are you from? What’s your favorite class/food/drink/videogame? Do you play an instrument? Have you been to a concert? Who is in your family?

      The thing is, these questions essentially target the whole Spanish I curriculum, so I would hate to remove them entirely, but maybe I just need to go faster through them? I feel like these questions alone take up about 10 minutes though.

      I use Martina Bex’s Star of the Day Powerpoint when doing Special Person Interviews….I’m wondering if interest might pick up if I get to more questions…

      This would make for a longer interview, though….

  2. Bryce Hedstrom September 11, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    Do not grade the quizzes. You are trying to do more productive work, not just more and more work. Have students trade papers and grade one another’s quizzes according to the criteria: They must be written in complete sentences (this is not a big issue. If you have reviewed enough writing in complete sentences with the correct verb will just sound right to them) and the two big criteria… 1) Is it understandable language? and 2) Was it something that was shared in class?

    Responses to your questions:

    1.) What if there is no verb in the answer?

    Use your own judgement. If several kids are not using verbs then they probably have not been getting enough input. If many kids are making the same type of error it is the teacher’s fault, not the kids’ fault.

    2.) What if an incorrect verb was used?

    This one is easier. If the correct verb was not used, then the answer probably does not make sense in Spanish and is not correct. Incorrect conjugations may or may not be worth credit. They usually do not use the conjugations incorrectly if the teacher has spent enough time giving them input by pretending they don’t get it and is asking a lot of questions.

    3.) How do you handle error correction?

    Do not write in error corrections because it is futile. It is a waste of everyone’s time. Kids do not learn from error corrections, they learn from comprehensible input. Make a note of the types of errors they are making and give them LOTS of good examples of those in the input the next few days.

    4.) How do Special Person interview mistakes inform your instruction? Do you just provide more input about the language features that the kids are omitting or writing incorrectly?

    Yes. Exactly. Use the results of the quizzes to figure out where they and you are missing it and then fill in those holes.

  3. Senorita P September 16, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Thanks for your input. I have a couple more questions:

    1.) Do you always do Step #4 Check for Understanding the same way? For example, I’ve done 1-2 Special Person Interviews with each of my junior high classes. To check for understanding, I ask the class a specific question about the Special Person that we interviewed the previous day. ¿Cómo se llama? ¿Cuántos años tiene? etc. etc. and have them respond chorally with the 1-word answer. I then type this answer in a complete Spanish sentence in large font in a Microsoft word document in front of them, saying the sentence as I type it. I continue asking them the interview questions in third-person about the Special Person until we have a biography in Spanish of at least 20 sentences. Do you vary up how you check for understanding? I can’t really think of another way to do it, since I feel like all my students benefit from seeing the language in complete sentences.
    2.) For Step #5 record, how do you hold students accountable for using class time wisely to reach the goal of 15-20 sentences about the Special Person? How much time do you generally give them for this step? Do you grade their partner writing? What if they don’t reach 15-20 sentences with their partner in the time given? What if they only wrote like 3 sentences and you are suspecting they were off-task? Is it assigned for homework then?
    3.) Can you name some low-prep follow-up activities and review activities you do with Special Person? So far, my follow-up after steps #4 and #5 has been having students read the biography we had typed up as a group with a partner, having one person read each Spanish sentence and the other person give the English meaning, and then switch roles. Once we’ve had 2 special people, I take sentences from the biographies and students have to decide which person the sentence describes, or whether it describes both.

    • Bryce Hedstrom September 16, 2018 at 3:27 pm

      1.) Do you always do Step #4 Check for Understanding the same way?

      No. It is best to vary the way you check for understanding. Use a variety of question types. These are typical TPRS-style questions that also line up well with the New Bloom’s Taxonomy: https://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/The-New-Blooms-Taxonomy-and-FL-Teaching.pdf

      Positive Statement
      1. Yes / No Question
      2. Either / Or Question
      3. Statement with Error (3-for-1)
      4. Fill in the blank
      5. Who? What? Where? When? For how long? How many?
      6. Why? How?
      7. What is going to happen?

      Here is how this order of questioning generally lines up with the New Bloom’s Taxonomy:

      Positive statement: Sydney is fifteen years old.

      This is the information from the interview that Sydney shared with the class. Rather than only asking “How old is Sydney?” you can ask a variety of questions that will check for understanding, not bore them and give them more input all at the same time. Do NOT just go down the list and ask all of these questions one after another. That’s not real communication and it is therefore boring. Mix them up. Ask these questions to the whole class and expect a choral response. If students hesitate or do not seem to understand the questions right away, drop down a level or two. The lowest numbers on the list below are the easiest questions cognitively and linguistically.

      1. Yes / No Questions Students show they REMEMBER details with simple recognition responses.
      Class, is Sydney sixteen years old? “No.”
      Is she fourteen years old? “No.”
      Is she fifteen years old? “Yes.”

      2. Either / Or Questions Students show they UNDERSTAND differences by producing short answers.
      Class, is Sydney fourteen years old or is she fifteen years old? “15”

      3. Say it Wrong Questions (Also known as 3-for-1) Students show they can ANALYZE whether the language use fits the facts in the story. Students just say “No”. Teacher gives more comprehensible input by using the structure 3 times—twice positively, once negatively.
      So, Sydney is sixteen years old… “No!”
      Oh, yes! That’s right, class. Sydney is not sixteen years old, she is fifteen years old.

      4. Oral Fill in the Blank Questions Students show they REMEMBER (again) by producing one word answers in the target language.
      Class, Sydney is fifteen ______ _____ “…years old”

      5. Who? / What? / Where? / When? / How many? (Simple information questions with short answers)
      Students show they UNDERSTAND (again) by giving short answers that are more specific, depending on the question word.
      Who is fifteen years old? “Sydney” Who else is fifteen years old?
      Where is Sydney, the fifteen-year old girl? They just point.
      When is Sydney going to be fifteen years old? “On her birthday.” “In three weeks.” “On… (date).”
      How old is Sydney? “Fifteen.”

      6. How? / Why? Students can EVALUATE based on criteria in the story. Students provide motivation, description, and conjecture. There are many possibilities here.

      7. What Now? / What is going to happen? Students can DESIGN a continuation of the story by using the elements to create something new. These questions are more open-ended. Students predict or create a conclusion.

      What is going to happen when Sydney is sixteen years old?
      What will she do do?

      2.) For Step #5 record, how do you hold students accountable for using class time wisely to reach the goal of 15-20 sentences about the Special Person?

      It is to their advantage to work efficiently and quickly because this is their review and their notes to study. It is also a chance to catch what they may have missed. It can help to get them up and moving to a different space and partner. Say something like this: “Class (in the TL), look for your ‘Amigo de Bolivia’. You have five minutes to write sentences about Sydney. Go.” Have the student whose has the classroom job of timer keep track and say when time’s up so you aren’t the bad guy. You can just walk around and help stuck students.

      3.) Can you name some low-prep follow-up activities and review activities you do with Special Person?
      –Ask for sentences from the class. Just one per student. Don’t let Sally Superstar dominate until the end. When everyone else has exhausted their sentence supply, she or her comrades will have a few more good sentences to add to the mix.
      –Assign a Graphic Artist job. That person volunteers to take the sentences and finds pictures that go with the description of the student in the interview. Have the Graphic Artist show it to the class the next day.

  4. Senorita P September 23, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    I have a few more questions about La Persona Especial, if you have a minute…

    1.) At what point do you show novice students the grammatical contrast between writing about yourself and someone else? For example, I saw in one of your posts that you wrote some sentences generated about La Persona Especial on the board, and then asked students how these sentences would be changed to talk about oneself. I did this with my 8th graders, who already had Spanish for 1 year, after our first Persona Especial and it went well. Good review!

    However, I’m wondering when do you normally address this with novices? My 7th graders have listened to 3 Special Interviews so far, but they’ve been getting mostly 3rd-person input, not first-person input. Therefore, I’m thinking I need to explicitly address the first-person with them, since their first quiz will be next week (after we’ve done 5 people), and some students will be writing about themselves! I feel like I should have addressed this earlier, because some of them have been writing about themselves in third-person. 🙁

    2.) I know your criteria for grading Special Person Quizzes is 1) truthfulness and 2) comprehensibility, and of course that it came from the interview. I added on to my criteria that each sentence must contain a verb. What are your thoughts on grading special person quizzes with a standards-based proficiency rubric?

  5. Bryce Hedstrom September 26, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    I show them the “yo” form right away. It is natural because the interviewee is using that kind of language with me as we talk. The interviewees are motivated to do well on the quizzes that are about them and the class is favorably disposed towards them as well, so it is a sympathetic crowd with built-in attention. It is not hypothetical conjugations, it is real language for a purpose.

    There is no problem with a standards-based rubric as long as the main standard is actual communication.

  6. Senorita P September 29, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    For your absolute novices, do you do anything special to review before their first Special Person Quiz, in which they need to write 2 sentences about each of the 5 special people?

    In other words, the day before their quiz, do you spend time playing any review games/doing any review activities with them? If so, what kind of activities do you do?

    I want my 7th graders to be successful on their first special person quiz, but I don’t want to squander class time that could be used on something else. The Special Interview process itself already has lots of review built in, especially in the Check for Understanding and Record steps.

    I have Quizlets with the high-frequency verbs used in the interview in both 3rd and 1st person, which students could study at home, or I could give them class time for this and we could play Quizlet Live. Or I could have students write 1 very specific sentence about each of the 5 special people without using their names and do inner/outer circles where the outside person reads the clue and the inside person says the name of the person being described.

    I’m just wondering whether it’s enough to just remind Ss of the format and what to study (key phrases on Quizlet & their notebooks), or if I should devote a more generous amount of class time to review.

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