Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Day One Interview

Over my years of teaching I've developed a few go-to activities. I use an activity called The Fallacy Bowl to teach my students how to avoid rhetorical fallacies in their writing, and on the last day of class we play a twisted form of a Jeopardy game for extra credit that combines course questions with questions from "essential" popular culture (such as: Name three people that Rocky Balboa fights in "Rocky III").

I use the Day One Interview to kick off every new semester. After calling the roll and reading over the syllabus, I have my students pair off to interview each other. They are free to talk about whatever they want, but at the conclusion of the interview, they must be prepared to introduce their new classmate and identify three items:
  1. If their classmate could have lunch anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  2. If their classmate could invite two people to this lunch (alive or dead, real or fictional), who would they invite?
  3. What music would be playing in the background during this meal?
You can learn a lot about a person by how they answer these questions. In each case, my class answers are split along familiar lines.

About half the answers to the first question identify geographic locations instead of specific restaurants, and most of those are pretty generic, like, "Darlene would have lunch in Italy." In these cases I think the student is more interested in going to a place they want to visit on vacation than worried about menu options. I actually enjoy the food-specific answers a little more, especially the students who, given all the options in the world (literally), still wind up eating at Beto's.

The second question ups the ante a bit. Here, half my students opt to meet historical figures (or pit them against each other, like the obligatory "Mike would want to have lunch with Jesus and Hitler" answer), and the other half choose to have lunch with family members. I'm on board when the student chooses a relative who died before they were born, but when they say something like, "my wife and my brother," I wonder if their papers that semester are going to bore me at an equal level.

The music question is typically the one I have to push them on, since half of their answers are way too broad or indecisive. Answers like, "whatever happens to be playing at the restaurant" or "rock" are unacceptable. And as much as I hate country, I'd take "Garth Brooks" as an answer any day over, "I wouldn't want any music playing; I'd just want to hear the natural sounds of the ocean."

Overall, the activity is a fun icebreaker, and lest anyone worry that I'm judging my students unfairly with these on-the-spot interrogations, keep in mind that most of the time I can't even remember their names until six to eight weeks into the class, let alone whatever random lunch spot they chose before I even have a final roster for the class. It might be smart for me to start tracking the answers and see if the students who refused to follow directions on the getting-to-know-you activity turn out to be the same ones who are begging me to fix their grades at the end of the semester when they forget to turn in assignments.

There is one last 50/50 split on this activity: at the conclusion of the introductions, a student will ask for my own answers in about half of my classes. They're never the same from semester to semester, but here's what springs to mind right now:
  1. I would have lunch at a place called Beanie's in The French Quarter in New Orleans. Nine years ago I had a BBQ shrimp dish there has yet to be topped.
  2. I would invite pop culture author Chuck Klosterman and the late Godfather of Soul James Brown to my lunch, for conversation and entertainment purposes, respectively.
  3. The Clash would be playing in the background, specifically "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," and "Armageddon Time."
Feel free to judge all you like. Just remember who will be issuing the grades at the end of the semester.