Adding Third Person When There Isn’t a Third Person

One of the best students I ever had was Rosie… not her real name… because she’s not a real person… let me explain. I taught a single student for a while a couple of years ago, a true beginner, very bright and eager, who was mostly learning simple conversation. If you’ve ever taught one-on-one conversation classes for very long, you know that, after a while, it’s a challenge to elicit speech. The two of you just begin to run out of things to talk about. Enter Rosie.
Rosie was the extra student that allowed us, not only to have someone else to talk about, but, also, to overcome the linguistic limits of only having the two of us.

With Rosie, we could use third person, which is very important in practicing verb forms. So, after running low on what “I have” and what “you have,” we can talk about what Rosie has. And if Rosie has blue hair… well, that’s something to talk about.
Rosie was a nearly full-size, simple drawing that we created on a 2×3 white board with different colored markers. We propped her on a chair and she became quite a productive member of the class. Besides adding linguistic variety, she was also great at creating information gaps that were easily verified.
For example, if, as was the case in the beginning, Rosie wasn’t quite complete, it was easy enough for my “other” student to say “Rosie has a nose,” but, abundantly clear, as well, that “Rosie needs a mouth.”
When we wanted to practice adjectives, Rosie obliged by changing her hairstyle quite readily. “Rosie has long hair,”…”short hair,” …”no hair,” …”blue hair.”
Rosie helped us practice some of the most useful verbs. For a true beginner, I find some of the most useful first verbs to be “have,” “want,” and “need.” With these, the beginner can pretty well cover most situations. “Has” and “needs” can easily be taught when we can see that Rosie obviously, either, has ears or doesn’t, and, from having ears, it’s a short jump to “wants” if Rosie’s the type to want earrings. Our Rosie was.
My student was quite happy to play along, and, as her vocabulary grew, her stories about Rosie did, too. Last I heard, Rosie was doing quite well. She had a nice boyfriend, needed money, and wanted to be a secretary.

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