So Ben Slavic discusses using a Questionnaire at the beginning of the year for your students in one of the books I am reading. In this way you can really cater the class to their interests.
I tried to start off the year with a class plan like he suggests. I had the 7th grade students draw a picture of something that they liked to do and then we talked about everyone. Throughout the week we practiced those different things and came up with some silly stories even from those phew drawings that they did.
Sadly, that's about as far as that went and then we started using materials without the personalization. I would guess that Ben Slavic's success results from a constant personalization in which he is always adding information relevant to the students' in his stories. The first week or two I had very few behavioral problems and we were learning all sorts of language. It established a really good tone for the class that I didn't follow up on unfortunately. Hopefully I can improve from my mistakes.
So now that I have the 8th graders for this semester, I plan on giving them a questionnaire today and then doing the introductory activity like last time. Then we'll have material to talk about for the whole week and I will be able to have information to talk about them.
One teacher used the questionnaires to figure out what problem to create in a story. It was genius. It can be found here.
He talks about how because a student wrote that she likes to talk, he can now create a story where she has lost her voice and really needs to talk.
Since the fundamentals of a story in TPRS are a problem and different locations while practicing the established structures, I can easily see how this story could go different places.
So my goal this semester is to make sure to personalize the class a lot more for the 8th graders and to help them realize that they really are the class and the language is what we happen to learn as a byproduct.