Ice Breaker: The Proust Questionnaire

vanityfair_proustquestionnaireA new term is starting up, and so ice-breakers are on my mind. If I were teaching an intermediate-advanced class, I’d adapt the Proust Questionnaire, a personality questionnaire that became popularized via French author Marcel Proust, into a first-day activity for my students and I to get to know each other.

Lots of media outlets use versions of the Proust Questionnaire to structure interviews–Inside the Actor’s StudioVanity Fair magazine and CBC’s The Next Chapter among them. Below are the questions Vanity Fair tends to use, with my ESL-related comments on them.

A fun follow-up could be to have students take this interactive version of the questionnaire online and compare their answers to those given by famous people.

The Proust Questionnaire

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
    This questionnaire could be a perfect opportunity to review subject/object question formation.
  2. Which living person do you most admire?
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
    New vocab: deplore
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  5. What is your greatest extravagance?
  6. What is your favorite journey?
  7. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  8. On what occasion do you lie?
    Nice opportunity to review present simple vs. simple past/present perfect; in answering this question you’re not talking about when you have lied, but on what occasions you routinely lie.
  9. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
  10. Which living person do you most despise?
    New vocab: despise. This questionnaire brings up lots of new synonyms for hate. 🙂
  11. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
    I’d add “in English” to this phrase, as it could open up some interesting discussions on frequency of vocabulary in use and real-life language vs. language as its portrayed in many textbooks.
  12. What is your greatest regret?
  13. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  14. When and where were you happiest?
  15. Which talent would you most like to have?
  16. What is your current state of mind?
    Review present simple vs. present continous
  17. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  18. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
    Potential review of the 2nd conditional here
  19. Where would you like to live?
  20. What is your favorite occupation?
  21. What is your most marked characteristic?
    Vocab: marked (adj.)
  22. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  23. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
    I personally would not touch these questions in class with a ten-foot pole; perhaps you’re more bold.
  24. What do you most value in your friends?
  25. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
    I’d probably open this up to include film and TV as well as literature.
  26. Who are your heroes in real life?
  27. What are your favorite names?
  28. What is it that you most dislike?
  29. How would you like to die?
    This could be a bit morbid for Class #1, but, hey…

3 thoughts on “Ice Breaker: The Proust Questionnaire

  1. I’d want to give them these questions ahead of time to think about. 🙂 One bit I always remind myself is how challenging some of the things we ask students to produce immediately can be.

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