I completely agree, Sara! Especially about pets. I have found that sharing my dogs and their tricks are a GREAT way to break the ice and build rapport. Pets lead to a great, non-invasive way to ask questions about interests, too.
I have also found that using filters to make funny faces on myself (way before asking the student to try the same) has been a good way to show them I’m willing to have fun and relieve a little bit of pressure. Once they’re comfortable, using a filter to ask them, “how do you think a tiger would feel if…” has been a great way to ease into topics without directly asking.