Do you want to know a German joke?
The teacher asks the student: “What case is it when you say ‘I really enjoy learning’?”
The student answers: “A rare one.”
Going Native: German Classroom Instructions
Imagine it is your first day of teaching German.
I can certainly remember mine. Standing in front of a class of eager (and not-so-eager) students can feel overwhelming. After all, you don’t want to be the teacher from the joke, do you?
And yet, everyone is looking at you. Everyone is waiting for you to start, waiting for you to make the first move. The burden of getting the classroom into motion rests squarely on you.
But don’t worry. It is far from impossible to make your students enjoy learning, and for you to enjoy teaching. Everyone can become an inspirational and beloved teacher. You just have to put your heart and thought into it.
When it comes to classroom instructions, reverse engineering is a useful approach.
Consider where you want your students to be at the end of your class.
- What skills and knowledge should they possess?
- What should they have understood?
- What should they be able to do?
Then, go back and design your lessons in a way that will lead them there.
The Benefits of Putting the German Back in German Classroom
For German language classes, the goal is obvious. You want your students to speak and understand, read and write German, ideally at a native speaker’s level. Or, in more realistic terms, fluently.
The key to mastery of any language is practice. So what better way to teach them than a German-only classroom?
In its perfect form, this is a classroom in which the only language of communication is German. The instructions are in German, the questions and answers are in German, the worksheets, the games and the classroom activities are all in German.
After your students enter the classroom and until they leave it again, they don’t speak in English or their first language: it’s German all the time, all the way.
While it may be difficult for your students at first, they will find that learning in a German-only environment will challenge them to use the language creatively, helping them become better German speakers.
If you are like me, your eyes light up when you hear this. Giving classroom instructions in German only can be incredibly rewarding, as it turns into a huge confidence booster once it gets going.
I fondly remember all the moments when students first realized they had just spent an entire lesson speaking German without even noticing.
But how can you use classroom instruction if your students don’t understand what you are saying?
How can you follow a lesson plan and keep order among your students without being able to communicate concepts more complex than yes and no?
Well, who says you can’t? Read on to find out how you can teach German effectively, using nothing but German.
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How to Make Your German-only Classroom Instructions Exciting
Keeping the classroom strictly in German can be a challenge.
Sometimes, your students will be tired, maybe because it is very early or very late; sometimes, they will just not be in the mood, or there will be some commotion, or they simply do not connect that day.
To put excitement in your lesson and take away any pressure, try the following resources and activities. Start the session with them and turn the classroom mood around: your students will thank you later!
Use Authentic Resources
There are plenty of German worksheets to be found online, from grammar to vocabulary and back.
While they are valuable tools, sometimes they can seem too artificial and removed from natural German language. And since you want to keep your classroom as German as possible, try using authentic resources instead.
FluentU is a perfect source for this. It offers a wide variety of authentic German resources that are great for teaching. Find music videos, commercials, video clips and all kinds of other media taken from everyday German life, and enjoy the utility of having them specifically set up for teaching. It is the best of both worlds: the materials are as recent and authentic as they can be, and FluentU’s many features make them perfect teaching tools at the same time.
Expose Them to Music
Nothing better than some music to get your students out of a rut. Play German songs for them and go through the lyrics together afterward.
They can learn or repeat key vocabulary and have fun listening to music; and after that, you can proceed with your normal curriculum. Chances are, your students will be much more receptive!
Play Some Games
You can find lots of other ideas for German games and activities online, and many of them don’t require much effort or time to set up. If you are looking for some ideas for German classroom activities, check out this website run by German language lecturer, Nancy Thuleen for tips.
One of my favorite classroom games is Hot Seat.
It is a simple game that will wake up your students and get them engaged. Sit one student on a chair facing the class, write a word on the blackboard, and have the rest of the class try to explain it to him (without using the actual word, of course).
Put a timer and change students every time it elapses or the word has been guessed; you can also divide the class into two teams that compete against each other.
The 5 Essentials of German Classroom Instructions
Your goal as a German language teacher is to enable your students to use language in practical contexts and scenarios. Foreign languages are usually learned in a fixed order: First hearing and understanding, then speaking, followed by reading and finally writing.
For this reason, the first aspect to focus on is oral competency. Your students need to learn to speak and listen, and the best way to get there is forcing them to do just that.
And how? With practice, practice, practice.
1. Promote Exploratory Learning
One of the core rules of writing captivating fiction is “show, don’t tell.” You can adopt a similar rule for your classroom instruction: Experience, don’t explain.
Keep the lengthy extrapolation of grammar rules and background to a minimum. Moreover, give your students room and opportunity to get a feel for the grammar through dialogue situations, in roleplaying and in applying the rules to texts and conversations.
Another handy rule is “fluency before accuracy.” It is more important for your students to be able to communicate fluently than to be perfectly free of errors. Get them to a conversational level first, then work on ironing out any remaining flaws.
2. Keep Everyone Up to Date
For effective classroom instructions, it is important to have everyone on the same page.
A simple way to guarantee that is the session report. This is when one student (or a small group, depending on your overall number of students) summarizes the previous session for everyone at the beginning of the lesson.
This should include the key vocabulary, the key grammar and a short overview of activities to jog everyone’s memory. You obviously need to assign this task in advance, so the students can take note.
If you have a big problem with attendance, designate a backup team that also takes notes; even if they don’t have to do the report, the extra attention will be beneficial for them.
3. Use Spiraling Vocabulary
When you are teaching vocabulary, try to emulate a spiral.
At every level of language proficiency, have your students use the old vocabulary as a starting point to learn the new, thereby repeating and solidifying what they have already learned.
If the students build on what they already know, every turn of the spiral can be wider while still resting on a solid foundation.
4. Build the Grammar Base
Grammar should be kept to the bare minimum at first. In the beginning, stick to the primary rules that your students need to follow. That will allow them to build a great variety of sentences even if they don’t know some of the finer points or more advanced rules.
Of course, that does not mean you can skimp on grammar completely. Just try not to teach it in dedicated sessions where all you do is offer explanations of grammar rules.
It is much more efficient to use the opposite approach: Let your students discover (or struggle with) a specific aspect of grammar, and then explain it to them once they’ve played around with the grammatical structure. It takes less time, and your students will be much more interested because they are actually trying to understand or use this grammar.
Just think of a pop-up window on your computer: It gives a quick and concise information. You click okay, and it disappears again.
5. Provide Authentic Contexts and Situations
Your students need to talk in German to get better at it, and since they will likely be hesitant to do so, it is your job to get them speaking.
You could do it with some contrived classroom exercise, or you could use an approach that’s closer to life and much more relatable. Do this by having your students play out authentic situations and use language in authentic contexts.
While you might not have a German town full of native speakers ready at hand, you can still create authentic contexts and situations by assigning roles to your students and providing them with a realistic setting.
For beginners, you can have them listen to simple spoken dialogues and then try to reconstruct what happened in them, or have your students roleplay just very short and simple conversations.
Creative Ways to Kickstart Your German Classroom Instruction
The more advanced your students get, the easier it will be to keep your classroom instruction exclusively in German.
But what about the beginner’s level, when they hardly know enough words to form a straight sentence? Fortunately, there are a number of ways to work with this and rapidly improve your students’ knowledge and know-how.
Create a Wall of Phrases
To make life easier for your students, you can do some work before they even come in. Set up the classroom with a wall of phrases, and you will set your students up for success. Just print out or write down basic and useful phrases in German and pin them to the wall.
It does not have to be all words, either. In fact, the more variety of visualizations you have, the better: it will give the classroom a more colorful and interesting look and make it a lot easier for your students to remember.
For example, how about smileys that visualize the range of German emotions?
Flashcards are a time-honored tool for classroom instruction. They are versatile and really simple to make. Simply use index cards, adapt playing cards or go digital and create them online with the help of a site like Flashcard Machine.
Have vocabulary on one side and the definition on the other, or verbs with their conjugations, grammar rules and their implementation, etc.
Instead of words on both sides, you can make them even more useful by gluing pictures on one and the corresponding words on the other side, which will help your students build visual associations and boost their memory.
To start with some basic words you will need to get the classroom going, how about a set of flashcards on actual German classroom instructions?
Host Q&A Sessions
Question and answer sessions are amazing at getting your students comfortable with their new classroom language. You lead the way by asking discreet questions that build upon each other (“What is your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “How old are you?”), and your students answer in turns.
The Q&A format offers a framework and orientation for your students, and conducting it in front of the whole class lets them help each other easily, as long as you can create an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual trust.
Always review the key vocabulary at the start of a session, right before you do Q&A; make sure that your students know the vocabulary they need.
To get the maximum out of this, set a timer at the beginning and always end when it elapses–not later and not sooner. Have a visual clock or hourglass so your students can anticipate the time, but don’t put it too prominently. Get a buzzer, a bell or a squeaker to signal every instance of someone using their first language, but don’t stop until the timer runs out.
The goal for the whole class is to have a Q&A session without any buzzing, and when you get there, it will be a true boost to your students’ confidence levels. Because, after all, haven’t they just done a whole activity in a foreign language?
The overall goal of German-only classroom instructions should be to make your students feel confident and secure in their ability to speak and understand the language.
It doesn’t matter if the grammar is not 100% correct at first, or if some vocabulary is missing. If you can get your students to stay in German using the methods above, they will be well on the way to becoming proficient and fluent, and they will also lose any fear of German conversations.
Good sessions will provide positive reinforcements and make your students more willing to take risks, so you can eventually move toward a larger range of more complex vocabulary and keep pushing. And after a while of German-only lessons, your students will surprise themselves as just how much German they are able to understand and use.
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