Quick! Close your eyes and remember the last place you’ve been.
Have it? Great!
So, what came up? Was it a wall of text? Maybe a person speaking in the distance, recounting the events? Or a mere series of images?
Of course not, because that is not how memory works.
Most likely, the place came alive in a mix of different sensory impressions: a distinct smell, a soundscape, the feeling of the ground beneath your feet. How your hand brushed against a wall, how you ate something delicious. How the sun burned your skin or how you shivered underneath your coat.
This is how we remember things: and there are a myriad of ways to implement this into German language teaching. It has been scientifically proven that multi-sensory teaching has huge benefits, and if you think about it, you know it is true.
I can certainly confirm it from my own experiences. The few times my teachers used multi-sensory approaches stand out in my memory, and some vocabulary is so strongly linked to sensory input that I can never forget it.
The Many Advantages of Multi-sensory German Teaching
Teaching German with all five senses is more stimulating and more effective. If you speak to more than just your students’ eyes and ears, you can engage them on a whole new level.
The different stimuli will keep your classroom and your sessions diverse and exciting throughout the year, and they simulate the way that humans gather information and interact with their environment in real life. If you are teaching in person and not online, take advantage of that fact!
And finally, multi-sensory teaching is a great way to reach students with sensory impairments, dyslexia or learning difficulties who might otherwise fall behind. By offering them multiple avenues of interaction, they can mitigate their weaker senses and have the same learning success as other students.
As a teacher, there is no better feeling than being the person who helped your students overcome their obstacles.
If you empower your students, they will, in turn, empower you.
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Important Ground Rules for Multi-sensory Teaching
Multi-sensory teaching is awesome, but you need to create an appropriate environment and not lose focus on the teaching aspect of it. Addressing all five senses is incredibly helpful, but it shouldn’t become a goal in itself. There is always a topic, a grammar rule or vocabulary you need to head toward.
- Don’t distract your students and don’t overwhelm them; if they get distracted, bring it back to the classroom, for example, by having them write down the word they just learned.
- Use as many senses as possible and try to connect them to learning content. For example, “air writing” letters or “tapping” sounds uses muscle memory to help with memorization. Don’t be afraid to get your students out of their chairs: physical activities can be a great method to address multiple senses.
- Write or pin words to the classroom wall to provide a basic sensory vocabulary, for example, a sheet with sensory words or the “Welcome Alphabet“—all the letters of the alphabet with some beautifully illustrated sample words. It was made for refugees and migrants in Germany but is useful for German students everywhere and of all backgrounds.
- Appeal to your students’ passions. When the sessions touch on topics and activities they are passionate about, they will be much more motivated and alert.
You can even introduce a fixed five-minute time slot for “passion sharing” and have one student present an interest or a hobby each session. Discuss their presentation afterwards and translate the keywords into German.
The Best Resources for Teaching Multi-sensory German
If you are teaching German with all five senses, you need some resources to assist you. You will find a lot of those in the next section, from texts to videos and from music to news.
But of course, this is just a fraction of what you can find online. If you need more, here are some of the best ways to find resources—and they are all completely free!
- Goethe Institut: As usual, the Goethe Institut is one of the best addresses if it comes to resources for teaching German. They have a special section with resources addressing the different senses and also provide advice and methodology for teachers.
- Schule.at: A collection of quality resources for teaching German with all five senses.
- Pinterest: A vast repository of worksheets, tests and homework assignments related to the five senses. The quality varies, but regardless of what you need, you can find it here.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s jump into the meat and potatoes—how to teach German using your senses.
Bringing Language to Life: German Teaching Ideas Using All 5 Senses
For the highest level of immersion, don’t rely on one-dimensional teaching. Addressing all five senses will evaporate any boredom and really make the classroom come alive—especially if you’re teaching children and teens.
1. Teaching German with Sight
When you think of sight, you think of watching things. And watching things means: videos!
Even if your students don’t understand every word, they will become accustomed to German voices and pick up speech patterns, pronunciations and the general melody of the sentences.
FluentU contains a wealth of authentic real-world videos which have been turned into teaching tools.
From cartoons and animation to musical clips and even commercials, every video has been prepared for classroom use. What’s more, FluentU offers an expanding library of German material to teach from, all of which is taken from actual German sources, made by German speakers for German speakers.
If you want real-life German content made by authentic German speakers, you need to look no further than FluentU. Teaching with it enables you to immerse your students in German culture while creating a fun learning environment that helps them reach fluency without unnecessary friction along the way.
“Die Sendung mit der Maus” has been running since 1971 and is an amazing resource that provides information and entertainment—not just for children. All episodes can be found for free here, and the show also has an interactive website with games to play.
On the site, you can, for example, find “Lach- und Sachgeschichten”—a collection of short video clips that either explain a concept (aerosol spray cans, 3d printers, aluminum foil etc.) or tell a humorous story.
Watch one of the explainers with your students, then have them draw the central object and describe its important elements (for example, the spray can with the can itself, the pressurized gas inside, the valve, the button, and different types of spray cans with hair spray, spray paint etc.).
The video clips usually give a good and clear look at all objects they feature, so you can revolve your session around these visual elements and use them to commit vocabulary and content to your students’ memory.
And speaking of which: another visual activity is playing a game of memory together to stimulate and train your students’ brains. If they associate German words with images, it makes them much easier to learn.
2. Teaching German with Hearing
You are incredibly likely to already use hearing when you teach anyone. You talk, they listen.
But hearing can include more than that, for example, some music. How about listening to German children’s songs and discussing their lyrics?
You can always put things to music to make them easier to memorize, and a lot of children’s songs are designed to do exactly this. They have been teaching tools since long before school books and public schools became available (or mandatory) for everyone.
In a similar vein, you can also listen to audiobooks of fairy tales and fables or poems to read aloud.
Challenge your students to compose a song to remember the days of the week, numbers, colors and so on.
If they have a song, you can create a classroom performance of it or stage an actual short play and have your students use special effects, costumes, props etc. to address as many senses as they possibly can.
3. Teaching German with Smell
Sight and hearing are the obvious senses to use in teaching, and you will find barely a classroom that doesn’t employ them both. But how can you use smell to teach a language?
Bring an object with a particular (strong) smell into the classroom, but keep it hidden in a box or under a tissue.
As the first step, ask your students to guess the object; when they do, explain the German name.
The second step involves group work: each group has to come up with a poster to describe the smell. Whatever they want to put is fair game, and you can provide them with German translations for words they don’t know.
They can compare the smell to other smells, list adjectives for it, put down feelings and associations they connect with it or even give it a color.
The Goethe Institut has a range of modules related to smell and taste words.
4. Teaching German with Touch
Touch is another sense that might seem tricky at first. But think about it: we use our hands for almost every activity, and we touch things all the time.
You can bring a number of fruits or other objects into the classroom and have your students try to guess them while wearing a blindfold.
Task them to find three words to describe how the objects feel under their hands, or turn it into a friendly competition and have each student try to find as many words as they can.
5. Teaching German with Taste
Remember the fruits from before? The ones you asked your blindfolded students to identify by touch? You know what other way you can make your students guess them? Have them take a bite and describe the taste.
Or how about a little game? You write a taste (süß, sauer, salzig, bitter, umami) on the blackboard, and the students have to come up with as many unique things as possible that have this taste. Another possibility is to write a thing (steak, chocolate bar) and have them come up with objects of similar taste.
The best way to do this is in groups, but if the class size is very small, you can also pit individual students against each other.
Alternatively, you can set up a mock game show with your students. If you have two classes, ask them to each list the foods with the best and the worst taste; then use the results for the respective other class.
Two groups of students take turns guessing the foods that topped the list: the group with the most hits (top five or top ten entries) wins a prize.
Addressing all five senses is a great way to teach German and keep boredom at bay. Using multi-sensory teaching ideas is an amazing and incredible experience, and your students will benefit for a lifetime.
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