Energize the Classroom with These 5 German Teaching Ideas
“Variety is the very spice of life that gives it all its flavor,” as the poem goes.
It’s also key to keep your classroom engaging.
I know it from my own experience in school, as both a student and a teacher.
I remember that one teacher who always did the same activities, year in and year out. And when I walked through the classroom door, I was already half asleep because I knew what to expect with every single lesson.
Students don’t want to do the same thing day in and day out.
Bored students make bad learners. So offer them something more, something different, and your classroom will be one they remember.
5 German Teaching Ideas to Spring Your Class to Life
As always, the internet can be incredibly useful to get started, but only if you use it right. It has all the ideas in the world floating in it, and ten answers for every question you can think of.
If you’re looking for ideas, go to Pinterest, type in a keyword and watch the avalanche of images, worksheets and write-ups thunder toward you.
However, once the dust settles, you still have to sift through a mountain and find the ideas that will actually work for your German language classroom.
Or, you know, you could read on and find five true-and-tested German teaching ideas right here to make both you and your students very happy.
How Unique Teaching Ideas Will Rock Your German Classroom
How do you know if a teaching idea is any good?
Well, for starters, it should have three basic qualities. A good teaching idea should be:
Let’s look at each of these qualities more in-depth.
A stunning teaching idea is only remarkable if your students haven’t seen it a billion times. At one point, PowerPoint presentations were considered to state-of-the-art and inspired awe in students. Today, they are as common as pens, paper and vocabulary lists.
Teaching is not static, it is dynamic and in constant flux. Of course, you rely on proven methods and content you have prepared in previous years, but spice it up with some original ideas. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but once in a while, do something neither you nor your students have tried before.
A great teaching idea turns your classroom into a space of possibility and opportunity. If you keep using fresh ideas, your students will be curious as to what happens next, not yawning at the mere thought of another full-frontal teaching session.
Diverse ideas will keep yourself from bore-and-burnout and rejuvenate your teaching experience, as well as the learning environment for all your students.
Memory plays a large part of language learning. Every lesson, students are encouraged to remember vocabulary, grammar rules and cultural contexts.
The more learning styles your teaching appeals to and the more interactive it is, the better your students will retain what they learned. Therefore, new teaching ideas will optimize your classroom and maximize its efficiency.
So, how can you go about teaching dynamic lessons that wow your students?
Glad you asked!
1. Teach German with Personalized Content
If you can get your students excited about the content of learning, you will make your job a whole lot easier (and more fun as well). One way to do this is letting them choose the content themselves. Because who else knows better what students care and get passionate about?
- Ask your students about their interests and hobbies, then listen to common conversation topics to turn them into content for your German language lessons.
- Find out about your students’ favorite movies, TV shows, songs and more, then implement them into your curriculum.
- Set up a debate or give short homework assignments to report on their interests, and you can tailor your lessons to accommodate the insights.
Another way to go is to have your students create scrapbooks. Then, use that as a major element in choosing classroom content. You could include photos of the classroom and your students, or choose a scrapbooking topic your students have to get personal about.
2. Let Your Students Be German Teachers
To get your students even more involved, give them a job in the classroom: your job. There is one person who always pays full attention and never sleeps in class, and that person is (usually) the teacher.
Put your students in charge of their own learning, and they’ll never be bored again. How do you do that? Easy.
Have one student or a small group of students prepare and conduct a 10-20 minute segment of your class. They decide the topic, the texts, the games and the activities—but, just to be safe, have a look at their selection before class starts, ideally a couple of days in advance.
After this preparation, let your student(s) do the talking and teaching, but be ready to act as a safety net and step in at any point. It’s important that your students feel comfortable and know that you have their back. The goal is not to expose them in front of the class, but to have them use their language skills and get a deeper understanding of the assigned topic.
Getting There Step by Step
Your students don’t have to start with a whole teaching segment either. You can slowly introduce the concept by delegating smaller tasks to individual students. For example, have them give a 2-5 minute presentation on a key topic, or concept like the “Word of the Day” or “Word of the Week.” Alternatively, you could also have them develop classroom materials or games together that you could use later for teaching.
Another approach is to give students individual whiteboards or “lapboards” and grant them the freedom to experiment with those before going on the big board in front of everyone. This works especially well with students who aren’t yet confident in their German proficiency.
3. Use Concept-based Teaching with Untranslatable German Words
Some words are untranslatable. Try finding a German equivalent for vicarious, serendipity or even something as simple as put, and you’re out of luck (instead of lucking out).
Turn the languages around, and you face the same problem: German words like Treppenwitz, Zweisamkeit or Backpfeifengesicht do not easily translate into English.
As a teacher, you could consider this a hurdle to learning a language. Present it to your students like this, and they will show you their Weltschmerz and gain Kummerspeck—but really, these German-only concepts are linguistic gifts.
Using untranslatable concepts to frame your lessons puts language learning smack-dab in the middle of the world. It immerses your students not only into the language, but also the culture behind it. Plus, it’s a really fun way to get your students engaged.
Translating the Untranslatable
Take words that have no English equivalent and have your students try to understand them. Need some? Check out this list of untranslatable words:
- 10 untranslatable German words by The Local.de
- 7 German words with no English translation by LearnOutLive
- 10 German words you won’t find in English by SoloSophie
To understand these words, your students have to understand the culture, the mentality and a whole cloud of surrounding vocabulary.
Use visual aids to make the concepts come alive, or show sample situations Germans would describe with the word, then let your students describe its meaning. For example, you could use scenes from the TV series “Stromberg” for Fremdschämen or the “Jungle Book” (German version) song “Probiers mal mit Gemütlichkeit” for Gemütlichkeit.
It’s easy to take the English translation of German words and assume they’re used the same way. But for untranslatable words, there is no such shortcut. They are nothing without context. Only astronauts can schunkel in a vacuum, and there is no Gemütlichkeit without a cozy living room or a beer tent.
As your students cannot substitute an English term for the German one, it forces them to engage with it and internalize it, just like a native German speaker would.
4. Turn Your German Language Students into Writers
Our second idea had you turn your students into teachers; now try to turn them into writers.
For many learners, writing is the most difficult part of learning German, and one they can be quite afraid of. It’s also one part that is necessary for them to learn. If they plan to live in Germany or interact with Germans, they will need to do some writing sooner or later.
Here’s how you can help them.
Get them to start in a playful and entertaining way by introducing creative writing. What you do is basically play catch with words: you start a story, a student adds a part, another student continues, until you end up with a collaborative story at the end.
After interactive writing, have your students try creative writing on their own or in groups. Give them story-starters and have them create drabbles (stories of exactly 100 words), short poems or micro-stories. Alternatively, you can have your students follow daily Twitter prompts and do some tweet-length fiction, class hashtag included.
After you have done this a couple of times, combine interactive and creative writing and have the whole class collaborate on a longer piece. You can even combine it with the personal topics from our first idea.
Discuss the narrative structure, grammar and vocabulary of the resulting text, and explore different features (punctuation, word use, word order and so on) to get the maximum teaching value out of it.
5. Transport Your German Classroom into Another World
Most teaching ideas center on getting your students involved and excited, and there is a good reason for that. If they are engaged in the topic, learning becomes incidental. It happens while they have fun, and they will retain what they learn much easier because it is connected to something they love.
So, why not transport your classroom into another world? Find a fictional universe that everyone knows. Then, find a text within this universe that is of an appropriate language level, and decipher it together with your students.
Word by Word: Understanding Unknown Texts
For beginners, start with simple steps: have them read the text and underline words they know and circle words they recognize from their language. Make a list of the latter and see if they are cognates or false friends.
Then, have your students go through the unknown and unfamiliar words and have them guess their meaning through context. You can even turn this into a fun game, and will probably surprise your students with how much they can already understand.
To go beyond vocabulary, have your students pick passages from the text and summarize or explain them in their own words.
Advanced students can create flowcharts of the narrative, posters with important characters and their relationships to each other (Game of Thrones would be excellent for this activity), list superheroes’ abilities in German or otherwise visualize parts of the chosen universe.
These are just five unique teaching ideas you can use in your German classroom. Browse the internet and be creative to find more. If you keep engaging your students with variety and excitement, the learning will happen almost on its own and it won’t feel like a chore for them or for you!