Saturday, December 12, 2015

Future Tense Review - Ich freue mich auf die Ferien

We're getting into the last days of the semester now, which means it's time to review for final exams.  It also means that student energy levels are very low.  Not a great combination!

My German 3/4 students learned the future tense this semester, and to help them review, I assigned a short project called "Ich freue mich auf die Winterferien" (I'm looking forward to winter break.)

The assignment asked them to write and illustrate 8 sentences about things they were planning to do during winter break.  Each sentence had to have a different verb, and they had to have at least one sentence using each of 4 different subjects: I, we, he/she/it, and they.  This required them to use different forms of werden, which is irregular. 

We reviewed the conjugation of werden and brainstormed different verbs and vocabulary before they started.  Here are some of the results:

Thanks to my colleague Vera at Bloomington High School South who created the original assignment, using the past tense and talking about Thanksgiving Break for her German 2 students, which I modified to create this one.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Getting Ready for Finals

Just two more weeks of school until winter break!  Which means one more week of regular classes and one week of finals.  Last week we finished up the fourth unit of the semester in both German 1 and 3/4.  This week we'll be reviewing for final exams.

In German the exam is 25% of a student's semester grade.  The exam consists of 75-80 multiple choice questions and 4 or 5 speaking questions.  

I've been trying to have students work on speaking with each other throughout the semester using laminated questions cards which are in their table boxes.  They are color-coded (black for German 1 and yellow for German 3/4), and I add more cards to the boxes with each unit.  I just got the last set of cards laminated and cut out on Friday, so we should be all set to work with those on Monday!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Quote of the Month for November

November was not a good blogging month for me.  I got a bad sinus infection early in the month, missed 2 days of school, and then felt like I spent the rest of the month trying to get caught up and back in the routine.  So, no blogging.  

But it's December now, and I'm hoping to return to more regular blogging.

There was one great quote from one of my students in German 1 which both cracked me up and kind of summed up the month:

We have been working on identifying the nominative and accusative cases in German.  I asked the class, "Ok, Spielplatz (playground) is the direct object, so what case is it in?"

After a pause, the hopeful response from a student, "Upper case?"

I had to laugh.  Then, a more tentative second try, "Lower case?"  

Oh, well...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

From Statistics to German - Transformation of a Foldable

The creation of this foldable is a story of inter-state cross-disciplinary virtual collaboration.  

Recently I was looking for a  good foldable to use with my German 1 students to describe four characters in the video series that goes along with our textbook and to summarize what happens in each episode.  I had a vague idea of what I wanted it to look like but nothing in my foldable repertoire fit the bill.  So I turned to the #MTBoS...

The  #MTBoS is the Math Teacher Blogosphere.  I'm a German teacher, but I have also taught math previously (which I love and miss, even though I LOVE teaching German) so I have naturally drifted toward the blogs of math teachers and the #MTBoS.  I have gotten a lot of inspiration and ideas from some great math teachers out there, and I think there is actually quite a bit of overlap in methods of teaching these two subjects.  

I'm trying to connect/find/start a #GTBoS (German Teacher Blogosphere) but there aren't as many German teachers on the internet as there are math teachers.  (There are a lot more math teachers overall, so this isn't so surprising.)

In any case, I visited the site of my blogging inspiration and internet friend-I haven't-yet-met Sarah Hagan, Math=Love, and came across this foldable, which was exactly what I was looking for:

Perfect for a German foldable about 4 characters in a video, right?  Of course!

Sarah very kindly gave a link on her blog to the publisher file for making this foldable.  I made some changes to the foldable and voila!

I put in a picture of the four main characters in our video series.  In class the students and I worked on describing them,  what they are majoring in, and where they are from.  

On the inside, I wrote the titles of the first four episodes of the video series.  We talked about what happened in the first three episodes and how we could write it in German.  I am so proud of my students for describing all three episodes entirely in German!

We haven't seen the 4th episode yet, so we left that space blank and will fill it in when we get to it.  

I don't know if this foldable has magic powers, but my classes were really attentive and persistent while we worked on this.  It made me ridiculously proud!

Want a copy of my file?  Here you go

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Telling Time

This week students learned how to tell time in German 1.  Here's a look at the guided notes we used:

I've emphasized writing out and spelling numbers correctly more this year than in the past, and I think it helped students when we got to this topic.  For homework, students practiced writing out the time in German on a straightforward worksheet.  

I've noticed this year that my German 3 students are struggling with listening to people other than me speaking German.  If there's a word or two they don't understand, they tend to panic and give up trying to figure out what they can understand.  I've been trying to give them more practice and help with this, but I also want to get students used to hearing native German speakers before German 3.

So, a few days after we started working with telling time, I gave students a listening practice assignment using audio from our textbook.  The speaker describes 8 different activities she does at different times.  Students had to listen for the time at which she does each activity.  I put the assignment into Canvas, our district learning management system, so that students could enter their answers and Canvas would check their work.  They were allowed to try as many times as they needed and received a participation score for the number of correct answers they ended up with.  

This was TOUGH!  I spent a lot of time that day saying, "Yes, it is hard, but you can do it.  Listen again."  But, most of my students persevered, and I was really proud of them for this.  Two of my students decided it was more fun to listen together:

I noticed that students who weren't solid on numbers and the vocabulary for telling time had the most difficulty, but it was challenging for everyone.  And I think it was a good thing for helping them develop their German listening skills.  I don't think I can do it too frequently, or I'll have a full-scale rebellion on my hands, but it is something we'll do more often.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Verb Kickers

I've noticed that a lot of my recent posts have been about things I've done with my German 1 classes.  Here's a look at what we did yesterday in German 3/4:

Our primary grammar topic this unit is subordinating conjunctions and dependent clauses.  It can be tough because the word order changes in the clause when you use a subordinating conjunction.  The verb gets "kicked" to the end of the clause, so subordinating conjunctions are sometimes called verb kickers.

In the previous class, students reviewed coordinating conjunctions (und, oder, aber, denn, and sondern) and also recorded the meaning of some of the most common subordinating conjunctions (there are lots!).  

So now students were ready to take a look at some sample sentences and to color-code the different parts of the sentence.  Here's how it looked:

After we labeled the parts of the sentence, we summarized the word order for sentences that start with the independent clause and for sentences that start with the dependent clause.   The assignment was some straightforward practice with these two types of sentences, and then we'll continue with more practice next class.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Back from Fall Break

We're back from a week of fall break.  It was great to have such a long break, but after a whole week off, I can definitely tell that my students' German skills have gotten rusty.  Maybe a four day weekend would give everyone a break without quite so much learning loss.  The calendar for the next three years is being discussed right now in my district, so we'll find out soon if that's what the district decides to go to.

But I digress...

Really the only way to start back on a Monday after a long break is with a foldable.  Two foldables would be even better, right?

So, here are two foldables for Interrogatives (Question Words) in German 1.  The first one is a 6 petal foldable for our first 6 question words:

We wrote the English meaning of the question words on the undersides of the petals and the word order for questions in the center.

We put the German question words on the other sides of the petals:

That was probably enough for one day, and in retrospect, I think I would split this topic into two days.  But we forged bravely ahead with a three petal round foldable for the three different words for "where":

Finally, we talked about the word for "which," which changes depending on the gender of the noun after it.  By this time, students' eyes were definitely starting to glaze over, so I will definitely save that for a separate lesson next year.

Overall, though, my students did a great job with Interrogatives on the first day after break.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Live from room 406 - Konjunktiv II!

I promised in a previous post that I would post about how I am now using my DIY document camera to record class notes and post them to our school's learning management system.  It took a little longer to get this post written than I had expected, but here it is...

Since I am using an iPad to project guided notes onto the screen in my classroom, I can easily record what we're doing simply by turning on the video recording on my iPad (though I do have to remember to do this, which can sometimes be a challenge!)  

I did this for the first time a few weeks ago, and my students were initially a little weirded out by the fact that I was recording, but they soon got used to it and don't seem to notice much anymore.  

Then, using a free app, I compress the video to a reasonable size and upload it to Canvas, our district's learning management system.  I can embed it in a file, and students who were absent or need a review of what we discussed in class can watch it:

I'm always looking for ways to help students take charge of their own learning rather than depending on me, and I hope this will be a useful resource for students who were absent or are struggling.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

DIY Document Camera

I tweeted a picture about my DIY Document Camera this week for #teach180.  Here's a little more about it:

I use guided notes frequently with my students.  Prior to this year, our district's textbook was written all in German (even for first year) and even then offered very little in terms explanations of concepts.  It was basically like teaching without a textbook, so my students needed a lot of additional teacher-created material in order to have an opportunity for success.  It was a lot of work!

This year, we have a new MUCH better textbook.  (Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped in the textbook adoption process!)  Our new textbook, Mosaik, is designed so that it can be used at either the high school or college level.  It is very well written and I like it a lot, but some of my students still need some support to go along with the book.  So, we do foldables and guided notes.

It works best for me to fill out the notes with the students as we talk about new topics so that they can see what they need to write down.  Which means I need students to be able to see what I'm writing.  

Back when I first taught math and physics from 1999-2001, I used an overhead projector for this.  When I returned to work in 2011, I started as a half-time English as a New Language aide in my children's elementary school.  (Which was a fantastic way for me to go back to work after being home full time for 10 years.  I learned SO much from those fantastic elementary teachers!)  The teachers there all had document cameras, and I immediately fell in love with them.  It was like an overhead projector but so much better.

When I started teaching high school German in 2013, I was dismayed to find that the high school teachers didn't have them.  I asked and asked for one, but apparently it was viewed as an elementary tool.  So, about mid-way through the year, I came up with a way to make my own.  At that time teachers had iPads, and we have AirServer in the buidling, which allows me to project whatever is on my iPad to my computer screen and thus onto the projector for students to see.  All I needed was some sort of stand to hold the iPad at the right height so that I could write.  After some trial and error, I found that two cabinet shelf thingies from Goodwill would do the trick nicely.  

I put this on an old wheeled overhead cart, and because it's cordless, I can move anywhere in the room.  There's normally no delay between when I write on my notes and when the students see it on the screen.  Once in a while AirServer gets cranky, and it freezes for a few seconds, but then it catches up.  Occasionally AirServer won't work at all and we have to go old school and use the chalkboard, but that's only about once or twice a month.  I can definitely live with that!

And, just recently, I've tried using my iPad in this way to record a video of our notes for students who are absent or need a review.  More on that in another post!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Puzzle Cards for Verb Conjugations

The first verb my students learn, sein (to be) is also the most irregular verb in German.  (Similar story in English...)  Actually, I haven't taught students regular verb endings yet, so they don't know just how irregular sein is, but they do know there isn't much of a pattern.  And so we have come upon one of the hard truths of language learning: 

Some things just have to be memorized. 

It isn't particularly complicated, nor is it very exciting; it just takes some time and effort.  I try to offer a variety of ways for my students to practice. 

We start with guided notes:

We use Quizlet:

Another one of the options I have is these puzzle cards.  

They contain a variety of subjects and then the different forms of sein for students to match up.  I made them using some puzzle shape clip art I got from Teachers Pay Teachers.  I printed them out on card stock, and I plan to have them laminated when I get a chance.  

Want to try them?  Click for subjects and sein cards or haben cards.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Accusative Case

Last week was a big week for German 1 - they learned their second verb, haben (to have), and their second case, accusative, which is used for direct objects.  Definitely an occasion for a foldable!

First, we conjugated the verb haben.  Then, we took a trip down memory lane to elementary school when students learned parts of speech.  Almost everyone remembered that the topic of a sentence is called the subject and the action in the sentence is the verb.  Yes!  Students were more uncertain on what to call the thing that receives the action of the verb, but the term direct object did ring a bell for some of them.

This information went into the foldable:

Next up was recording the definite articles (words for the) for masculine, feminine, neuter, and plural in both the nominative and accusative cases.  Color with purpose!

Finally, we wrote some example sentences.  

We did a second foldable for indefinite articles (a/an) the next day, following the same format.

It went very well!  This is our first year for this textbook, and it introduces the accusative case much earlier than our previous textbook, and even though it's a bit challenging, I think it's good.  It give students a lot more time to get used to the idea of cases and to become comfortable with the accusative case before introducing the dative case.

What I would change:  The foldable is a little small.  I did this on purpose so that I could fit 4 to a page and save a bit of paper, but I think it might be better to just increase the size and have 2 per page.  Next year...

Want a copy of the foldable?  Click here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Meet them Where They Are

I have three sections of German 1 this year.  Last year I only taught German 2 and German 3, and it's nice to have students who are just starting German again.  It's fun watching them figure out how logical German is - that ein Bleistift - a "lead-writing-utensil" is a pencil.  The flip side is that I hear "die" pronounced like die in English (long i), rather than like dee (long e) as it is in German, over and over and over again.

All 3 of my sections of German 1 are full - with 30 to 32 students in each.  They're all a mixture of 9th, 10th, and 11th graders.  And all 3 have more boys than girls - a ratio of about 2 to 1.  Which makes me wonder - where are all the girls?  French?  Spanish?  I'm not sure...

But that's where the similarities end.  The first two sections are pretty challenging.  There are a wide variety of students - some are socially and academically where I'd hope for high school students to be.  But both sections also have a significant number of students who don't yet have the skills they need to be successful.  

This is a first year language class, so I'm not talking about a lack of German knowledge.  I'm not even talking about weak English language skills.  This is more a lack of school success skills.  Students who sit for 20 minutes and don't take notes with the rest of the class because they don't have a pencil, even though extra writing utensils are available in the room.  Students who are absent and don't make an effort to get caught up, even though I give them a paper with everything they missed:

Students who call out "I don't get it!" loudly as soon as they can't do something, rather than reading the directions, trying a bit more, looking at their notes, or asking a tablemate.  You get the picture.

It reminds me a lot of my first year of teaching when I had a very squirrely section of 9th grade algebra, and my wonderful mentor teacher advised me that it's sometimes just as much about teaching social skills as it is about teaching math skills.  Meeting them where they are and helping them get to where they need to be.

So, after those two classes, I start wondering what it is that I'm doing wrong, what I should do differently, etc.  

Then I teach my period 5 class.  And everything goes perfectly.  They listen to instructions.  And follow them.  They participate, try, and help one another.  They have all mastered logging in to their online textbook by now (the 6th week of school).  And they are mastering the material, as you can see by the number of students in just this section who got an A on the last quiz:

There are still some weak students, but there are enough strong students that they set the tone.  The weaker students (sometimes) follow their example.  

It's fascinating to me just how different these classes are, even though on paper they are indistinguishable.  

So, now I'm thinking about how to help the two weaker classes learn both German and academic success skills.  I pondered this a lot on my run last weekend.

One thing I've noticed: I normally have my students seated in table groups of 4 so that they can work together and practice speaking with each other:

When I'm giving an assessment, I move the desks into rows.  I noticed that on those days period 3 and period 4 did much better.  They were more focused and listened better to my teaching and my instructions.  So, I decided to keep the desks in rows for those two classes for a while.  

For period 3 it has already made a huge difference.  Period 4 is still a work in progress.  It's not ideal - the groups are much better for sharing materials and speaking activities.  But I think it's what they need, for now.  As we progress and students are more clear on my expectations, we'll try groups again.  For now, though, I'm meeting them where they are, and working to help them grow to where they need to be.  Stay tuned...

Monday, August 31, 2015

Is this the Normandy Invasion or just a Retakes Tutorial?

I had my first quiz and test make-up and retake tutorial on Friday.  

Oh. my. goodness. 

32 students.

2 different levels of German.

7 different assessments, 2 of which with listening components.

Beforehand I wasn't sure if I was getting ready for a tutorial or the Normandy Invasion.  I think it required at least as much planning and coordination.

Due to some technical difficulties above my pay grade, tutorials started later this school year than usual.  Combine that with how many of my students struggled on the first quiz, and I had so many students needing to make-up or retake assessments that my tutorial reached capacity and I had to bump some students to next week.  

But thanks to my retake form and all of my meticulous planning, everyone got the right assessment.  Now I just need to grade them...

Saturday, August 29, 2015


I introduced my first year German students to Duolingo this week.  They loved it!  Few of them had seen it before, and they were almost immediately hooked by the friendly green owl.  It was great to see some of my reluctant students getting excited about it.  One of my students with special needs who is struggling to keep up commented to me that this was really helpful to him.  Jawohl!

I've know about Duolingo and enjoyed it for some time (I'm learning Spanish to keep up with my son) but haven't used it much in the classroom because of the inconvenience of reserving the computer lab and bringing the whole class down there, getting everyone set up, etc.

But now that we are 1-1, it's definitely worth it to have all of my students create an account and try it out.  It's on my list of activities that students may do when they finish their work early.  

Hopefully I've got them hooked so that they'll even do it outside of German class!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Week 3 in Review

I started participating in #teach180 on Monday, and it's been a lot of fun so far.  (Though I do have to admit I'm a little nervous about forgetting to take a picture one of these days.  It's possible that I am a little bit of a perfectionist.)  One of the benefits of taking a picture of my school life and tweeting it every day is that I have a record of some of the highlights of my school week.  

So here's a review of my third week of the school year:

Tuesday was Gold Star Day: Although a lot of my students struggled on their first quiz, I did have quite a few students who scored 90% of better.  Those students got a gold star with their name and class period on it which I put up on my back chalkboard.  The title "Wir können" means We can, and then I have the topic of the quiz posted (German 1 Greetings and Alphabet on the left, German 3/4 Conversational Past, Narrative Past, and Past Perfect on the right).  The stars have magnets on the back so I can move and change them as we go on to new topics.

On Wednesday my German 1 students made their first foldable when I taught them the subject pronouns.  We used a Shutterflap 6, which is perfect for a lot of grammar topics because it has a spot for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person in singular and plural.  

These are the student supply boxes which I have at every table.  The cards on the left are conversation practice cards - one set for 1st year and one set for 3/4.  They are available to students whenever they finish early and need something to do.  I though I had blogged about these already, but I guess not.  A topic for another post...

We also played Ich habe, wer hat? for the first time Wednesday in German 1.  Some of the students had played I have, who has? in elementary school, but it still took the classes some time to get the hang of it.  So, times were slow, but everyone had fun.  (For the record per. 4 had the fastest time, but they messed up and had to do a re-start to get that time, and per. 5 had the fastest time on a first try.)

Here's a look at my new alphabet in my new room for this year.  The colorful letters are Alphabet Circle Stamp Clip Art from Mr. Math Coach's Teachers Pay Teachers store and cost only $1 - a great deal!

On Friday, German 1 students took their first vocabulary quiz of the year.  Scores were MUCH better than on the first quiz: in one of my sections, the average on the first quiz was 64%, while on this one it went up to 87%.  I think Tough Love Monday may have had the desired effect... I hope!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tough Love Monday

I did my first #teach180 tweet today.  I won't always be able to blog about my picture, but today I do have time to write about Tough Love Monday:

I gave my first quizzes of the year in both German 1 and German 3/4 on Thursday and Friday.  The results were mixed, which is kind of what I expected.  Some of my students have a solid understanding of what we've done so far in class and know how to prepare for an assessment.  Other students aren't always focused in class, haven't completed assignments on time, and aren't sure how they need to study for a quiz or test in German. These students did not do well.  

Before I returned quizzes today, I told students about how their quiz score gives them some important information: if they scored well, they are on the right track and should keep doing what they are doing.  If not, they need to make some changes: either in their participation in class or in how much or how they are studying.  

Then, I showed them how to fill out a retake form, using my sample quiz (Schülerin Swank = Student Swank) as an example.  This year I am requiring students to correct their first quiz or test before signing up to retake.  I hope this will push students to work harder at figuring out what they didn't understand before retaking, rather than just trying again without any serious practice and hoping they will magically score better.  We'll see how it goes...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#teach180 - I'm in!

My blogging inspiration (and friend who I have yet to meet) Sarah Hagan at Math = Love is going to do 180 tweeting this school year, and has invited members of the #MTBoS to join her.  Even though I'm not currently teaching math, I get a lot of inspiration from the #MTBoS, and I'll be joining in.

First tweet should be tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pre-Tests, Day 1

There are lots of changes at school this year.  One of the changes is that all of our students now have HP laptops.

Another change is that we're required to give all of our students a pre- and post-test every semester.

The pre- and post-tests are part of a new law in Indiana which requires that part of teachers' evaluations be based on a measurement of students' learning.  Since elective subjects like German are not a part of state standardized tests, our students are now given a test at the beginning and end of the semester to measure their growth over the course of the semester.

Students take the pre-tests on their laptops, and today was my first day administering them. Students have only had their laptops for about a week, and the testing platform is new to all of us, so I was a bit nervous about how it would go.  

But amazingly, it went very smoothly!  No one was absent, everyone remembered their computers, and everyone was able to take the pre-test.  Wow!  

After that, students logged on to their digital textbooks for the first time, and that went well too.  More wow!  Tomorrow I will give pre-tests to my other 3 classes, and hopefully it will go just as well.