Saturday, January 24, 2015

Verb würfeln

My German 2 students have a unit test coming up.  They've been working hard this year on learning irregular verbs and the conversational past tense (Perfekt).  Most of their tests, including this next one, have a section asking them to conjugate verbs in both the present and past tense.  During the class before the test we reviewed and practiced in groups using my pronoun dice.  

I got my first pattern for pronoun dice from the Deutsch als Fremdsprache website.  They have free patterns for several different dice for use in the German classroom.  Here's what the pronoun die pattern looks like:

I printed them out on cardstock last year, and they've held up quite well.  The tabs on the pattern don't align perfectly, so you have to adjust a bit, and I added in "Sie" (formal) to the yellow "sie" side of the die by hand.

But since in my pre-German teaching life I volunteered as a 3rd grade challenge math teacher, I knew of a great website for printing out patterns for all kinds of 3D geometic shapes, including cubes.  One day when I had a lot of time on my hands, I played around in Photoshop and created my own pronoun die pattern.  

We started with the present tense.  I put the instructions for the activity up on the screen, along with a list of the 6 verbs we've been working on this unit.  

Taking turns among their table groups of 4 people, each student rolled both dice.  The pronoun die determined the subject, and the number die told them which verb to conjugate.  I was able to circulate around the room, listening to pronunciation and correcting mistakes.  After we did present tense for a while, I had the students switch to past tense.  

This was tougher because they had to use a helping verb and a past participle, but most students got the hang of it.  

Next unit, we'll be adding the narrative past (Präteritum) in to the mix!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

National German Exam for High School Students

I gave the first part of the National German Exam for High School Students to some of my students today.  The NGE is a test sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of German which has been given to second, third, and fourth year high school German students across the United States for the past 55 years.  Doing well on the exam is one of the criteria used in selecting students for a four week summer study-trip to Germany.

This was the first time I gave the NGE, and it was the first time it has been given at my school, as far as I know.  I'm very proud of my students who chose to take the test.

The NGE holds a special place in my heart because I took it when I was a high school student.  I did well enough on the test in my third year of German that I got to spend four weeks in Germany during the summer of 1990.  It was after the Berlin wall fell in November 1989 but before East and West Germany reunified in October 1990.  I lived with a host family in Nürnberg for 3 weeks and then traveled through East Germany to Berlin for a week.  It was an incredible experience and definitely played a major role in my decision to return to Germany for a year as an exchange student, major in German in college, and become a German teacher.  

I was the first member of my family to travel abroad.  Since then, my parents have traveled to several different countries and hosted college exchange students from Hungary and Poland.  I have been back to Germany multiple times and maintain close ties to my host family from my year as an exchange student.  I studied Russian in college, too, and spent a semester studying in Russia.  The National German Exam started me on the path to all of this.  Maybe someday one of my students will also get a chance to go to Germany because of the NGE... 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


My first two years of teaching were from 1999 to 2001.  Back in the days before the iPad or the iPhone.  I didn't even own a cell phone.

 When I returned to high school teaching in 2013, one of the biggest changes I had to get used to was students and their phones.  My school does not have a school-wide rule about cell phone use.  Students are allowed to use their phones during passing periods and lunch, and then individual teachers set the policy for their own classes.  My rule is no cell phone use from the beginning bell until 5 minutes before the ending bell.  

I have this sign posted in several prominent locations in the room.  After the bell rings, I greet my students with "Guten Tag, Klasse!" followed by "Tschüss, Handys!"  (Handy is the German word for cell phone.)  After we bid farewell to our phones, they are to remain silent and out of sight for the next 80 minutes.  Then, during the last 5 minutes of class, when we are cleaning up and writing down assignments, I announce "Hallo Handy," and students may use their phones if they wish.  If a student has a phone out during class, I collect it in a basket on my desk, which is called the Handy Haus.  The phone stays there until the bell rings for the end of class.  

Cell phones are without a doubt the number one classroom management annoyance I deal with on a daily basis.  Usually the students are good about keeping their phones in their bags the first week or two of school, but then one or two start to appear under a desk or inside a sweatshirt pocket.  If I don't get out the Handy Haus, pretty soon most of the class is using a device all period long.  It's tempting to throw up my hands and give in to the onslaught of digital devices, but I think the Handy Battle is one that is worth fighting.

One of the things I want my students to learn (in addition to German!) is wise use of technology.  We need to teach young people when an appropriate time to text is and when is not - they don't automatically know this when an iPhone is placed in their hands.  If I think it's rude for them to use a cell phone while I'm teaching (which I do), then I need to explain this and follow through with classroom policies that support this. Research tells us that multitasking is inefficient - when we try to do several things at once, we actually don't do any of them very well.    I have certainly observed that students don't learn German well when they are distracted by their phones.  Ideally, I would like my students to have enough self-control that I don't need a Handy Haus, but realistically I know many of them haven't developed that level of self-discipline yet.  But it's something I think they can learn, with practice. And since they will soon be (or already are) driving cars, it's vitally important that they do learn it. In the meantime, I want to give my students every opportunity possible for success in German, so I'll continue to keep my Handy Haus nearby. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

New Classroom Decorations

Here are the crochet snowflakes I made over winter break, hanging in my classroom. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Block Scheduling and World Languages

The school where I teach German is on a block schedule.  Students have four 85 minute classes on one day and four different 85 minute classes the next day.  Those two days, which are called maroon and gold (the school colors), alternate.  The schools where I student taught (German and physics) and where I taught (math and physics) my first two years of teaching were on a traditional schedule, which meant that each class met for about an hour every school day.  So when I started teaching at Bloomington North in 2013, one of the big things I had to get used to was block scheduling.

It took me at least half a year to stop saying that homework was due "tomorrow" and learn to say "next class."  It's also taken me a while to figure out how best to use the 85 minute block, and I guess I would say it's still a work in progress.  If I could choose, I wouldn't pick block scheduling for foreign language teaching and learning.  I think students do better when they have a shorter class more often rather than a longer class less frequently.  

But, since I don't get to choose the schedule, I've thought a lot about how best to teach German on a block schedule.  When planning classes, I usually think of four 20 minute "chunks" of time for different activities.  I try to mix it up with some whole class, group, and individual activities each day because without some variety, 85 minutes can feel very long.

Over winter break, I made some signs for activities that we do regularly so that I wouldn't have to write them over and over.  

Here's what we did in German 3 on Wednesday:
First up was Notizen:  I introduced the past perfect tense, and we took some notes and did some examples as a whole class.  

Next, Lesen: we read a text about bicycle riding in Germany.  I read it out loud to the class first, and then they read it out loud with their table groups.  After that, they answered some comprehension questions with their table groups.  

Finally, Vokabeln: students did some independent vocabulary practice on iPads using Quizlet.  

That left about 15 minutes for them to start on their assignment, a worksheet practicing the past perfect tense.  The timing worked out petty well today, though some days things take a lot longer or a lot less time than I expect.  That's the work in progress part.

If you'd like a copy of the labels I made, click here.