Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jeopardy Rocks

I tried a new online game this week with my German 4 students.  We had been off of school for a week of Thanksgiving break and unfortunately they were due for a unit test that we hadn't been able to get in before break.  So, they needed to do a lot of review, in a fun way if possible

One of my colleagues (Danke, Giselle!) shared this web site with me.  It's called Jeopardy Rocks and is free, though you do have to create an account.  

Once you do, you can create your own Jeopardy game for 1 to 4 teams.  You create the categories, questions, and answers, so it's completely customize-able.  

I decided to try it for the first time in German 4, where I only have 13 (very cooperative) students so that I could see how it worked and work out any bugs.  

Only one team can get credit for a correct answer, and rather than making it a race where I would have to judge who raised their hand first, we took turns among our 3 teams choosing the category and dollar amount.  The team that chose the questions got the first opportunity to answer a question.  If they got it right, they got the points.  If not, they lost the points and the next team had a chance to steal.  This gave everyone a chance to answer questions and encouraged teams to discuss and focus on correct answers rather than just being fast.

My students loved it!  It took quite a while to get through all of the questions, but I think it was a good review.  I'm not sure how well it would work in my German 1 classes of 32 students, but I may try it for finals review with my German 2 classes of 25 students.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


November 11 is Martinstag (St. Martin's Day) in German-speaking countries.  It's a holiday where children make paper lanterns and parade through the streets in the evening singing traditional songs.  This was a long, tiring week at my school, so by Friday we were ready for a little culture, singing, and fun.  

In German 4 I showed this video from WDR to give students some background on the story of St. Martin.

For beginning levels, there is a good description of St. Martin's Day in English at

There are also handouts from Illustratoren für Flüchtlinge that have great picture vocabulary and some of the words to the songs.

There is a good matching activity for the vocabulary at

We watched and sang "Ich geh' mit meiner Laterne"

and "Sankt Martin Ritt durch Schnee und Wind."

There's also a longer text in German (with audio) from Deutsche Welle, but I haven't tried that yet with German 4.  

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Now is the November of our Discontent

I don't know what it is about late October and early November, but it seems to be the time of year when we all hit The Wall.

This foldable that I did Monday with German 1 pretty much sums it up for me:


Sigh.  It's a great foldable that I designed last year.  But somehow when I copied it this year, I didn't check to make sure the inside would be right side up before I made 70 copies.  Oh well, I guess it was an opportunity to model flexibility and a growth mindset for my students.

November is when the days are getting shorter and the concepts are getting harder.  Students who haven't mastered the material from the beginning of the year are really struggling now with new concepts that ask them to use those previously learned skills.  

Students who have decided to drop the class at the semester have pretty much given up: a student on Wednesday asked me if she could have a pass to go to the library instead of staying in class because "I really don't like this class."  I reminded myself not to take things teenagers say personally and told her no.

I get frustrated by the disconnect between the leadership making decisions and the teachers in the classrooms dealing with the day-to-day challenges.  Often it feels like I am at the bottom of a deep well, buried in grading, lesson plans, and forms to fill out, shouting up about what I need to the people who can provide it but who are too far away to hear what I'm saying.   

I believe that public schools are neither the cure for nor the cause of all the problems in our country.  They are more like a mirror, reflecting our communities back to us.  In places where communities are healthy, the public schools are doing well.  In communities that are struggling, the public schools are too.

Right now there's a high level of discontent in our country, so I guess it's not a surprise that I feel that at my school too.  Our leaders aren't able to find ways to disagree and discuss without disrespect and vitriol.  Is it any surprise then that teenagers are finding that hard too?

In short, it's November.

So, what do I do about it?

At least twice a week, I think about becoming an engineer.

But the rest of the time, I remember that I do view teaching as a part of my vocation, my calling.


To the best of my ability, I keep planning and delivering interesting and engaging lessons, like these foldables for German 1 about question words, so that students will focus on the excitement of learning a new language rather than the issues that divide us (or how to leave my classroom).

and guided notes for months and seasons:

I drink a lot of tea.  My instinct is also to eat a lot of chocolate, but my goal this year is to keep eating healthy food - lots of fruits, veggies, and Greek yogurt.  So far I'm doing pretty well at this.

I remind myself that most students enjoy my class.  Some even tweet to me from college.

I try to pray the Liturgy of the Hours on my lunch break (when I'm not watching a required video about teen suicide prevention).  

I exercise every day and practice yoga on Saturdays, even when I'm tired or sore or just want to drink tea and eat chocolate.

I keep calling out, respectfully and through the proper chain of command, from the bottom of the well, even when the response (if I get one) is that what I'm asking for isn't possible or isn't really what I need.

In short, I keep on keeping on...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Fulbright Scholar

If you're a teacher, then you know that teaching and illness just don't go well together.  

It's been a quiet October on the blog because I've spent a lot of the month so far fighting off upper respiratory bugs, with marginal success.  I've had a lot of tea (isn't my mug adorable - a present from my German host mom!) and think I am personally keeping the company that makes Alka Seltzer plus Cold in business.  

Finally, this week, I stayed home one day and slept a lot.  That seemed to make a difference, so hopefully I'm returning to the ranks of the healthy.

So, just a short post today week to tell you about the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher I've had the honor of hosting this fall.

This is the 3rd year that Indiana University has been hosting Fulbright Distinguished Teachers, but it was my first year serving as a host.  I was paired with Hanane Chahidi from Casablanca, Morocco.  She is a high school English as a Foreign Language teacher and is working on an inquiry project about how our approach to language teaching leads to effective communication.  Hanane visited Bloomington North once a week for 6 weeks, observing in my room and in other classes.  

She and her collegue, Khalid El Motassadeq, also presented to students at North about Morocco.

I also got to meet Fulbright Distinguished Teachers from Finland, Mexico, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories.  

It was a definite pleasure, and I hope to be able to host another Fulbright teacher in the future!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Past Participles Speed Dating

File this one under: It's just crazy enough that it might work.

German 2 is learning the Perfekt (conversational past).  After practicing how to form past participles for regular verbs enough that they could recite "ge-verb stem-t" in their sleep, it was time to tackle irregular past participles.

And here we once again come up against one of the unpleasant truths of language learning:

Some things just have to be memorized.  

I've actually come to the conclusion that at least 75% of my job is simply thinking up new and creative ways to trick my students into drilling, drilling, drilling whatever it is they have to memorize.  (The other 25% is split between explaining German grammar and paperwork.)  

There isn't much that's fun or exciting about irregular past participles, but they are necessary.  

While thinking of ways to get my students to practice these past participles, I remembered an activity I had read about recently on my math blogger friend Sarah Carter's blog, Math = Love: Speed Dating.  Sarah was actually featured on NPR's 50 Great Teachers series doing polynomial speed dating.  She credits Kate Nowak with the idea of the speed dating activity.  I've wanted to try speed dating with my German students for a little while.  Could it work for past participles?

On Monday I decided to give it a try.  Just the name caught the interest of some of my more observant students who were reading the agenda board.

Basically, the students each have a card with an infinitive on one side and the English meaning and past participle on the other side.  They move around the room quizzing (dating) each other on past participles and trade cards if they both get the other person's verb correct.  The aim is to date (know the meaning and past participle of) all of the verbs on the checklist.  The materials are pretty basic, just some cards and a check list:

And, it was a hit!  I heard lots of great practice going on, and the students thought it was fun.  It took longer than I expected - the winning speed dater in my first class finished in about 16 minutes.  

I did have the problem in the second class of students checking off verbs they hadn't actually dated (at least I suspect that is what was going on when a student said he was done in 8 minutes).  I dealt with this by requiring that a student tell me a definition and past participle at random from the list in order to be declared the winner.  If the student can't do that correctly, it's back into the dating pool.  I also had some students lose interest after about 10 minutes and spend more time chatting than dating verbs.  It might work better to ditch the checklist and set a timer for 10 minutes, requiring that students date the whole time.  No activity is completely student-proof, I guess.

I wholeheartedly recommend trying speed dating with your students.  Here are my files to get you started:

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Haben and the Accusative Case for German 1

This week German 1 learned the verb haben (to have), which means also introducing the accusative case (for direct objects).  

Cases are something that most German students struggle with because they are a lot less noticeable in English.  (The one exception is my students who have had Latin - they are usually thrilled that German has only 4 cases instead of 6!)

The question I get asked the most is "How do I know what case the noun is in?"  My answer, which does not please students, is that you have to figure out the role of the noun in the sentence, which means figuring out what the sentence means.  In other words, you have to think.  Students would like a simple formula, such as the first noun is always the subject, the second noun is the direct object, and so on.  Sadly, it just doesn't work that way.

So, I tried to come up with a way to describe what I mean by "you have to think" and came up with German Sentence Dissection.

The mad scientist on the cover is Dr. Two Brains from PBS Kids Word Girl.  (I love PBS Kids!)  

We made a stacked foldable with the steps for German Sentence Dissection on the outside and the details inside.

I separated out definite and indefinite articles into two separate days.  Here is Step 2: Find the Subject on day one with only definite articles.

And here is Step 3: Find the Direct Object after the second day with definite and indefinite articles.  

I have a terrible time with my students using "eine" (a/an) before a plural noun.  In the past, we used to write "keine" (not/no) in the chart for plural, but then students thought it means a or some for plural nouns.  These days, I have students write "meine" for plural in their ein words charts because it goes along with Das doofe Fischlied.  

But German 1 hasn't learned possessive adjectives, and I wanted to emphasize that plural means more than one, so we wrote "zwei" (two) to signify that you can't say "a books" but you can say "two books."  We'll see if that helps...

This was German 1's first foldable, and they did quite well.  I had them do all of the cutting and preparation work as their bell work, so that when we got to this point in the notes, they were ready to go.

Here are the files for the guided notes plus two worksheets for practicing haben, the accusative case, and articles in the accusative case:

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Vocabulary Practice Tutorial for German 1/2

I had my first vocabulary practice tutorial for German 1 and 2 this week.  

One of the most important things I'm trying to convey to my German 1 and 2 students is that sitting and looking at your vocabulary list is not the most effective way to study vocabulary.  They need to be actively engaged with the words - writing them, saying them, spelling them, etc.  

Quizlet is one of my favorite high-tech tools for vocabulary practice.  I especially like the Speller and Learn modes.

This tutorial, though, focused on low-tech (and hopefully fun!) ways to practice vocabulary.  Several of the ideas come from observing Word Work in elementary school classrooms.  (Thank you, Rogers and Binford Elementary Schools!)

This tutorial featured Hangman, using my vintage hangman game boards, purchased at Goodwill for $1:

Hidden Letters (Probe), which is similar to Hangman and also was a $1 Goodwill find:

Letter tiles (pink dots for umlauts):

And letter stamps:

I didn't have anyone choose to do letter tiles, but students seemed to enjoy the other stations.  

Here are my instruction files for Hangman and Hidden Letters if you'd like to give them a try.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Farben und Kleidung

I am such a morning person!  I'm so much more creative in the morning than any other time of the day.  

On Saturday afternoon I was trying to do some planning and creating for my next unit in German 2 - Kleidung Clothing.  Since I didn't teach German 2 last year, it's been two years since I last taught this topic.  We have a new textbook now, so I was looking through what I already have and seeing what fits in with our book and what I need.  I got stuff done, but it was a slow slog.

Then, I woke up early this morning, made myself a cup of tea, and the ideas started flowing.  
I introduced colors last year in German 1, but students were never tested on them, and I have a feeling they need a bit of a review.  I used the above picture in German 1, but I like it and think it will make a good review.  Who doesn't like coloring on a Monday morning?

Several months ago I found a great free worksheet at GrundschulAtelier for beginning clothing vocabulary and colors:

I modified it a bit to work for my students and came up with this:

Since I just introduced clothing vocabulary for the first time on Thursday, I think this will work well to get students using and learning both colors and clothing in class Monday.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

In the Dark

On Friday morning I went in to school expecting to be giving my German 1 students their first test of the year and to be talking about city vocabulary and Berlin with my German 4 students.

Then, when I walked in to school it was much darker than usual in the office.  In fact, we had only emergency power and lighting.  No one was quite sure what had caused it or how long it would be out, but students were already on their way in to school, so it was too late to call a delay or cancel.

Most classrooms had a single emergency light.  My room also has a window, which provided some more light, but no power meant no computers, no water for washing hands in the restrooms (motion-activated sinks), no drinking fountains, and no air conditioning.

I was lucky that I have first period prep on Gold days, so I spent the time trying to figure out what I was going to do in my classes instead of the things I had planned that required electricity.  My German 1 test was on paper, but I hadn't printed it out yet, so that would have to wait.  

Meanwhile, other teachers tried to teach as best they could.  Since the career center also had no power, the day care located there wasn't open, so teachers whose children normally go there had their children with them in the classroom.  It also started getting very stuffy and hot in the classrooms.

By the end of first block, the power still wasn't on, and an announcement was made that we would be dismissing early, at 9:30.  Apparently my school and the attached career center as well as the middle school nearest us were all affected and it was going to take a while to get it fixed.  

Since my children attend the other high school and a middle school that wasn't affected, they had a normal school day, but I got to go home at 10:00.  My kids were jealous, but we may have to make up the missed day, so in the end they may have the last laugh!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Peer Editing in German 2

I've always found peer editing with my students to be a challenge.  

On one hand, I think it is a useful activity for them to read a classmate's work and see if they can understand it and help correct mistakes.  It's also practical because I just can't edit 28 paragraphs in fifteen minutes of class time.

On the other hand, I find that they often don't do a very good job of it.  They will read through the paragraph quickly, say "It's fine," and hand it back to the owner, even when there are obvious basic errors - nouns not capitalized, words misspelled, etc.

As with most things, I've found that my students have more success when I give them specific instructions, like in the picture above.

I introduced the Perfekt (conversational past tense) to German 2 at the beginning of the year, and we've been working hard on it for the past 2 weeks.  This week, students began working on their first writing assessment: a paragraph about a special event such as a birthday that has happened in the past:

We did some pre-writing and brainstorming in class to think of words and phrases we've learned in this unit that could be used here:

Then, students wrote a rough draft that was due on Thursday.  My hope was that giving them a specific checklist would improve the quality of peer editing.  

Overall, I think it was a success.  In my first class, which is generally pretty strong in language skills and students do an excellent job of following directions, almost everyone got through the editing checklist and I saw lots of papers with highlighted helping verbs and past participles and some helpful changes.  

In my second class, which has a little bit weaker language skills on average and has students who are easily distracted and not as good at following instructions, I had fewer successfully edited paragraphs (It didn't help that several students hadn't done a rough draft, so they had to use the time to write one and didn't get the opportunity to benefit from peer editing.) but still a reasonable amount of success.  

Here are the files if you'd like a copy:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Going Digital

My school went 1-1 with laptop computers last school year.  As with any new resource, it took me some trial and error to figure out how best to use them in my classroom.  There are pluses and minuses to any new tool, and I would be remiss if I didn't point out that there is very little data so far on whether 1-1 technology actually enhances student learning.  Still, it is a tool which my district has made available to me, so I'm trying to use it to help my students experience success in German.

This year, I'm starting off feeling much more knowledgeable about both the laptops and our learning management system, Canvas.  

I have a home page for each of my courses.  The picture below is for German 2.

Each of the unit titles are clickable and take the student to materials for that unit.  

This past week I wanted to give my German 2 students a short practice assignment using the new verbs from our first unit that we had gone over in class.  Instead of giving them a paper worksheet, I was able to give them the assignment online that looked like this.

They wrote their answers in the text box at the bottom of the screen and submitted them to me by the beginning of the next class.  

Almost all of my German 2 students have internet access at home, but for those that don't, I have them copy and paste their work into a Word file and save it to their desktop.  Then, they can work on it at home without internet.  When they are back at school the next day, they can paste their work from the Word file into the text box and submit it.  So far that has worked, though I do usually print out 2-3 paper copies as an additional backup.

I grade most assignment on a completion basis.  Normally I check for assignment completion at the beginning of class while students are doing their bell work.  With this, I don't need to because Canvas notes what time the student submitted the assignment.  So, I can spend more time talking with students in German or assessing how they are doing with the bell work.  

Generally we go over assignments in class and students correct their own work - it's just too time consuming for me to correct every individual assignment.  

To go over the online assignment in class, students opened their submitted assignment and copied and pasted their work into a new text box for resubmitting the assignment.  They could then edit the resubmitted work as we went over it so that at the end they had the correct answers for future quiz and test review.  

The learning management system keeps and lets me see a student's original submission, so I can make sure they attempted the work on their own before class and corrected the work with the class later.  Grading it hardly took any more time than my old system of checking for completion by hand at the beginning of class and entering grades at the end of class.  So, I'm happy with this.

Another use of Canvas has been for absent work.  Each day I post absent work for each course according to the date.  Then, students who are absent check Canvas to find out what they missed.  Some of my very organized students do this before they return to class after their absence so they are already mostly caught up by the time they return.  Then there are most students, who I remind to check their absent work during bell work time when they return to class.  

Here's what an absent work file looks like.  

I can link to files or websites and even embed some videos.  I don't yet have AirServer working in my classroom (read about that saga here) yet this year, so I can't record guided notes videos to include here yet, but I hope that will be up and running before too long.  

I don't think that 1-1 is the solution to all of the challenges we face in education, but it is another tool in my tool box, and I'm looking forward to finding more ways to make it work in my classroom this year.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Auf die Plätze, Fertig, Los!

August 10 was the first day of school, and we are off and running!  

I am so grateful that our school district started school on a Wednesday this year rather than a Monday.  The first days of school are really tiring for both students and teachers, and after 3 days, everyone is ready for a weekend.

All in all, things went surprisingly smoothly.  I am teaching 5/6 time again this year, and have two sections of German 1, two sections of German 2, and one section of German 4.  Here's how I keep myself organized:

We have block scheduling, and my German 2 classes meet on Maroon days, and German 1 and German 4 meet on Gold days.  

New this year, I have posted objectives for each of my classes, which is part of our evaluation:

German 1 started out with a crossword puzzle of cognates to discover how much German they already know.

and looking at some false friends:

And in German 4, we talked about duzen and Siezen with this video from Easy German: