In School in Germany: Picture Games

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To start off this article, I would like to offer a word of advice to teachers whose passion also includes photography: Take as many pictures as you can and keep as many as you can. You may never know when and how you will need them- especially if you find the best ones for an activity (or several) for your class. 🙂  This principle I’ve followed for years which has led to not only successful activities but also successful articles.

This applies to vacation time, as two thirds of the population of German children are starting school now, with the remaining third still out until September. The same trend applies in the US, where half the schools start in mid-August; the rest after Labor Day. Children gather vast amounts of experiences through travel, summer camps, visits to long-distant relatives and friends, work and other events that add experience and enrich their knowledge of what’s around them. And at the beginning of the school year, they would like to share that experience with other classmates and especially their teacher.

After all, as we would like to look at their interests and get to know them, we can help them along so they can be what they want to be, right?  Be all that you can be, like in the US Army commercial. 😉

 

If you, as a teacher, have some problems coming up with activities to encourage the students to use their language skills and share their experiences with others, there are some activities that can help. Using a collection of photos, you can introduce the following exercises to them to motivate them to speak and be creative. These activities are not only meant to break the ice in terms of establishing communication between the teacher and the students, it is meant to unlock the knowledge that has been sitting in the freezer inside the students’ heads and it just needs to be thawed out. For the first exercise, photos from the teacher are required for use, whereas the second and third activities one can also use the photos from the students, if requested. In the fourth and final exercise, the students should present their photos and images, even if through Powerpoint or a slideshow.

Here’s a look at the photo activities you can use in the classroom (suitable for all ages and language levels):

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Picture This:

Based on an exercise in Baron’s TOEIC Preparatory Book, the object of this game is to look at a picture provided by the presenter to the group, and identify what is seen in there. How students view it and express themselves depends on what the picture has. The picture can be a landscape, a certain scene with people doing activities, a phenomenon, or something totally different. What is seen is what is to be identified. Some people may feel restricted because they have to focus on the picture itself and therefore may have some difficulties finding the right vocabulary for the pictures. Yet by the same token, especially if the activity is done in groups, one can take advantage of learning new words from this game or even refreshing the vocabulary that had been sitting unused for some time.  There are two ways of doing this activity: one is in a large group where each student can find what is in the picture and make a statement on it. The other is in pairs or small groups, where each one receives a picture, analyses it and can present it to the rest of the class. With the second variant, five minutes of preparing and five to ten minutes of presentation total will suffice, pending on the number of students in class.

As a trial run, use the picture above and find out what you see in there. You’ll be amazed at what you will find happening at a place like the Westerhever Lighthouse at the moment of the pic. 😉

 

Finish the Story: 

This activity comes from the film, Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Originally in the film (produced and directed by the late Sidney Pollack), the character Karen Dinesen (played by Streep) is a story-teller and in a conversation with Denys Hatton (played by Redford) and others, she explains the concept, where one starts the story with a sentence, where the other finishes the story the way it is seen fit. Like in this example:

While one could adopt this concept in the classroom, if it was a one-to-one training session, in larger groups, it would not be as exciting as it is when each student adds a sentence to the first one given by the teacher, and going through a couple rounds until the entire class feels the story is complete. This concept helps students become creative while at the same time refresh their knowledge of sentence structure and a bit of grammar. While one can try this without pictures, more challenging but exciting would be with pictures, especially from summer break, like the ones presented below. Try these with the following sentences below and complete your own story……. 🙂

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It was afternoon on the North Sea coast and a storm is approaching. It is windy and perfect weather for kite-flying………

 

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It is high tide, and the beach is underwater. Two people sitting in Strandkörbe are taken by surprise……..

 

Make a Story:

 Going further into talking about vacations and things to do in the summer is creating your own story, using a pic provided by the teacher. In groups of two or three, students have five minutes (for those on the beginner or pre-intermediate levels, 7-10 minutes should suffice) to create a story to present to the class. The advantage of this exercise, is that students are able to exchange ideas and knowledge to create a fantastic, rather interesting story to share with the rest of the class. In small groups of six or less, the exercise can also be done individually.  Even when you have pics like these below, which are rather simple, one can create great stories out of it. The whitest and plainest of canvases make for world-class pictures with this game.  Word to the wise  from my former uncle, who was a world-class painter. 😉

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Mini-Presentation:

With time constraints being the thorn in the side of teachers, one has to go by the principle of “Less Means More,” and optimize your class, in order to make learning as effective as possible. Mini-presentations are the best way for students to talk about their vacation in the shortest time possible. With a couple pics as support, each student has 2-3 minutes to talk about their trip.  The downside to this activity is that the student does not have much to talk about. It is possible though to choose one aspect of the vacation that you love the most and would like to talk about. The best aspect always receives the best attention. How it is presented depends on the student’s creative talents. One can focus on a sport the student tried, a wonderful place the student visited, a local food the student tried and loved, or a local event that took place during vacation. It can also include a summer job, summer camp, talent show or even a local festival, such as a parade, county fair or city market. Whatever event was the highlight, the student should have a chance to present it- as long as it does not overlap with another presenter.  🙂

 

There are several more activities which require the use of photos, while an increasing number of them require the use of 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and other interactive platforms, yet these four exercises do not require the use of technology (minus the Powerpoint aspect), but more with your language skills and your creative talents.  While these four activities can be used at any time, with even different themes, such as Christmas or school-related events for example, for the purpose of reactivating their language knowledge and getting (re-)acquainted with the students and teacher, are they perfect for the occasion. By implementing one or more successfully, the class will become so involved, it will appear that the first day in school never happened, and that the class will pick up where it left off before break, without missing a beat.

Even more so, when using photos for classroom use, a teacher can do a lot with them, while the students can benefit from them through their own stories. Therefore, take a lot of pictures and be prepared to use them for your future classes. Your students will thank you for it. 🙂

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In School in Germany/ Genre of the Week: Pelmanism- From the Novel: Don’t Try This at Home by Paul Reizin

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This Genre of the Week looks at a novel that may look ordinary to some readers who go through the whole book (or even half of it before putting it down for another one) and judge it as textbook style- where the protagonist gets caught in a situation where he has to find his way out.

The novel “Don’t Try This At Home,” by Paul Reizin looks at the protagonist from a first person point-of-view, who ends up being entangled in a mafia, getting in trouble with the law, and in bed with several girls in the process. All of these are by accident; all of these despite his attempts of getting himself out of the situation, only to end up digging himself even deeper in a hole until his wit, quick thinking and a little romance got himself out in the end.  How it all happened and what his personal life was like is worth reading and interpreting yourself. 🙂

Yet Reizin’s novel also features a few unconventional games that are worth trying, if you knew how they were played and done it wisely. Pelmanism is one of those games mentioned and described in the novel.

And while in the book Pelmanism had experiments with different types of alcohol while guessing what they were without looking, the game itself can be a useful one that provides the players of all ages with valuable learning experiences in all subjects of study.

Especially, when learning foreign languages!!!! 😀

I’ve been using this game for all my English classes since 2004- most of the time when we have our last course meeting as a group before the semester ends and we part ways for other commitments in life- and the game features words that are sometimes forgotten by some and unknown by others. It also presents some of the typical things and characteristics of some students. All it takes is some guessing what the objects are and who they belong to.

 

The object of the game is simple. You need:

A sheet of paper and a writing utensil

A timer

And a bag with ten personal items- the items should be small enough to fit in a cloth bag (not a see-through plastic one)

 

How the game is played goes like this:

One student grabs a bag and places the contents on the table in the middle, while other students close their eyes and/or look away as the contents are being taken out. Once all the items are on the table, that student signals the rest of the group to open their eyes and look at the table and the objects.  At this point, students have one minute to identify the ten items on the table in their working language, namely the foreign language they are learning. At the same time, they should guess who these objects belong to.

Once the teacher, who runs the timer, says “Stop!”, the students are called on upon random to name the objects and who they belong to. The student, who gets all the objects right as well as the correct person, will be the next one that chooses another bag, and repeats the same procedure.

This whole process continues until all the bags are used up or the teacher ends the game for time reasons.  There is no clear winner, but the objective of the game is to get the students to “reactivate” their brains to remember the words they learned in the past. At the same time, they also have an opportunity to learn new vocabulary- much of which may need to be listed on a sheet of paper with the native language equivalent, should the foreign language level range from beginner to intermediate (A to B level, according to the Common European Framework). In some cases, small devices that are new to the students will need to be explained by the person who brought it with the other objects.

 

I’ve had some weird but interesting examples that warranted explaining, for instance:

A can of deoderant that is actually a capsule for fitting a small object for hiding in geocaching, a pen that functions as a light, laser pointer and hole puncher, small books full of quotes, USB-sticks with company logos, stuffed animals (also as key chains), pieces of raw material (wood, rock, metal), postcards, pictures and poems. If you can think it, you can present it and be genuine at the same time. 😉

As mentioned earlier, Pelmanism can be played by all ages, regardless of language knowledge, and if you can have at least four participants (the more, the better), you can treat yourself to an evening of fun for either the whole family or friends. If you are a teacher in an English class, you will find this useful and fun for the students; especially if you participate in the game yourself.

Pelmanism is one of those games found in a book, where if modified for use in the classroom and mastered properly, it can be a fun experience for those learning new words, especially in a foreign language. It reactivates your brain and gets you reacquainted with words learned in the past (but seldomly used in the present), while at the same time, encourages active learning and acquisition of new words into an ever-expanding vocabulary. It is a fun game for everyone, and if you are as lucky as the protagonist in the story, you might come out with more than what words you learned in the game. 😉 <3

Thanks, Paul!

 

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Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

GUEST COLUMN:

For those who have been living in a country outside your home, and have had problems forgetting some words in your own language, you’re not alone. I’ve had this experience, especially since I’ve been living in Germany for almost 20 years. But so has this guest columnist, and here’s a short explanation for this. You don’t necessarily lose your language, but you integrate it into the one of your current country of residency. Enjoy! 🙂

Source: Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

 

 

In School in Germany: Teaching Beowulf and Old English- Introduction

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Viking Ship at the Museum in Oslo. Source: Wikipedia (Hifi0006)

Old English: one of the main origins of our language. Consisting of the languages of the Anglo-Saxons, Old English was first spoken by the Germanic tribes and consisted of words most commonly found in today’s German, English and some Scandanavian language. With the Norman Conquest of 1066, Old English transformed itself into Middle English while adopting words and phrases from the Norman language. Eventually all of the historic elements, as seen in the clip below, made up today’s language, which has its common, fixed structure in terms of grammar and sentence construction, but is constantly evolving because of the language’s adaptation to the changing environments, including the development of technology which is influencing the way English is being used.

And this takes us to the story of Beowulf. Written between the 10th and 11th Century, before the Norman Conquest, Beowulf is the oldest known literary work that was conceived in Old English. Although the work has been translated into today’s English, with the most recent work written and edited by Seamus Heaney, it is unknown who wrote the folklore, consisting of a poem with 3182 lines. The work has however been adapted into film, TV series and even children’s stories.

But who is Beowulf and why is it important to teach that in class?

To summarize, Beowulf was a warrior of Scandanavian descent who ruled the Geat kingdom. His strength is equal to 30 men, and he can battle with sword and hand-to-hand combat. He helps the king of Danes, Hrothgar, in defeating a monster named Grendel, who had invaded the dining hall, killing some Danish soldiers. Grendel loses his arm in the battle with Beowulf, runs home to the mother and dies at the end. The mother becomes angry and invades the hall again. Beowulf chases her down and kills her in the end as well. The warrior receives many rewards and eventually expanded his kingdom in the end. Fifty years have passed, and Beowulf, in his 70s, faces another challenge in a form of a dragon. Accompanied by his nephew, he battles the dragon and defeats it, but not before he is mortally wounded. He is honored in his funeral, where as a custom, he is burned on a boat but others give him something as a sacrifice to remember.  Many adaptations exist but a couple shorter animations shows how the story takes place:

Because the poem was written in Old English, Beowulf presents an insight of how English was used during that time, especially as some of the words originated from that period. Furthermore it is important to learn about history after the Fall of the western half of the Roman Empire, especially as far as the creation of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandanavian regions are concerned. Much of that is taught in history classes in schools in Germany, especially in the sixth and seventh grades, but some elements are even being presented in English classes, including the culture of the kingdoms in the regions during that time. While some elements of European history is introduced in American schools, it is important to learn about this, for the Vikings, who explored North America in the 9th Century, the time of the release of Beowulf, came from the regions in Scandanavia, including Denmark, and had been known for invading the Anglo-Saxon kingdom (especially in present-day England) several times before the Conquest of 1066.

The question is how to teach Beowulf to students in school without having to bore them. As mentioned before, over 3200 lines were written and translated, yet the time limit is a factor, as well as determining how it fits in the curriculum for either English or history. One can reduce the content to the most important aspects, but doing so creates a risk of leaving out some elements that may become important later on. Reading it straight out would be as brutally difficult as reading Chaucer, even on the high school level.

But one can create their own adaption of Beowulf. This includes adapting Beowulf to a modern version, such as Beowulf 2.0, Beowulf on Twitter, etc. It also includes activities to fill in the lost years, video games, and the like. It is a matter of presenting a summary of the story, while introducing the details, including Beowulf’s family, childhood, kingdom and even the culture of the Geats, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Scandanavian regions, which one may need a two sessions for, pending on the time alloted per session. After that, students have a chance to create their own versions of Beowulf.

In July, some examples of how Beowulf can be taught will be presented to give teachers and students some ideas for their own project as well as possibilities to teach it in class. These were done by fellow college students at a university in central Germany. More on that will come then. In the meantime, what are some ideas you would have to teach students the importance of Beowulf? What projects did you try doing? Place your stories in the comment section below.

Stay tuned! More on Beowulf will come in July. 🙂

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In School in Germany: The Characteristics of Being a Great Teacher of English (as a Foreign Language)

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A few months back, I was approached by a colleague of mine, who runs a pair of online columns devoted to English writing, wanting to know from me some of the things that are important for teaching English as a foreign language.  After some thoughtful consideration and looking back at what I’ve experienced in the 15+ years I’ve been teaching here in Germany, dealing with everything in the sun, I decided to compile a list of ideas that are especially useful for those entering the field or are struggling in their first year on the job. The characteristics I mention here do not necessarily mean that if you don’t have them, you will never be a great teacher. It just simply means that if something goes wrong, you may want to think about them and ask yourself if it is useful to try them, at least. After all, each teacher has his/her way of teaching English language and culture.

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  1. Image is Everything- This was the slogan that tennis great André Agassi used for his Nikon camera commercials in the late 1980s and 90s. As a teacher, you have to market yourself to the students in a way that they will respect you from the first day on. This goes beyond your outer appearance. It even outguns the knowledge of your native language. It has to do with being on the level with your students and finding ways to get them to follow you. Sometimes you and your students find the right chemistry right away and you have a productive and successful class. Other times there is a wall that you cannot overcome, even if you try. Then it is like the love affair between man and woman, or in my case, the beamer and the laptop as stated in an earlier article.
  2. Your Students are your Audience; your Friends. Treat them with Care- I was once told that teaching is a business and the students are your customers. If you have students who “hate” you and your teaching and decide to annoy you at their convenience, then that is where the German formal “Sie” and the business-like relationship comes in. However, not all of them are like that. Many of them stay with you as long as you are working at their institution and even become your friends for life. To give you a hint: In my last semester teaching in Bayreuth in 2009, I had a class where all but three of the 20 people had been in my previous classes. All of them are still in contact. If you have this experience, then it is because you did something right, by listening to what they want, customizing your classes to make them interesting and you are integrated into their “culture” and they into yours. Almost all of them are eager to learn from you, and not just for the sake of languages.
  3. You need Structure; You need Discipline- A Frank Fitts from American Beauty quote that definitely applies to teaching, especially English. As Germans, especially in the eastern half, are obsessed with a structured form of teaching, you should structure the teaching to cater to their needs. It’s like a presentation: you have the introduction, the key points, the summary and time for questions and clarity. Then you make sure that they are kept in line with what they learned. Entertainment only serves as a frosting to the cake. This was a lesson I learned from a colleague at a private institution recently.
  4. Less is More- Too much of everything in an English classroom, even worksheets, are never a good thing. If you find yourself having a complaint where there were too much print materials to work with, you may want to reduce it and alternate your teaching methods. Sometimes some help from another source will help a great deal.
  5. Back-up your stuff in the classroom: Stewart Tunnicliff, who runs a couple Leipzig-based websites and a translation/proofreading business once said this when he presented the WordPress presentation at the Intercultural Blogger Conference in March. I have to say it also applies to teaching as well. Despite the careful planning that Germans are famous for, a back-up plan must always be in store, should your original plan fail in the classroom due to the students’ lack of interest, some technical glitches, missing elements because you were in a hurry, etc. While some teachers believe that Plan B is non-existent, they haven’t seen some situations, including those I experienced, where it was warranted. So have a Back-up plan ready, and ……
  6. Plan for technical doomsday- Your computer will crash, its relationship with the beamer will fail, the files will not open, the speakers will not operate, anything will happen. It has happened with the best teachers and they have dealt with them. Almost all of those who experienced a technical “Panne” have learned to do this one important item next time they work a technical equipment: check to make sure everything is in order before entering the stage with eager students awaiting to watch something “educational.” 😉
  7. Creativity and spontaneity are bread and butter- If there is a characteristic a teacher must have, there are two of them: being creative and spontaneous. A creative person comes up with activities on paper, through brainstorming and best of all, in the classroom in a spontaneous manner. A spontaneous person foregoes a planned session because of cock-ups along the way, presents a new strategy out of the blue, and gives it to the group for them to do. 99 times out of 100, that works every time. Teachers must have the brains to do both if they wish to continue with their career in the long term.
  8. Be a great storyteller- Storytelling not only provides students with a sense of entertainment, but also lessons for them to learn from, both in a moral and philosophical manner as well as when learning a foreign language. The stories told don’t have to be very personal ones, but they should be ones that are related to reality, and students can relate to. Even the tiniest story, including a person and a chain-smoker, who disregards the no smoking sign, getting into a debate on smoking, brings value to the students as some of them are smokers wanting to quit but don’t know how. Think about it. 🙂
  9. Slow and easy always wins friends- Especially for Americans teaching foreign languages, teachers love to speak at their tempo, which is for the non-native speakers of English, too fast. Sometimes a problem with dialect can hinder the success in the classroom. Slow down. Speak high English (with a Chicago dialect), have someone listen to you if you feel it is necessary. No student will mob you if you speak extra slowly and clearly, or did one student do that?
  10. Make sure your exits are covered- If a student complains about a bad grade, explain to him/her why and what can be done to improve it. If students become a smart-ass, surprise them with a quiz to test their knowledge. If a person wikiing his assignment says his grandma helped him with English, invite her to class unannounced. If lectures are needed, give it to them. Students will respect you if you keep pace with their learning but will love you if you are ahead of the game. A lesson I learned after dealing with the unbelieveable. 🙂
  11. Finally, be decent. Teaching students goes beyond the subject or the basic skills needed for the job. The main goal of a teacher is to show students how to be decent. Decency is a commodity that is well underrated but one we need so that we can love our neighbors and friends and respect their rights and wishes. It also means that teachers learn by example, by being professional and kind to others. A video with a lecture of how decency and justice goes together, shows us how important our job is, which is to teach our future generation how to be decent.

There are many more, but these eleven are the most important elements of a teacher, in my opinion. Each teacher has his/her style of teaching which works in some cases and fails in others. Even more so, teachers have different personalities that can work out or cause conflicts. In either case, what is important is making sure the students get a proper education so that they can go out, see the world and experience it themselves. How it is done is solely up to the teacher, yet if something fails, they should take a different approach. In either case, in the end, if students walk out of the halls of school or university with a great sense of satisfaction, then it is a sure-fire sign that they will leave footprints in your hearts forever,

let alone pairs of sneakers on the line outside your home. 🙂

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