Saturday, August 31, 2013


This guy was chilling out on the window of my classroom on Friday.  I noticed him when I came in in the morning.  Since I figured it would probably come up, I made a label for how to say "praying mantis" in German.  Just a fun way for kids to pick up some extra vocabulary that doesn't otherwise come up (also how they learned the word Spinne last year).

- Frau Leonard

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Color Coded Student Packets

I wasn't very good at planning during my first year of teaching.  I was a day by day kind of teacher, and aside from being highly stressful, meant I made a lot of copies each day.  Trust me, that sucked.

As I got more organized and collected a mass amount of material for each unit (see Three Levels of Planning), I found that I hated having to figure out which worksheets to hand out which days.  A few years ago I started doing packets for each unit.  Each packet contains all of the notes and activities that I plan on doing in that unit.  There's a title page so students know the topic, they're color coded, the page numbers are labeled... and best of all, I only have to make copies and hand out papers once a unit.

Overall, I found the kids responded well to the switch.  At first I think it scares them to be getting such a big packet, but as they realize that packet represents at least a week (maybe up to three) of work, they calm down.  For students who are more disorganized, I found this helps a lot.  Instead of lots of worksheets being spread throughout their binders, folders, backpacks, jacket pockets... or wherever else they mysteriously vanish, everything's in one place and there's only one thing to keep track of.

This is also great for when students are absent, especially for extended periods of time.  They have all of the work they'll be missing without you having to keep track of a bunch of different papers to give them.

I think I mentioned in my post on Three Levels of Planning that I keep my grammar and vocab units separate.  At any given time, each class is learning one new grammar topic while doing one new vocab unit- each gets a packet, and color coding helps students keep them apart.  I can say "Get out your grammar packet," or just "Get out the blue packet."

It also makes it clear when I give homework.  I specify the activity, the color of the packet, and the page number (make sure to put page numbers!).

I rotate between the four colors my school has available.  Currently we're using pink and blue in German 1 for the units we're covering.  Our next two units will be in yellow and green.  Once those are done, we'll switch back to pink and blue.  This makes it just that much easier to specify what students should be referring to at any given time.

Though I should add, I only do the cover pages and color coding for levels 1 and 2.  Levels 3 and 4 still get packets... there's just no cover pages and they're on plain white paper.

- Frau Leonard

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Product Review: Colors Bulletin Board Set

PRODUCT REVIEW: Food Colors German Bulletin Board Set (Teacher's Discovery)
Product Description: Blueberries, black olives, brown bread, green grapes, orange carrots, violet eggplants, red bell peppers, yellow bananas, white rice: it's all here in mouth-watering full color! Hit two major vocabulary topics when you talk about food and colors with your class. Hang this bulletin board set to reinforce color vocabulary and healthy eating! Nine 8 x 11-inch glossy pieces, heavy cardstock, not laminated. 
Cost: $19.95

Our county curriculum for German is based on Deutsch Aktuell 1.  The way it was laid out, we were teaching colors to level 1 at the END of the school year.  Can you imagine waiting four quarters and then, as the LAST unit, starting colors?  I saw these in the Teacher's Discovery catalog and thought it would be a great reference for students throughout the year before we actually got to the unit.  

I love them!  The pictures are great and they add a bit of color (duh!) to the classroom.  Since they don't come laminated, make sure you get that done before hanging them up!  I've found the students like having them as a reference before we cover colors.  

They're a little small (only the size of a regular piece of paper) - they're not necessarily easy to read on the opposite side of the classroom - but I like the size because it makes them less obtrusive and gives you more options in where to put them up.

My only complaint is that pink and grey are missing.  I like having the posters, so I ended up making my own food-related posters for them (see above).

Practicality: 4.5/5
Great as a tool for students before they learn the vocab, and great as a quick reference for after (especially with spelling).  Only took off some points because it's only really practical for level 1 - upper levels don't need to refer to them.

Accuracy: 4/5
Only taking off because they're missing colors I wish were included.  Everything that's there is accurate (though students do sometimes complain that there's green in the white picture...).

Fun: 5/5
I love the pictures and color.  Great classroom decoration!

Overall: 13.5 / 15 (90%)
I would *highly* recommend this product if you teach elementary or middle school, or if you teach lower levels of German in high school.  Definitely worth it!

If you're looking for other color-related displays that might be a little cheaper, here are two others:

- Colors Skinny Poster (see left): Teacher's Discovery has a poster that shows all the colors (even pink and grey which are missing in the set above).  Looks good, but my concern is that it might be too small.  I like the look but didn't purchase it because I already own the item above.  Cost of this poster would be $12.00

- Color Their World: This blog post at the Creative Language Class talks about how to make super easy (and cheap!) signs for colors by going to Home Depot or Loews and getting paint strips.  Liked this idea and shared it with some of the other teachers at my school.  Very creative!

- Frau Leonard

Monday, August 26, 2013

Supplies for Students

In most schools, students supply their own classroom materials like paper, pens and notebooks.  But what about things like staplers and three-hole punches?  What if they forget their pencil?

I personally don't have a lot of supplies available on hand for students.  I do have a heavy-duty three-hole punch, a stapler, and an electronic pencil sharpener for every day use.  There's sets of markers, colored pencils, crayons, rulers and glue for when we do crafts or posters in class.  I even have a class set of highlighters since that's a surprisingly uncommon thing for students to have, even if you ask them to buy one and bring it to class.  As we use them, the students become familiar with what's there for them to use and where it all is.

Whatever you do or don't make available for your students, try to keep it all in the same place.  Let them know that this is the area where their supplies are, and keep that area distinct from your desk space.  There's a whole filing cabinet by the door that has these supplies for them - all drawers clearly labeled.  My desk is off limits to them - I have my own stapler, three-hole punch, etc for my use and they have their own in the student area for theirs.  This keeps students from thinking they can come up to your desk and take things off.  While a few missing paper clips aren't a big deal, there's that separation of space that makes sure they don't take anything they really shouldn't.
Student area for supplies - all in one spot!
One thing I do supply that I know a lot of teachers don't are pens and pencils.  Not a lot, and certainly not enough for each student in each class.  I have a set of 12 pens and/or pencils that's available for all students to use whenever they forget theirs or need a different color pen.  I tell the kids that these are the ONLY pens/pencils I'm providing for the WHOLE year.  Their responsibility is to use them as needed, then return them.  Once all 12 disappear, that's it.  And yes, I warn them, they do have a tendency to disappear throughout the year.

To make it more obvious that students are actually borrowing one of "my" pens or pencils is I've taped spoons to the end.  This makes it visually more obvious to you that they're borrowing them, just in case they need a reminder to return it later.  It also makes it obvious for them - they're more likely to remember to return it since it's clearly not theirs.

Each year, I ask my brother to decorate the spoons for me.  He's been a good sport so far about it.  This year's theme appears to be the Watchmen, along with some Kick-Ass and Superman.  Last year was the Avengers and Mass Effect.

One thing I recommend if you decide to tape spoons (or forks or fake flowers or whatever) to the end of pencils: cut off the erasers!  If you leave them on, students will bend (and eventually end up breaking) the spoons to use the erasers.  I just cut them off, then save them in case a student needs them during a quiz or writing assignment.  When they complain, just remind them you're nice enough to have pencils for them!

What classroom supplies do you have available for student use?

- Frau Leonard

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sticker Sheets: Incentives for Students

This might sound strange, but kids - even high schoolers - love stickers.  My first year of teaching, I had an "Ausgezeichnet!" stamp that I used on quizzes when students got an A.  I later switched to putting stickers.  The reaction was the same - they LOVED it.  

At one of my Professional Development meetings that year, one of the mentors suggested using student incentive sheets where students get rewarded for X amount of times they do whatever behavior you're trying to promote.  I decided to connect this idea with the stickers (which I was already doing).

Blank student sticker sheet - click here for the file
At the beginning of the year, each student receives a sticker sheet (see above).  It's basically just a grid of 5 x 16 with each box just big enough to put in a sticker.  Whenever a student earns a sticker, he/she puts it on this sheet.  When they have a full row of five, they can trade it in.  

Just make sure you have lots of stickers handy...
How do students earn stickers?
When we play games, they might get a sticker if their group wins.  If they help out by filing papers or pushing in chairs at the end of class, they could earn a sticker.  Sometimes I'll give them one if they catch a typo or error in a worksheet.  An A on a quiz or test would get them a sticker, or if they get an entire exercise on a quiz correct. During the first few weeks as you're trying to set up classroom management for the school year, you can reward students who are working on the drill or who got out their homework (without needing to be prompted) with a sticker.  There are a bunch of ways you can come up with - these are just the few that came to mind.

What do they get for trading in a row?
When students trade in a full row of five stickers, they can get one of two things.
1. +2 points on a quiz (though not boosting them over 100%)
2. A homework pass (They don't actually receive any points with this options - they are just excused from doing a homework assignment.  It's more helpful in avoiding a loss of points.)
These are the two options I give my students, though I'm sure you can adjust or add to this list.  

How do you make sure they don't re-use them?
As students turn them in, I cross out the row with a sharpie, then date and initial next to it.  Make sure they have all their stickers on their sticker sheet.  If they try to turn in a row but a row that has already been marked off is missing stickers, they need to fix the missing row before they can turn in another.  

Alternative: Students can cut off each row as they turn it in.  Then you have the "used" stickers and can dispose of them without worrying about them getting re-used.

Here's a student sticker sheet from last year
Over the past few years I've found this to be very successful.  It gives students a little extra motivation and something tangible to show them that they're doing a good job.  And most of all, the kids love it!

- Frau Leonard

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Product Review: Pronunciation Video

Product Description:  Snappy, funny and effective! Features pronunciation by native speakers, repetitions on the screen and by your students, and hardly anything else. Excellent introduction to and reinforcement of German sounds. What a great way to speak German! ©2004. 15 minutes. German. Middle School, High School level. Also available on VHS. 
Cost: $21.94 DVD or $9.99 Download

I purchased this video during either my first year of teaching as a way to go over pronunciation with my German 1 students.  To be honest, I showed it to my students once that year and haven't bothered to use it since.

Despite being a pronunciation video, it ONLY covers vowels.  They go over vowels, umlauts, and diphthongs, but there is NO discussion of consonants.  This somehow never made it into the product description, so be advised if you were hoping for something more comprehensive.

The video is only 15 minutes long, but with the *repetition* that it advertises in the product description, that is too long.  Each letter is introduced with a few examples of words with that sound.  As each word is pronounced, there is a short video clip playing that shows a visual for the item in question (for example, there's a clip of a cat as they repeatedly say "die Katze").  

Throughout the video, there are cheesy video effects and unrelated music playing in the background.  Some of the video clips are amusing and the pronunciation is helpful, but the effects and music are more distracting than helpful.  Even my students grew bored by the end of it - I teach high school, so maybe it would be better using this video with middle school.  There's a video clip available on the Teacher's Discovery page - you'll see what I mean.

Practicality: 2/5 
Only useful as a study of vowels, but the video is too long for what it is.

Accuracy: 4.5/5 
Only taking off for the accuracy of the product description - the pronunciation itself is fine.

Fun: 2.5/5 
Some of the video clips are funny or cute, but by the end of the 15 minutes you've had enough.  

Overall: 9 / 15 (60%)
I don't think I would recommend this product.  You could probably get your upper level students to produce something more engaging and useful.  

- Frau Leonard

German Desk Strips

Remember Elementary School when you had those desk strips with a number line and the cursive alphabet?

I recently saw some desk strips on Bridget Smith's TPT.  She has two sets of French desk strips available for free - one with common vocabulary and the other with rejoinders.  I loved the idea so much I thought I'd make my own for German.

I made three small strips, each with five phrases in German (English included as well).  I printed them in color, had them laminated, then tapped them to student desks using clear shipping tape.  You just have to line up the ends and maybe cut off a phrase or two to get them to fit to a student desk.  I found that each desk had room for 2 1/2 of the strips I'd made.

I'm very glad I laminated them ahead of time - it made it easier to re-do some of my worse taping jobs.  It took me a while to get a good rhythm going, so the first few desks admittedly look a little messy.  In addition to desks, I have a two tables where students sit.  I had a lot of trouble getting the tape to stick to one of the tables - I'm not sure if it was dirty or humid or what.

Although I just used plain printer paper, it might be a good idea to use card stock.

They're super colorful and have phrases that I think the kids will like and use (but that don't come up in the textbook).  I don't know how many times students have asked me how to say "I don't care" or "Never mind."  Now it's all right there in front of them!

Click here to get these colorful desk strips from my TPT page.

- Frau Leonard

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Many Faces of Finn

Here is a huge chunk of how I spent my day today.  In between copies and meetings, you can't blame me for wanting to have some fun :)

This came about completely by accident.  I was on Facebook (because I'm productive like that) when I saw some Finn Your Face pictures.  I followed the Cartoon Network link to the pdf file that included all 24 faces that are part of their Finn Your Face campaign.  Admittedly, I saved the pdf and sort of forgot about it.

I happened to see the file again this week and got thinking... there are a lot of great expressions in here.  I tried to match up as many of them as I could with emotions like traurig, froh or böse.  I printed them out, made labels with both the German word (big, bold and center) and English word (small and to the side).  After backing them with construction paper and laminating them, I hung them up and made use of some otherwise awkward board space.

Overall, I'm happy with how it turned out.  It gives the room some color, provides vocab for a topic that never comes up in any of the units we cover, and is totally adorable.

The pdf for Finn Your Face is available for free online from Cartoon Network.  Finn and Adventure Time are copyright of Cartoon Network.

- Frau Leonard

Monday, August 19, 2013

Exciting Syllabus Challenge

The Creative Language Class blog had an Exciting Syllabus Challenge earlier this month.  Unfortunately I missed out on entering :( but as a plus I got some great ideas on how to revamp my syllabus!  Check out the difference!
Old boring syllabus that was five pages long
New, aesthetically pleasing syllabus that's only three pages
Their post is a good one to check out.  They have a lot of suggestions on what to focus on and why to make these changes.  Only a few comments I wanted to add:
  • I like the idea of putting a picture of the teacher on the syllabus.  Sure, the kids will know what you look like but it's good for the parents to see you early on.
  • Code scanning - LOVE IT!  Most students have an app on their phone that lets them scan these codes.  You can set one up for your class website, online resources, etc.  I used Kaywa (it's free!) to set up the two I've used so far.  

Feel free to take a look at my new and improved syllabus for German 2.

Also wanted to thank La Clase de la Señora Dentlinger - her blog post about the syllabus challenge is what got me thinking about how to change my own (and I may have borrowed some of her ideas...).

Hope this gives you something to think about for next year!

- Frau Leonard

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How German Sounds Compared to Other Languages

This was a funny video I saw while reading through Deut(sch)lich. Thought I'd share. I might show this to my German 2 students before we review German pronunciation, just for fun.

In all seriousness, I was thinking of pitching a similar idea to my department this year as a promotional video for the languages we offer. I didn't think it would emphasize German, but rather we'd focus on students from each language saying their favorite words. Haven't met with my department yet to discuss if they like the idea, but hopefully we can make something happen :)

- Frau Leonard

Friday, August 16, 2013

New Student Orientation

Each year during our pre-school staff work week, there's one day that's reserved for 9th Grade Orientation.  All of our incoming 9th graders (and new students to the school from upper grades) are invited to come in and meet their new teachers.  Students do a variety of activities with their upperclassman mentor students, go on a tour of a school, and do a quick run-through of their schedule.  They spend about 7 minutes in each class meeting with their new teachers and finding out a little bit about their classes before school starts up the next week.

My first year, I thought that would be barely enough time to introduce myself and give a brief overview of the course...  Turns out I was somewhat mistaken in my estimate and we had an awkward four minutes of me trying to come up with some relevant information.

Since then I've refined what I present to the incoming students and the activities we do together, all based around a specific goal.  The overall goal shouldn't be to teach them anything - you'll have a whole school year for that.  Instead, you should be trying to get a feel for the background knowledge of the class AND trying to make them feel comfortable with the idea of learning a new language.

Keep your introduction short and to the point, ask relevant questions that tell you about them and that get them thinking, and then play a game.  The game I've found that works best with new students is a cognate game.  Have a bunch of cognates on the board - students need to guess what the words mean.  If they get it right, have some sort of reward ready (candy works great - no one says no to candy ;) ).  I love this activity because it makes students feel a little less anxious about learning German (hey, some of these words aren't too hard!), gives them a confidence boost, and they walk away from your room after a fun activity.

Here's an outline of how my 9th Grade Orientation for German 1 goes.

I also have a Latin version of the same activities available if you're interested or know any Latin teachers who might be interested.  Here's my 9th Grade Orientation for Latin 1.
Keep in mind - if you have incoming students who have already had German as a course in their feeder elementary or middle school, this activity won't work.  An alternate game is the M&M Game that I used with my incoming French II students.

As students come in, give them a few M&M's - and don't forget to tell them not to eat them yet!  In place of doing the cognate game at the end, instead have them say something about themselves in German (again - this activity was made when I had French students).  The topic is based on what color M&M they have.  Kids take turns saying something, and when they're done they get to eat their M&M.  This could also be used as a Day One level two activity.

If your school has a similar orientation, what activities do you do with students?

- Frau Leonard

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Der Treueschwur

A printable display for your German classroom - the Pledge of Allegiance in German.  My students ask me for this every year if they have German during morning announcements.  Have this up as a reference and print make copies for your students to put in their binders.
There's a PDF version available for free on my Teacherspayteachers account - Der Treueschwur: The Pledge of Allegiance in German.

- Frau Leonard

Incorporating Quizlet

I don't think I can say enough how much I love Quizlet.  I first discovered it when I started teaching.  If you're not familiar with it, check it out.  It's an online flashcard site.  Create a set of flashcards (or search for pre-existing ones), then complete different activities and games to practice, learn and master vocabulary!  There are lots of great features like adding pictures instead of words and sound files to model pronunciation (includes foreign languages!).

The downside is that creating new vocabulary lists is somewhat labor intensive.  I know some teachers have a student aide type them up or simply use the search feature to find appropriate lists.  Good news though - once you've either found or created the lists you like, you don't have to re-create them ever again.  I've found it's been worth the effort.

When I first started using Quizlet with my classes, I had it simply as an additional resource for them to practice and study.  But I found that even if I showed my students the site, by the end of the year they were only sort of aware of it and few were making use of it.  Last year I started incorporating it as a homework assignment and found it really did help improve student performance with vocabulary.

Here are some ways to make the transition to using Quizlet as a homework assignment go smoothly!

  • Create Classes:  There's a feature where you can create a "class."  Other users can join the class and you can add flashcard sets to the class.  Just make sure you name the class something that will be descriptive and unique enough for them to find.  

Keep flashcards (and students) organized by classes
Give each class a unique name and make sure the description is clear
  • Student Accounts:   Students will have to be logged in when they do any Quizlet activities or else the site won't be able to log the activity.  I have each of my students sign up for an account.  It's absolutely free for them to do so.  I do request that they have their first or last name somewhere in the account name just so it's easier to figure out who is who.

    To make sure there's no problems or confusion, I take all new students to the computer lab during the first few weeks of school.  Together I get them to sign up for their account, make them write it down on a sign up sheet (chances are at least a few students will forget their user name), and have them play a few of the games to get familiar with it.

    When you check to see if they've done the assignments, you just have to go to their profile page.  In the top right will be a list of their recent activities - the type of activity, the vocabulary set they practiced, and the date.

  • Know the Limitations:  If a student is signed in to their Quizlet account and does any of the activities, Quizlet will log it.  That's great, right?  So you just have to check their account to see if they did the activities you assigned?  Well, yes and no.  Quizlet logs the activity, but has no information about how the students scored on the activity or how long they engaged in it.  Technically speaking, they could just click on the link to the flashcards and it would register it on their Quizlet profile.  My only advice is DO NOT TELL THE STUDENTS THIS.  Just tell them that it logs the activity and you can see it.  
  • Quizlet as Homework:  I have my students complete two Quizlet activities per vocab unit, both due by the day of their quiz.  They need to do at least one practice activity (Cards, Learn, Speller, Scatter or Space Race) and then take a "Test."  As mentioned above, taking the Quizlet test will show up in their activity log, but it won't have any score listed.  To make sure the kids are actually doing what they need to, I make them print out their scored Quizlet test and turn it in on the day of their quiz.  I won't accept the assignment unless they scored an 85% or higher.  I tell them there's no point in practicing if you stop at 25% or 60% - the point is to increase your score and master the vocabulary.

    Whatever you decide as your requirements, make sure they're clear to the students.  Here's the Quizlet Guide I give students: 

  • Motivate Students:  As a little extra motivation, I award stickers or candy to whoever is listed as "Set Champions" on the day of the quiz.  Students love competing with each other to try and get a high score.  
Feel free to visit my Quizlet page, especially if you use Deutsch Aktuell 1 and 2 with your students.  The cards are already made - you don't have

- Frau Leonard

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

German Names for Students

The school year is still quickly approaching, and one of the big things that comes up every year is student names.  Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of tricks for learning names (I'm terribly - it takes me at least a week to get all the new names, and even then I still make a few mistakes until the end of month one).  What I do want to talk briefly about is German names for students in class.

A lot of teachers give their kids a list of names in German (or French or Spanish or whatever the target language may be) at the beginning of the school year.  Each kid picks a name, and for the rest of the school year (or possibly for the rest of their German-speaking career) that's their name in class.

I know why we do it - the kids have fun while getting some exposure to the target language culture.  BUT... I'd rather talk about the reasons why I DON'T have my kids pick German names for themselves.  So let me just give this entry a quick name change and we'll keep going...

That's Not My Name

I've never had my students pick German (or French or Latin) names for themselves.  Occasionally the kids ask me why they don't get to do that when they got to in Middle School or maybe the Spanish kids get to.  Here, in no particular order are a few reasons to consider NOT giving out German names to your students this year.

School Community
I want to know who my students are.  I want to know their names (first and last), their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, but I also want to know who they are outside of my classroom.  So when I want to talk to the NHS sponsor about Mark or to the field hockey coach about Lacey, I get funny looks when I refer to Mark as "Wolfgang" or Lacey as "Hildegard."   

I don't know how many times I've overheard the Spanish teachers talking to each other about a student that they've all had.  One teacher will refer to the student by his/her given name.  At least one other teacher will have no idea who this student is, even if they taught him/her the previous year.  It's only after a confused minute when they finally say "Ohhhh.... You mean Pedro!" that the conversation can actually continue.

When other teachers are talking about all the good/terrible things Alex is doing... I want to actually know who Alex is without having to translate between his "German" and "American" names.

Learning Names is Hard
You can completely avoid the previous problem by making sure you learn both the German name your student picks for class and their given name (and yes, I've met quite a few teachers who only learn the name the students use in their classrooms).

I probably get around sixty new names to learn each year.  Some teachers get more, some fewer.  I have a hard enough time learning the sixty students I actually get assigned between first names, last names, middle names (if that's the name students prefer) and/or nick names.  I don't know how long it would take me to learn three names for each student instead of two.

From a strictly practical point of view, it's a lot of time.

That's Not My Name
And you're not the only ones who need to learn these new in class names.  If I'm friends with Amy, all of a sudden I have to remember to start calling her Anja in class.  Which is not nearly so complicated as it is for me to learn that my new name, for fifty minutes a day, is Elfriede instead of Jackie.

I took French in Middle and High School.  Every year in Middle School, we did this.  We got French names for the purposes of French class.  You could change it from one year to the next, but once you picked one, that was yours for the year.  I'll admit it, it was fun to pick out a new name.  And then the school year started, and it became much less fun.

My name is Ashley.  By the time I had picked my French name of Anne-Marie, I had had about twelve years of being called Ashley and only Ashley.  You call Ashley, I'll look in your direction.  If you call Leonard, chances are I'll look in your direction.  If you call Anne-Marie, there is about no chance I'll look.  Even in the context of French class, where I knew I had picked this name for myself, it was difficult for my teacher to get my attention.  I have memories of times I was working on some assignment in class, knew the teacher was trying to get someone's attention, and it wasn't until someone sitting near me said, "I think she's talking to you," that I realized what was going on.

Some kids are better at this than others.  They'll adjust no problem.  But there's enough of them who will have trouble that to me it seems more of a hindrance than a cultural bonus.

Go to Germany
I also think there's the issue of the real world.  When I go to Germany, I don't get to change my name to something German to fit in.  My name is Ashley.  It's still Ashley, regardless of whether I'm in America, France, Germany, South Africa, China or Australia.  Granted, they might pronounce it funny, but it's still the same name.

I want my students to be aware of this and focus on the pronunciation difference.  I have students who have names that are legitimately close to German names, and I'll use the German versions to call on students.  Johnny becomes Johann, Jake is now Jakob, and Michael, Christian, Caroline and Susanne all get a pronunciation change.

If students don't have a name that's easily changed into a German version - and this, admittedly, happens a lot - the student may ask why their name hasn't been changed.  I usually just tell them that unfortunately German doesn't have a similar name, but I also pronounce their name as a German person would just so they can see the difference.  Again, I'm an Ashley with siblings named Michael, Matthew and Andrea - there's no German version for my name but definitely ones for them.  I let the kids know I'm in the same boat and talk about the experiences I've had with my name when I'm in Germany.

Other Ways to Get Names
I want to still introduce my students to German names... but I think there are other ways to do it.  Every time I create exercises for my students, I throw in German names.  When they do skits or dialogues, they give themselves (temporary) German names.  It comes up in readings and videos, when we do writing assignments.  There are ample opportunities to expose your students to German names without the downsides of assigning the names to students.

You can check out the German Names: Mädchen oder Junge? Power Point I do with my German 1 students at the beginning of the year.

Hopefully I've given you some food for thought :)  Let me know what you think - do you let the kids pick German names?  How does it work out for you?

- Frau Leonard

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Three Levels of Lesson Planning

It might sound strange, but I really like planning.  I teach five different classes, all different levels (and sometimes different languages).  If I didn't do a lot of planning, it'd be impossible for me to stay on top of things.  Here's three levels of planning and how they'll help keep you organized.

Full Year Planning
This is a level of planning I (unfortunately) didn't really think about my first year.  I was too busy surviving day to day that I overlooked how the flow of the year needed to go.  Several of my classes ended up falling behind because I was spending too much time in some units, dragging things out that could have been much more succinct.  I was too busy looking at the leaves to notice there was a forest.

Whether your school has semesters, quarters, or marking periods, it's important to know the scope of the entire year for each level you teach.  Figure out how many units you have to do per marking period, then break that down into how many days that gives you.  Try to figure out when each unit will start and end - this will keep you from getting behind.

This is an example of what my quarterly planning looks like.  I've already figured out what units I'll be covering and everything in pencil shows when I hope to start covering a new topic, whether it be review, new vocabulary or new grammar.
German 2: Quarter 1 Plan for 2013-2014 
As we go through the quarter, I mark down the days we actually started working on these topics and quiz days.  Other things might come up that affect unit length (PSAT Day, Pep Rally, Inclement Weather, Assemblies, etc) and those get marked in as well.  As I finish up a full unit (usually I consider a vocab topic to be a full unit), I highlight it for easier visibility.  Note the difference between the planning calendar above and the completed one below from last year.
German 2: Quarter 1 Plan for 2012-2013
The great thing about keeping track of this is you have an outline for the next year.  If you're teaching the same course, you have the same general outline you used the previous year and you now know how much time you actually needed for each unit.  This way if the curriculum ever changes and units get moved around, you still know how much time you'll need for each one.

Here's a Blank Quarterly Calendar for 2013-2014.  Since school years can vary and not all schools divide their year by quarters, you may have to make changes to tailor it to your school year.

Unit Planning
Have a separate folder for each topic you teach
Once you have the gist of the yyou have for each topic.  I like to keep a separate file for every vocabulary and every grammar unit I cover.  Keep your vocabulary and grammar units separate!  Books and units change - just because one vocab topic is currently paired with a specific grammar topic doesn't mean they always will be.  Keep them apart for more flexibility later on!

Keep all of your notes and activities in a folder
Start planning the unit by organizing activities: easier, recognition based activities start the unit, while more difficult, composition based activities are at the end, with scaffolding activities in between to build students' skills.
Find a unit organizer that you like and decide which activities will be done on which days.  I like to look at several weeks at a time.  Every day gets an opening activity, at least one main activity/lesson, and a homework assignment.
German 2: First Two Weeks in Detail
German 4: First Two Weeks in Detail (note the comments!)
I used to do all paper copies of my units, but last year I switched to all digital.  I keep all my plans on my Google drive so I can access them anywhere.  It's also great because they're much easier to store than a stack of paper plans.  It has made things significantly easier to a.) keep my plans so I can refer to them the next year (everything's already in order for you) and b.) have digital copies where all I have to do is copy and paste.  Google is also great because I can add comments about needed resources or modifications for next year.

Here's a Blank Planning Calendar for 2013-2014.  As above, it's specific to the school calendar used by my school system, but can easily be modified to fit your needs.  If you're looking for a similar organizer but with a smaller time frame, here's a Blank Two-Week Planning Template.

Daily Planning
I teach five classes a day, all of them different.  I would NOT be able to keep track of which class is doing what, in what order the activities are supposed to go, what the homework is, what pages we're reading, etc. if I didn't write it all down.  Before each day, I write out what I plan to do in each class.  Simple little summaries that can be as short as "Mention quiz next Tuesday" or "Drill: Identify (pictures)."  Basically the same information from the planning sheet above, but with each class represented on the same page.
Here's my daily plan for the first day of school
If you teach multiple sections, I highly recommend doing something similar.  Just write it out, keep it up front with you or you can even write it out on a side board so the kids can also see the plan for the day.  The only real down side is it involves a lot of writing on your part.  They're also not that practical to keep - they're too specific to be re-used the next year.

Here's a Blank Daily Planning Template.  I basically just make a bunch of copies of this at the beginning of the school year and go through

Hopefully this will help keep you organized and planned this upcoming school year!

- Frau Leonard

Monday, August 12, 2013

Just For Fun

Just a few pictures one of my students sent me from, just for fun!  They're fun for the classroom - I printed them out and hung them up.  It definitely got the kids talking and laughing.

Perhaps not appropriate for Middle School levels, but my High Schoolers loved it.  Word play that even Level 1 students have the vocabulary to grasp and characters that the students might know from video games (Sniper, Spy and Medic from the game Team Fortress 2 - the Medic speaks German).

Good warning for kids - you can post this by your craft supplies.  Also a good cultural reference - the kids will want to know who's in the picture!

This was more fun during election time, but I brought it back out when we did Dative Prepositions at the end of the year.  Probably won't be current enough to use past this year...

- Frau Leonard

Ice-Breakers for Day One

In my last post I mentioned I'd have other Ice-Breakers for Day One, so here I am with some activities for each level of German!


  • Deutsch I: Find Someone Who...  This is a basic find someone who activity that's (almost) all in English.  Students look for other students who already know a little bit about German culture and language.  
  • Deutsch I: Survival Vocabulary  Maybe not as much fun as the other activities, but this is a list of words and phrases that are important to surviving in an immersion classroom.  Have students try to figure out what the words mean first, then go over as a class.  I usually have a 
  • Cognate Activities   Another way to build student confidence early on is with cognate activities.  You do need to remember to warn students, though, that not every German word is a cognate and it won't all be this easy.

    The activities linked above are really useful.  I wish I could take credit for them, but to be honest I have no idea where I got them from.  If anyone recognizes them, please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due!

    I have other cognate activities available on my TeachersPayTeachers site - please take a look at German Cognate Cards and German Cognates: A Pre-Quiz.
  • Wer bist du?  This is a homework assignment I give out each year.  Students have to create their own personal page with their name and at least five pictures that represent them.  They can draw their pictures, use actual photos, take pictures from magazines, or use their computer - it doesn't matter.  This is a great way to begin associating each student with what makes them them.  Students love to make their personal pages and like seeing what other students put on theirs.  Definitely have them share these with their classmates and put them on the wall!


  • Classroom Expressions  Similar the Survival Vocab worksheet above, this has a list of phrases that will be important throughout the school year.  This list is much more thorough and can be used by any class above level one (in fact, by the end of level one a lot of these phrases will be familiar to students already).  The list is broken down into two lists - what students need to be able to say and what the teacher will say to them.  There's even room at the bottom in case students have other phrases they want to add.

    This list is based off of a list I received from my mentor teacher way back when.  I'm not sure if his was the original or if it came from somewhere else first.
  • Partner Interviews  Here are a couple of partner interview activities.  These get students both listening and speaking in German and on a topic they know a lot about (namely, themselves!).  The first interview activity in the file is one I have my German 2 students do, while the second is for German 3.  Note that for Level 2, the questions are already there and they can just focus on the answers.  For Level 3, they will have to generate both the question and the answer.
  • Culture Review  Quick "quiz" for students to try and complete.  All the questions relate to German speaking-countries, but mostly Germany.  This is a nice little review for German 2.

    Also check out my German Trivia Cards if you're looking for a similar type of activity for upper level classes.
  • Find Someone Who...  Unlike the version above for Level 1, these two are entirely in German.  The first one is a bit more basic in vocabulary, while the second one is slightly more complex.  Both use primarily the present tense, but the second one does have some more difficult grammar forms (past tense).  Typically I use the first one with German 2 and the second with German 3.  Unfortunately my German 4 classes are usually so small that activities like this don't really work.

    Both of these boards are, I think, based off of ones I received from other teachers.  I've changed them over the years based on which boxes are almost always left blank.
  • Scattergories: Vocabulary Review  This is a review game I do with my students based on the board game Scattergories.  Students are given a list of themes.  A letter is randomly drawn (or you can pick it).  Students then have to come up with a German word that starts with that letter for each of the themes on the list.  After a few minutes, students compare words.  They get a point if they wrote a word that no one else has.  No points if multiple people wrote the same word.  I really like doing this game because you can adjust it to any themes you've covered in previous levels and it can be quick - an end of class review or a beginning of class opener.
  • Most Used Words hast a list of the Top 30 Spoken Words and the Top 100 Written Words in German.  With upper levels, I like to have them guess the top 20 from each list, just to see what they think the most common words are.  It's a fun (and often frustrating) game for the students and a quick way to review very core vocabulary words.  Also a great discussion for the differences between spoken vs written language.
Hope you enjoy these activities and get the chance to try them out!  Let me know how they go or if you have any recommendations.

- Frau Leonard

Friday, August 9, 2013

Prepping for the School Year

I know what you're thinking - it's still summer, I don't want to start thinking about the new school year!  These are just a few things that I like to make sure I have ready to go for the first day of school.

1.) Syllabus
I have the same generic syllabus for all of my classes.  Obviously some changes are necessary depending on the level (AP German gets a whole spiel about the AP exam, some levels get a section on county exams or Honors vs Regular sections, etc.), but having generally the same syllabus is helpful when you teach multiple levels of the same language.  I spend a lot of time going over the syllabus with German 1 students, but then German 2 and up just need a quick refresher.

Here's a look at my German 2 Syllabus for next year.

Important things to include in your syllabus:
  • Materials needed (which may include dictionaries, workbooks, and how to divide their binder)
  • Information on your grading policy
    I give a general look at my grading policy and then give more specific information about how participation, homework, classwork and assessments will be conducted throughout the year.
  • Attendance and absent work: What do students need to know if they're absent?  How much time do they have to make up work?  Where can they find make-up work?  When can they make-up missed quizzes?
  • Contact information: How can students and parents get in touch with you?  When are you available for extra help?  Do you have a class website?

2.) Policies and Procedures Power Point
In addition to the Syllabus, I like to go over more day-to-day procedures with my new Level 1 students.  This covers more basic information like what to do as you enter the room, how to behave during classwork activities, where to find the drill, how to hand out papers, if you can go to your locker during class, etc.  None of this would be appropriate in the Syllabus, but all of it's still important for laying a solid foundation for the year.

Take a look at my Policies and Procedures Power Point.

3.) Student info sheet
Through our school's digital database, I can find out their parent contact info, but I like to have a reference sheet for all students' school-related activities.  And it's great not just having access to a student's schedule in case you need to find them during the day, but it's really helpful if you need to talk to their counselor or coach to get some more support.

Take a look at my generic Student Information Sheet (available for free at

4.) Immersion Promise
I think by now we're all familiar with the concept of immersion and the benefits thereof.  I try to run an immersion classroom as much as possible, even in Level 1.  Kids in general seem to understand immersion too - they know it'll help them in the long run.  But... kids need to be told that immersion is a two-way street.  It's not just the teacher who needs to be speaking the target language, but they do too.  That's why I use an Immersion Promise.  I tell the kids that I promise to try and use German as much as I can in class, but that they need to promise to try and do the same.  We all sign it day one - everyone knows what they're in for and everyone agrees to try and do their best with it.

Take a look at my Immersion Promise.

5.) Student Flashcards
I have all of my students fill out a 3 x 5 flashcard each year.  They give me background information about them as a person, which is especially great for new students.  They tell me their previous experience and their goals for the year, which gives me an idea of their expectations and can help focus the class to make sure I cover their needs.

But what's also great is now I have a card for each of them - when we do activities where I want to randomly call on students or randomly generate groups, I can use the class' flashcards to do it.

All you need to do is get one or two sets of those flashcard packs that have several colors.  Pick one color per class (for example, every year German 4 gets the blue flashcards and German 1 gets the yellow).  This way you can keep the classes separate.  Just get a little container to hold them all and keep them at the front of the room.

Here's what I get the kids to fill out:

6.) Ice-Breakers
The first day of school tends to be on the dull side for kids.  They get a bunch of sheets on policies and procedures and do's and don't's for the year.  They fill out the same info sheets a half dozen times, get slightly different versions of each teacher's classroom set-up.  I'm not particularly thrilled with doing it five times in a row, and I'm sure they're not particularly thrilled to hear it five (or six or seven...) times in a row.  You HAVE to do something that's fun to both start and end class, to make them happy they stepped into your classroom.

My favorite drill for German 1 is to just put up the question "Why study German?"  Students brainstorm different reasons to study German, we discuss it as a class and add to the list as we go.  I find this a great way to get students motivated and interested early on.

My favorite drill for German 2 and up is ABC's auf Deutsch.  I write the alphabet on the board, divide students into groups and have them try to come up with a German word that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  It's easy to turn this into a competition - groups get points for having a word that starts with a given letter and two points if no one else in the class thought of the word.  It's a great activity to get students back into thinking in German without stressing them out.

 I'll talk more about Ice-Breakers for Day One in my next post.

Hope this was a helpful look at how to prep for next school year!  Feel free to take, use, and modify anything I've put up.  If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

- Frau Leonard

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Die Sprache der Liebe

A student sent me this video - it's funny/cute, though not necessarily classroom appropriate (there is an f-bomb)... Just for fun though! Enjoy!

- Frau Leonard

Wow! A blog!

Well, this is my first attempt at blogging, so perhaps I should start with a little bit about me and why I'm doing this.

I'm a German teacher in Howard County, Maryland.  This upcoming school year will be my sixth year teaching.  I've also taught French and Latin, but there's just something about teaching German...  It's a lot of fun, I've worked with some great kids and fellow teachers, and I've learned a lot about German and teaching in general.

What I've noticed, however, is that there are a lot of resources out there for teaching.  Tons for teaching World Languages, especially Spanish and French.  But when it comes to German... not so much.  My first year of teaching was a LOT of work because I had to create so much stuff... everything from the lessons to the activities to the materials for the activities to the exams to the more basics of how I wanted to run my classroom.  I'm not going to lie, I made some mistakes and pretty much had to re-do half of it the second year.  But it's gotten easier as I've amassed quite the collection of German-related (and French- and Latin-related) teaching material.

So what I'm hoping to do with this is just put another resource out there for German teachers.  I know there aren't as many of us as there are for other subjects and languages, but we should still have access to the same breadth of resources.

My goal is to put up some ideas, activities and resources for my fellow German teachers, practical things that you can use in your classrooms.  I also hope that what I put up can be used by teachers of other languages - I know there's activities that I do with both my French and German classes and there's ones that I can work into Latin as well.

- Frau Leonard