Saturday, September 28, 2013

Twitter in the Classroom

Since this year we're actually allowing students to use their electronic devices in class, I've been trying to come up with ways I could actually incorporate them to keep the students interested but still be content related.  One thing I've been playing around with this year is using Twitter.  I've looked at it in a variety of different ways, and here are some of the things I found out.

Twister: Fake Tweets, along with a variety of games FakeBook, offers Fake Tweets.  Students can write fake tweets using the template they provide, which can then be printed and posted around your classroom.  I haven't actually used this with my students, but I like that it offers an easy to use template and students don't have to sign up for an account.  There are sample fake tweets there that show how it's incorporated into History classes.  While these particular examples would be grade for a cultural connection or a literature unit, I actually prefer to have the students post as themselves.

Twitter - For the students
Our school system actually unblocked a lot of websites for this year, including Twitter.  I could actually use Twitter with my students in the classroom.  It is free and doesn't actually require that much personal information to sign up.  I think the students would love the idea of using Twitter in class, but it seems like it would be complicated and a little too personal if students are using their real accounts.  Personally, I don't think I'm at a point where I want to have students tweeting with their own accounts.

I could see this as a useful means for me to communicate with students outside of class though - if I used a Twitter account to post about upcoming assignments or German club events, then it seems like it would be a great tool.  This is the only way I'd consider using the real Twitter in the classroom.

Twitter - For you
I attended a professional development workshop earlier this week that talked about using Twitter as a tool for you as an educator.  The presenter said that it could be a great way to connect with a.) other educators in our field, whether we meet them in person, see them in conferences, or find them online and b.) target language sources such as the embassy, native speakers, and newspapers.

I did in fact sign up for a Twitter account at this session and looked through to find some relevant online sources.  These are the main ones that are German-related: DW Deutsche Welle, Noah Geisel (2013 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year), ACTFL, Goethe-Institut, and the German Embassy.  You're welcome to check out my twitter page, but I warn you that most of who I'm following isn't even work-related, nor do I ever plan on actually "tweeting" anything.

Twitter Templates
Since I didn't want to go through the mess of actually figuring out getting students signed up with Twitter, I decided the easiest thing for me to do would be to get them to write out their Tweets.  I would pose the class a question, they would answer using 140 characters (or less) and at least one hashtag.

This is open-ended enough that I can use it in all levels of German, though obviously the type of question would change.  For German 1, for example, I might ask something as simple as "Was spielst du gern?" (What do you like to play?), whereas for German 4 I could ask something like "Ist man einfach schön geboren, oder kann man sich schön machen?" (Are you born beautiful or can you make yourself beautiful?).

I tried this earlier with my German 4 class.  After we had read and discussed the article Schönheit macht erfolgreich, I had them Tweet their answers to the question "Ist Schönheit wichtig für die Karriere" (we're currently knee-deep in the Schönheit und Ästhetik AP unit).  They wrote their responses on an index card, but they still needed to limit themselves to 140 characters and include a hashtag.  I collected and read them, then put them together on a large sheet of paper and hung it up for other classes to see.  I loved that other levels of German were coming over to read what was said and that German 4 students were reading each other's answers.

After that, I decided I'd try to keep doing this activity with students... but while it only takes 7 index cards to do this with my current German 4 class, it would take a lot more with some of my other classes.  And it seems like a real pain in the butt for students to have to write their response, then count out the characters and make sure it fits.  I decided it'd be easier for me to create a template for them.  Below is the final product:
Now I'm really excited to do this activity again with students!  It doesn't take very long, so it would be a great exit ticket at the end of class.

If you're interested in using the template, it's available for free on my TpT site - just click here!

- Frau Leonard

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Building Dictionary Skills

This might be something you don't necessarily think of working on with your students, but I find a lot of kids need help with understanding how to look up words.  There's not only the issue of being able to look up the word correctly and finding out the appropriate meaning, but sometimes students aren't even sure what resources are available to them to find out word meanings.

So this year, I decided to work with my German 2 students on this skill.  Why German 2 and not German 1?  I thought my German 2 students had a large enough foundation in both vocabulary and grammar to do some of the activities I had planned (being able to recognize nouns vs verbs, understanding verb prefixes, etc).  German 2 is also when I start assigning longer writing assignments (including argument writing!) - they really need to be able to look up new words and know how to use them.  German 1 would be able to do these activities towards the end of the year, and it just wouldn't be that practical for them at this stage.

I picked a day to work on this skill.  The day before, as homework, I told students to bring in their smart phone, tablet, or laptop.  Our school is piloting allowing students to bring these devices to school and use them in class (as instructed by the teacher), so I thought this was a great way to incorporate it.  Everyone - kids included - prefers to use their own device.  And if this is something they're going to be doing at home, why not use the actual device they would be using at home.

The tricky part is, I know some of my students don't have this type of technology available to them (never mind the kids who forget to bring them in!).  I told the class ahead of time that if they didn't, it would be fine - they'd still be able to do the activities.  I have about 15 dictionaries available for student use, which would cover almost all of this class.  If worst came to worst, they could work in pairs or small groups.

If your school doesn't allow students to bring and use their own devices to school, or if up simply want an alternative, I would recommend having a class set of dictionaries or reserving a computer lab for the day.

In class, we went through a few activities where students had to first look up English words and find the German equivalent, then we went the other way around.  We talked about the problems they ran in to and ways to help them around it.  Students either used one of the various German-English dictionaries that I have in my room, or Beolingus.  Some students ended up switching from their electronic device to the book, which is good!  It lets students know what they're more comfortable with!
I had students use a flow chart to help them when looking up German words.  The flow chart is based on the preview file available for the TpT product German-English Dictionary Pack by Lessons to Learn. If you're interested in my version of the flow chart, click here.

I also had another worksheet for students to do as homework that was really just a continuation of what we talked about in class.  They had to look up German words in their dictionaries (or online).  I offered to allow students to check out a dictionary that night if they needed one to do the assignment.

The next day as our drill, we played Boggle.  I have a giant Boggle board I made - just needed a large enough sheet of paper, a sharpie, and a square to trace.  I had it laminated and now can write the letters on using dry erase markers.  Students looked for both German and English words in the puzzle - the catch was that they needed to translate the words they found into the other language.


For Boggle sets, check out Boggle Your Mind! on TpT (free resource!).  While I didn't use the student sheet in this resource since I needed one with room for both German and English, I did like the sample boards it includes (when I first tried to make one, I ended up with not enough vowels...).  If you're looking for a student worksheet with room for translation, check out Boggle El Juego for Foreign Language Classrooms.

Overall, I think the activities went well.  They seemed to improve and understand the different considerations they need to make when looking up words.  I also used this as an opportunity to get them away from using translation websites - if you're having this much trouble, why do you think a program can do any better?  We'll see how it goes once they start their longer writing assignments later this quarter!

If you're interested in purchasing this activity, click here to find it on TpT!

- Frau Leonard

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Embedded Reading: Der Briefträger kommt

Recently I've been looking into embedded reading as a way to increase student literacy in German.  After reading up on it a bit, I decided to modify a short reading I use at the beginning of German 2 as we transition into the school year.

The original story is called "Der Briefträger kommt."  I have no idea where it's from - another German teacher gave me a copy of it years ago.  Based on the copy I have, it's from "Deutsch macht Spass," but other than that I'm not sure of its origin.  It's a short reading that contained mostly dialogue.  It had a lot of vocabulary that was familiar to students, was in the present tense, and had verb exercises that went along with it, which was primarily why I used it at the beginning of German 2 as a review.

I took the original story and modified it.  I actually ended up creating the reading Top Down - I wrote the third, more detailed version first (based heavily on the original I had), then worked backwards to get the other two versions.  I also added pictures and changed the exercises that go along with the story.

Here's a look at how the stories differ in detail and length:
First reading: 112 words, 1 page
Second Reading: 220 words, 1 1/2 pages
Third Reading: 304 words, 2 pages
I came up with four activities to go along with the reading.  The first looks at comprehension, the second and third get the students to expand on the details of the story, and the fourth gets them to create their own version in comic form.

I had never thought this reading was very difficult for students, but the past few years they had found it very difficult to both understand and do the exercises.  I don't know if it's because we do it right after summer break or what, but I found that this year the students understood the story much better and were much more involved in the extension activities.  With the changes I've made, I feel I could use this later this year with my German 1 students with no problems.

If you're interested in this activity, it's available for free on my TPT account!  Let me know how it goes!

- Frau Leonard

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Finished Classroom

This might be a little delayed, but I finally have my classroom completely set up for this year!  Last June I had to pack up a lot of things because a Middle School program was using the room in the summer, so it took me a while to get things back the way I like them.

Here's the view from the doorway.  I prefer to arrange desks in rows vs in groups - it makes it easier to separate desks for quizzes, move around to form groups of various sizes, and doesn't leave some kids with awkward angles where they don't face the front of the room.

View of the board.  I love having a dry erase board vs a chalk board.  I don't even have to use the screen most of the time (unless there's a really bad glare).  I have the date and homework posted to the right side (side most easily viewed by most of the room), and on the top left you can see I support by boys in purple and red (go Ravens and Caps!).

Left side of the room.  I do unfortunately still have a chalkboard here instead of a dry erase board :(  But I mostly use it as a place to hang up student work or posters, so it's not that much of a loss.  I also have the agenda on this board (easy place for me to see it but still visible to the students).  Student supplies are under the TV.

Right side of the room. Bulletin board with lots of posters.  One bookshelf with my books, reference materials, and activities saved from previous years.  The other bookshelf has dictionaries, workbooks and textbooks for student reference.

My desk, to the right of the dry erase board.  Storage room and reference books behind me, my computer desk, and a smaller desk next to it because, let's face it, I need a lot of space.  I picked this spot for my desk because it gives me a view of all the students and lets them see me.  It's also close to the LCD projector, so I just have to pop over to grab my laptop if we're doing a Power Point or video.

Last but not least, the back of the room (as seen from my desk).  I'm lucky enough to have a lot of shelves in the back of the room for storage (even if they are unfortunately already taken up...).

My only concern is that the room has too much going on.  I worry that it might be too much for some students to take in since there's always something new to be a distraction or that the aids I've put up don't necessarily get used because they're hard to pick out.

- Frau Leonard

Monday, September 9, 2013

Greetings and Introductions

I'm not sure if anyone else has this problem, but I've noticed that year after year my German 1 students don't do a great job with our first unit - Greetings and Introductions.  They do alright, but they struggle with the spelling, the endings, what the words mean, basically the whole thing.

Part of it is probably that students are dealing with their first real exposure to German.  They're getting used to the sounds and words, and some of them may even be knew to language learning in general.  I see this as an adjustment unit where students need time to get used to me and the class.  There's usually a huge jump not only in students scores, but also in comfort level after the first unit.

Even so, every year I try to add more and different kinds of practice to help students get through this little adjustment period.  Last year I made dialogue cards to help students get some more structured practice.  I can't always be there to give feedback when we're doing in class practice, so I thought these would be helpful.  They work with a partner, and the partner has the correct phrases in front of them to help make changes if they say something wrong.
Sample dialogue card
This year I came up with another activity to help students build up from the point where they sort of know the phrases to being able to use the dialogue cards above.  I had them make a foldable in class.  They have all of the main questions on the outside, then lift up and check how to answer the questions on the inside.  Hopefully this is something they can refer to and that they can use to practice at home.

I had them practice with their group members, just introducing themselves.  I then came up with these identity cards so they could get more practice.

After doing this activity today, the kids did seem more comfortable with the phrases.  Unfortunately I won't see them again until Wednesday, but I'm hopeful they'll be a little stronger with them.  And when Quiz time comes next Monday, I hope they'll do well :)

If you're interested in this activity and cards, they're available together on my TpT account - click here for just the activity above, and click here if you're interested in my entire Greetings and Introductions Bundle (includes this activity and the dialogue cards mentioned above).

If you have any activities you like to use during this unit that you think are really helpful, let me know!  I'm always looking for more ways to help students practice :)

- Frau Leonard

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Calendar Set and the Date

The summer before my first year teaching (my own classes in my own classroom!!!), I hand made a lot of signs.  I got blank white posters, some stencils and a lot of sharpies and made a variety of things from the "Sie verlassen den amerikanischen Sektor" poster on my door to signs for the date.

I know Teacher's Discovery has a Calendar Set that looks pretty decent - my mentor teacher had it and seemed to like it.  Honestly, they lost me at the price, so I decided to make my own calendar set.

The set I made includes...
- a sign for all the days of the week (minus the weekend)
- all the months (including the summer - I can use the signs when we learn months of the year and do birthdays)
- a sign for the year (I just put up a post-it note on it to show the new year - way easier than making one every December)
- numbers for the date (two 1s and two 2s, one 0, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 - just turn the six upside down and you've got a 9)

I used a lot of different colors - each month, day and number is different.  I had them laminated and stuck magnetic tape on the back of everything but the days of the week - I found it's easier to have them all hung up by one magnet so I can easily switch them each day.

One thing I overlooked, however, was how to put up the date.  I initially had it hung up with the numbers after the month - AUGUST 29 - like we do here in the US.  I was so entrenched in reading the date that way, it didn't occur to me to hang it up month and then date - 29 AUGUST - like they do in Europe.  And of course I was a little frustrated at how long it was taking students to remember the European way of writing the date...

Then one of my former German professors came to visit my school, did a quick re-arrangement when she saw the date... and I've had much more success since then :)

- Frau Leonard

Monday, September 2, 2013

Back To School Night

As I've said earlier, I've only really had experience teaching in Howard County, Maryland.  I grew up here and now work here, so it's the only school system I'm really familiar with.  One thing we do here every year is Back to School Night.  Parents are invited to their child's school to meet the faculty and staff and to get to know their child's teachers for the school year.  They follow their son or daughter's class schedule, spending about 7 minutes in each class to find out about the teacher and the course.

This year, our Back to School Night will be next Tuesday.  I've only had the students for about a week and I think we're all still getting into the swing of things, but it's probably a good time to have it.  One year we had it about two or three days into the school year, which was stressful since I had only learned about a third of my new students' names.  Another year we had it during the third week of September, when we were already well underway in the school year so it had lost a lot of its value.

So what do you talk to parents about on Back to School Night?  Here are the key points I try to hit with each class:
  • Who are you?  (Just general information about yourself, your educational background and your teaching experience.)
  • How can parents contact you?  (Don't forget to mention if you prefer phone vs email.)
  • What is this class like?  (Just an overview of the class - the goals, the book, if there are any state or county assessments, if you do immersion, etc.)
  • If you offer Honors and Regular level classes, what's the difference between them?  (Especially important to address if both classes are mixed together.)
  • What's your grading policy?  (Just a general overview - do you do weighted grade or is it points?  How often are quizzes?  Homework?  Is classwork for completion or accuracy?  How do you handle participation?)
  • Do you have a class website?  Quizlet?  What other online resources are available?
  • Is there a German Club?  National Honor Society?
  • When are you available for students to come in if they need extra help?
I know that seems like a lot of things, but you want to make sure you address any possible questions parents might have BEFORE they have them.  Try to leave room at the end to let parents ask questions in case there's something you didn't address.   To help stay on track, I have a Power Point that I use each year (just have to re-arrange the order of classes and maybe update some parts).  If you'd like to take a look at it, click here.

There's a teacher in my department who says parents like to walk away with something physical at the end, so he prepares a sheet with this information for parents.  Personally, I don't do that - I do the opposite.  I hand each parent a blank index card as they come in.  On their card, I ask them to write their name, their son/daughter's name, their contact information, and one thing about their son/daughter that I don't know.  I like doing this better than a sign-in sheet - it still gives me a reference of who came and their relevant contact info, but it also tells me something more about their son/daughter.

Another piece of advice I was given my first year of teaching was to "leave my gradebook at home."  Don't get stuck talking to specific parents about specific students' grades.  It's not conferences!  It's Back to School Night!  Let parents know a better time for them to contact you if they want to discuss how their son or daughter is doing.

One last suggestion - even though it's early in the school year, try to have student work up!  Anything they've done so far this year, like the Wer bist du? homework assignment I mentioned in Ice Breakers for Day One.  Parents love seeing their child's work on display!

If your school has Back to School Night, what do you talk to parents about?

- Frau Leonard