Thursday, November 14, 2013

Black Stories: rabenschwarze Rätsel

I found a new activity today to do with my German 4 students (and maybe later with my German 3 kids)!  I'll start off by saying I don't actually know the English equivalent of this game (if there's even a name for it).  I know it exists (I've played it with friends), but other than that... 

Basically in this game, there's a story in which someone died (usually... sometimes they're a little less morbid).  One person knows the entire story.  Everyone else is trying to figure it out.  The person who knows the story introduces it briefly, usually with a statement or two about the person or situation.  From there, the rest of the players need to figure out how that person died by asking yes or no questions.  It ends up being an exercise in creativity more often than not - there are no clues except the introduction and whatever you get from your questions!

The last time I was in Germany (which was unfortunately a few years ago...), I saw several sets of these at a store.  I figured, what the hell, and bought one.  

Each set comes with 50 cards.  On one side of the card is a picture with a short description of a scenario.  This whole side can be shown to anyone guessing.  

"Veronique lay dead in the middle of a rye field.  Behind her lay a package.  Far and wide were no footprints."
The back is only for the person who will be answering questions.  It explains the details surrounding the character's death and includes another picture.  

"Veronique, an avid sky diver, had bad luck.  This time her shoot just wouldn't open."
When I got them, I was super-excited to try it that school year - it's weird and morbid and seemed like it would get teenagers interested in the activity.  I tried it with my combined German 3 / 4 class.  The results were less than great...  The students were somewhat interested in playing, but really felt - very strongly - that they lacked the vocabulary to be able to ask any of the questions they wanted to.  I pushed them to try for a few minutes, but was greeted with silence more than anything else.  Frustrated, I ended up letting it go and we just moved on to our other activities for the day.

On a whim, I decided to try it again today with my current German 4 AP class.  They were way more interested (before we even started), and were much more involved in the activity.  They had lots of questions (though they did struggle with vocabulary for some of it) and eventually were able to figure out all the circumstances... and then immediately wanted to do another one.  

I have to say, I'm feeling a lot better about incorporating this activity than I was the first time.  If we finish early, it's a great way to keep them in German before the bell rings.  It gives them an opportunity to think outside the box - both outside of the themes we cover and outside of the vocabulary they're comfortable with.  We'll probably try it again - especially since tomorrow is Friday and we're finishing up a unit.  

For now, I'll continue to be the one answering questions.  Later on, once they've done a few, I'll pass on that role to student volunteers.  I might also have them come up with their own situations and cards to add to my collection.  

If you're a German teacher working with upper level students, I'd recommend giving these cards a try.  If you don't want to buy them, look through the sample cards on - if it works out well with your students, then buy a set of your own.  

There are some drawbacks - some of the situations are NOT appropriate for high school students.  Just make sure you read them ahead of time and take out the ones that aren't appropriate for your age group.  

- Frau Leonard


  1. danke! This sounds like a great activity for my AP class!

    Mike (Seattle)

    1. Hope your students like it! It can definitely be a lot of fun :)