Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stammtisch: Class Lead Discussions for German AP

During our World Language Inservice Meetings we sometimes have “Swap Shop Workshops.”  I love these workshops – you bring in several copies of one or two activities you do, sometimes related to a theme like speaking activities or writing activities, and trade ideas with others in the shop.  It’s a great way to get activities and new ideas, and usually there are people from multiple languages so it gives you ideas you may have never thought of otherwise. 

Last year at one of these Swap Shops, one of the French teachers at Mt Hebron High School, Christina Crise, introduced a speaking activity she does with her AP students.  I immediately fell in love with the activity and vowed to implement it this year with my AP students.  Over the summer I spent time modifying the material she had given us for German.  The end result was Stammtisch.

So… what is Stammtisch?  Well, a German Stammtisch is a “regular’s table” where friends come together at a restaurant or café and discuss different topics.  With this set up in mind, German 4 students prepare and discuss a topic in a relaxed “café” setting.  By café setting, I mean they’re allowed to bring in food. 

We start with a list of topics.  There are serious topics on there like, “Should doctors be allowed to help their patients commit suicide?” to more trivial ones like, “Who would win in a fight – Darth Vader or Voldemort?”  The point is that the questions don’t have a clear cut answer – everyone has an opinion on it (sometimes very strong opinions), and it’s unlikely everyone will be able to agree. 

Students work with a partner to prep a topic.  They pick from the list of questions (or come up with their own).  Their job is to find new vocabulary words related to that topic that they think will be necessary to discuss the topic.  For example, for the topic of “Should doctors be allowed to help their patients commit suicide?” words might include suicide, patient, doctor, and terminal.  They submit those words to me for approval/correction, then the rest of the class has time to work with and learn them.

On Stammtisch day, students first take a short vocabulary quiz.  Then we re-arrange our desks into a circle and start discussing the topic.  The students leading the discussion can bring in food – not a requirement – and have to actually further conversation.  Each student represents one side of the issue, either pro or contra.  They need to have questions ready that will help re-open discussion if it fizzles out, but the idea is to let the conversation evolve naturally when possible.  Obviously some topics with some groups will get more discussion than others.


Students get graded for both parts – when they lead a topic and when they participate in someone else’s topic. 

I didn’t want to overwhelm them at first.  This was something totally new.  I didn’t introduce the idea until towards the end of 1st Quarter.  I told them what Stammtisch was and what they’d be doing, but I started with an example that I ran.  Our topic was “Should there be school uniforms for students?”  I gave them a list of relevant vocabulary words and lead the discussion, representing both the pro and contra sides.  After the discussion, I gave them a copy of the questions I had used as examples.

So far it’s been a huge success – the kids enjoy it and look forward to it.  Often I’ll ask a question in class and after brief discussion they’ll decide that it’s a “Stammtisch question” that we should discuss in more detail later.  We do one every two weeks, usually on a Friday or a shortened day.

My favorite parts so far have been:
  • It builds off the Socratic Seminars they’ve been doing for the past two years.
  • It’s teaching argument forming, which is a skill they need for the AP exam. 
  • It emphasizes impromptu speaking – there are no scripts, no notes, just the words they learned and what they already know/feel about the topic.
  • It builds vocabulary for topics we don't normally cover and that are interesting to the students.
  • It’s more informal than other means of assessment.  I like performance based assessments, and this feels really natural as a task – what’s more practical than knowing how to argue!
  • You really get to know your students better and they get to know each other better.  It’s really interesting to see what they think about some of these topics, and to see students who normally don’t interact with each other team up on an issue. 
  • Best of all… it tricks them into building vocabulary and speaking skills while having fun!
It’s been so successful with German 4 that I plan on introducing it during 4th Quarter with German 3 as a fun way to end the year and to prep for German 4 next year.

If you’re interested in trying Stammtisch with your German students, my resources are available on my TPT account – just click here.

- Frau Leonard

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