Monday, July 7, 2014

Dative Case: Using Visuals

The idea of cases is something that in general confuses students.  When I first introduce Nominative vs Accusative, it isn't so bad.  Students, even those with a weaker grammar background, can grasp the idea of a subject vs an object.  And it may be that weaker students are able to fake it a bit better - there is, after all, only one article that changes between the two cases.

Dative Case has always been a problem.  Students have problems understanding the difference between direct and indirect objects.  Those students who were "faking it" with the Accusative Case (i.e. using word order to help them, just guessing, or always using the Nominative articles) now are completely lost.  I spend a lot of time on just identifying direct and indirect objects, in both English and German, just to help them get a better feel for it.

A few years ago, I started having students visually look at the Dative vs Accusative Case.  It started with this image (Honestly, at this point I have no idea where I got it from.  Most likely I found it in a textbook like Komm mit or Wie geht's?):

I think that visually this does a great job of showing the difference between the function of each case.  If I do something TO someone or something, it's Accusative.  If I do something FOR someone, it's Dative.  The key is students need to mentally picture what's going on.  If what they say makes sense ("Ist das normal?"), then they know they did it right.  If it doesn't make sense (i.e. they're giving the horse to the carrot), they know they switched something.

We build this visual understanding slowly.  I use the picture above as an opening.  They label which sentence goes with each picture.  We talk about which side is normal and which isn't.  Then we talk about the grammar that shows this difference.

Next I get students to come up with their own normal vs not normal sentences.  I give them common verbs like schicken, werfen, kaufen, verkaufen, and geben.  They come up with three pairs of sentences.  One sentence in each pair must be normal.  I send a letter to my grandma.  I throw a ball to my brother.  I buy a book for my friend.  Then the next sentence must be abnormal.  I send my grandma.  I throw my brother.  I buy my friend.  To get an idea of how I set up this activity with students, it's available for free on TPT.

There are a variety of extensions we can do with this.  The easiest is to use the sentences students created.  You can cut them up into cards (one sentence per card), shuffle them and re-distribute them to groups.  Groups then identify if they think the statements are "normal" or "nicht normal," then come up with appropriate sentences.  As a plus, this builds familiarity with the various verbs I choose to emphasize with the Dative Case.

I also do other activities that involve listening to sentences and identifying the direct and indirect objects.  I encourage students to draw out the situation if they're having trouble.  If they tie it back to the "Ist das normal?" activity, it usually clears it up.

Am I throwing my brother or am I throwing the ball to my brother?

- Frau Leonard


  1. Great blog!!!

    Re: dative case - I teach dative by doing a "food fight." The kids draw or I print pictures of food items they know and we "throw/give/buy" the item to/for someone else. The physical act of giving the item to someone else helps remind them to change the other person (and the item if accusative is an issue).

    1. I love it! I might try to incorporate this idea next year - thanks for sharing!