Saturday, 19 October 2013

November 9th 1989 - Exploring the Berlin Wall in German classes

November 9th  1989 -  Exploring the Berlin Wall in German classes

I still find it astounding that I am teaching pupils for whom the Cold War and the Berlin Wall are facts of history.  I was 17 when the wall came down, and that event is seared on my memory.  It is so central to German culture that it seems a waste not to make the most of it – but what to do?  These are some of the ideas I have used over the years since I introduced it.  I do it with every year except the Year 11s (sorry, you lot – your mocks are only a few weeks away), and I build upon it in each year. 

Year 9 beginner German

These pupils started German in September, and only have 2 lessons a week, so we only did birthday and dates a few weeks ago, and the pupils still need reinforcement in numbers and dates.  What better way to do it?

German post-war history in dates & the Berlin Wall in numbers

1.       I get the pupils to work out how to say key dates from German post-war history.  Then, they match them to key events in German post-war history.

2.       Before we look at the Berlin wall itself, I need to communicate the insanity that was Berlin in the cold war – we look at a blank map of Germany, and we discuss where we think the border was, then compare it with the actual border, and we discuss some of the implications of this.

3.       We use a video from the Documentation centre at Bernauer Straße ( which shows the lengths to which the GDR government went to prevent escapes.  The pupils then have research opportunities to find key statistics, and they create posters with the statistics on.  E.g. the length of the wall, the number of watch towers, the number of dogs.

Year 10 German

This time we go a bit deeper, and we use 2 films to help us:  Das Leben der Anderen &  Goodbye Lenin

Lesson 1 – What is freedom?

It’s important to bring home what it means to live in a system with no political freedoms, which our pupils take for granted.  This is also an opportunity to look at the modal verb "dürfen".

Bell task: The pupils have sentences about different types of freedom using "dürfen" - they need to match the sentences with dürfen

Das Leben der Anderen – We show the opening credits including the interrogation of a man who knew about someone who had escaped, then we show the scene where a man cracks a joke about Erich Honeker.

As they watch, I ask pupils to turn face-down the sentences which show freedoms that the people in the film do not have.
The film clips and the exercise inevitably cause some discussion, but also has the pupils transfixed, and gives the cultural context to be able to do a reading exercise based on the slogans from 1989.

David Bowie – Helden/Heroes

I try to find time to do a gapfill with this song, which is an English and German rendition of the song. David Bowie is a hero, especially for my guitar-playing indie boys, so the fact that this was written when he lived in Berlin, and is about 2 lovers in the shadow of the wall is a great way to end.

Lesson 2 – A Day in the life of Alex from “Goodbye Lenin”

Context:  we have just started the topic of family and relationships, and this allows me to teach and reinforce emotions.

The pupils start by having cards with the key emotion vocab on, and we play with them to get the vocab learnt.

We watch the opening credits for context, but what we are really interested in is the first full day shown in the film, where the GDR celebrates 40 years, Alex goes on a demo and sees his mother collapse from the shock.

We watch that section of the film, and I stop it at the moment where the mother collapses.  There are usually storms of protest:  Miss!! You can’t leave it there!  What happens next?  I usually show the full film after school for those who are really interested.  However, this allows us in any discussion to link it back to what they learnt in the previous lesson .

We then read a text version in simple German of what they have seen, and they make an “emotions graph” plotting the time, and the emotions he feels.  As well as getting them to do important work on reading between the lines, and connecting a story with emotions, it also allows them  to think about an important time in recent German history.

I know from older pupils that these lessons made a real impression on them, and it allows them to explore some pretty big issues surrounding freedom, citizenship and political engagement.

6th Form

We study Das Leben der Anderen in 6th Form, and we start it around this time.  Some of the work that we do with younger pupils forms the basis of the background work to the film.

With Year 12, we also use this article about the Ampelmännchen ( which allows us to talk about marketing and icons, as we are in the middle of discussing advertising.

I hope some of these ideas prove useful.  I’d love to hear what you do. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

#MFLsatcov 2013 - creativity

There are so many different ways to approach the teaching of MFL, and to capture their ideas.
First up - @chrisfullerisms was full of ideas to put the onus back onto the pupil to find the words - dual-language texts, running dictation to name a few, but what really struck me was a passing comment to make sure that you really work on the constructions used in the task, and help the pupils get as much out of it as possible, and I thought - yep!  That's why that lesson I did last week didn't work.  This really struck a chord with me.  We spend a long time sometimes making resources, but it's a crime not to use them from every angle so that the pupils really get the most out of them.

I want to spend most of this post reporting on some of the ways to use FLAME - a project being run by ALL to encourage cross-curricular learning in the foreign language.  The potential here for cultural awareness is huge, and Suzi Bewell (@suzibewell) highlighted some fantastic examples, many from her PGCE students at York. Here is a linklink to the key websites discussed below from Suzi's blog

Science and MFL - using MFL to re-visit concepts already learnt in science, e.g. the weather.  I do a mini-project with my Y9 pupils on "The eco-house of the future", however although the boys had fun doing it last year, I was left feeling dissatisfied last year, as I felt I'd missed an opportunity to get the boys to think more deeply about the science.  This year, I'm going to get the physics dept to judge the ideas. 

Drama and MFL - one school had linked up with the theatre in York, and had run a PET project with funding.  I don't know how the funding is in current climate, but using drama specialists is no doubt a powerful tool, thinking again about confidence with speaking.  Suzi also reminded us that we don't have to reinvent the wheel - there are lots of scripts for fairytales (e.g. Aschenputtel) on the TES, for example.

Languages are, I'm glad to say, inextricably linked to food, and the culture of the country.  What better than a Great MFL Bake Off using recipes from TL countries? Routes into Languages NE have put this together. YUM!

History and MFL I was also struck by the work done with QR codes to help museums put together a tour for partner schools who visit from abroad.  What a fabulous idea!  I already have my own rather battered version I get out for the partner school visit, but this is a way to really get the pupils involved in it.

Finally - insights into the lives of others around the world.  Why not make more of Fairtrade Fortnight and team up with the Geography dept?  What about the photobook by Peter Menzel "Around the world in 80 diets"? The images are great talking points. There's also toys from around the world,

You can also talk about the rights to an education. There is the documentary Sur le chemin à l'école oh and so it goes on.. Find the links!  They are out there!

Viel Spaß!

#MFLsatcov 2 - improving confidence in speaking

Welcome to #MFLsatcov part 2 - otherwise known as "How to get the little darlings to talk"

I have immense sympathy with my pupils who view speaking in a different language with utter terror. Those teenage years just got more excruciating! The question is, how do we help them over these barriers?  My first post looked at precisely this, and I now have a few other tricks to try out.

Being able to hide behind a different persona can take the social trauma out of the experience.  Helen Shaw, who has experience in both secondary and primary, brought along her puppets which she uses to great effect with secondary school pupils.  Building on this, Amelia showed us an ipad app called puppet pals, which allowed the pupils to choose a "puppet" and a setting.  It's amazing how quickly those inhibitions can fall away, especially amongst teenage boys.

There is another website which I want to explore, which @fcharidine used to great effect in his virtual visit to Paris - This allows you to record and embed audio into a blog page, but even better than that, you can choose an avatar.

Teaching in a boys-only school has many joys, but getting teenage boys to expand on their ideas and go beyond a grunt can sometimes be hard work.  @baboohaz has developed an activity based on that great Radio 4 game "Just a minute".  The pupils are given a task, e.g. to talk about their favourite rock or pop star.  They are given a learning mat with key structures and vocabulary, they are allowed to make notes on a whiteboard to help them for the first time they do this.  They then have to talk for a minute on the topic, and the partner challenges if there is repetition, hesitation, etc.The person who challenges the speaker then takes over the task.  The support is then taken away, and the challenge is to talk for as long as possible with no prompts.  This does require stopwatches, but I'm not so sure about using whistles..;-)  In our school with paper-thin walls, I don't think my colleagues would thank me!  I'm going to try it where pupils hold up a flashcards with the relevant challenge shown on it. The competition element, the gradual removal of support both lend themselves well to the development of speaking.

#MFLsatcov 1-supporting pupils' confidence with structures

I'm sat on the train back home after another great free mega-CPD par excellence at #mflsatcov 2013, and the ideas from yesterday are still whirling round this lil head of mine. It was great to meet many of the people from whom I shamelessly nick ideas on twitter.  It was also lovely to see such a mix of teachers from both secondary and primary - all with tonnes of commitment, enthusiasm and great ideas.  There were, however, a few key themes which emerged. @amandasalt has already blogged about the day in great detail here, so I'm going to take some of the posts which chimed with me and my current preoccupations.

This post is about one of my big preoccupations - How do we help the pupils express themselves confidently with the structures we teach them?

Structures are the key to any form of independence in language learning.  Our pupils are aware of this, however vaguely, and unsurprisingly, they want to understand what they're saying.  We are never to convince them that they are making progress as language learners unless they have that fundamental confidence to use the structures themselves.

Emma (@bains_1) demonstrated how her pupils use their exercise books as reference resources.  They have key tables demonstrating verb and tense formation and connectives stuck into their books.  How do they find them?  They are colour-coded and have tabs sticking out of their books for easy reference.  These tables are taken from the school dictionaries, and so they are getting used to using the tables they are able to refer to in Controlled Assessments.  I loved this idea because it promotes the structures as well as showing the pupils what they can do for themselves.  They also had gold stickers for pieces of work which were good enough to be used in the future.  Getting pupils to see their exercise books as a resource can be an uphill struggle, so these ideas were very welcome.

Emma also showed us a score sheet she uses with pupils to promote punctuation and other linguistic structures - the more complicated the structure, the more points it scores.  I teach in a boys' school, and truly, points mean prizes.  I'm thinking of combining this with ideas from James Padvis to really get them thinking.

James (@jjpadvis) showed several of his cunning ideas for getting pupils to extend their sentences beyond "J'aime le foot parce que c'est super".  He had a connectives pyramid, with the most basic "1point" connectives (and, but) at the top, and going down to level 7 for much more advanced connectives.  The pupils were encouraged to use this to help them improve their written work.  I think this is a very powerful way of showing pupils that they can extend their sentences and thoughts beyond the basics.  I have a colleague who liked that idea so much, she is planning a connectives Eiffel Tower! 

I have a different variation in my classroom, linked to the word-order rules in German.  "Green" connectives are the connectives where the word-order doesn't change, "yellow/amber" are the connectives which mean that the verb comes next, and the "red/pink" ones are the connectives which send the verb to the end of the sentence.  These have been really effective since I re-vamped my classroom in the summer holidays - the colour-coding helps them remember the grammar rules, but also means that pupils are more prepared to look at the wall and use a bigger variety in their work.

One more display to help support pupils, this time in using the target language.  I feel slightly deflated when a pupil gives an answer in the target language, but precedes it with "Well, I think it might be.." Having a traffic-light coded set of phrases on the wall so that they can express their level of confidence in the TL makes a lot of sense.  Pupils clearly feel the need to show their level of doubt, or to put a disclaimer on their answer.  Why not give them these prompts and keep the exchanges in the TL?

Amanda (I'm sorry, that's all I have in my notes) had a great guessing game for us.  Us MFL teachers love a guessing game - all that reinforcement of key structures!  All that learning by having (whisper it) fun!  She showed us a grid with 3 columns filled with variations.  You take one element from each column to make a sentence.  The pupils then guess which sentence you are thinking of by saying something from each column.  You then say oui/non to each element, and see how many goes it takes them to get it right.  I played this with my Y10s this week, when we did the great Time-Manner-Place word order rule in German, and it worked a treat.  The pupils were then able to do it in pairwork, and scored how themselves on how many guesses they needed to get the right answer.  The pupils with the lowest score won!

Finding the right words, however is a challenge, especially when the dictionaries don't keep up with the weird and wonderful technological world we live in.  Need a word which is too hip for the dictionary? @dominic_mcg has the answer!  Look up the page in Wikipedia, switch languages, and (hopefully) voila! It's slightly less fiddly than using to give you the words for the latest essential, although in trying it out, found that there is no entry in German wikipedia for "skinny jeans".  Make of that what you will.  Sick of franglais? Then turn to the Institut français webpage "Dire..Ne Pas Dire" for the approved version of anglicised words.  If only Germany had something similar.. ;-)