ACTFL 2016 Ideas for the Classroom

Community Ideas

At the AATG Presidents Meeting, which I attended as AATG-CT vice-president, we learnt about three successful inter-disciplinary projects that involved students and teachers.

The Maine chapter presented “Deutsche Woche in Bar Harbor”, a one week immersion project with changing topics and sustainable food. Next year’s topic will be on backwards design, July 30-Aug 5, 2017.

It was suggested that other chapters support German week through a $100 travel fund for teachers.

The Maryland chapter organized an immersion day, called “German Means Green”, for various disciplines, technology, STEM fields, etc. German engineers not only talked about their work, the necessity to learn a foreign language, but also helped students build solar powered cars and robots.

The project KunstWERK16 involved a museum tour in D.C., where students learnt about German expressionism, German wall as a piece of art, and visited the German-American heritage museum.

The Michigan Chapter organized a very successful German Career Day at Aquinus College with 350 high-school students attending, and sessions with business leaders who talked on importance of learning FL and work with international teams.

Comics in FLT

During a session on “Literacy Development Through Guided Reading of Popular German Literature” I learnt about the use of comics in teaching literature, such as Brecht’s famous short story collections, Geschichten von Herrn Keuner, and picture books, such as Soham: Eine Geschichte vom Fremdsein (A Story About Feeling Foreign/Different/Strange) by Elizabeth Reuter, which the presenter suggested using alongside the Spiegel article series Home life/Trautes Heim (Home, Sweet Home). Both comics and picture books allow students with limited linguistic skills to access literary texts more easily.

The session on “STEM, STEAM and Sustainability” provided ample suggestions for texts and classroom ideas: One presenter in a class on “Green Germany” used podcasts on “Agriculture and Urban Farming”, and the analysis of the Twinkie {“Do you know what’s in your Twinkie?”}, plus tours of solar and recycling facilities, full-day hiking trips, while discussing the following readings students had prepared at home: Heidegger: Building Dwelling Thinking, Basso: Wisdom Sits in Places, and Karen Till: Places of Memory.

The second presenter augmented the food topics in beginning textbooks, with such questions as “How green is my food? How far did my food travel?” to determine their environmental foot print. What a great idea to get beyond the usual (boring) food topics in beginning, and sometimes even intermediate classes.

Another great suggestion was to have students take pix of food with their cell phones and describe what they eat, post the pix and have others comment on the food. In addition, they had to take two products and compare them while answering these questions: Which company produced this food? Where did the ingredients and packaging come from?

On the intermediate level, students were asked to work with packaging and logos: Students were asked to describe what information about food we get, and which information we don’t get. The presenter introduces an Austrian documentary on industrial food production, Our Daily Bread (which I successfully used and will use myself). Interesting logos, such as “SUN MAD raisins” alerted students to the unnatural ingredients in those raisins. A very topical reference, was the documentary by D.Meier: “Flüchtlinge als Erntehelfer” (refugees as harvest helpers) 10.12.2015 SRF.

On the advanced level, the emphasis was on Eco-Pedagogy & the Literary Canon: Students were asked to identify food in a Baroque portrait of Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II, and research its meaning in Baroque times. They collected their findings ins thinglink.

The third presenter, of Goethe Institute Chicago, discussed an exciting inter-cultural project on sustainability, “aqua agents”, which involved middle and high-school students in German and other fields of study, such as biology, art, and geography, both in the US and Germany. Free materials, e.g. on “How much water is used in a T-shirt” can be found online at,

Syrian Refugee Crisis in the German Classroom

I attended two sessions on the Syrian refugee crisis in Germany (in one I presented myself). The various approaches were very impressive, all of which emphasized the importance of social justice issues in class, in particular in view of the recent political developments during and after the last elections.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *