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Your starter fuer zehn

Marian Jones suggests lesson ideas that will keep German classes alert from the beginning

At the start of every key stage 3 or 4 lesson I call the register. This is not just to grab my pupils' attention - I do it because it gives me useful information. (Who needs help catching up? Should I send work home for someone?) Doing this chore productively - by giving every child a chance to say something in German - gives a focused start to the lesson. A varied approach and a touch of the unexpected demand an alert response.

A simple vocabulary recap can be made more useful by using a set of linked categories. For a class working on holidays, for example, I might start with Wo fAhrst du nAchsten Sommer hin? and ask a few pupils to provide different answers.

Follow-up questions might include Wie fAhrst du am liebsten auf Urlaub?, Was machst du gern auf Urlaub? and Was packst du alles in deinen Koffer? and should generate enough ideas for everyone to answer. When a class is used to this approach, I vary it by working backwards or by twos through the register, or dotting about, leaving the least attentive until near the end!

It encourages alertness to ask some pupils to react to what someone else has said. I build up a list of instructions which pupils understand, such as Wiederhol bitte, was Sophie gerade gesagt hat, Kannst du das bitte an die Tafel schreiben zeichnen? or Stell bitte eine Pantomime dar.

I might want to remind a class about nouns for places in towns they learned last lesson, focusing particularly on the genders so I can teach Wie komme ich zumzurI? Alternate pupils can say simply der, die or das and the second of each pair can provide an appropriate noun. Three pupils can be asked to listen out for words of a particular gender and list them in columns on the board. That will provide a visual reminder to start off the lesson.

Once a class is used to responding in twos, I ask alternate pupils to ask a question and the next one to answer it. For younger classes, tightly structured questions, perhaps with one-word answers, are very suitable.

Examples are Magst duI ? or Was magst du lieber, I oderI ?

Year 10 pupils working on holiday accommodation could be asked to come up with 15 questions and answers which can be used when checking into a hotel.

Some will need starter ideas (Gibt es hier einenI ? or Kann ich hier im HotelI ?). As a variation, alternate pupils can supply an "answer" and the next one think up a question on the spot.

For a more open-ended task, one pupil can provide an infinitive and the second must use it in a sentence, perhaps in a particular tense. Or I can suggest a starter phrase and ask pupils to complete it as imaginatively as possible. I might use Heute Morgen sagte mir meine Mutter I, or Wenn ich reich bin, werde ichI and provide a new prompt after a few good answers have been given.

Other ideas include one pupil beginning a sentence for the next to finish and each pupil adding a sentence to build up a story - the more ridiculous the better.

Tasks can be grammar-based or vocabulary based, tightly structured or open-ended. The latter are particularly satisfying, encouraging pupils to use the language they have acquired creatively. If you are not allowed to repeat an idea, you have to think of a new one.

These activities provide a purposeful start to each lesson and help attack the problem of pupils forgetting up to 80 per cent of material unless it is regularly reviewed. However, I think it is their potential for the creative reuse of language which makes these activities especially satisfying.

Ultimately, isn't that what we want our pupils to be able to do with the foreign language(s) they work so hard to acquire?

Marian Jones teaches languages in Somerset

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