Teaching German to college students requires a balance between effective language pedagogy and stimulating cultural education. In my classroom, I combine these two elements by introducing materials that exhibit peculiarities of the German language, or, in turn, by drawing target grammar from relatable contexts. Beyond exposing students to the German-speaking world, I aim to promote a generally open mind toward encounters with other cultures. Driven by a communicative approach, my teaching style cultivates active participation through discussions, presentations, and group exercises to ensure that students are able to both collaborate and make their individual voices heard.
Typically, I begin the day with brief ‘chit-chat’ where students are free to share anything from their classes to their private lives. A student’s story about a trip to the movies may spark an exchange about everyone’s favorite films. Another’s lament about not eating breakfast might lead to a discussion about morning routines. This gives the students the opportunity to lead conversations and use German vocabulary to talk about day-to-day events.
Since each group of students has a unique combination of skills and interests, I make sure to adjust the course content to their needs and concerns. In my intermediate class, for example, I formed small groups and asked the students to collect essay topics that interested them. From the answers received, I developed homework assignments throughout the semester. Since the students wrote about issues that were meaningful to them, they handed in especially creative and thought-provoking papers. Another time, a student asked me during office hours if I knew any activities that allowed for quick thinking. I invented a German version of “Waffles or Pancakes,” where students had to choose and justify one of two given options on the fly. After Andrea Dortmann, the director of the language program, saw how well the game worked, she immediately added it to the teaching suggestions for instructors. I later used a variant to help work out the main ideas of a short story we were reading in class.
I frequently bring new media (popular songs, recent newspaper clippings, current film excerpts) into the classroom to demonstrate the covered materials’ authenticity. This provides an excellent supplement to the textbook while giving students the chance to both experience the local culture and engage with the language of modern Germans. Activities that naturally integrate grammar structures—such as “Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst” (“I see something you don’t see”) in which one participant picks an object and others guess what it is with yes/no questions—create a comfortable learning atmosphere for review.
As a scholar of literature and theater whose work is steeped in social theory, I strive to encourage analytical, historically grounded thinking. In a chapter on politics in Germany, for example, I assigned the roles of the main German parties, various citizens, and talk show hosts to students. Based on a text we read, “hosts” posed questions while the others debated and evaluated issues from the perspective of their assigned roles. As a result, students were able to both articulate critical arguments about the material in a safe environment and rehearse realistic communication for beyond the classroom setting.
In my function as a mentor, I always recommend that my students apply their new proficiencies to the real world by watching Netflix series, reading online articles, or practicing with NYU programs like Goethe’s Tisch or Speaking Freely. Moreover, when I see that students are interested in continuing their studies after completing the language requirement, I encourage them to spend a semester at NYU Berlin or consider a major/minor in German.
Overall, my pedagogical strategies are dedicated to guiding students toward an outlook that will be valuable in their future lives. The competencies they acquire in leadership, critical thinking, as well as cross-cultural understanding reach beyond foreign language acquisition and will remain with the students long after they leave my classroom.