Melanie Bruyer’s Great German Class

No Pro-D is ever better than watching a butt-kickingly good teacher live in front of kids in their classroom.  And the Pro-D I got last week in Minneapolis was very good indeed.  There I met Melanie Bruyers and her first-year, 8th-grader German class thanks to Grant Boulanger.  I was also psyched cos I got to walk around the school and see a few other Spanish classrooms.  So here are cool activities.

Here’s what I saw her do:

The classroom has almost no German signs etc in it but it has a whack of Spanish pronouns on the back wall.

When the kids came in, Melanie circled the day and date and asked briefly about the weather.

Then it was TPR time!  Melanie showed a video– hilariously bad– of a German singer dancing and pointing saying things like “Was magst du?  Ich mage laufen!” (What do you like?  I like running!) and the kids were supposed to watch, dance, sing and point the way he did.  And they actually did, and seemed to like it.

Then it was time to do Bryce Hedstrom’s “La Persona Especial.”  Melanie put me in the visitor’s big chair at the front, and on the overhead projected a set of questions (in the formal) like “Wie heissen Sie?” and “Wass haben Sie gern?”  The class read and said these in unison, and I answered, s.l.o.w.l.y., in German.  Then it was time for a student, and a boy came up.  Melanie then projected the same questions (in the familiar), the students chorally read them, and the boy answered, mostly in single words.

After this, it was story time, and Melanie asked a very short, two-scene story about a boy who was somewhere in the Star Wars universe but could not hear ____ music, so he had to go elsewhere and listen to it there.  This was funny and the kids were into it.  Melanie asked a few questions, circled some of the sentences a bit, and then this period was done.

Melanie’s class is as good as language teaching gets.  Some notes:

  • she is input-focused and wants output only to signal comprehension, which is perfect for beginners
  • the kids shush each other during activities, because they like German
  • at the end of class, when she did “1-10 fingers to show comprehension,” most of them were at 8-10
  • the class incorporated personalisation, interesting stories, music and movement.
  • she is using unsheltered grammar

As the class left, a Spanish teacher came in, and I asked him what he was doing with his kids.  “We’re doing a unit on pronouns,” he said, pointing to the back wall.  I asked him what his end-of-year goal with his Spanish beginners was, and he said “well I want them to be able to use regular present-tense verbs, numbers and so on, you know, basic stuff.”

Then we went for lunch and we wen to Caribou Coffee.

“I’ll have a double espresso,” I said to the barista.

“What’s that?” she asked.

I have now heard it all, I thought.

In the afternoon, I saw Melanie with her Germans 3s.  This was a “boring” class to watch cos the kids were mostly reading but notable was how they were on-task, only one kid took her phone out, and after Melanie did pre-reading of new vocab with them, they were able to read (and write a bit) independently.

One cool thing she did was, she made a list of categories on the board (in this case, city vs small town, and interesting and boring) and the kids had to come up and write words in the categories.  So they wrote e.g. “viele Leute” and “Lärm” in the city section.  This then turned into a bit of PQA before the kids got into their reading.

Melanie would not normally do this kind of reading with the kids– the topic was “Landeier in der Grosstadt” (“country bumpkins in the big city”)– but she is teaching them a Uni-prep class so they have a boring standardised curriculum that they must “cover” some of.

Anyway.  Thanks Melanie for letting me see solid, engaging comprehensible input teaching!