Idiomatic Expressions with Christmas

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Right in time for the next Advent celebration to have, we have a really cool set of  idiomatic expressions that deal with Christmas, regardless of if it’s in English or German. Have a look at the Guessing Quiz and its 15 questions and take a stab at it. The answers are at the end of the article.

Good luck and Happy Holidays! 🙂 ❤

idiomatic expressions Christmas

 

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FlFi Christmas 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Answers: 1. true  2.  false 3. false 4. false  5. false  6. true  7. false   8. true   9. true  10. true  11.  a.  12. b.   13. b.  14.  b.   15. b.

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Germany Quiz 8: Part III: The Inventions from Saxony- Answer Key

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And now, the answers to Part III of the Guessing Quiz on the Inventions and Inventors from Saxony. Are you ready to find out? 🙂

Part 1: Which of the items in the group were invented from Saxony. Choose the ones you think were invented in Saxony and explain your reasons why. 

gas lantern        tissue paper       wrist watch band             light bulb

mile marker      tea bag               sugar cookies                  steam locomotive

street food        coffee filter       personal computer        daily newspaper

bicycle                laundry detergent          mouthwash       telephone

brandy               beer cap             encyclopedia                   Bible

Gas Lantern- The first gas lantern for streets was erected in 1811 in the Fischergasse in Freiberg. The inventor: Wilhelm August Lampadius, who was a teacher at the Bergakademie (Now TU-Freiberg)

Wrist Watch Band- The watchband was invented for men in 1959 in Glasshütte.

Mile Marker- Adam Friedrich Zürner introduced the mile marker (in historic terms, mile posts) in 1713 to measure the distance between towns in Saxony. According to his geographical surveys he created, two post miles equalled 9.062 kilometers, an equivalent to two-hours walk. Today one can find 200 of these ancient posts, plus 60 distance posts throughout Saxony, including Leipzig, Geithain, Dresden, Großenhain and in the Lausitz region, just to name a few.

Tea Bag- R. Seelig and Hille Tea company in Dresden developed the first tea bag in 1929, which one will see in the boxes of tea in today’s grocery stores and supermarkets. The inventor was Adolf Rambold.

Personal Computer- Konrad Zuse invented the first personal computer, the Z3 in Berlin, in 1943. This was 14 years after he obtained his high school degree in Hoyerswerda, in northeastern Saxony.

Coffee Filter- Melitta Bentz from Dresden, developed the first coffee filter in 1908 with the goal of ensuring the last drop didn’t consist of coffee ground. The filter led to her creating the Melitta Coffee Company, which later moved to Munich. Melitta machte Kaffee wirklich zum Genuss. 🙂

Steam Locomotive- While Great Britain was the birthplace of the steam locomotive thanks to the inventions patented by William Murdoch (1784) and William Reynolds (1787), the first steam locomotive in Germany was the Saxonia, invented by Johann Andreas Schubert in 1838 and used for the country’s first rail line between Leipzig and Dresden.

Daily Newspaper- Two years after the end of the 30-Years War, the first daily newspaper was open to business in Leipzig, in 1850. Tim Ritzsch’s concept at that time was to inform the public of events in the city, six days a week. All done using the Guttenberg press. You can imagine how many people were hired to do the lettering and pressing at that time. 😉

Laundry Detergent- While in Saxony, one will be familiar with FEWA. It was not only an East German product, it was the first laundry detergent used for washing machines. The Chemnitz-based firm patented the first detergent in 1932; the inventor was Heinrich Gottlob Bertsch. It was perfect timing as laundry soap was not doing the (modern-day) washing machine, also invented in Saxony (in Schwarzenberg) 30 years earlier, any favors.

Mouthwash-  When a person had bad-breath during the 1700s, the only solutiion was to wash the mouth out with soap. In 1892, Karl August Lingner  solved that problem and invented the Odol Mouthwash. Today one will associate Odol with this unique invention which can be mixed with water and used for rinsing out the mouth, cleansing it of bad breath. So much for the soap and water unless your child swears a lot. 😉

Brandy- Christian Traugott Hünlich from Wilthen put Germany on the map with his creation of Brandy in 1842. It became so successful that it won a gold medal at the World Expo in Paris, 58 years later.

Beer Cap- Robert Sputh invented the modern-day beer cap in 1892. Yet unlike the screw cap that had been introduced by Pittsburghese Hymann Frank 20 years earlier, Sputh’s invention was tighter and required opening only with the bottle opener; not by twisting. 😉

 

 

Part 2:  Find out whether the following items originated from Saxony or not. Mark each one with a Y (yes) and N (no).  For each one from Saxony, guess at when it was introduced. 

  1. Thermos-flask (Thermoskanne)- YES; in 1881 by Adolf Ferdinand Weinhold of Chemnitz
  2. Coffee cup (Kaffeetasse)               NO
  3. Pottery                                              _NO-The art of making things of clay dates back to the stone age
  4. University of Technology              YES- The Technical University in Freiberg was founded in 1765 under the name Bergakademie (Academy for Miners). The TUF still exists today. 
  5. Cassette tape (Tonband)                YES- Fritz Pfleumer, an engineer from Dresden, developed and patented this in 1928
  6. Wine glass                                        NO
  7. Diesel engine                                    NO
  8. Toothpaste                                        YES- Ottomar Heinsius von Mayenburg, a chemist in Dresden invented this product in 1907, under the name Chlorodont. It was the forerunner to present-day toothpaste.  Ironically, it was the sucessor to another invention from Saxony, toothsoap, which had been created in 1852 by Adolf Heinrich August Bergmann, another pharmacist from Waldheim. 
  9. Cantilever truss bridge                  NO
  10. 35 mm Camera                                  YES- The Contax was introduced by the Carl-Zeiss Company in Dresden in 1932 and innovated again in 1949. It was the forerunner to the present-day 35mm camera but with mirror reflex anf now with SD-card. 

 

 

Part 3.  Choose the best answer for the following questions below.

  1. Homoeopathy, invented by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, focuses on the following two aspects:

        a.  Mentality and physical illness                b. Pills and viruses

          c. Ecstasy and psychology                            d. the brain and the body

  2. Aktendulli, known as file fasteners in English, is used to…..

        a. Fasten files in binders                         b. Build log cabins with dowels

        c. Sharpen pencils                                    d. Jack up the car in the event                                                                                                                  of a flat tire.

 3. In what year was the freon (FCKW)-free refridgerator invented and where?

Part a.         1895             1935              1993              2003             2018

Part b.          Schwarzenberg     Scharfenstein    Schlettau      Aue      Zwickau

 

   4. The “Plauener Spitze” is in reference to this type of manufacturing of fabric?

   a. Jeans         b. Embroidery       c. Baseball Caps               d. Dress shirts   

5.  Which city in Saxony was the birth place of the ceramic-ware we still see at the pottery market?

    a. Radebeul          b. Dresden        c. Meissen            d. Riesa         e.Leipzig

 

Bonus Question:  The Göltzschtal Viaduct, as seen in the picture above, is the first brick stone railroad viaduct in the world. True or false? 

False. It holds the title as the longest of its kind, and at one time, it was the tallest. Yet evidence points to another brick stone railroad bridge at Wurzen (east of Leipzig). Built in 1836, it is the oldest operating railroad bridge in Germany and still serves rail traffic today. 

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There are plenty of sources that focus on the inventions from Saxony. Apart from this book above, you can also click on the links below, where you can read up on the facts. All the quiz questions come from the two links.

http://www.die-sachsen-kommen.de/shtm/erfindungen.htm#TH

https://mmt.inf.tu-dresden.de/Lehre/Sommersemester_05/Praktikum_MG/ergebnisse/16a/erfindungen.html

 

 

 

 

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In School in Germany/ Genre of the Week: Pelmanism- From the Novel: Don’t Try This at Home by Paul Reizin

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This Genre of the Week looks at a novel that may look ordinary to some readers who go through the whole book (or even half of it before putting it down for another one) and judge it as textbook style- where the protagonist gets caught in a situation where he has to find his way out.

The novel “Don’t Try This At Home,” by Paul Reizin looks at the protagonist from a first person point-of-view, who ends up being entangled in a mafia, getting in trouble with the law, and in bed with several girls in the process. All of these are by accident; all of these despite his attempts of getting himself out of the situation, only to end up digging himself even deeper in a hole until his wit, quick thinking and a little romance got himself out in the end.  How it all happened and what his personal life was like is worth reading and interpreting yourself. 🙂

Yet Reizin’s novel also features a few unconventional games that are worth trying, if you knew how they were played and done it wisely. Pelmanism is one of those games mentioned and described in the novel.

And while in the book Pelmanism had experiments with different types of alcohol while guessing what they were without looking, the game itself can be a useful one that provides the players of all ages with valuable learning experiences in all subjects of study.

Especially, when learning foreign languages!!!! 😀

I’ve been using this game for all my English classes since 2004- most of the time when we have our last course meeting as a group before the semester ends and we part ways for other commitments in life- and the game features words that are sometimes forgotten by some and unknown by others. It also presents some of the typical things and characteristics of some students. All it takes is some guessing what the objects are and who they belong to.

 

The object of the game is simple. You need:

A sheet of paper and a writing utensil

A timer

And a bag with ten personal items- the items should be small enough to fit in a cloth bag (not a see-through plastic one)

 

How the game is played goes like this:

One student grabs a bag and places the contents on the table in the middle, while other students close their eyes and/or look away as the contents are being taken out. Once all the items are on the table, that student signals the rest of the group to open their eyes and look at the table and the objects.  At this point, students have one minute to identify the ten items on the table in their working language, namely the foreign language they are learning. At the same time, they should guess who these objects belong to.

Once the teacher, who runs the timer, says “Stop!”, the students are called on upon random to name the objects and who they belong to. The student, who gets all the objects right as well as the correct person, will be the next one that chooses another bag, and repeats the same procedure.

This whole process continues until all the bags are used up or the teacher ends the game for time reasons.  There is no clear winner, but the objective of the game is to get the students to “reactivate” their brains to remember the words they learned in the past. At the same time, they also have an opportunity to learn new vocabulary- much of which may need to be listed on a sheet of paper with the native language equivalent, should the foreign language level range from beginner to intermediate (A to B level, according to the Common European Framework). In some cases, small devices that are new to the students will need to be explained by the person who brought it with the other objects.

 

I’ve had some weird but interesting examples that warranted explaining, for instance:

A can of deoderant that is actually a capsule for fitting a small object for hiding in geocaching, a pen that functions as a light, laser pointer and hole puncher, small books full of quotes, USB-sticks with company logos, stuffed animals (also as key chains), pieces of raw material (wood, rock, metal), postcards, pictures and poems. If you can think it, you can present it and be genuine at the same time. 😉

As mentioned earlier, Pelmanism can be played by all ages, regardless of language knowledge, and if you can have at least four participants (the more, the better), you can treat yourself to an evening of fun for either the whole family or friends. If you are a teacher in an English class, you will find this useful and fun for the students; especially if you participate in the game yourself.

Pelmanism is one of those games found in a book, where if modified for use in the classroom and mastered properly, it can be a fun experience for those learning new words, especially in a foreign language. It reactivates your brain and gets you reacquainted with words learned in the past (but seldomly used in the present), while at the same time, encourages active learning and acquisition of new words into an ever-expanding vocabulary. It is a fun game for everyone, and if you are as lucky as the protagonist in the story, you might come out with more than what words you learned in the game. 😉 ❤

Thanks, Paul!

 

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The Six-Year Rule: Why a Job in German Academia Is Fatal for Your Teaching Career

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Wiley Campus of Hochschule Neu-Ulm in Bavaria. Photo taken in 2015

Starting off this article there is a word of advice to anyone wishing to start their career in teaching English as a foreign language, let alone in general as a professor: German Academia is the place where teachers’ careers end- after six years, that is!  If one wishes to continue as a teacher, one has to take the mentality that a person goes where the jobs are, even if it means working as a freelancer until retirement. This mentality goes along the lines of a quote by the late Paul Gruchow: “You go where the good people go. We raise our best so that they can develop a sense of home and eventually come back.”

Teachers in Germany are the highest in demand, especially in the area of foreign languages, yet barriers are standing high and tall in the path to a prosperous career that many of them decide to call it a career and find another profession. This applies not only to German laws for recognizing education degrees for schools from other countries, but this one: The Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (known in English as the Limited Contract Laws for Academics in Germany or LAG for short). Enacted in 1999, the LAG aims at limiting contracts for those wishing to work at a German university in an attempt to reduce the number of employees, including professors, receiving permanent posts and encourage competition by hiring new people every 2-3 years, pending on which German state you live in and which “Hochschule” (German university or college) you wish to work for. In a nutshell, people wishing to work at a Hochschule are given a limited contract, most of the time two years, and are allowed to work a total of six years without pursuing a doctorate. With a doctorate (PhD), one receives another six years, totaling 12 years of work. For those studying medicine, the rule is nine years before and six years after getting a PhD, thus totaling 15 years.  Once the time runs out, there is the “Berufsverbot,” which means you are not allowed to work at a German university anymore for the rest of your life.

Yet there are some exceptions to the rule which could help manuever around LAG and prolong your stay in academia. Some of which I learned most recently during an interview at a university in the state of Hesse.  The first involves having children while working at a German university. If one has a child, then the limit of the number of years allowed to work full time is extended by two years per child- a major benefit since Germany has one of the lowest birthrates of all industrialized countries in the world.  Another way of extending your life at academia is through Drittmittel- German for funding from the private sector. According to news reports from the newspaper Die Zeit, more and more academics are applying for this type of funding as a way of prolonging their careers at the German university. Basically, the funding applied for and received is what the academics have to live off from. Most of the time, the funding is barely enough to make ends meet, limited to 2-3 years- meaning another limited contract- and it comes with strings attached, which means one has to work on a project in addition to teaching. Project-hopping is another concept that is practiced at German universities, where people hop from one project to another in an attempt to stay at one university.  Then there is the Publish-or-Perish mentality, where people working at academia are expected to contribute to the university by publishing as many works as possible, while getting a meager amount of money in return. A way of staying on, yet at the cost of your teaching career because most of the time is spent on writing instead of interacting and helping students.  Getting a professorship is possible in Germany, but one needs at least 10 years to complete that, and there are several titles one needs to go through, such as PD, Junior Professor, Professor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor Doctor……. (You get the hint 😉  ). If one is not quick enough to obtain such a professorship, let alone follow the publish or perish mentality, then one can call it a career well before the retirement age.

All these options are doable, but in comparison with American universities and colleges, where they provide tenure tracks for those wishing to pursue a permanent form of employment (both as a professor as well as an employee), the hurdles are numerous and high- high enough for a person to a point where if one wants to race the 300 meter hurdles in track and field, it is required to practice triple jump and high jump in order to “jump the hurdles” without stumbling and eventually finish the race a winner.  In fact, only 14% of all positions at an American university have limited contracts. In Germany, the rate is 68%, one of the highest in the world! The trend is ongoing and increasing and for a good reason: budget cuts from the state, which is the main source of financing, combined with less funding possibilities from Drittmittel, is forcing institutions to lay off personnel and cut certain programs deemed as “not financially suitable for students.” Protests have taken place in many German states calling for more state and federal involvement in financing for academia but with partial success. Those who stay on have to deal with funding that is barely enough for even a single person to survive. Others, especially those fearing for their career, opt for places outside Germany, including the US, Canada and Great Britain, as working conditions and better, and  more permanent contracts are guaranteed.

But all is not so bad these day. Some universities in Germany are laxing their regulations by either providing permanent employment right away or after a limited contract. In a couple cases in Bavaria, the tenure track has been introduced to allow people to stay on beyond the permanent contract. Yet as it is always the case when dealing with bureaucracy in Germany, it comes with strings attached. Requirements of a degree in the respective field, like a language degree at a university for a job at a language institute is becoming the norm and not the exception. This includes Master’s degrees but also Lehramt (teaching degrees), which includes 7-8 years of studies, student teaching and two state exams (see an article posted here). Even then, the pressure to stay on when hired is enormous and one needs a lot of luck and aggression, let alone some great connections to stay on beyond the contract- preferably permanently.  But even then, when you have established these connections and a great career, chances are likely that you are shown the door when the contract is up.

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This was what happened to yours truly in Bayreuth. I worked at the University’s Language Institute teaching English for two years, from 2008 until 2010. Prior to me being hired, I was told that I would be allowed to work there for two years with no further contract, then I would be banned from teaching in Bavaria. This was customary at that time.  In fact, three of my colleagues had left when I arrived; two more left after the first semester alone, and two more were offered two-year contracts under the same conditions during my time there, but they declined as the move from North-Rhine Westphalia to Bayreuth for two years was not worth the move. While the regulations, in place since 2007,  have somewhat laxed because of successful attempts to keep at least some of the teachers on (many of them had worked there for over a decade before I came), they came after I left, leaving a mark in the classroom and many positive stories and experiences to share among my student colleagues, many of whom I’m still in contact with (and are probably following this column). Despite Bayreuth’s attempts, other Bavarian universities are having a hard time copying their successful attempts so that their staff members can stay on with a permanent contract. But realizing the mentality that not everyone is that mobile and would like to settle down, the winds of change will eventually come to them and the rest of Germany as well.  For me, after another two-year contract at another Hochschule, I decided to pursue my teaching degree for the German Gymnasium, for teaching in schools are more guaranteed than in academia, yet the workload is more than in adacemia- the only caveat. 😉

To end this article, I have a word of advice to those wishing to teach in Germany: If teaching is what you want, you have to cross seven bridges to get there. Many of them are old and rickety, but they are worth crossing. Yet make sure a plan B is in place if you decide to leave it behind. After all, we have more than one talent in our lives to share with others and be successful in. 🙂

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In School in Germany: The Characteristics of Being a Great Teacher of English (as a Foreign Language)

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A few months back, I was approached by a colleague of mine, who runs a pair of online columns devoted to English writing, wanting to know from me some of the things that are important for teaching English as a foreign language.  After some thoughtful consideration and looking back at what I’ve experienced in the 15+ years I’ve been teaching here in Germany, dealing with everything in the sun, I decided to compile a list of ideas that are especially useful for those entering the field or are struggling in their first year on the job. The characteristics I mention here do not necessarily mean that if you don’t have them, you will never be a great teacher. It just simply means that if something goes wrong, you may want to think about them and ask yourself if it is useful to try them, at least. After all, each teacher has his/her way of teaching English language and culture.

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  1. Image is Everything- This was the slogan that tennis great André Agassi used for his Nikon camera commercials in the late 1980s and 90s. As a teacher, you have to market yourself to the students in a way that they will respect you from the first day on. This goes beyond your outer appearance. It even outguns the knowledge of your native language. It has to do with being on the level with your students and finding ways to get them to follow you. Sometimes you and your students find the right chemistry right away and you have a productive and successful class. Other times there is a wall that you cannot overcome, even if you try. Then it is like the love affair between man and woman, or in my case, the beamer and the laptop as stated in an earlier article.
  2. Your Students are your Audience; your Friends. Treat them with Care- I was once told that teaching is a business and the students are your customers. If you have students who “hate” you and your teaching and decide to annoy you at their convenience, then that is where the German formal “Sie” and the business-like relationship comes in. However, not all of them are like that. Many of them stay with you as long as you are working at their institution and even become your friends for life. To give you a hint: In my last semester teaching in Bayreuth in 2009, I had a class where all but three of the 20 people had been in my previous classes. All of them are still in contact. If you have this experience, then it is because you did something right, by listening to what they want, customizing your classes to make them interesting and you are integrated into their “culture” and they into yours. Almost all of them are eager to learn from you, and not just for the sake of languages.
  3. You need Structure; You need Discipline- A Frank Fitts from American Beauty quote that definitely applies to teaching, especially English. As Germans, especially in the eastern half, are obsessed with a structured form of teaching, you should structure the teaching to cater to their needs. It’s like a presentation: you have the introduction, the key points, the summary and time for questions and clarity. Then you make sure that they are kept in line with what they learned. Entertainment only serves as a frosting to the cake. This was a lesson I learned from a colleague at a private institution recently.
  4. Less is More- Too much of everything in an English classroom, even worksheets, are never a good thing. If you find yourself having a complaint where there were too much print materials to work with, you may want to reduce it and alternate your teaching methods. Sometimes some help from another source will help a great deal.
  5. Back-up your stuff in the classroom: Stewart Tunnicliff, who runs a couple Leipzig-based websites and a translation/proofreading business once said this when he presented the WordPress presentation at the Intercultural Blogger Conference in March. I have to say it also applies to teaching as well. Despite the careful planning that Germans are famous for, a back-up plan must always be in store, should your original plan fail in the classroom due to the students’ lack of interest, some technical glitches, missing elements because you were in a hurry, etc. While some teachers believe that Plan B is non-existent, they haven’t seen some situations, including those I experienced, where it was warranted. So have a Back-up plan ready, and ……
  6. Plan for technical doomsday- Your computer will crash, its relationship with the beamer will fail, the files will not open, the speakers will not operate, anything will happen. It has happened with the best teachers and they have dealt with them. Almost all of those who experienced a technical “Panne” have learned to do this one important item next time they work a technical equipment: check to make sure everything is in order before entering the stage with eager students awaiting to watch something “educational.” 😉
  7. Creativity and spontaneity are bread and butter- If there is a characteristic a teacher must have, there are two of them: being creative and spontaneous. A creative person comes up with activities on paper, through brainstorming and best of all, in the classroom in a spontaneous manner. A spontaneous person foregoes a planned session because of cock-ups along the way, presents a new strategy out of the blue, and gives it to the group for them to do. 99 times out of 100, that works every time. Teachers must have the brains to do both if they wish to continue with their career in the long term.
  8. Be a great storyteller- Storytelling not only provides students with a sense of entertainment, but also lessons for them to learn from, both in a moral and philosophical manner as well as when learning a foreign language. The stories told don’t have to be very personal ones, but they should be ones that are related to reality, and students can relate to. Even the tiniest story, including a person and a chain-smoker, who disregards the no smoking sign, getting into a debate on smoking, brings value to the students as some of them are smokers wanting to quit but don’t know how. Think about it. 🙂
  9. Slow and easy always wins friends- Especially for Americans teaching foreign languages, teachers love to speak at their tempo, which is for the non-native speakers of English, too fast. Sometimes a problem with dialect can hinder the success in the classroom. Slow down. Speak high English (with a Chicago dialect), have someone listen to you if you feel it is necessary. No student will mob you if you speak extra slowly and clearly, or did one student do that?
  10. Make sure your exits are covered- If a student complains about a bad grade, explain to him/her why and what can be done to improve it. If students become a smart-ass, surprise them with a quiz to test their knowledge. If a person wikiing his assignment says his grandma helped him with English, invite her to class unannounced. If lectures are needed, give it to them. Students will respect you if you keep pace with their learning but will love you if you are ahead of the game. A lesson I learned after dealing with the unbelieveable. 🙂
  11. Finally, be decent. Teaching students goes beyond the subject or the basic skills needed for the job. The main goal of a teacher is to show students how to be decent. Decency is a commodity that is well underrated but one we need so that we can love our neighbors and friends and respect their rights and wishes. It also means that teachers learn by example, by being professional and kind to others. A video with a lecture of how decency and justice goes together, shows us how important our job is, which is to teach our future generation how to be decent.

There are many more, but these eleven are the most important elements of a teacher, in my opinion. Each teacher has his/her style of teaching which works in some cases and fails in others. Even more so, teachers have different personalities that can work out or cause conflicts. In either case, what is important is making sure the students get a proper education so that they can go out, see the world and experience it themselves. How it is done is solely up to the teacher, yet if something fails, they should take a different approach. In either case, in the end, if students walk out of the halls of school or university with a great sense of satisfaction, then it is a sure-fire sign that they will leave footprints in your hearts forever,

let alone pairs of sneakers on the line outside your home. 🙂

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Question Tag

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Dialog- a concept where two or more persons converse over topics that are of interest. It does not necessarily have to do with trying to find solutions to conflicts that are bothersome to both parties. It does not have to do with cheering or booing teams. It has more to do with having a discussion to find and expand interests, views and other personal traits that the parties have in common with a goal of establishing friendships (or in some cases, relationships) and exchanging ideas for the good.  Hans Küng stressed using a dialog as a tool for finding common values among religions when he initiated the Global Ethics project in the 1990s, much to the dismay of priests of his own Catholic Faith. Samuel P. Huntington in his last book Who We Are, argues for compromise through dialog in order for the United States to come to terms with the influx of immigrants, especially from the south. Francis Fukuyama claimed in his thesis The End of History that the new era offers a chance for mankind to develop a universal form of civilization which includes the quest of similar values and compromise via dialog.

But dialogs do not necessarily have to concentrate on politics, religion and personal views alone. It has more to do with breaking down barriers that confines us and keeps us from reaching out. This can include language barriers, cultural and religious differences, and even personal differences, all of which are avoidable if we have the will to find a medium ground to start off with. 🙂

And this is where this activity comes to mind. It’s called Question Tag. Useful in not only foreign language classes, but also in general classes in school as well as in other education institutions, Question Tag (short, QT) offers students and/or parties an opportunity to break the ice right away and start a conversation by asking the other person a question of interest before eventually spreading it around. The main goal of this game is threefold, speaking from experience:

  1. For foreign language education, QT offers the students an opportunity to show their language skills, including vocabulary and skills involving asking questions, while at the same time, acquire additional vocabulary and other skills by listening and involving themselves in the conversation.
  2. For other topics, QT can enable a thought-provoking discussion to find out the views of others, while generating other questions and thoughts that may be useful and fruitful for the discussion. This includes specific topics, like the refugee crisis, or the US Presidential Elections, but also general topics, such as involvement in clubs and associations, interest in technology and even sports.
  3. Students can benefit from QT by getting to know the other one and his/her interests. This is especially useful if one or two members in the group are exceptionally shy and not forthcoming in the conversation. And as dumb as it may be, it is useful for group projects that involve people of different backgrounds and personalities, regardless of whether the project is related to work or the university.

The object of the game is simple: Each participant receives five index cards (Karteikarten in German), regardless of size, and a pen. The participant must then write down five questions that he/she has, then turn them over so that no one else can see. It’s like a poker game but more discreet. 😉

Please note that the questions must not be too personal and not too biased. So questions involving sex life and dating, as well as views on xenophobia (as examples) should be refrained altogether. But questions involving hobbies, childhood memories, first crush on a person, favorite pet are ok, if formulated appropriately.

Once the questions are written down, place them in the center of the table face down and mix them up. Then, one person chooses a card and the target person, and asks the question. After the target person answers the question, others can join to share their answers and views based on the question.

Nothing to it. 🙂

The game is open as a one-to-one but you can include as many people as you see fit. The beauty of this game is that anyone can play and it can be played in various languages. That means even people seeking refuge in Europe can play this to learn a new language, as well as those hosting them, who are interested in learning their language, like Persian and Arabic. 🙂

Question Tag serves as a starter to breaking down barriers that keep two people or parties apart. The worst a person can do is either strengthen the barrier or try breaking through to impose ideas and rules onto the other. This is where conflicts have prevailed regardless of which level. It is even more painful, if the conflict deals with language differences or even differences in culture and the way of life. Conflicts can be avoided if a middle path is found and the parties can have a peaceful co-existence. That is why dialogs are important and with that, asking about one’s interest and the way of handling people. Sometimes a question is free and can get a person somewhere- to establishing a good working relationship or even friendship. Blocking someone out is not the answer, a dialog is. And this game is one that can get a dialog going. And eventually, with a dialog, barriers can fall and a middle ground can be found and the misunderstandings can be eliminated. If you have a problem with a person or group, perhaps you can try this someday. After all, all conflicts have a solution that involves a dialog instead of a blockade, right?

That’s what I thought. 😉

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In School in Germany: The Black Box

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The Black Box– a secret device hid inside an aircraft to record the flight from start to finish. The box is used to determine how the flight went, but also in worst case scenario, how it crashed. The black box is top secret and can only be opened when deemed necessary.

Each of us has our own black box in our heads, kept locked away and containing the secrets and desires that the majority of the public does not want to hear or see- that is unless there is someone who is willing to open it up and accept our dark sides. 🙂

But the black box does not necessarily have to be full of secrets that can destroy one person. It can also serve as something to share with others where all can learn from it and the person who has the secret can benefit from it; especially when it comes to learning a foreign language or other subjects.

Most recently, I developed a Black Box exercise which can be utilized wherever needed, pending on which subject you are teaching which topic you wish to discuss. Good for all ages and regardless of whether it’s for 1-1 training or a classroom setting, it is a two-part exercise that requires work on both the teacher’s and the students’ parts, but in the end, will bear fruit as far as discussion and learning is concerned. What you need for materials are the following:

For each student and the teacher, you need one sheet of black paper and another sheet of a colored paper of choice.

Use the black sheet of paper, fold it along horizontal lines in half and afterwards, fold the halves into half again, thus having a sheet folded into quarters, as seen in the picture below.

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The next step is to fold the horizontal portion of the sheet into two halves then again into quarters, thus creating a origami with eight rectangular shapes. Please ensure that the sheet is closed in half horizontally, as seen in the pictures below.

Fold the vertical portion in half....
Fold the vertical portion in half….
....and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
….and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
Closed-book format like this....
Closed-book format like this….

The next step many people may fall for (and I have many times myself). Here you need to fold the outer corners of the folded sheet of paper. What is meant by outer corner is the folded sheet and not the single sheet, as some people have done. Please see the pics below to see how the corners should be folded. Normally, the corners folded should have a 45° angle touching the folded crease in each corner with a tab sticking out down the middle on both sides.

This is not the way to fold it!
This is not the way to fold it!
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.

Fold these tabs outwards so that they cover the outer corners. Then place your fingers in the opening and sandwich the long ends, so that in the end, a half a box is revealed. It should look like this in the end…..

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Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards....
Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards….
Top portion of the box finished! :-) Now the bottom portion needs to be done.....
Top portion of the box finished! 🙂 Now the bottom portion needs to be done…..

Repeat the steps with the other half of the box and you have yourself the finished product, as seen below:

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Once you have completed your black box, you can do many activities with them, where students can cut into pieces and place various colors of paper into the box, pending on what topic you are talking about in class. These multi-colored cards are then picked out by random, either by the teacher walking by and picking one from each student’s black box or by asking them to submit a card of a certain color into the teacher’s own black box and then, the teacher chooses one. Black boxes are very useful for foreign language teaching as they serve the following purposes:

  1. They can be used to break the ice and start a conversation in class,

  2. They can be used for introducing new vocabulary and cultural themes a student or teacher picked up while encountering media or visiting an event and a wants to share,

and 3. They can be used for conversational purposes based on a topic previously discussed in class. This is especially useful when teaching a subject in a non-native language, such as bilingual history, social studies, religion, and music in either English, French, Spanish, Russian or other languages.

In one case, students can ask the teacher a question about a topic of interest. This is especially useful if the teacher is a native speaker of a language being taught in the classroom. In other words, Ask the Ami a question about American Culture. 😉

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I have tried (and am still trying) to introduce this in the general English where one colored card has a question pertaining to the topics learned in the workbook, another for questions on vocabulary, another for questions for discussion, and the last one for questions for the American. However, this can be done with other subjects and topics, yet one has to be aware of the audience and their knowledge of both the topic and the language.

Another concern is that some students (especially in a large classroom setting) may find a creative way of ruining such an activity by posing questions and providing vocabulary words that are inappropriate, personally attacking other students or even the teacher with a question or comment, or playing Devil’s Advocate on a topic deemed controversial and not suitable for the classroom. Here the teacher will need to set guidelines for such an activity to avoid any conflicts in the classroom that might have a negative impact on the teaching environment or even the teacher’s career. While the Black Box is suitable for all ages, students need to be aware of the questions and vocabulary words they are asking which may be difficult for them to understand if they are either too young or the language level is too low. That means an A-level student should not be asking philosophical questions about Socrates if his/her level is suitable for small talk and telephone conversations.

Nevertheless, the Black Box function similarily like the device on the airplane: it brings out the most thought-provoking questions to the students in class, who will benefit from learning from the “secrets” kept locked away until now, while thinking about and utilizing the knowledge learned in the classroom in a positive manner. A wiser man once said to the author: Never judge a person by his looks or actions, but by his inner thoughts and backgrounds. It applies to not only future partners in relationships but also people you encounter along the way. After all, the most interesting aspects come from the most unusual people. 🙂

Enjoy the exercise and one confession: Yellow is my color because my devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team, in case you are wondering. It is also the favorite color of my daughter’s whose homemade box idea inspired this activity. 🙂 ❤

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