ESL Methodenkoffer: Grammar Buffet

Excuse the German word in my headline but I can’t think of a good translation that I equally like. “Methodenkoffer” (method suitcase, literally) is basically a collection of methods, in this case for teaching ESL (or really any foreign language).

What is a Grammar Buffet?

I think I don’t have to explain how a buffet works, but just in case: It’s usually an arrangement of food where everyone can just choose the food he wants. In my case, I use grammar exercises instead of food.

This method works well if you have to teach a class with a great variation in language level, but you’re still supposed to teach grammar. Everyone will need to revise a different grammar topic, some might not even know anything about the topic someone else needs to revise, while other topics might be too easy for other students.

So what do I actually do?

This method needs good preparation in advance since you have to find exercises and practice materials that don’t require a lot of explanation by the teacher. Ideal are self-study materials since they usually include a short overview and explanation of the grammar topic at hand. Make sure your materials cover topics for all of your students (e.g. different tenses that are taught at different language levels), and make enough copies of each worksheet for all of your students. You might be surprised at lower-level students who make a beeline for the advanced materials, and actually get them mostly right.

How does it work?

Set up all the worksheets on a side table and explain to your students that they can choose their own worksheet(s) for the lesson. Make it clear that they can ask you for help at any time, and that you will then come to their table and answer their questions individually. Usually, students know if they’re at different levels, but just in case, explain to them that you’re choosing this method to allow each one of them to work on the grammar topic they need most even though they are at different levels.

If your students know how to work with dictionaries, provide a few so that they don’t have to ask you for help for individual words. This will give you more time to actually address grammar questions.

Tell them that you will correct their worksheets when they are done (either do it in class if you have the time, or do it at home and give them back the next day–and make sure you have time to go over some of their mistakes with each student).

I have used this method a number of times when I had classes of students ranging from 9 to 16, learning English as a foreign language at school, during a holiday course. They usually liked it well since it allowed them to focus on something they feel they need to practise more (or even on some new grammar topic that interests them), and to work through the chosen material at their own pace.

If you try it out, I would be happy to hear back from you how it worked for you. 🙂

My Journey to Sanskrit: Materials

So my professor uses this textbook (in German) by Eberhard Guhe (2008): EinfĂŒhrung in das klassische Sanskrit. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

So far, it seems to be well-thought-out. It comprises 37 units and assumes that it will be used over the course of two semesters (which we’re going to do). So since I will miss about half of the first semester, I think I should probably work through the first 10 units before I join my class in December.

I read the introduction yesterday, and have started on unit 1 this evening. The first page lists the letters/characters of Sanskrit (how do you call them, actually? It says “alphabet”, so I’ll just go with “letters”), while the following seven and a half pages explain the pronunciation and writing system. The unit ends with about a page of exercises (and no, the book does not give us the key to the exercises, so I guess I’ll have to ask my professor to correct them for me).

Besides this textbook, he listed to grammar books (both also in German): Manfred Mayrhofer (1978): Sanskrit-Grammatik. Berlin: de Gruyter, and Sabine Ziegler (2012): Klassisches Sanskrit. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag.

I haven’t yet had time to give them a good look so here’s hoping I’ll be able to work well with them.

As far as pronunciation training goes, there seem to be some videos on Youtube for that, although it looks like I might have to search for the linguistic ones in a sea of yoga and meditation videos.

My first Sanskrit class will be on December 12, so T-109 days to nail the first quarter of my textbook.

My Journey to Sanskrit

So one of my university classes is basically a language course for classic Sanskrit. It streches across two semesters and ends with a written exam. According to my professor, this is the “make it or break it” module of this study subject (Historical Linguistics with focus on Indoeuropean languages). I will miss the first seven weeks of class due to work. Go me! Already talked to my professor about it, and he’s willing to let me try to catch up instead of kicking me out of the course since I’ll miss almost half the semester.

I’m dead set on proving to him that I can do it.

I ordered the course book and grammar book we’re going to use in class right after I talked to him and got the OK. They arrived today. Starting next week, I’ll have three weeks with almost no work, and no university (since classes start again mid-October). Sure, I still need to write two (well, one and a half) papers and study for an exam in October, but I’ll have time to get started on Sanskrit.

I’m not worried much about the grammar. What really worries me, though, is that I have to learn a new writing system. That was the biggest hurdle in my Arabic course last semester (there may well be even bigger hurdles, just that I never even managed to jump across this one).

I’ll keep you updated here (and yes, I know that I still need to get back on track with Chinese as well, failed that challenge gloriously, but at least I can say that I tried, and that I knew quite a few characters more than when I had started).

Transitioning to Blended Teacher

So while I’ve used videos in class before, once or twice, it was an exception for a special class. It wasn’t for my normal classes, and it didn’t really feel like blended teaching. Back then, it was just a way to get my students’ attention, all of whom were teenagers, on a Friday morning in their summer break.

This year, after the presentation of our new textbook series for teaching English, which contains video elements and an online language lab, I took some online classes on Coursera to familiarize myself with online and blended learning and teaching. And I slowly realised that blended teaching offers a lot of possibilities. Still, I thought that, apart from the video elements, I wouldn’t really be able to use much of what I learnt in my classes.

Now this week, I’m teaching an intensive communication and grammar class at an intermediate level (CEFR B1) from 9 – 2pm every day, and part of the materials I want to use as conversation starters are short video clips I found online (next to more classic elements like reading or listening texts, or simple questions). After some technical problems with the Internet connection today (or, rather, me not checking the second outlet after the first didn’t work…), my boss sent me an email this afternoon to assure me I will have a working Internet connection tomorrow. So my classroom has a laptop, loudspeakers, a projector, and Internet. And it’s dawning what that actually means.

The possibilities I now have go beyond a few online video clips. I can show them cartoons or photos online, use presentation tools like PowerPoint (or let my students use them for their end-of-class presentation on Friday), maybe even access quizzes online that they can take together. My vault of teaching materials just increased a hundredfold, if not more.

Sure, it takes a little while to set up laptop and projector, but once I’ve done it a few times, it should be a routine that doesn’t take much longer than a few minutes at most–time I often spend copying materials.

On days where my knees hurt too much to write stuff on the board much, I could even use a Word processor to write explanations or vocabulary for my students to see. Without leaving my chair.

And when I finally get a smartboard installed in “my” classroom (read: the classroom I teach most of my classes in) and get my training done, things will get even easier.

I think I’m really looking forward to transitioning from an offline teacher to a blended teacher.

Ferien? Watt fĂŒr Ferien? (Humor auf Ruhrdeutsch)

Lehrer malochen nur vormittachs und ham stĂ€ndich Ferien, hamse gesacht. Studenten ham ja sowieso die meiste Zeit frei, hamse gesacht. Biste schlau, hab ich mir gedacht, und kombinierste einfach beide fĂŒr doppelte Freizeit. Tjaaaa, dumm gelaufen! Wat se mir natĂŒrlich nich gesacht ham: Beide mĂŒssen in den “Ferien” trotzdem jede Menge malochen. Hausarbeiten schreiben, Unterricht vorbereiten, fĂŒr PrĂŒfungen pauken … nix mit Freizeit!

Und da ich ja nu beides auf einmal mach, hab ich den Salat. Endlich Ferien vonne Uni, da fĂ€ngt die Ferienschule an. Also morgens Flöhe hĂŒten. Nachmittachs dann Unterricht vorbereiten, Hausarbeit schreiben (tippt sich ja auch nich von allein), pauken … und abends dann tot ins Bett falln.

Irgendwat is faul, wenn man nach getaner Arbeit nich direkt nach Hause fĂ€hrt, sondern sich mitte Kollegen verquatscht. Nach Hause? Da, wo noch mehr Arbeit wartet? Nee … liebern Kaffee trinken. Und hoffen, dat es doch die MainzelmĂ€nnnekes gibt, die heimlich die Hausarbeit fĂŒr einen tippen. Irgendwer muss ja die ganzen Socken klauen, die nach dem Waschen fehlen. Dann könnse ruich ma wat dafĂŒr tun. Oda habbichse mitte ganzen Socken lĂ€ngst freigelassen? So wie der Dobby von Harry Potter? So wat Blödes aba auch! Na ja, ich bin dann ma wech, tippen und so.

Sexism in Gaming Communities: As Rampant as Ever

So I’m playing a P & P RPG, and one of my chars is a young acolyte of low social standing (because she grew up as orphan, raised by a hunter and priest of the god of hunting). Now circumstances placed her in a barony somewhere far from home, where she had saved the young baron’s life with her group, and tended to the temple and shrine in the absence of a priest. The baron (an NPC) finally proposed to her and neither me nor my GM were sure whether the next-higher noble had the right to intervene (my char doesn’t get along with her), and whether my char would be expected to swear allegiance to her after marriage. So I did what every gamer might do: I asked the online community.

It didn’t even take 24 hours for the thread to take a nasty turn. After a few posts, the initial questions were answered, and we had already got some additional food for thought (and questions about the circumstances and char in return). As soon as I mentioned her low social status, though, I had to read posts like “Such a begging slut might be fucked by the nobleman, maybe, but…” and “She can count herself lucky if she receives a silver coin after the night”, and talk about her “bastard children”.

Nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE in my posts did I so much as hint at the fact that she might consider sex before marriage. In fact, her goddess is one of the more moral ones, and my char would never consider having sex with someone she is not properly married to. She never begged, either.

But somehow, in those people’s minds, the facts “female” plus “low social status” plus “wants to marry a baron” added up to the “fact” that her morals must be on the lose side. Sure, because female characters are all only trying to score money and influence by sleeping around, right? Bullshit!

I don’t know whether these posts were from male or female gamers, and honestly, it doesn’t make any difference at all. The fact that someone considered these comments appropriate enough to make them shows that sexist stereotypes are still a long way from dying out, and that sexism is still prevalent in gaming communities.

How reading those comments made me, the player, feel? Kind of personally attacked, actually. Judged. And yes, I know that they were about my char and not about me. I still didn’t sign up for having my char insulted and degraded by nasty, sexist comments, when I asked a few questions about background.

Wenn Arbeit und Uni sich in die Quere kommen …

Wer mich nĂ€her kennt, weiß, dass ich vor allem aus Interesse studiere und nebenbei von Anfang an weitergearbeitet habe. Ich bin Englischdozentin an zwei Volkshochschulen, was bedeutet, dass meine Arbeitszeiten relativ weit im Voraus geplant werden. Bisher war das auch nie ein Problem. Ich habe eine Zeit lang relativ wenig gearbeitet (auch dank eines Stipendiums) und viele Uni-Kurse gemacht; nach vier Semestern und mit nur noch 29 LP offen (sofern alle ausstehenden Noten mindestens “bestanden” lauten) drehe ich das VerhĂ€ltnis Arbeit:Uni um. Alles ganz locker, vier Tage sind bis 16 Uhr frei und ein Tag komplett. Soweit, so gut. Womit ich nicht gerechnet hatte, war, dass mein Zweitfach (in dem ich die 29 LP noch offen habe) ein sehr kleines Fach ist und keine große Auswahl der Pflichtveranstaltungen hat. Es gibt in der Regel genau so viele Kurse, wie man besuchen muss. Mit jeweils nur einer Gruppe, also auch keine zeitliche Auswahl.

Tja, im kommenden Semester ĂŒberschneidet sich ein Pflichtseminar mit einem meiner Kurse. Dieser Kurs ist nicht irgendein beliebiger Kurs, sondern ein weitergehender Kurs, in dem einige meiner ehemaligen Teilnehmer weitermachen werden. Ich habe meinen Teilnehmern versprochen, dass ich den Kurs weitermache. Es kann sein, dass einige nur (oder vor allem) deswegen den Kurs weitermachen. Also kein Kurs, den ich an einen anderen Dozenten abgeben kann.


Die Pflichtveranstaltung ist das erste von zwei Seminaren eines Moduls, das zwingend ĂŒber zwei Semester geht. Wenn ich Pech habe, verlĂ€ngert sich mein Studium also um zwei Semester, wenn ich GlĂŒck habe, nur um eins. Vier Semester fĂŒr 29 LP.

Plan B fĂ€llt scheinbar auch aus, da Hochschulkompass keine freien StudienplĂ€tze fĂŒr das andere Fach listet, das ich noch (eigentlich im Anschluss an meinen aktuellen B.A. und / oder den Master) studieren möchte. Also kann ich auch keinen Antrag auf ein Doppelstudium stellen, um jetzt schon Lehrveranstaltungen des anderen B.A. belegen zu können. Und die NC-freien FĂ€cher interessieren mich nicht genug …

Aber 29 LP auf vier Semester aufgeteilt … ich werde mich langweilen! Was mache ich denn dann neben der Arbeit mit meiner Zeit? SchĂ€tze, ich werde die nĂ€chsten zwei Jahre einige Online-Kurse auf Coursera durcharbeiten … *seufz*