Reading in class Reading is fun – in a GFL lesson?

Young readers
Young readers | © WavebreakmediaMicro /

Reading literature in foreign language lessons – that’s a challenge for teachers and students. Young learners don’t read less than they used to nowadays, just differently: mostly online and more selectively. What subject matter can be used to motivate pupils to read literature, or more complex works? How complicated can the language be? Where do I find appropriate reading material? Teachers are looking for answers to these questions so that they can introduce their pupils to reading.

Students learn to deal with a variety of genres and strategies for mastering texts by engaging with literature. New and unexpected material is opened up to them as a result. Students learn in foreign language lessons how they can gain access to language gradually, in small steps and with increasing independence. If a relaxed approach is adopted, as well as the courage to tackle gaps in understanding, reading will be motivating and the fun factor will win out.

Back to the classic book instead of reading online?

These days, young people mostly read online, and “the demands made of our reading and language skills increase with digitisation” (Monika Reitprecht:Digitales lesen / Digital Reading). Young people mostly read online © Tom Wang - Erratic navigation during online reading leads to a large number of impressions gained through reading, but not necessarily to an increase in knowledge or even to more reading pleasure: “One in five young people cannot comprehend what they read” (Verena Gangl:Jugendliche lesen anders / Young people read differently). As well as a glut of digital material such as ebooks and audio books, the classic book is becoming increasingly popular thanks to literature competitions, reading festival weeks and book exchange campaigns, as well as reading clubs and lounges.

What to read – and how?

Teachers can attempt to read a literary text in class and analyse it together as early as the third year of learning German as a Foreign Language (GFL), in other words when the young learners are aged 11 or 12. Specialist publishers offer adapted titles and appropriate educational aids at A1 level, for instance Ernst Klett Verlag, Hueber Verlag, Cornelsen Verlag). The article Lesetipps für Jugendliche (Reading Tips for Young People) published by Stiftung Lesen (German Reading Foundation) gives an overview too.

Since timetabling for foreign language lessons generally allows some leeway when it comes to selection of the reading material, the pupils could help to choose, for instance from a box or shelf containing books that are planned or have already been read. The learners can also read trial chapters in small groups, present them to the whole class and then choose together. Or, to help them decide, the teacher summarises several possibilities and puts those forward.

As well as the volume of text, language level and provision of an age-appropriate social and cultural background to the book, it is crucial that this reading is fun for everyone. If a book is very suitable but there is too much of it, it can be read in small excerpts – or alternatively groups of students can read a section each and talk to the others about it.

It is also possible to work on sequences in the books using different approaches with supplementary materials that address other learning channels – such as films, comics or audio clips.

We’ve chosen – what next?

Suitable contextualisations, supplementary materials, games, blogs and Youtube videos are now available for many book titles. They are presented as a complete package by publishers, who tailor them to school requirements. Tools that simplify or serve as an illustration are more likely to motivate young readers to read on than completing worksheets in textbooks, filling in the gaps in passages, or querying grammatical or structural phenomena.

The Spaß am Lesen (Reading is fun) publishing house sells original texts, for instance screen adaptations of literary works in simplified language, large print and with a glossary. These books are designed to introduce people who find reading difficult to literature – a format that could also be a bridge to reading original literature for GFL learners.

The book Tschick by Wolfgang Herrndorf is relatively short and written in understandable language in the original, but it is still challenging when used in foreign language lessons. The highly simplified version published by Spaß am Lesen Verlag can offer an introduction, used in conjunction with teacher’s notes such as those offered by Rohr-Verlag.

The book Scherbenpark (Broken Glass Park) by Alina Bronsky can be used effectively to illustrate the theme of social flashpoints and the lives of young people with a background of immigration. An easy-reading novel has also been derived from the film Das Wunder von Bern (The Miracle of Bern): both the film and the book serve as a basis for exciting and contemporary GFL lessons. Both films can be hired from Goethe Institutes abroad.
  Find out – together with the pupils – what strategies can be used successfully to ensure that these reading books are a positive experience. Success like that motivates people to continue reading and is an important bridge to learning success in general.

More literature projects and reading opportunities on the internet

Literary Framework for young people aged between 12 and 19, is suitable for use as a template for analysing texts and provides literature lists for varying levels in several languages.

 The portal introduces important new publications on the German literature market, and provides clearly presented information about the German-language book market.
The Lesen in der Fremdsprache (Reading in a foreign language) project run by PH Ludwigsburg University of Education researches how students’ language behaviour changes throughout a predefined reading period within their time at school.
Languages on the Web provides bilingual parallel texts online for reading practice.
Deutsch-Portal with a comprehensive selection of reading passages on many subjects that have been prepared for use by learners. is a Swiss site offering a comprehensive range of short literary texts and supplementary materials.
External advice – Early Years German
Dr. Luiza Ciepielewska, University of Poznan, Institute for Applied Linguistics
Ernst Endt, lecturer at the University of Eichstätt, teacher of Englisch and Erdkunde
Angelika Kubanek, Professor of English – Teaching and Learning, TU Braunschweig
Beate Müller-Karpe, teacher and former ZfA (Central Agency for German Schools Abroad) advisor (Netherlands, France) and professional advisor (Czech Republic)
Holger Wendlandt, former professional advisor to the ZfA in Hungary, teacher of mathematics and physics in Kiel