German lessons in the local park? A class excursion to a department store or shopping centre? A visit to a library, museum or zoo? A look inside the German embassy, or simply a stroll through the city? Your learners will be grateful, as new learning environments provide a change of scene, arouse interest and curiosity and increase motivation.
What do out-of-school learning environments offer?
These days, out-of-school projects, museum visits and excursions have become an important part of school education as they allow lesson content to be conveyed and experienced through practical, hands-on activities and offer an opportunity for pupils to learn in authentic settings. And the same holds true for foreign language lessons. Outside the classroom there are many possibilities for new situations that help learners to interact and communicate in the target language.
Excursions relating to topics covered in German lessons can also be incorporated into the educational programme of an international school; their extent will reflect the possibilities available at the local level.
An excursion does not have to take long. A brief walk to a nearby bus stop or a project that features the supermarket around the corner can already serve as a “breath of fresh air” for the learning group and allow learning with all the senses.
Leaving the classroom
First and foremost, it will be the local circumstances that dictate which learning environments outside the classroom will be suitable. Is the class based in a German-speaking country or not? Are we in a big city with German institutions, museums and libraries, or in a rural area that at first glance offers no direct access to German speakers or little in the way of cultural topics to pick up on? This is not necessarily a problem, however. A local monument can also function as an out-of-school learning environment; it can prompt a discussion of topics such as public holidays, famous personalities or national heroes. Embassies and branches of the Goethe-Institut are happy to open their doors to school classes and learning groups, provide information and give support when it comes to researching possible excursions.
At the same time, an excursion will need to be properly prepared in advance and followed up afterwards; just which form this will take will be determined by the learning environment in question and the language level of the learners. Appropriate and motivating tasks are also necessary; out-of-school activities should be planned that reflect the curriculum and lesson content, as this gives rise to the thematic context and the learning goals. In this way, the activities in and outside the classroom will complement one another in a meaningful manner.
The following examples illustrate how out-of-school learning can be designed to be both fun and instructive:
At the museum
The Goethe-Institut in London encourages teachers of German to take their learners on a visit to the museums in the local area (Victoria & Albert Museum, Science Museum, Natural History Museum); for this purpose, it offers three quizzes that allow learners to discover German aspects in the areas of art, design, technology and science, while at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the museum for using the foreign language. The activities are simple in terms of their language and content requirements so that even learners at level A can easily cope with them.
Museum quizzes for school classes
While the aforementioned museum quizzes focus primarily on knowledge and vocabulary, museums also offer a wide range of opportunities for communicative language activities such as mini-lectures, question-and-answer games or drama games, based for example on what can be seen on paintings. A resource pack developed by the Goethe-Institut in collaboration with the Georgian National Museum contains some good ideas and suggestions about how to prepare a museum visit that is appropriate in methodological and didactic terms for German lessons.
Learning German in the museum
In the city
A useful example of activities in the city can be found at Lehrer Online. Learners find their way around the city by asking various questions and completing various tasks, and they learn how to use city maps and public transport. Though the material is intended for use in a German-speaking environment, it can also be used as inspiration for similar activities abroad. Thus the tourism or exchange student context could give learners an opportunity at the local level to engage in role plays – directly at the bus stop, as it were – and practise communicative language activities relating to orientation and use of public transport in the city.
City-based activities in one’s new home abroad
Visits to a department store or supermarket are equally conceivable and fairly easy to organize. This could include searching for German products within the theme of “food and drink”, comparing prices or shopping economically so as to practise using numbers, or planning and shopping for a “German” picnic.
Mobile media with appropriate apps can support mobile learning and, by providing motivating activities, can foster active engagement with the foreign or second language.
Some branches of the Goethe-Institut offer a City Activity App. This free app allows students to explore the local area by embarking on a digital scavenger hunt. Participants have fun discovering Germany-related aspects in their own city. The Goethe-Institut in Paris offers this possibility either in conjunction with a visit there or for independent groups. A video about how to use the app can be found on the website, as can additional lesson material to download:
With the app through the city
The Actionbound app is also worth recommending. It can be used to create exciting, fun and instructive scavenger hunts on a smartphone or tablet oneself, and to design interactive digital learning. Use this link to find out exactly how this is done:
Creating a GPS scavenger hunt with Actionbound
Youth museum in Berlin
jugendmuseum villa global
Besides the big well-known museums, whose educational activities are frequently not adapted to the level of language learners, there are also some museums that offer activities that are more easily accessible to GFL or GSL learners. One wonderful example is the Museum der Jugend (the Museum of Youth) in Berlin with its VILLA GLOBAL exhibition. Learners here can wander through 14 different rooms and meet the people who designed the rooms. In the exhibition, the very different “residents” of Villa Global introduce themselves in video interviews, and the website provides additional material for preparing and following up on the museum visit. It is also well worth reading the booklet that can be downloaded even if one is unable to visit the exhibition itself.
Jugendmuseum Berlin – Villa Global
Getting out of the classroom to acquire sensory experiences and tackle tasks relevant to the lesson, to discover things for oneself and to enjoy cultural encounters, can be highly enriching for GFL lessons on many levels, as this gives learners the opportunity to communicate and to act “in a real-life setting”.
Baar, Robert / Schönknecht, Gudrun: Außerschulische Lernorte (2018): didaktische und methodische Grundlagen. Weinheim Base: Beltz Verlag.
Gehring, Wolfgang; Stinshoff, Elisabeth (Eds.) (2010): Außerschulische Lernorte des Fremdsprachenunterrichts. Braunschweig: Diesterweg.
Walz, Heidi (2012): Überall ist Sprache – außerschulische Lernorte verbinden. In: Frühes Deutsch 26, 5-9