Tips for German language courses for nurses: The scenario-technique, Part I
Successfully using scenarios in vocational German language teaching in a healthcare setting. How can it work?
By Dr. Neda Sheytanova
What is a scenario?Even good old Shakespeare viewed the world as a stage and all the men and women as players, entering and leaving again.
People don’t always seem to realise how close this popular metaphor is to our reality. And yet our whole life is a mesh of acts welded together by an inner logic. Even the smallest of our actions has a specific trigger and is never self-contained. It’s far more frequent for an action to cause a second, third, or even more actions, which soon become entire scenarios.
Our day-to-day life, including at work, happens in linked process chains like this.
The scenario as a method picks up on this very same idea. By this definition, a scenario is a logical chain of actions taken from the working day of a specific profession. Using the scenario method – creating role-play and acting out chains of action – in vocational German language teaching allows practice of language and communication skills as an aspect of professional competence.
Formal correctness of language in the real-life workplace tends to be something of a lower priority. It’s far more important to achieve the work goal. If you use the scenario method in German lessons to simulate the work reality, achievement of the work goal is shifted into the foreground here as well, and the language is just a means of solving the set work task.
The trigger event for a scenario is a work task that the learners solve in several action steps that build on each other until they have achieved a viable outcome. The tasks set in the individual steps of the process chain are designed to be as interactive as possible. Learners are required to make their own decisions all the time.
Decision-making flexibility depends on the language level learners have achieved. If the learners are at a more elementary level, they are expected to master the communication situations in the action steps by applying routine, with practised phrases and following familiar language patterns. If the action chain is being implemented with more advanced learners, they are expected to have language complexity and flexibility.
With this approach, explanatory notes and vocabulary are provided in advance for the individual steps in preparation for a scenario, involving classic work for all language levels and taking the language and communication requirements into account. Each step can be acted out in role-play, before linking together all the steps in sequence to form a storyline.
The following graphic illustrates a possible process chain for creating a scenario in the healthcare profession:
Five tips for creating a scenarioStarting situation: You’re a teacher on a vocational German course. Your course participants are healthcare workers, who hope to work in the care sector in Germany and have achieved a mid-range language level (B1-B2) in CEFR terms.
TIP 1: Defining a target group and identifying language levelIf you face the challenge of running a vocational German course for healthcare workers, the first recommendation is to get to know your target group better. One possibility here is language need analysis.
Identifying the target groupLanguage need analyses involve firstly asking each participant about their individual language needs and establishing the language level, and secondly identifying objective needs for their job, which means researching the real-life requirements in work situations (see TIP 2).
By questioning participants on their individual language needs at the start of a course, teachers find out more about their learning attitudes, experiences and motivation. This questioning can be done as face-to-face interviews before or immediately after the start of the course.
To ensure continued awareness of the individual language needs of learners during the learning process, it’s a good idea to continue this questioning and establish it as a permanent feature of the course going forward, for example in the format of partner interviews or moderated discussions. 
If teachers integrate the expectations and desires of learners into lesson planning, the learning process becomes individualised to a large extent and teaching can be tailored more to suit the needs of participants. As a result, it is possible both to increase learning motivation and ensure learning success.
In specific terms for the scenarios in vocational German teaching, this means involving the learners in a creative capacity, for instance encouraging them to define their own action steps, draw on their expertise as healthcare workers, and allowing them the right to influence decisions within the learning process.
Identifying language levelTeaching practice shows that the certified language level of learners often does not correspond with their actual language level. For this reason it’s important not just to identify the language level at the start of the course, but to repeat learning progress measurement at regular intervals throughout the learning process.
If you know the current learning status and learning needs of participants, you can adapt the language demands of communication situations in a scenario flexibly.
Teachers need to ask themselves the following question:
- Which activities and tasks does a healthcare worker have to perform, and what communication situations should you choose for a scenario?
Everyday life in the nursing profession | ©Adobe Stock
TIP 2: Analysing work processes, identifying communication situationsIn the vocational German course you teach, you essentially focus on the areas of action and activities within the healthcare sector, because your aim is to improve the professional competence of participants in real-life communication situations by specifically supporting language and communication skills in scenarios.
To ensure that teachers are able to develop a potential dramatisation of the action chain, the first priority is to conduct thorough research of the profession to ensure an understanding of the role of healthcare workers and the communication situations they are likely to encounter.
The following websites provide some insights into everyday life in healthcare settings, and you can learn about a variety of communication situations and their logical consequences in the healthcare process:
Relevant communication situations that can be linked together as action steps in logical process chains might for instance include recording patient history, drawing up a care plan, caring for patients: mobilisation, administering personal care (bedridden patients), issuing medicines, feeding, changing dressings; visits by health visitor and doctor, written documentation, handover.
Part 2 of the practical tip containing tip 3 to 5 will appear on 08.03.2021.
-  More on this can be found here: Sprachbedarfsermittlung im berufsbezogenen Unterricht DaZ, Ein Leitfaden für die Praxis, Jens Weissenberg, in German, published by: passage gGmbH in cooperation with DIE, Hamburg 2014, https://www.deutsch-am-arbeitsplatz.de/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/BD_Leitfaden_interaktiv.pdf, last downloaded: 12.02.2021
-  Standardised language level measurements for the healthcare sector, which you can apply at the start of the course, are available on request from “Arbeitsstelle Deutsch” at the Institute for Technology Transfer Saar: email@example.com
- Sprachbedarfsermittlung im berufsbezogenen Unterricht DaZ, Ein Leitfaden für die Praxis, Jens Weissenberg, Herausgeber: passage gGmbH in Kooperation mit DIE, Hamburg 2014, https://www.deutsch-am-arbeitsplatz.de/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/BD_Leitfaden_interaktiv.pdf, letzter Abruf: 12.02.2021
- „Arbeitsplatz Europa. Sprachkompetenz wird messbar“, Reinecke, J. u. a, 2018,
https://www.auslandsschulwesen.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/Webs/ZfA/DE/Publikationen/Fachliteratur/Arbeitsplatz_Europa_DIHK.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=6; letzter Abruf 14.02.2021