Spelling is fun
A love story between two letters

The picture book entitled “ich & er” helps children to internalise the “ie” combination.
The picture book entitled “ich & er” helps children to internalise the “ie” combination. | © Kirchler/Rauter

Spelling in German is a challenge for young learners. For instance, you write an e after a long i. But Tiger is spelled with just an i. The language-learning picture book “ich & er” uses an affectionately-told story to try and investigate this issue in depth.

The “ich & er” picture book is a love story between two letters, and it takes a closer look at the ie letter combination. For this, the two letters i and e are portrayed as personalities.
Tall Ilse lives in the city and is different to everyone else. She’s lonely and sad. Erich lives in the country with lots of animals and is very shy. He’s lonely and sad too. A letter blown away by a gust of wind lands near Erich. It changes the situation for both of them and so the story unfolds.

The story and personification help pupils with their cognitive processes. Seeing and reading something initiates learning processes that are supposed to help learners to remember the ie combination more effectively.
The text is written in rhyming form and contains repetitions that make reading and understanding easier, as well as helping them to observe and recognise. The illustrations aim to capture the essence. Nevertheless they are expressive and effective.

Introducing ie

The “long i” is used in different ways in German, specifically -ieh as in the the word Vieh, -i as in Tiger, -ie as in Biene and -ih as in the pronouns ihm, ihn, ihr, ihnen. These variations in the i form can be a huge challenge for students.More than half the words with a long i sound are spelled -ie, hence the subject matter of the language learning picture book “ich & er”.

There are diverse methods for introducing the ie spelling. At primary level some teachers prefer listening carefully and practising the difference between long and short vowels. Others introduce ie when they teach syllable splitting. It is pointed out that the i in an open syllable is written ie. There is also Röber’s Silbenanalytische Methode (2009). With this method of analysis, the focus is on syllable characteristics and how they apply to the rules of writing. In this language-learning picture book, all three methods are covered. Appropriate support on the part of the teacher is important with the different methods. Right from the start, teachers should work together with students to reflect the language for promoting metalingual knowledge. This helps to improve spelling. Introduction of the ie sound still remains complex for German-speaking children; for children with other native languages it’s usually abstract and confusing.

That’s where this picture book can be useful, as a supplement to textbooks. Learners manage to memorise the spelling rules better thanks to the characters Ilse and Erich.   
This allows pupils to experience the knowledge of spelling in a way that’s enjoyable and fun rather than monotonous.

“ich & er” in lessons

The illustrations bring the story to life and provide a basis for more advanced tasks. The illustrations bring the story to life and provide a basis for more advanced tasks. | © Kirchler/Rauter The picture book is suitable both for introducing the ie sound and supplementing teaching content. At first the book can be read aloud or used for storytelling. Any questions and comments from the children are addressed. The book’s pictures contain written elements that can be discovered by the pupils. The text itself also offers the opportunity to look for ie and label it. Differentiating from the ei sound combination would be an advanced activity as well. The language-learning picture book can also be presented as picture-book cinema or theatre. Rhymes, puzzles, sorting and differentiation games are ideal ways of developing skills further.

Why use picture books in GSL/GL teaching?

Picture books open up new perspectives. Pupils find an emotional way of accessing stories and their heroes. That’s why they become imprinted on the memory. As an educational medium, picture books address linguistic, cultural and cognitive diversity and create exciting learning moments. They inspire learners to think and question – in other words to speak in the language being learnt or even in their own. The pictures support the text and help them understand the content.

Also, picture books invite them to linger. Children can look at the book again and again, flick forwards and backwards through the pages, read to themselves, read aloud to others, write their own words to accompany the pictures, or draw pictures to go with text. But most of all they’re fun!
Our experiences in pre-schools and primaries have shown that storytelling has an extremely positive influence on early language learning. For this reason, carefully selected picture books and stories are ideal for classroom use.


Hering, Jochen (2016): Kinder brauchen Bilderbücher. Seelze: Kallmeyer in association with Klett.

Kirchler, Daniela/Rauter, Renate (2015): “Punkto und Punktino”. Literale Sprachbildung im DaZ-Unterricht. In: Eder, Ulrike (editor): Sprache erleben und lernen mit Kinder- und Jugendliteratur I. Vienna: Praesens Verlag, p. 81-94. 

Röber, Christa (2011): Die Leistungen der Kinder beim Lesen- und Schreibenlernen. Grundlagen der Silbenanalytischen Methode. Ein Arbeitsbuch mit Übungsaufgaben. Hohengehren: Schneider Verlag. 

Bardola, Nicola, Hauck, Stefan/Jandrlic, Mladen/Wengler, Susanna (2009): Mit Bilderbüchern wächst man besser. Stuttgart/Vienna: Thienemann.