The instructor in a beginning German class wrote and filmed a puppet show for the class, who then created their own puppet shows using the vocabulary they had learned. This exercise fostered comprehension and decreased students’ inhibitions about speaking in public.
To help students learn German by
- discussing different themes of conversation (e.g. food and university)
- practicing prepositions and transitive verbs
- decreasing speaking inhibitons by using puppets (students lost self-awareness)
- fostering comprehension through the change from prose to drama and vice versa
- To create a stronger sense of community within the class as students work together.
Class: German A: Beginning German
Introduction from the Instructor: Beginning language textbooks sometimes have difficulty developing overarching exercises because conversations from different contexts do not fit together well. How can a student talk about food preferences and introduce campus life in one exercise? Such incongruities, which seem artificial in real-life conversation, are one of the distinctive features of Austrian and German puppet plays. For that reason, I wrote, performed, and recorded a puppet show for my students which served as a base for further creative exercises in class.
Before Class: The instructor and two colleagues wrote and filmed a puppet show in German, primarily utilizing vocabulary that students had already learned. The story centered on a crocodile in Harvard’s Widener Library, and a jester and a policeman who investigate it. This story incorporated many elements of the vocabulary that students had learned, from food to college life to introducing oneself. The instructors also created a vocabulary list to help students with new words, and a worksheet that asked questions about the puppet show in order to check for comprehension.
- The instructors and colleagues surprised students with a live performance of the show, bringing in a blackboard as a stage that they stood behind while performing with the puppets on top of the blackboard.
- After viewing the play, students wrote a summary of the play, exchanged the summaries with classmates for proofreading, and then create a story that occurred before or after the play.
- Students were then split into groups to transform their stories into a puppet show, and then performed their dramas for the class using the instructor’s puppets. Students discussed the plays. In the future, the students’ plays will be recorded and put on YouTube.
Vocab list (attached, in German)
Questions about the play (attached, in German)
A table or blackboard – something for the puppeteer to stand behind while performing the play.
A handout that described how prose can be transformed into drama
For the instructor, the greatest benefit of this activity was students’ loss of speaking inhibitions: “having a puppet in their hand, students forgot their aspirations to produce perfect German and spoke more freely”.
Waldner also recommends that others interested in creating a similar activity have fun with the performance: “change your voice, play a different character”. The activity can often be more challenging for students than the typical conversation found in a language textbook, “but is nevertheless feasible for students at that early stage of language learning.”
Submitted by Gernot Waldner, Teaching Fellow, Germanic Languages and Literatures
Play also produced by Mark Römisch and David Pister