Teaching Tools

Tips, Tricks, and Tools of the Trade

From Comma-kazi to Comma-Sutra: Or You Too Can Learn to Love Commas

By Lynette Kirschner

Photo credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Grammar doesn’t tend to be a topic that students are enthused about. Whenever I mention it, many of my students roll their eyes. To really get a non-reaction, all I have to do is mention punctuation and their eyes glaze over. Not a pretty sight. However, grammar – and more importantly punctuation – is essential, so I have tried many ways to make this topic clear and interesting.

There is always humor, which will catch their attention, but most likely not clarify the finer points of punctuation. The famous comma for cannibals quote (“Let’s eat grandpa” as opposed to the more humane “Let’s eat, grandpa”) can make students smile once they understand. So now I have more of their attention. But that is just the beginning. Read more »

Sexual Harassment in the 21st Century – Really?

By Sabrina Völz

Photo Credit: Mihai Surdu

If it wasn’t enough that American TV icon and educator Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault, rape, and battery – to name a few of the allegations – now dozens of women (currently more than 65) have come forward about Harvey Weinstein’s inappropriate sexual behavior. Many of these women were previously too afraid to publically share their stories of sexual harassment and assault. Or couldn’t because of non-disclosure agreements. Something has to give. Read more »

Teaching Feminism

By Evangelia Kindinger

Photo credit: Erika Wittlieb (creative commons)

All teachers remember moments when they were caught off guard in front of a group of students. I remember a few years ago, in a class about male authors’ take on womanhood in nineteenth-century American literature, I commented on Henry James’s novella Daisy Miller, saying something along the lines of: “As a feminist, I object to some of the images James creates of women, why is he using those images? What do you think?” There were murmurs in the group, and I looked into skeptical faces: “Ms. Kindinger, are you a feminist?” I realized I had said something that changed my students’ image of me. I was confused. Had they never noticed my feminism from the way I teach and the texts I choose? Apparently not.

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Literature Circles Rock!

By Sabrina Völz and Jennifer Kühl

Image credit: Tim Geers

As we all know, more and more adults are reading less and less in their free time. That’s not a judgment, just a fact. Budding bookworms might even be considered an endangered species, so a few years ago, I started looking for a different approach to teaching literature to students of all majors and backgrounds. While looking for inspiration, I came across the literature circle, an approach that might just engage even the most skeptical university student who’d rather be writing code for an app or starting his or her own business. While it has become an integral part of the English classroom from elementary school upwards in the United States, this student-centered activity is relatively unknown in Germany. At least it was to me. During my research, I found out that literature circles come in all shapes and sizes and can be structured in many different ways, so there’s no one “right” way of doing it. That very fact appealed to me and led me to explore unchartered territory.

In a nutshell, a literature circle is made up of a small group of individuals who read the same text. Together they explore the text’s content and style while reflecting, asking questions, and sharing feelings, just as any literature circle would do. Sounds simple, right? It is and that’s exactly the point. When I first started adapting the literature circle to fit my university’s curriculum, I didn’t realize how this method would revolutionize my classroom – at least for a day.

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Writing Life: From Theory to Practice

By Ines van Rahden and Sabrina Völz

Storytelling is as old as human civilization itself and fulfills a human need. In societies, in which education is becoming more commodified, students do not only want to be relegated to the position of consumers and regurgitate memorized facts. They have often told me that they want some control over their studies and the chance to produce meaningful, creative work. In one of my project-oriented seminar on life writing, students – including Ines van Rahden – got the chance to do just that. You can listen to her story, “24 Hours behind Bars,” at the end of this blog.

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