Teaching Tools

Tips, Tricks, and Tools of the Trade

All the Stories That We (Were) Told

By Nora Benitt

Pixar’s Rules of Sto­ry­telling by Pro­found Whatever

Life writ­ing – which includes a wide spec­trum of sub-gen­res such as (auto)biography, mem­oir, let­ter, diary, (dig­i­tal) life sto­ries, and oral his­to­ries – has a long tra­di­tion in the U.S. and is becom­ing more and more pop­u­lar all over the world. An abun­dance of arti­facts com­piled by famous, semi-famous, and not-at-all-famous peo­ple fill pub­lic libraries, pri­vate book­shelves, research cen­ters, social media, hard dri­ves, and web­sites. And that’s actu­al­ly not even sur­pris­ing since writ­ing and/or talk­ing about our­selves is a deeply root­ed cul­tur­al prac­tice and comes very nat­u­ral­ly to most human beings. We do it all the time: We tell a sig­nif­i­cant some­one how our day was, we put togeth­er our résumé when apply­ing for a new job, we talk about child­hood mem­o­ries with sib­lings or a close friend. How­ev­er, talk­ing and writ­ing about our­selves in an aca­d­e­m­ic con­text and, to boot, in a for­eign lan­guage is a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent story.

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Teaching Native North America: A Continuing Challenge

By Christoph Strobel

Intel­lec­tu­al lega­cies of col­o­niza­tion play a pow­er­ful role in shap­ing how main­stream U.S. and glob­al soci­ety has come to see Native Amer­i­cans. Art­work from the 19th and 20th cen­turies – such as James Ear­le Fraser’s sculp­ture, “The End of the Trail” – have helped to cre­ate the image of Native Amer­i­cans on horse­back as rep­re­sen­ta­tions most asso­ci­at­ed with Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions of North Amer­i­ca. Type “Native Amer­i­can” into a search engine, and you’ll like­ly get many his­tor­i­cal images of Great Plains Indi­ans. In parts of Europe as well, the per­cep­tion of Native Amer­i­cans has been shaped in unique ways by authors like Karl May and the lat­er movies based on his books. With­out a doubt, our stu­dents’ per­cep­tions about Native Amer­i­cans are influ­enced by these fan­tasies and representations.

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Setting the Stage for Black History Month

By Sabrina Völz

Pho­to Cred­it: “Woman holds up sign at the Black Lives Mat­ter protest in Wash­ing­ton DC  6/6/2020” by Clay Banks

It’s that time of year again. Feb­ru­ary 1 marks the begin­ning of Black His­to­ry Month. Before I sug­gest some use­ful resources, let’s briefly look at its origins.

Fact 1: The Unit­ed States is not the only coun­try to offi­cial­ly cel­e­brate it. In addi­tion to our neigh­bors to the North, who also cel­e­brate this time of remem­brance in Feb­ru­ary, the Irish and the Unit­ed King­dom observe Black His­to­ry Month in October.

Fact 2: The roots of Black His­to­ry Month in the U.S. can be traced back to his­to­ri­an Carter G. Wood­son and the Asso­ci­a­tion for the Study of Negro Life and His­to­ry, who togeth­er marked the sec­ond week of Feb­ru­ary – which coin­cides with Abra­ham Lincoln’s birth­day – as Negro his­to­ry week in 1926.

Fact 3: Even the Great Eman­ci­pa­tor had his fail­ures, and so it’s undoubt­ed­ly best that in 1969 stu­dents at Kent State moved to cel­e­brate the con­tri­bu­tions and cul­ture of Black Amer­i­cans for an entire month, instead of plac­ing Pres­i­dent Lin­coln, who upheld the mass pub­lic hang­ing of 38 Dako­ta Sioux on Decem­ber 26, 1862, in the cen­ter of their celebrations.

So, if your school has nev­er cel­e­brat­ed Black His­to­ry Month before, it’s nev­er too late to get on that ‘soul train’. And since we didn’t want to leave you in the lurch, we’ve pro­vid­ed a list of some suit­able blogs we’ve pub­lished over the years on sub­jects, rang­ing from cul­tur­al icons, such as Aretha Franklin, Don Cor­nelius, and Bey­on­cé, to best books and fab­u­lous films deal­ing with Black iden­ti­ty and his­to­ry. You’ll also find infor­ma­tion on some cur­rent controversies:

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Start Spreading the News: A Cross-Cultural Virtual Newsroom

By Deborah Steinborn

Can­va BEST mag­a­zine cover

A vir­tu­al what? asked the per­plexed high-school prin­ci­pal on the oth­er end of the line. I was halfway through my one-minute pitch of the BEST Vir­tu­al News­room, a new cross-cul­tur­al media-lit­er­a­cy pro­gram for Ger­man and Amer­i­can teens. Appar­ent­ly in a hur­ry, he huffed and quick­ly passed me on to a teacher of Eng­lish at the Ham­burg school. To my relief, she was more enthu­si­as­tic about the oppor­tu­ni­ty. She promised to dis­trib­ute the call for applications.

I made that first cold-call in spring 2021. The Amerikazen­trum Ham­burg, a bina­tion­al cul­tur­al insti­tute, had approached me a few weeks ear­li­er with the germ of an idea. Why not devel­op a vir­tu­al pro­gram to teach teens in Ham­burg and its U.S. sis­ter city Chica­go the basics of jour­nal­ism? A firm believ­er that media lit­er­a­cy is need­ed now more than ever, I loved the idea. I threw myself into the plan­ning right away.

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Grammarly Premium Also Works for Advanced EFL Students: Reflections on a Pilot Project at Leuphana

By Janina Sähn and Sabrina Völz

The Gram­marly Pre­mi­um Tool­bar in Word

Ok, peo­ple. This is prob­a­bly not going to be the most excit­ing post you’ve ever read, but if you teach at an insti­tute of high­er learn­ing – espe­cial­ly in Ger­many – this post on our expe­ri­ences with Gram­marly Pre­mi­um for the past year at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg may inter­est you warts, oops, I mean sta­tis­tics and all.

Let’s start at the begin­ning for any of you who haven’t been bom­bard­ed with Gram­marly ads. Gram­marly Pre­mi­um is a one-of-a-kind app for writ­ers that uses arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to scan a writer’s work in real time. It not only finds spelling errors, pla­gia­rism, and over 400 types of gram­mar mis­takes, it also offers sug­ges­tions on how to improve your writ­ing style. It allows users to set the audi­ence (reader’s lev­el of exper­tise on the top­ic), reg­is­ter (for­mal or infor­mal), tone, type of writ­ing (aca­d­e­m­ic, busi­ness, cre­ative, tech­ni­cal, or per­son­al), and genre (review, let­ter, fic­tion, etc.). None of Grammarly’s com­peti­tors has such sophis­ti­cat­ed set­tings, which is one of the rea­sons we – after seri­ous­ly review­ing the top five com­peti­tors, includ­ing ProWritin­gAid – decid­ed to try it out with our stu­dents at Leuphana. Read more »

“Be Free or Die”: Teaching Harriet (2019)

By Sabrina Völz

It’s not easy to make a biopic that pleas­es the crit­ics. And, to some extent, Har­ri­et, direct­ed by Kasi Lem­mons, falls into that cat­e­go­ry. Har­ri­et weaves togeth­er facts about Har­ri­et Tubman’s life into a com­pelling sto­ry, but some crit­ics are not so enthu­si­as­tic about the film’s aes­thet­ic qual­i­ties. In Har­ri­et, there are no tru­ly unusu­al com­po­si­tion of shots or cam­er­a­work the likes of 12 Years a Slave, and the phys­i­cal hor­rors of slav­ery receive almost no screen time, lead­ing some to won­der if audi­ences are sophis­ti­cat­ed enough to fill in the gaps. The audi­ence sees, for exam­ple, the scars of bru­tal beat­ings with­out any sup­port­ing dia­logue. Thank­ful­ly, Lem­mons resists the temp­ta­tion to take an over­ly didac­tic or ‘preachy’ approach. Any aspects of slav­ery – and there are sev­er­al – that the film does not cov­er can be dealt with as film prepa­ra­tion. It is unre­al­is­tic to believe that one film can show all there is to show about slav­ery. It’s not the focus of the film any­way. This is in, the words of its direc­tor, a “free­dom film.”

Both of these so-called lim­i­ta­tions that I’ve just men­tioned, how­ev­er, make the film acces­si­ble to audi­ences of all ages and back­grounds. They fur­ther make Har­ri­et, rat­ed PG-13, an excel­lent film to explore with EFL stu­dents in upper-sec­ondary schools, espe­cial­ly since teach­ers are deeply con­cerned about the impact of media vio­lence on young peo­ple. Let’s face it, some scenes in 12 Years a Slave, rat­ed R, may over­whelm or trau­ma­tize teenagers. Before out­lin­ing fur­ther rea­sons for using the film in the (Ger­man) EFL class­room and pro­vid­ing some orig­i­nal teach­ing mate­ri­als for this action-packed film, let’s pre­view the trail­er and get a taste of the experience:

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