Teaching Tools

Tips, Tricks, and Tools of the Trade

What’s your story? In two sentences or less…

By Kai-Arne Zimny

People love stories. And apparently, they always have. Neuroscientists suggest our yearning for stories is rooted deeply in the human brain; supposedly stories even help us master all kinds of life tasks, e.g. solving logic puzzles, conveying facts, and remembering stuff. Stories are second nature to us. Thus it seems safe to say: People will always love – and even need – stories.

So, got a story? Yes? Well, let’s see…

Sometimes we think we have a story when all we have is a vague idea. This happens when we get caught up in the beauty of a flashy fantasy or wondrous world we’ve created without considering an actual story that sets everything in motion. And now, after a long intro, let me get to the core of this story: loglines.

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Connect-the-Cards: Making Academia Exciting while Fostering Critical Thinking Skills and Meaningful Conversation

By Sabrina Völz

Question and answer. Question and answer. Question and answer. And then silence. Lasting silence. It happens to the best of us. The routine of working with texts can be an excruciating experience for both learner and instructor. But it doesn’t have to be.

A while back I came across a must-do activity that works in a variety of educational settings from middle schools to undergraduate seminars. Connect-the-cards may have a painfully dull name, but this text-based exercise can lead to deep learning and engage students so much so that they lose track of time and leave their smartphones in their pocket. So if you want to know how connect-the-cards works, you are only one click away.

Credit: Based on Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford’s exercise “Connect-the-Cards”in Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understanding, Portland: Stenhouse Publishers, 2011. 106-107.

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“No, It’s Not Sissy Ball” – In Defense of Soccer

By Sabrina Völz

Credit: Steven Depolo

As most of you have probably noticed, the United States is not among the countries playing in the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. There is certainly a plethora of explanations – or excuses – circulating that revolve around the question why (men’s) soccer isn’t as popular as other sports in the U.S. Watch a few of the YouTube videos on the subject with your class and have learners collect the arguments and excuses. A number of them are just plain silly, so divide the students in groups and have them see who can give with the best or wittiest counter arguments. Here’s my list:
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English Lesson 2.0

By Wiebke Fischer

Photo credit by FirmBee

For most students, exposure to the English language is largely restricted to the chalky classroom and – outside the classroom – to watching movies or series in English. Yet there’s so much more to work with – just think of the digital world and its potential. Have you heard of the rather political “Pod Save America” or “S-Town” with its Southern Gothic story? The list of podcasts is sheer endless. So why not jump on the podcast train and use it for didactic purposes? You wonder how? Alright, let me give you an idea:

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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 »