4th Year Problems

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



17 thoughts on “4th Year Problems”

  1. Hi Melanie,
    My personal belief – and so far it seems to be supported by experience – is that by year 4 students are ready to
    1. bring sustained focus to topics not directly related to themselves
    2. do some output but still need copious amounts of input
    As a result, I build my fourth year (actually third and fourth years because I do a two-year curriculum sequence) is built around topics. Perhaps the best way to explain this is to give you the essentials of the curriculum.
    Year A (originally third year)
    -Take a virtual trip to Vienna, based on Sabine und Michael G-9. Students role-play older versions of themselves as graduate students in Vienna. They learn their way around the city, do a “trip project”, etc. On Mondays instead of talking about what they did over the weekend, we talk about what their older selves did over the weekend – it lets their imaginations be creative while still being based in reality. In essence, we are starting stories from a different base and emphasizing the past tense. Students also learn about various places in Austria because they are required to do some “traveling” during their virtual time in Vienna. This lasts about a semester. During this time we read things related to Vienna. This year I ordered a reader from Klett through IBIS that is set in Vienna. I also have a short story the COACH team wrote (actually, I wrote the German version) about a theft in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. We also do other reading and discussion. Giving directions is a big deal. One of the activities we do is have the level 4/AP students write directions to different places around the school, and the third-year students read and follow the directions. All of this takes first semester to do.
    -Second semester we concentrate on fairy tales and children’s literature. We do a lot of reading and acting. One project is a video of an assigned fairy tale – everything is in the fairly tale, they just have to make it live. We also read poetry of various kinds. We read Erlkönig and compare it to Dalai Lama by Rammstein. We do concrete poetry as well. Another project is for students to write their own poems (heavy scaffolding here – they essentially get sentence frames). Then we have a “Viennese Coffee House”. I get a large urn and heat water. We have tea and coffee and pastries. Then at least once during the period each student stands and recites a poem – student choice which one. Of course we all applaud and tell them how good it was. For the final exam students write their own fairy tale or children’s story. Part of the rubric for this is that it has to be simple so that I can make it available for lower levels to read during FVR. This really helps avoid the “I have to impress the teacher” syndrome – I make a point to praise the well-crafted but simple rough drafts that I get. I also make them do their writing during class so that I don’t get Google translator texts. (Somehow they don’t believe me when I tell them I can spot the translation.)
    Year B
    -This year we do the virtual move to Berlin. I emphasize the Cold War and Interwar Years. We read Emil und die Detektive (and watch a film) and other easy reader stories related to Berlin. I also have <Spielend Deutsch lernen from Langenscheidt, and there is a biography of Marlene Dietrich that we read. We also listen to and analyze her German version of “Blowin’ in the Wind”.
    -Second semester we do my medieval unit. I wrote my own Easy Reader about a student who travels back in time to the Staufer period and meets Friedrich Barbarossa, and I use it as the “graphic organizer” to jump into authentic material about the Middle Ages. We read and discuss part of the Niebelungenlied, Tristan und Isolde, medieval poetry (including “Ich saz uf eime steine” and “Ein’ feste Burg”), and other “authentic material” including simple texts about the Mittelalter prepared for German elementary students. One project for this semester is for students to study a medieval figure. Then we form a private Facebook group, and students post as if they were those historical figures, including all the various pieces of information on their pages, posting answers to questions I ask as if they were those people, etc. (I take on the persona of Pope Gregory VIII, who was in office for only 57 days.) We also do a set of workstations I have prepared on various aspects of medieval life. The final includes a report on some aspect of medieval life. Last year we had, among other things, a demonstration in German of a six-foot tall trebuchet.
    My two textbooks for the upper levels are Komm mit!, level 3, and Kaleidoskop, which is a college-level text. We do just a couple of readings from each during the year (“Rumpelstilzchen”, “Erlkönig” and poetry from Komm mit!; poetry and a couple of other short articles from Kaleidoskop). I ignore the vast majority of readings from both textbooks for several reasons: no plot, low-frequency vocabulary, boring text, etc. I try to have a lot of songs, news items from the internet (That reminds me, I need to assign getting articles to read), and other culturally related activities (we’ll celebrate both Christmas and Karneval big time in the upper levels). The class also follows the Bundesliga. (One of my seniors was a Hertha BSC fan for two years, was bummed last year because they were in the second league, and is very enthusiastic this year because they’re back in the first league.)
    Hope this helps.

  2. Just a quick observation Melanie. With my first and second years I really need to amp the personalization, but my third and fourth years (I have a combined III/IV German class) are really more interested in real life and discussing the world out there. Fortunately, they’ve got the skills by now to start engaging the higher level texts.
    That said, I can’t read novels all year. I do two or three, but I’m personally interested in engaging them in the current German world out there more than the literary one. They’re leaving you soon and will need to self-sustain on finding material to engage, so start getting them hooked.
    Take a look through some of these texts: http://sowieso.de/portal/keller/15
    They are a bunch of true stories that are short, but written for native speakers. I explain what happened orally, riffing and circling where I can (What would you do? What should he have done? etc.) and then we read it together, with me pointing out new terms, often as synonyms of words they already know.
    Also do yourself a huge favor and become familiar with songs playing on the monthly German music charts on Step into German. This month the best of the lot is “Alles nur in meinem Kopf” which is a great song about using your imagination. Of course the Step into German music video archive is enormous as well, and a great resource. I do about a song a week, discussing them as texts, backwards planning the lyrics, and getting into the videos.
    Also don’t forget the Bundesvision Song Contest which starts today! A bunch of great songs and artists there. Bunch of dumb ones too.
    I personally am very big into writing at the III/IV level because they a) can and b) need to push themselves. I would worry about writing too early, but your fourth years should easily be able to motor through free writes and do a very good job with them. I personally start free writes during the fourth quarter of level I, and they are old hat by level II. My level IVs like having topics to write about (What superpower do you want and why? What’s a creative way to ask somebody to Prom? Describe your dream date, etc.) They need to see what they can do, and you need to see that output from them to know where to direct your focus on vocab/grammar/whatever they are missing.
    For me levels I and II are about building a solid base of confidence and vocab, and levels III and IV are about pushing out into the world and patching whatever holes you find.

    1. Did you notice that Nathan and I noted the same things?
      1. They want to talk about the real world, not just themselves
      2. They are ready for output
      The California State Standards reflect this maturation and progression in the four Stages of acquisition – from high personal interest (me, my friends, my family, my school) to global awareness (ecology, current events).
      Two more websites worth looking at:
      http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/ – pictures of current events and human interest; in either August or September there was a set of pictures about the Berlin Wall.
      http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/ – the front pages of newspapers from around the world; search by region or country; updated daily
      For anyone following the Bundesliga I highly recommend http://www.kicker.de

  3. Hey Robert, can I swap you a bunch of simplified newspaper articles and favorite song texts for your Kunsthistorisches Museum and Barbarossa readings? I’ll throw in a few Toblerones as well to even things out so that the trade would only be wildly in my favor rather than massively in my favor.

  4. Melanie, I too use the short human interest newspaper articles. They found one last week where a woman killed her boyfriend with her high heels. Another found a story about a woman who found a dead mouse in her package of green beans. Another found a story about two 80 year olds – one a widower; the other a former nun who got married in Saint Louis after she recovered from a stroke. Newspaper articles can be challenging and this is my first step on the ramp up. I also began with poems from the level 3 Holt reader “The joy of reading”. I picked the poems because there is a lot of white space on the page – not to frighten them:). It has led to discussions of the perfect mate, who wants to fall in love with whom, who wants that who fall in love with him/her – great for the subjunctive. I do include some direct grammar teaching – enough to keep everyone happy without staying out of comprehensible input. I just circle a few verbs in whatever tense to see what happens without going into a story. It was interesting to read that Anne M also is looking for more opportunities to get them into first person. We will soon start to talk about the responsibilities of applying for college, stresses and strains of senior year. Describing art and discussing beauty. My problem has been with my level 3 who still need blanks filled in from level 2. I thank God everyday that I have all the levels!

  5. Thanks, everybody. I need to change my focus and my plan now is about 50% reading (with a variety of things) and discussion and 50% output. They will love that. I have had German 4 before, but I have never had a group for German 4 that has had TPRS for 3 years. I am so used to thinking input, input, that I didn’t realize that now is the time to let them do the output.

  6. My Level IVs, not TPRS, are doing much more output, such as what Robert noted-ecology, the environment, human rights in the Americas (Spanish), etc. They are prepping a 1-min. PSA for class tomorrow on the environment. They need practice speaking! They have been traditionally taught, meaning that they want those verb charts and worksheets like there’s no tomorrow. The problem is spontaneous output, natural language, complex language. As this is a University of Minnesota course, concurrent with high school, they will need to pass the MLPA High (see the latest edition of Language Educator) in May, including speaking. We have a looong ways to go. Output, Melanie, output.

    1. Shannon the day after Obama came to my high school earlier this week I spent the day talking about my experience in those few seconds God gave me with the Commander in Chief. I spoke to my students mainly in the first person except for the spinouts into third person forms. I spoke in the first person because this was a natural thing that happened to me in real life. What is happening in your mind, if I may say my opinion frankly, is that you are thinking like a teacher. But most of what Krashen has come up with in language acquisition theory, and we either believe him or we don’t, debunks the idea that we can use “activities” or anything consciously planned to get our students to actual acquisition. I would stress to the people who read this blog, if I may, and I may since it’s my blog, that what we are into here is extremely radical. We don’t do activities. We don’t plan things for the kids to do. We don’t use TPRS curricula or any other curriculum. We don’t get nervous and deplete our psyches by worrying about controlling students, because they are naturally interested in what is being said. We are not trying to force them to learn something like point of view before that shift is natural for them. My class on my own experience with Obama was a natural thing for them to hear and so I did that. Language emerges naturally and people who actually acquire languages do so in spite of themselves in settings that focus their minds on ideas, things that happen or happened or will happen, on meaning and not point of view in language or quadruple object pronouns (how’s that for a fantasy for a 4%er?) or the pluperfect subjunctive (my passion before I realized that very few of my students gave a shit about it except me and a few of their weirdo classmates). We cannot control the learning, we can only pound and hammer away slowly in the target language. We cannot teach languages.
      Boy, that was a bit of a roll there. But I don’t apologize. I have sensed in this discussion of how to teach 4th year classes some teacher talk. I would like to remind the group that this is not a place to plan activities. For that go to the other lists. This is a place to work on our teaching techniques using CI. I hope this is not coming across as berating anyone, far from it. It just occurs to me that what I want here in this group is something that I am going to have to constantly remind group memebers. Let me state what I want: I want a place that is safe, with a limited number of people. I am getting reading to delete those free accounts and some others who pay as per
      and I want the focus to be on how we somehow miraculously leave our egos at the door and put up what we think it the shittiest teaching video in the world, video of us teaching, and then talk to each other in constructive ways using the gift of the internet, to accomplish what used to take years in a few months. Wow, Shannon, I’m glad we met and you know me from NTPRS because otherwise I would sound something like a crackpot here, a madman who is trying to bolt down a certain vision on this space. But I think it is best for all who seriously want to confront their demons in TPRS. This is a radical site for radical people who don’t half way buy into Krashen. It is for 100% Krashen Kool Aid drinkers. We can’t get into general activity planning here. If the rant offended, I apologize. I know you understand, Shannon. And one more thing. A certain TPRS expert has suggested that the best way to learn points of view is to introduce them at different points of the year, maybe every few months. I don’t even believe that anymore. It’s all about putting net theory into practice in our classrooms and damn the torpedos. Everybody needs to just let go and let the language happen. Follow the energy. Don’t follow the book or anything else that you think as a teacher might work. We are not teachers. We deliver CI. There is a big difference in those two things.

      1. Another difference between us and the deliverers-of-instructional-services that many “TPRS” teachers have become (they can’t stop planning the delivery of their instruction and trust what Krashen has uncovered about reaching kids) is that our lives are much much simpler. Today I saw that simplicity in full effect. I went into another teacher’s classroom. There were papers everywhere, tests everywhere, classification systems in view everywhere, and the teacher’s desk was awash in bullshit. This makes for bad CI and a nervous disposition and a feeling that something is always wrong. I had next to no papers with me. It felt right. My job is not consuming me.

    2. This is just a kindergarten-day idea, but it works for getting more reps in first person. We play that game where one person stands in the middle and makes a personal statement. Anyone who agrees gets up and has to change chairs. There is one chair too few in the circle for the class, so the person left standing makes the next statement.
      I started with this by putting up a range of possible sentence starters. I love, like, need, want, listen to, saw, forget, run, play, was in, dream …
      Kids use those to plan their sentences. It means that they’re reading the correct form, using the correct form, and hearing it. Then they run, which pounds it into their heads (you do have to lay down ground rules…no sitting on others, and so on; no bare feet) because they heard it and now they’re processing as they run. (They’re also not allowed to move to the neighboring seat unless the only other person to stand is next to them.)
      I haven’t ever had a group of first-year kids learn first person as fast as last year’s kids did with this game. I have to limit it to just a few times a year, or they ask to play it every week.

  7. If I taught German I would use some Kinder- und Jugendliteratur in my III/IV classes. Stories such as “Die Sache mit Kristoph” “Rolltreppe Abwerts” “Damals war es Friedrich” are great, interesting stories that deal with real life issues. Rolletreppe is about Alkoholismus, Damals is about 2 boys growing up in Nazi-Germany (one of course Jewish) and Sache I think is about death… Do some great backwards planning and boom.
    In Spanish III last year I prematurely did “La casa en Mango Street”. I say prematurely because the level III students I inherited were not level III students in ability, only in years put into the program. Great viñetas about Chicano culture and tons of resources already available in English. Great for parallel reading too. English and Spanish.

  8. Melanie Bruyers

    Just want to say that I feel like a weight has been lifted off me and now I can enjoy my class. I don’t need to struggle and worry about it anymore and I feel like it is going to be a breeze. This week has gone so well so far. I let them do output, I had them do a role play to use what we learned in the last chapter. Then I started on the next chapter, but just to read and discuss. It is such a relief. I have all the stories ready, so if I don’t have to storytell them, just PQA a little and read and then discuss, it just seems so easy and it seems like it is right developmentally for 4th year. There is a grammar point in each chapter, but I can just point it out as we read.

  9. Melanie, that’s wonderful. There really is a lot to enjoy with level 4 classes. I turned Michael Miller’s G-9 Sabine und Michael story into a PowerPoint presentation. Rather than spending a lot of time doing PQA or storytelling as preparation, we’ve been basically “plowing through” it. They already know most of the structures, and the words I might otherwise have spent time on aren’t high frequency. Today we got to the point in the story where Michael and his new friend Gretchen run into Sabine in the Cafe of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Talk about a reaction! Both my 3/4/AP class and my level 3 class had a lot to say about that incident – in German. Tomorrow before we go on, they will write me a short description of what will happen next.

  10. Melanie Bruyers

    That Gretchen is a trouble maker!
    That’s what I am planning to do now with them is just plow through. Pick up the speed a bit. It even makes me enjoy my other classes more because I don’t have that worry anymore.

  11. So Melanie can I ask you to summarize what you have learned above and what changes you have made? I can post it as a separate blog post and cagtegorize it under “Upper Levels” and then we can have the various suggestions from the Genius Bar that are the members of this blog site all in one place to refer to without having to read all the comments and try to put them together ourselves. All you have to do is write down what you are doing in upper levels now – it doesn’t have to be overly lengthy. Thanks!

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben