Using controversial subcultures to teach German grammar

I took a risk today. I taught verb conjugation using the verbs “to smoke pot” and “to drink heavily”. But I think it paid off.

My lesson yesterday about personal pronouns and the conjugation of “sein” was dry and boring. My students’ collective eyes were glazing over.

Today, the students split themselves into groups depending on whether they preferred hip hop or punk music. They then learned the conjugation patterns of verbs and practiced on the verbs “kiffen” and “saufen” without knowing what the words meant. They conjugated together, then listened to songs in which the words “kiffen” and “saufen” were used. They listened once without visuals and worked in groups to figure out the meanings based on audio context clues. They listened again and were able to see the lyrics interspersed with a few silly pictures which made the meanings more obvious. It was fun to see the students’ reactions when they realized what they had conjugated a few minutes earlier.

I then embedded these words into a discussion of German hip hop and punk music as well as the subcultures involved around smoking, drinking, and substance abuse. One student asked if Germans smoke the same stuff. Good question that lead to some intercultural comparisons! Many Germans actually mix their pot with tobacco and consider the American practice of smoking pure marijuana to be wasteful.

This phase of today’s class finished with a writing assignment. The prompt:

Write a reflective essay either about topic 1 or topic 2.
1) Grammar lesson: how did the intercultural topic of drugs and alcohol in Germany and the US affect your a) understanding, b) memory, c) motivation in regards to the grammar topic?

2) Analyze the hip hop/pot culture in Germany using this critical song by Blumentopf (lyrics to put into an online machine translator).

Can’t wait to read what the students thought of today… and if there’s interest out there in the Blogosphere, I would consider posting my more creative lesson plans for free use.


Student reactions to the lesson were mostly positive. I would love to post some of their comments, but I think that would be violating privacy regulations. In general, many students were motivated by using the language in some sort of authentic context. Stereotypes were critically examined and disproved. Students expanded their ideas of what constitutes “German culture”. And they were aided in memory because of the music and the taboo topic.


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