Sonoma State University
Language Festival 2007
German Program

Letter from a German Teacher Advice from a Veteran Participant in French

Letter from a German Teacher

Dear Colleagues:

Sonoma State University's 2006 Sprachfest was a resounding success!  This is the third year that my students and I have participated in the Sprachfest.  It is a great experience, which I would recommend enthusiastically to other high schools.

The students enjoy participating in the Sprachfest because it showcases their musical and dramatic talents.  Each year we have participated in the "Brown-Bag Skit" competition. I like this particular competition because it requires little advance preparation and because it reinforces conversational skills that are important student goals. When we arrive, the students are given a bag of articles, most of them directly related to German culture – a copy of Max und Moritz, a teen magazine, an umbrella, etc.  Groups of 3 or 4 students then have 30 minutes to dream up a skit using all of the articles.  They are not allowed a dictionary or other outside help.  The judges evaluate the performers on fluency, use of correct grammar and pronunciation, and creativity.

This competition requires no extra preparation on my part.  We do usually devote one lunchtime German Club meeting to the same kind of activity.  I also use the activity once in German 3 and German 4/5.  Of course, we do a lot of role-playing and group skits beginning in German 1; so the students are used to creating skits based on a specific theme and/or using specific vocabulary or structures.  The framework for the scene, "Sunday at lunch," was announced ahead of time, so that groups could conceive a general idea in advance and then incorporate the items given to them on the day of the contest.

Twice our German Club has worked up a number for the afternoon cabaret.  Because these were group numbers, we had to practice during lunchtime.  Such an ensemble can include first and second year students, too.  This year one student downloaded Falco's Rock Me Amadeus and arranged it for himself to play on the violin.  Another student did the vocals and a chorus of girls began with Mozart's "Komm, lieber Mai."  These performances have been great fun for German students with special talents. The students also seem to enjoy the performances of others at the Cabaret.  The 2006 cabaret was an especially entertaining mix of presentations in many languages.

In addition, to providing a venue for student talent, the Sprachfest also encourages the study of German beyond high school.  This is a service provided by SSU for all university-level German programs!  The high school students meet university students and hear why they are studying German and how they have used it already or plan to use it in the future. The university students always perform in the Cabaret, too.   It is clear that the SSU German students enjoy their study of German and find a practical use for it.

It would be even more fun if more high schools would join us for the day at Sonoma State University.  On Saturday morning it only takes us about 1 ½ hours to go from Livermore to Rohnert Park—a relatively short distance to travel for a day of fun, German culture, and a look into German beyond high school.

Carla Peck
German Teacher
Granada High School
Livermore, California

Advice from a Veteran Participant in French

Greetings all!

My name is Sarah Wadsworth, and I am the department chairperson of Foreign Languages at Petaluma High School where I have also taught French (as well as English and Drama earlier in my career) for the past nineteen years. Having been a teacher participant in the Concours since its "birth", I thought it high time that I share my experiences with other teachers in Sonoma County who might not yet have decided if such a diction and pronunciation contest was a good activity for their students. I asked both Suzanne and Christine if they would allow me to write an explanation of my process for students at PHS. I hope my ideas and methods will convince you to participate in this event on a yearly basis. The work is minimal and the reward is great. Isn't that really the combination we are all looking for with language students!

First, let me assure you that the time taken with this exercise is a wonderfully valuable one for everyone concerned. Most importantly, your students will get a fantastic sense of achievement in what they accomplish. Often, it is the catalyst which finally brings a student full circle away from embarrassed, nervous communication in French. Once they see they can actually manage such an accomplishment as memorizing and reciting/performing a French piece of poetry, the sky suddenly seems to be the limit.

A Timeline Approach

Eight weeks before the competition's date (this year March 18, 2004), I copy off the poetry packets which can be downloaded from the Internet. In each one of my classes (and I teach French One all the way through French Five Advanced Placement), I take about fifteen minutes to describe the competition's format, the subject matter of the poems, our rehearsal time frame and the like. I generally read certain stanzas out loud to students so they can get a general image of what they might be doing for others. I also explain that participation will be linked to required semester Culture Point projects* and thus explain to all students that participation will actually earn them credit. I explain that this credit is not only in the form of a grade in my class, but also makes for an excellent resume booster for all of my students who plan to apply to competitive universities.

(Note: *Culture Point Projects are presented with an expansive packet of ideas and guidelines. If you'd like a copy of this, please let me know via e-mail; again I'm happy to be of service.)

Two weeks later, approximately 12-15 students usually come to my room at lunch to audition for the limited spaces available at each level. They do not need to have memorized the poem, but they must be familiar with the words, their correct pronunciation, and the poem's overall meaning. I am looking at something which is largely unrehearsed and unprepared, but I'm also looking for the student who clearly has put thought into how he/she will interpret and present the poem. Usually, I have at least two of my Alliance Francaise (French Club) officers who join me as judges. Together, we come up with the two candidates at each level.

Rehearsals should then begin about two weeks after the selection has been made. Why such a gap? Students must come memorized to the first rehearsal. I am adamant about this step and feel that (like many a French student in France would attest) the process and language success that comes from memorized poetry has always been an empowering experience for the performer/ language student. Once memorized, all rehearsal time can now be spent on rhythm, on accent, on meaning, on treating French as a musical achievement! I urge you to require memorization.

Rehearsals are at lunch (or can be during a tutorial period if you have one) and are generally about 4-6 weeks in length. Most participants meet with me about six times each. You'll see that does not take up too many lunches when you rehearse two people each lunch. What you'll probably find is that you will need to take two lunches a week for these six weeks. It's a very enjoyable experience for everyone. Students, remember, are getting credit for their time. I break these rehearsal days up by language level. I ask that both participants agree to sit and watch while I work with one of them at a time. I find that even though they may not be doing the same poem (and I try to persuade them not to do the same work), each student gets a lot of guidance and concept from just watching and listening.

Voila, our day arrives; the Concours always goes very well for everyone involved. I'm proud of my contestants and more than anything, I've gained an awful lot more than just a Saturday at Sonoma State! Teaching becomes goal-oriented and reality-based. Bravo to all of us who can make our teaching work to this end.

Beyond the Diction Concours, SSU has added an afternoon Cabaret of performances. At my school, I do not focus on rehearsal of students who choose to perform at the afternoon session. However, I do typically have two to three performers. They present their selection choice to me; generally their choices come from an area outside of school (i.e.: opera singing, piano recital, tap dance etc.). If the piece seems reasonably polished, I leave them to their own devices on preparation. You should take your own cue from what is presented to you.

I look forward to seeing new faces this year. I'd be more than happy to help you with any specific questions you might have. Please feel free to use my contact e-mail.

Sarah WADSWORTH, Petaluma High School, E-mail:

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December 30, 2006 MG