Chats, E-mails, Bulletin Boards: Designing Tasks for Computer-Mediated Communication – Session 97


Teaching a HS German Class Mostly via the Internet –After 1¼ Years


ACTFL 2002 Annual Meeting and Exposition – November 22-24, 2002


Robert A. Morrey

3404 Merrimac Drive

San Jose, CA 95117-3624

Telephone/fax: (408) 379-5944


Web site:


Copyright ©2002 by Robert A. Morrey



The Author. Robert Morrey has taught high school German at Cupertino High School (CHS) since 1971 and has used computers in the classroom since 1979. Videotapes and laser discs and networked computers were added in the mid-eighties. In the latter half of the nineties Internet access became available in my classes. I have taught multi-level classes (German 3-5+) successfully since the mid-eighties by using computer and other technology in the classroom. Each year in the last ten years I had up to 10% of my students on independent study because the students wanted to continue their study of German and were not able to fit the regular class into their schedule. These students worked extensively with the computer, video, and text resources in the classroom to complete the required work, and most of these students would then continue to the next level of German. I regularly had six to ten percent of my student above the ninetieth percentile on the National German Test since the early eighties and a few of the more motivated students successfully completed the German AP exam in the last few years. In my last two years as a regular teacher, I began to migrate my classroom materials to the Internet in order to provide even more flexibility and access for my students (See Morrey3). Due to changes nationally and at CHS, I believe that the program I developed may provide the means for students to study German when the language is not offered at their particular school.


National Trends and Some Research.  There are trends both nationwide and in California that indicate that finding teachers with the requisite skills may be very difficult over the next few years. It was noted in 2000 by former Secretary of Education Richard Riley that “25% of the schools seeking to hire foreign language teachers were unable to find them” (D’Ambruoso1). In California there is a considerable number of teachers who leave the profession each year and a need for a very large number of new teachers over the next few years. One of the ways it may be possible to offer a high quality curriculum to schools that either cannot find a teacher with the appropriate skills or to schools where there are too few students for a regular program is to provide a well-designed Internet-based or mostly Internet-based course as I have done.

In a recent research project Renate A. Schulz4 found that students who had a greater understanding of metaliguistic terms performed better on a written German test. The vast majority of the students in this study also indicated that they believed that learning the grammar of a language was essential for learning the language. These students also indicated that they believed error correction helped develop their grammar competence. The program that I will describe in this paper is founded on the idea that students should understand the grammar of the German language in order to comprehend and produce it well. I use metalanguage (and in German at the more advanced levels) in my explanatory materials, I teach German grammar, and I provide answers to all the practice activities available to the students so that they can check their results as they work on the materials.



Changing Student Needs. In the last several years I had students ask to work on German independently, and I have had students no longer at Cupertino High School request assistance in learning German. A number of students have the interest and skills in working independently and my program provides them with a solid curriculum from which to learn German reasonably well.


Changes at Cupertino High School (CHS). Because of various changes in demographics and with the addition of Chinese and Japanese at CHS, it be came clear that German was no longer a viable language at the school. Even though I retired officially in June, 2001, I agreed to provide one or two more years of German instruction mostly via the Internet to students of mine who wished to continue.


Program Design. This experimental ‘mostly on-line’ class has a large component of the resources for the class located on a web site on the Internet that are available to the students anytime they access the Internet. I continue to teach the class as a retired teacher on a special contract with the district. As the program started last year, I met daily for the first three weeks with those students who wanted assistance to learn how to function under the new program design, but I did not meet the students every day after the first few weeks. I saw them regularly on a limited basis and provided a variety of resources for the students and a way for the students to contact me. I have the use of a small room in the library where students can access the class resources or work with me when I am in class (last year about twice a week and this year once a week). In addition to the on-line materials, there are a variety of resources available in the small library room: Internet access, in-school networked computers with the computer practice software, video and audio taped listening stations with many materials and certain reading texts. I also  meet students there to do oral work and provide other needed support.


The On-line Program

Three Essential Areas

Instructional Needs. Since all the students starting the program last year had completed at least one year in the regular German program, they had already developed the ability to say and read the language with an acceptable accent – to be able to use the sound system of the language. In order for an Internet-based course to be successful and for the students to continue to expand their skills in German, I believe that students need the following elements in their instructional course:

·        a way to develop and expand their vocabulary,

·        a way to learn the grammar of the language under study and be able to practice the new material,

·        resources to allow students to review previous grammar and vocabulary,

·        practice listening to the spoken language at their level,

·        opportunities to read the language at their level,

·        procedures for producing reasoned written language,

·        procedures for producing spontaneous language, e.g.:

1) face-to-face communication,

                        2) telephone conversations;

                        3) two-way video discussions with sound,

                        4) perhaps Chat Room discussion with an advanced speaker or the teacher,

                        5) or maybe discussions via AIM,

·        access to cultural information through their reading and  listening activities.


The most critical element of this program is the instructional computer software that must provide an effective means for students to practice and be tested on the basic elements of grammar and the acquisition of new vocabulary. This software must focus on the core elements of the course in a manner, which is both fun and challenging, and it should contain activities at differing cognitive levels from the very easy to activities requiring the exact spelling of the element being learned. An extensive series of appropriate computer practice material for the first to the fourth levels will allow the teacher (and the student) to individualize work to fit the needs of the various students. I have been developing and updating the software for over twenty years, and in the last several years I made a version of the software available to students. Each year about 10% of my students bought a student version of the computer software for home use, and I have also sold a full version to a few schools that wanted to integrate it into their curriculum. All of this material will eventually be placed on-line in a pay for use mode with a testing option that will allow the teacher to receive the results of the student tests.


To obtain listening practice during the initial year of this program, students needed access to the extensive set of listening and viewing materials that are available in the school library. These videos and audio tapes were collected over many years and provide a sequenced set of materials from easy first-level, carefully structured, listening materials through extensive, unedited materials for the advanced student. Here is a partial list of the materials I used:

Deutsch I – Guten Tag (original – Ep 1-13), Deutsch Aktuell 1 (Ep. 1-10), Anna Schmidt, und Oskar 1 (Ep. 1-8), Lernexpress 1 (Ep. 1-4 – laserdisk)

Detusch II – Guten Tag (original – Ep 14-26), Deutsch Aktuell 2 (Ep. 1-10), Anna Schmidt, und Oskar 1 (Ep. 8-13), Lernexpress 1 (Ep. 5-10 – laserdisk), Alles Gute (Ep. 1-8)

Deutsch III - Anna Schmidt, und Oskar 2 (Ep. 14-26), Lernexpress 2 (Ep. 11-20 – laserdisk), Alles Gute (Ep. 9-26)

Deutsch IV – Any of the above plus nearly 100 other video and audio taped materials


These materials will not be placed on-line, but some listening sites have already been identified and more will be defined in the future, so that the students will be able to do more and more listening over the Internet [See Resources at CHS on the web site for a list of listening/viewing resources and reading materials available the students].


Similarly, students needed access to the library of reading materials at all levels of difficulty that are available in the school library, and they are expected to complete and document their out-of-class reading. Here too there are already some Internet sites for reading that have been identified, and more will be screened and listed for various reading levels. Some of the reading material available in the library that I have found useful is listed below:

Deutsch I – Selections from the student textbook, a few short, simple stories from various sources (with vocabulary glosses) and Beginner’s German Reader

Deutsch II – (Requirement: 15 hours of outside reading per semester) The most valuable book I have ever found for German 2 was originally written in 1933 and has gone through several editions of the years and is still published; it has been called variously Graded German Reader, Elementary German Series 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition. Also, a small orange book Lesetext 1, and German Easy Reader series Level A – Gänsebraten und andere Geschichten

Deutsch III – (Requirement: 15 hours of outside reading per semester) all of the above and further in the Elementary German Series reader and then a series of fourteen high interest short stories originally prepared for young foreign students learning German some of these titles are: MD und Erika in Mallorca, MD und der Teddybär, MD in den Alpne, Der Unfall, Der Uhu, Karneval, Das Ding

Deutsch IV – (Requirement: some reading as defined individually by each student in their individual learning plan) German Easy Readers at the B, C, and D level and three successful shorter edited novels by Erich Kästner: Emil und die Detektive, Kai aus der Kiste, Die Verschwundene Miniatur


From the beginning of the Internet-based class,  I have required that all written language pieces be produced on a word processor and sent me over the Internet as attachments. These written items are corrected on-line using the ‘track changes while editing’ tool and returned via the Internet to the students. My basic philosophy was that students in German 1-3 needed to learn how to construct increasingly more complex sentence length answers so no essay production was required; however, students at the German 4 level and beyond had learned the basic sentences and had learned paragraph and essay structure through English classes so these students were asked to produce writing units in multiples of 150 word increments.


Perhaps the most interesting area to examine throughout last year and this year is oral language development. Since I do not see all the students daily and perhaps not even weekly, some students do not progress as rapidly as in the regular class. However, as noted earlier, I had a number of students who were on independent study programs over the last several years; all of these students had relatively little oral language practice during their class time but improved their oral production skill throughout the year. It is obvious in discussion with these students that they are mentally constructing their sentences using the grammar and vocabulary knowledge that they practiced with the computer programs and their use of the language has usually been quite good. I believe that the important element in the development of this skill is the necessity to create ‘spontaneous language’, e.g., language that you produce ‘on the fly’ without an opportunity to do any extensive editing of what is presented. If this is indeed an important way to develop oral language skills, some of the practice can be done on-line with other ‘speakers’ of the language or with the teacher on-line, and not all of it has to be done in face-to-face situations with the teacher. During last year most students did some oral speaking practice with me and a few students did extensive story retelling and other types of speaking. I also experimented with a couple of types of on-line ‘speaking’ activities: I used Instant Messaging a couple of times with students and I use Web Cam with audio in English with my son. The Instant Messaging format takes at least twice as long to cover the same amount of material and one has to ignore those elements of writing, which would not be heard if the conversation were spoken. Although this method was effective, the students preferred to complete their oral activities face-to-face with me. The Web Cam mode requires additional hardware and a sufficiently fast Internet connection in order for the sound to be reasonable. Since I was in a position to be in the school on a weekly basis, these alternative methods of conducting spontaneous language were not used consistently. Speaking requirements per level are as follows: Deutsch 1 (Deutsch 1 was not available in the Internet class) – students had a five-question oral test with each unit and a reading test at the end of each semester; Deutsch 2 – students had a five-question oral test with each unit, a reading test at the end of each semester, and two or three one-minute story retellings throughout the year; Deutsch 3 – students had several two-minute story retellings and a few five question tests throughout each semester as well as a fifteen- question oral final on a story that they read; Deutsch 4 – each oral exam consisted of at least five minutes of discussion with the instructor and the students defined how many they wished to do beyond the required one oral activity.



Student Learning-Skill Needs. The experimental mostly on-line course requires an expanded set of student learning skills. No longer is it enough to come to class, sit in class, listen to the teacher, go home and do the homework, and then go to class the next day. I believe that the acquisition of a new set of skills is the most difficult aspect of this course for some of the students, particularly the younger student who has always been told what to do for the next class session.  I spent a fair amount of time at the beginning of the course discussing with the students things that they need to do to be successful in this class. I believe the students must:

·        learn how to determine what they are to learn,

·        learn how to keep track of what they have already done,

·        actually use the resources provided to learn the new material rather than wait for the teacher to describe everything,

·        personally seek help from other students or the teacher when things are not clear to them,

·        ask the teacher for alternative resources or procedures to learn something when the student is having difficulty,

·        be personally active in one’s own learning and not take short cuts such as copying or using reference materials while taking tests,

·        learn how to study regularly and build in focused review of older material.



The Teacher’s Change Role. The teacher also has to work differently. The teacher is not always available to provide answers or clarify new concepts so more detailed explanatory material must be provided, preferably via the Internet and probably revised as students point out areas of uncertainty. The teacher has to instruct the students where to find various resources on-line or in resource materials available to them and encourage them to use these resources to find answers to their questions. Since the course has a more extensive requirement for using several kinds of technology, the teacher must show the students how to use these resources and what is available on them. Finally, the students must know that they can always reach the teacher via e-mail or on-line through some immediate messaging system as a last resort.


Administrative Needs. Under this new experimental mostly on-line class, I do not provide daily homework assignments as I did in past years for the students in the first and second levels on instruction [during my last year of regular teaching I posted the German 1 and 2 assignments at on-line]. Instead I provided a semester by semester overview of all the work to be done during a semester as well as detailed outlines of the work that must done for each individual unit and substantial supporting information for the unit. such as I had done for the German 3 students during the past several years [See the NECC20002 link  and view the information under the German Program at CHS link on my web site for more detailed information concerning the structure and design of the German 3 program]. This material is now available only on the Internet for German 2 and 3. Each of the set of unit materials contains the unit outline, answers to the practice work for the unit, and links to Adobe Acrobat files for downloading; these .pdf files are vocabulary lists, detailed grammar explanations, and practice exercise sheets for which answers are available in the same set of unit materials. So that students can locate materials for review or advanced study, there is a grammar reference index with links to each of the grammar explanations and to various practice materials that would normally be accessed through each of the units. This process allows students to determine what they have to learn and by when.


The German 4 program was quite different from a regular teacher-led classroom for a number of years in several respects. I no longer defined a curriculum for this class, but required students instead to produce a certain aggregate amount of work in seven of ten currently defined categories for each six-week grading period [The ten categories are: new vocabulary, new grammar, review grammar, speaking, reading, listening, writing, Internet work, reports, and Advanced Placement, see the descriptions of the ten categories under the link to German Program at CHS for German 4]. In this way students begin to think about what they want to learn; this is an idea which fits one of our school learning goals, Life-Long-Learning.. I continue to feel that we must provide a way for students to begin to plan some of their own learning if indeed we want them to develop any kind of skill at life long learning.. For this new Internet-based class, I provide explanatory material for a number of advanced grammar topics as well as a few practice exercise sheets and answers; these will be accessed from a list of links to .pdf files for a variety of advanced grammar topics. The students also have access to reading and listening/viewing materials in the school library, but they were encouraged to do a lot of their work at various Internet sites and then communicate their findings and reactions to the teacher or others via the Internet.


Grading. High school students need to be able to determine regularly what work they have already done, what things they still need to complete, and what items they can redo to improve their grade. To that end, grades for individual students in German 2 and 3 are posted securely on-line [I am currently using the grade program MicroGrade by Chariot Software Group –]. Students have a password and can access their individual grades anytime they are on the Internet – also parents can similarly access the grade sites and see what their student has done.


Attendance. This class is very different from all other classes at CHS. Students do not need to come to class if they do not wish to work on material for the German class at that time. They only need to come to complete written unit exams every three to four weeks, to speak with the instructor, to view/listen to video or audiotapes, or if they have any points they wish to clarify with the instructor. All the German students were scheduled into the first class period of the day, so they could stay home and come to school later if they did not need to meet with the instructor or work in the class. Early in the year I obtained authorization from the principal to have attendance taken on the basis of the other classes during the day, so if a student was absent in the other classes, that student was considered absent in German. If, on the other hand, the student was present for all the other classes, then the student was considered present in the German class also.



Web Sources for Further Information about the CHS German Program

Detailed information about the German program at Cupertino High School as it was until the end of the 2000-2001 school year can be found at this web site:


In the text of this paper reference was made in several places to the different activities for the different levels of German at Cupertino High School, in particular the German 4 program description mentions a number of categories and the idea of designing one’s own curriculum. The link to the German Program at CHS provides additional details about the 10 categories. Much of the information concerning the German 3 and the German 4 program listed on that site is still applicable to these levels under the new course structure.

The link to Conference Presentations connects one to the most recent texts of presentations that Dr. Morrey has made at local, state, and national conferences.

The link to German web sites contains many references to a variety of international sites where the German language is used. These references will gradually be expanded and updated and will provide reference material for the students who want to find reading, listening (and perhaps viewing), and cultural materials on the Internet.




Due to decreasing enrollment fewer students requested German, so it was no longer possible to maintain a normal sequence of classes. The new mostly on-line program that I outlined in this paper was designed to allow students who had already completed at least one year of study of German to obtain another year of language study. The course depends even more heavily on the use of  computer technology and the Internet than the regular class and it requires new learning skills for students who have not taken an active role in planning their instructional program. Over the last several years I saw a number of students employ the computer, video, and textual resources in the class to successfully complete a year of independent language study. This new course was modeled after the work that these students successfully completed. The information presented here is a summary of what actually has been occurring since June, 2001 when I started working on the mostly Internet-based course. The most important result of the program has been that many students had an exciting and successful year of study and that a few of those students are continuing the program for a second year.



1. D’Ambruoso, Lorraine. “Beyond Sept 11: A Comprehensive National Policy On International Education.” CLTA NEWS, October, 2002, Vol. 32, No. 4, p16.


2. Morrey , R.A. (2000). “Change The Traditional High School World Language Classroom Through Technology.” Paper presented at the National Education Computing Conference, June 28, 2000, Atlanta, Georgia [This paper can be viewed at: under Conference Presentations as NECC2000.]


3. Morrey, R.A. (2001). “Emerging New Student Learning Paradigms: Any-Time Learning Through Your Web Site.” Paper presented at the Computer-Using Educators’ spring conference, May 18, 2001, Anaheim, California. [This paper can be viewed at: under Conference Presentations as CUE5/2001.]


4. Schulz, Renate A.  “Hilft es die Regel zu wissen um sie anzuwenden? Das Verhältnis von metalinguistischem Bewusstsein und grammatischer Kompetenz in DaF” Die Unterrichtspraxis, Vol. 35.1, pp. 15-24


Author’s school: Cupertino High School

                                Cupertino, CA 95014

                                Fax: (408) 255-8460

                                Web site: