Beyond the Classroom
Approaching Your Courses
In each of your German courses, you will receive a syllabus with information about course objectives and policies. Read this document carefully and use it throughout the semester. It explains what to expect and how your work will be evaluated. But there are also general principles and attitudes that are essential for success in all of your German courses at KSU.
- Be prepared for class. Eliminate distractions when you do homework, and work in a quiet place.
- Schedule time to complete homework on a regular basis. Plan to complete two hours of homework per week for every course credit. (For example, a three-credit course involves nine hours per week: three in class and six as homework.) Keep this time commitment in mind as you create your class schedule each semester. At the university level, cutting corners with time usually means sacrificing learning and grades.
- When you have reading homework, take time to write notes in your text and to think about the ideas and themes in what you read. Look for more than literal understanding and surface meanings. You can only succeed at this if you are in the regular habit of reading in German, so establish that habit firmly.
- Complete all writing assignments thoroughly and on time. Take advantage of the opportunity to think about grammar rules and practice dictionary skills while you write. Do not leave it to your professors or classmates to find your mistakes for you.
- Buy and use all required texts. Especially important are required grammar resources and dictionaries. Of course, in class you will also need a notebook, pen, pencil, calendar, and folder for course materials.
- Eventually, consider buying a German-German dictionary (The top publishers of these include Duden and Wahrig).
- Give your full attention in class. Always turn off cell phones and other gadgets before class and leave them off. Arrive early enough to get set up and begin work when the scheduled time begins.
- Come to class ready to cooperate with your classmates and professors. Be enthusiastic. Participate in German in all group and partner activities, with a positive attitude and good work ethic. No matter what your confidence level is, you will learn by doing your best to communicate in German. (This is true whether you are doing most of the talking or most of the listening.) Remember that practicing communication is key to mastering a language. Take advantage of opportunities to do this in class.
- Some of the material in your courses will be presented in lecture format. Always come prepared to take notes, and do so whenever your professor lectures. Keep your notes organized, and be ready to use them to review.
- Build positive relationships with your classmates and professors. Take the time to get to know your professors during their scheduled office hours. Whenever you have questions, concerns, or problems in a course, discuss them first with your professor in an office hour. Do the same if you are interested in learning more about a given topic. You will find that your professors are very interested in helping you and building positive working relationships with you if you make the effort to speak with them outside of class.
- Remember that your courses are only part of your opportunity to learn German at KSU. Plan to practice speaking, listening, and reading in other ways too.
How to Read a Text
As a German major or minor, you will be doing a lot of reading. Follow these guidelines for reading success:
- Find a quiet place to read, away from distractions. A corner in the library is ideal.
- Set aside enough time to read carefully and thoroughly. If you are rushed, you will inevitably have trouble understanding the text.
- Establish a consistent, comfortable reading pace. Don’t make the mistake of stopping the flow of reading frequently to look up words you do not know. Continuing to read is usually the best way to figure out what is going on in a text. If you have trouble with a particular paragraph or section, try reading it a second time, perhaps out loud. If you still don’t understand, now is the time to look up a key word or two before going on.
- Read actively. To be able to contribute to class discussion, you will want to mark up your copy of the text, take notes, and keep track of your questions and ideas about the text.
- Stop before you are mentally exhausted. If you find you are suddenly reading with your eyes and not with your head, it’s time to take a break. Try 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off.
How to Annotate a Text
Perhaps the idea of writing in a book seems scandalous to you. But good readers always take ownership of their books and make them truly their own. Where should you write? Everywhere you find a blank space—use the margins, the end papers, the inside front and back covers. It’s a little cramped, but highly practical. When you write in your book itself rather than on a separate piece of paper, you know you’ll always have your notes right with you.
- For a non-fictional text, mark the thesis and topic sentences and summarize the argument.
- For a fictional text, make yourself a list of characters, like the Dramatis Personae of a play.
- Track a few elements of the text that you find particularly interesting. This can be a great way of starting to collect material for potential paper topics. For example, in Kafka’s Die Verwandlung, you might keep track of Gregor’s humanlike and his buglike characteristics in a little two-column table. In Heinrich Böll’s Das Brot der frühen Jahre, you might mark all of the occurrences of the word “Brot” with a star in the margin. In a poem by Goethe, you could mark in the rhyme scheme.
- Interact with the text, intellectually and emotionally. You might hypothesize what will happen next, pose ethical questions, or even talk back to the characters.
- Mark words with which you are unfamiliar. You don’t want to look them all up in the middle of your reading time, but you can go back later and add them to your vocabulary notebook.