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Academic Year: Spring/Summer 2014

Term: 3

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Dr. Nikolai Penner


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 507

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 24777

Office Hours: Mondays, Wendesdays 6 p.m - 7 p.m.

Course Objectives:

Course Description:

This course is intended for students without previous knowledge of German and is designed to develop linguistic skills in an innovative, fun, and fun way without painful ‘learning by heart’, lengthy grammar explanations or completing countless worksheets. This course does not usegrammar drills or extensive homework typical to the mainstream language classrooms. Instead, we adopt the so-called 'Natural Approach' to language acquisition according to which learners learn a language by picking it up through understanding (listening and reading). The methodology used in this course - TRP (Total Physical Response) and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling©. The only rule is to pay attention in class and read a lot in German outside of class!


At the end of the course, students should:

  • be able to fluently communicate in basic (not mistake-free) German on a variety of familiar topics;
  • be able to understand spoken German and read simple German texts;
  • be able to fluently write in German on familiar topics (100 words in 5 minutes);

Please note that teaching the facts about the German language, culture, or giving a thorough knowledge and understanding grammatical rules are not the primary objectives of this course.


The ultimate goals of this course are:

  • to teach the students the basics of communication in German;
  • to develop in the students the feeling of what 'sounds right' to a native speaker.

Student Expectations:

  • It is absolutely crucial to attend all classes.  For the course regulations on absenteeism see section 3.2;
  • Let me know immediately me when they don't understand something I say in the classroom.
  • Actively engage and participate in classroom activities;


WARNING!!! Please note that all electronic devices including laptops, tablets, smart-phones etc. are banned from the classroom. Completely. If you need to use a dictionary, use a printed one.


Instead of mechanical memorization, grammar & pronunciation drills, loads of homework and most other things typical to the standard language teaching approach, we are going to combine several most powerful methods and techniques of language teaching: 1) TPR (Total Physical Response; 2) TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling©); 3) Free Voluntary Reading; 4) For memorizing grammatical material, we are going to use mnemotechniques whenever possible.

My goal in this course is to teach the basic structures of German until students can use them with confidence and without hesitation. To accomplish this effectively, we will need to limit the vocabulary to about 1,000 most frequent German words which make about 80% of all everyday communication. Once this 'skeleton' of structures and basic vocabulary is established, it should be relatively easy for learners to learn the vocabulary from areas of their personal interest and to use it appropriately in the previously acquired syntactic structures.

The course will start out with a 3-class introductory period during which students will learn to understand and recognize in spoken language approximately 200 words. During this period we will use mostly the TPR method. By the end of the introductory period students will be able to combine the words they have learned in utterances they have never heard before and understand simple German texts.

Then, we will move into interactive Storytelling where the students will get a chance to use the previously learned words to create unique details of the stories we will collectively create in class.

Instead of a textbook, you will be required to read five short novellas for beginning students of German written specifically for the TPRS curriculum. You may also find a small-size German dictionary very useful after the TPR part of the course.

For the conceptual learners  who would like to know more about grammar rules and maybe do some drills, a collection of links to explanatory videos and other explanations of all grammar used in the course is provided on Avenue. 


Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Instead of a textbook, you will be required to read five short novellas for beginning students of German written specifically for the TPRS curriculum. You may also find a small-size German dictionary very useful after the TPR part of the course.

Starting in about the 3th week of the semester, you will be expected to start reading ‘for pleasure’ in German.  I have selected five short novellas that you will need to read during the course.  

The books will be read in the following order:

1) Arme Anna ( the pink book)

2) Petra reist nach Kalifornien

3) Fast stirbt er

4) Die Reise seines Lebens

5) Sein eigenes Auto

Method of Assessment:

Evaluation Criteria:






Quizzes (10x 1%)



Written tasks (8x1.25%)



Tests (4x5%)



Reading (5x5%)



Final project



Final exam




As indicated in the course syllabus, at the beginning of most classes, there will be short quizzes, typically about 5 minutes long.  At the end of the term, I will drop one lowest mark you get or one ‘zero’ for a missed quiz. The exact number of quizzes will depend of the group’s progress but typically there are about 10 quizzes every semester.


You can earn a maximum of 5 participation points by actively taking part in in-class activities. You have to look and act excited, interested and engaged. :-)In this course, these points are called ‘the superstar points’. You earn them by taking part in 'superstar' activities in which you showcase your German. Usually you achieve this by telling or retelling a story we worked on in front of the class. You get 1 point for participating in each superstar activity and you can get maximum one superstar point per class.

Absences: Because most of the learning will take place in the classroom in this course, you are allowed to miss two classes per term without any penalties. Every further absence will reduce your participation mark by 1% up to the maximum of 5% (the participation mark). Of course, absences due to medical reasons with adequate documentation are excused.

I will do my absolute best to make sure that you acquire German during the class time by simply paying attention and participating in various activities. However, if you miss a class, you will have to learn the same information ‘the hard way’.


MISSED WORK: This course places a heavy emphasis on learning in class, therefore, absences cannot be excused. Unless you have a doctor's note or fill out an MSAF, no course-related work can be re-written or made-up for. If you decide to miss a class during which a graded activity took place, you will get a 'zero' for missing that activity.

Written tasks:

Throughout the semester, you will be assigned a number of short written tasks. Please note that I will only point out or correct a few mistakes you make in the written assignments. Opposite to what is generally believed, research in Second Language Acquisition proves that students do not learn better from explicit corrective written feedback. Moreover, correcting grammar mistakes in first-year classes is detrimental to language learning.

The only exception to this are a few extraordinarily gifted and motivated individuals who probably should become language-teachers themselves. 🙂 There are usually several such students in a class. If you think you are one of these people, please talk to me and I will be happy to discuss your mistakes with you for every writing you do.


We will write four small tests during the course. One test will take place after the initial TPR part, and the rest will be written after every three ‘stories’ (or chapters) we complete. The tests are cumulative and will include ALL information we have worked on in the course.

3.5. Reading

Starting in about the 3th week of the semester, you will be expected to start reading ‘for pleasure’ in German.  I have selected five short novellas that you will need to read during the course.  By the end of course, you should have read about 30,000 words in German. All of the novellas were written specifically for TPRS programs and have every single word translated into English at the back of the booklet.

For each of the novellas, you will be required to complete a ‘Lesetest’ (reading test) on the date specified in the course syllabus. Each test consists of 40 True/False statements in German. You will be allowed to use the book to verify the details but you will only have 10 minutes to complete each test. Therefore, you do need to know the books really well as you will not enough time if you look up every single answer.

WARNING!!! I know that these novellas are cheesy and that they are not very exciting reading. I realize that they have been written for American teenagers and are not very relevant for Canadian university students.  I understand that you will soon want to read about something else other than American teenagers going to Germany and vice versa. At the same time, these novellas are the best reading materials that exists for absolute beginners in German. I have considered many other readers by various publishers and I decided against them. The other readers cost 50% more, are much shorter, and do not have German-English glossaries at the back. Trust me, you will pick up A LOT of German just by reading these little books.

3.6. Final project:

At the end of the couse, you will need to prepare a short video together with 2 or 3 other students.  It can be a voiceover, a ppt presentation, a skit, or anything else you can think of! If should be in German, playable on a computer, and all participants should speak in it. It should be approximately 5 minutes long and use subtitles to make it easier for the class to understand. Type in 'German 1Z06' on youtube to see what the projects.

You must upload your video on youtube (you are not required to make your video public) and bring a copy of it on a USB stick as a backup. In the final several weeks of the course, all final projects will be shown to the class.

It is a good idea to use subtitles in German to make your video understandable to the class. If you use words and structures that other students don't know, you need to translate them and include the translation in the subtitles.

Final exam:                                                                                                                            

There will be a final examination at the end of the term.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.