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As a part time job, I teach German, here in Germany, to teenagers (the interval goes from 15 years of age to 18) who have fled their lands due to war and general political instability. The come from different backgrounds; in the class I am teaching now, I have Eritreans, Afghans and Kurds. This, in order, implies the fact that they speak different languages (Persian, Tigrinya, Kurdish and Arabic).

The main problem I am having is, apart from discipline, making them understand, as an example, what the subject of a sentence is, or what a verb is. I have reiterated many times over the standard definition of verb, that is A verb is a word which expresses an action, but they do not seem to fully comprehend what a verb is unless I list a few of them.

I am not a Deutsch (Lehramt) student; indeed, I study Mathematics. This means that I do not have the pedagogical tools to cope with this problem. Does any of you have even a remote idea of how to even slightly improve their understanding of words representing abstract ideas, that is, words whose meaning I cannot visually convey? For they need to learn what a verb or an attribute is, this is unentbehrlich for students of German of any level.

closed as off-topic by Robert, chirlu, Jan, boaten, user unknown Jun 26 '15 at 17:39

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  • Well, it’s not clear if explicit grammatical knowledge really is indispensable. I mean, what percentage of Germans (excluding those who learned Latin in school) can explain what a grammatical subject is, or pinpoint it in a sentence? Still, they speak mostly a passable German. – chirlu Jun 25 '15 at 13:51
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    I agree that it's helpful to know what a verb is but I disagree on attribute. Stay with the VERY BASIC building blocks and forget about all the higher grammatical concepts. As for verbs... try to introduce them as things you do. You can act out many verbs (sleep, eat, drink, laugh, cry). Also, you should NOT bring "sein" into the mix because I reckon that some of their native tongues do not have this the way German has. They say "I hungry" so if you try to use "sein" as an example you set them up for confusion. – Emanuel Jun 25 '15 at 15:18
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    German children are very well able to master their mother tongue and also build subordinate clauses without having the faintest clue what a verb or an attribute is until they learn that many years later in school. There are lots of pedagocial approaches to teach foreign languages and even if a 'grammatical drill' is very common, I doubt that it's neither necessary, nor the best way. – jarnbjo Jun 25 '15 at 15:44
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    I’m voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about didactics, not the German language. – chirlu Jun 25 '15 at 20:04
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    This is a forum that will help lerners to learn German. I think learning and teaching methods can't be separated. Learning methods and teaching methods should be an important topic. – rogermue Jun 25 '15 at 23:10
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In your headline you use semantics. I'm sure that you dont want to teach them semantics, but basic grammar terms. I would not explain abstract Latin grammar terms as verb, attribute etc. I would work with graphics, colours and others optical means. The terms are of secondary importance, important is how the parts fit and work together.

Write a simple noun group on the blackboard: the old man with the pipe. It would be best if you also fixed a picture of this old man on the blackboard. Ask what the main part of the word group is. Let them guess. Don't be too quick. When enough students have said that man is the main part, draw a large rectangular box around man. Now ask what the minor parts of the word group are. At the end you have smaller boxes around the, old, with the pipe. Use colour, e.g. green for the main element, yellow for the subelements.

The large box is the main part or main element, the small boxes are sub-elements that cling to the main element. The whole group - now you are drawing a large circle around the whole word group - is one reasonable word group in which all parts belong together.

Now you can ask after word classes, and at the end you can introduce your grammar terms.

Don't begin with the grammar terms and try to explain them with words for half an hour, that is boring and useless.

Have the students take notes of your graphics. They should be able to carry home in their exercise books what they have learnt, and they should study this at home. Have a look at the exercise-books of your students from time to time.

I worked as a self-employed language teacher for 20 years and developed my own methods. Here is not the space and I have not the time to explain more. Teaching the system of language is not so easy as it seems. And it takes a long time till people grasp this system. And one has to develop new ways of explaining language. Understanding the system of language can be a fascinating and exciting thing when the teaching is right.

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