Behind the scenes: Get Set German: What I do on Day 1

Teaching is hardly on the list on day 1 of a course.

From my first ever student in 2008 to my first student of 2019, I’ve never ‘taught’ them on Day 1.

Instead, for me, Day 1 is about the following:

Not being a stranger:

Exchanging names, educational and professional information is no big deal.

A little over two minutes is all it takes. 

But the goal is never simply to break the ice.

The goal is to go from being a complete stranger to an approachable guide.

I spend a great deal of time on Day 1 asking questions that:

  • Tell me about the students’ goals and dreams:

“Why engineering?”

“What would you want to do with your German skills?”

“What career (or designation) would you like to pursue long-term?”


  • Show that I care:

“Would it give you a clearer picture if I told you a bit about the different standard levels of learning German?”

“There could be multiple career options for you with German – would you like to hear about a few?”

“Your typical day must be busy – how many hours can you feasibly spend with the language apart from our sessions?”

“Do you have any other related questions about the course/ the language/ anything else?


Observing & Adapting:

I like to know the temperament, attitude, comfort level and general outlook of my students from Day 1. I like to observe:

  • How well they can communicate
  • Whether they sound confident or unsure
  • Whether my words are re-assuring or intimidating to them
  • Whether I’m taking it too fast/ too slow
  • Whether they are forthcoming with questions
  • Whether their bigger priority is learning thoroughly or simply getting that certification

Making Private Notes

I take down a lot of notes – on paper. Notes about the student, their topics of interest, their goals, their challenges – and other interesting points I come across while talking to them that might help me later.

Here are some of the things I note down on Day 1, strictly for myself:

  • German-learning goals of the student
  • Career goals of the student
  • Topics of interest
  • Educational background
  • Ability to hold a conversation
  • General temperament
  • Attention span
  • Other observations

Context-based puzzles:

These aren’t ‘exercises’ or ‘tasks.’ (None of those on Day 1.)

No, they are puzzles, designed to make the student realize that even without knowing too many words, a lot of language can be understood simply through context.

These puzzles are incredibly heartening for a student who is completely new to the language, and your course is off to a powerful start.

A few of my favorite techniques to do this are:

Word-Picture Puzzle: Match the most suitable picture for a given German word. These are super-easy words. Most of them have English-sounding syllables, which helps the student guess the right answer.

What’s this about?: Silently read a short German paragraph (2 -3 sentences) and tell me what you think it is about. Again, the language is super-simple, filled with words that sound similar in English, or a picture to give them more context. 

Komposita: If Mittag = afternoon and Essen = food, then what’s Mittagessen? (They’ll figure it out, and they’ll be thrilled when they do!)

You see? I’m not teaching anything yet. 

And yet, the learning has already begun!