Your students will never forget the structure of the German past perfect tense if you teach it using Tom Allison’s tasty technique
It is a controversial topic: is the Jaffa Cake a biscuit or is it a cake? I am sure you have your own opinion; your students definitely will! That controversy aside, however, by exploiting children’s love for these orangey biscuits (or cakes) you can easily teach a very complex topic like the German past perfect tense to any age group or ability. I’ve used the ‘Jaffa Cake analogy’ with pupils of all abilities, from Year 8 to Year 11 (‘free from’ versions are widely available, by the way, so you don’t risk excluding anyone with allergies). Indeed, it is so embedded in my teaching that it has a place in my marking policy as simply “Check your Jaffa Cake”.
WHY TEACH THIS?
They say an army marches on its stomach well in my experience, so does a class of teenagers, meaning that edible treats are great motivators for learning. Giving students something real to hook onto, the Jaffa Cake analogy improves engagement and, even more importantly, ensures ‘stickability’ for learners to recall the knowledge later.
Give every student two Jaffa Cakes (and a napkin!) Ask them to dissemble one of the treats into three distinct parts: the chocolate, the jelly and the cake/biscuit base. The other should be kept to one side to use as a reward for excellent answers, hard work or even interesting student questions!
Show an image of a Jaffa Cake to students and ask these questions:
- What are the three parts of the Jaffa Cake?
- Can we still have a Jaffa Cake if we remove one of the parts?
- Which is the most important part of the Jaffa Cake?
- Can we change the parts slightly to change the taste/flavour?
- Why should we do this?
Try to direct the students to discuss that the cake/biscuit base is the most important, and should always be at the bottom; the chocolate could be changed to white, or milk chocolate, or even marbled.
Finally, the orange segment is in the middle of both parts, and as it has a distinct taste which not everybody may like, we could possibly change this flavour to something else.
It may seem a little strange to be talking about Jaffa Cakes so much in a language lesson, however by doing this you are securing, embedding and really focusing on the analogy so students become confident in understanding the structure before you get them started on some German.
Next you could ask your Language Assistant to introduce four to five perfect tense sentences in German. These should follow the same regular rule to ensure students are able to connect the Jaffa Cake structure to the German (before it gets that little bit harder). Ask students to explain why the Jaffa Cake structure mirrors the German past perfect tense sentences, and push for their reasons why.
Ich habe ein T-Shirt gekauft Ich habe Fussball gespielt Ich habe in York gewohnt Ich habe …
From this, they will hopefully make the following comparisons:
chocolate covering – ich habe orange segment – noun phrase cake/biscuit – past participle.
Jaffa Cakes work perfectly here because the order of their parts is unique compared with any other biscuit, and even more importantly, the whole structure of the snack is built on its cake/ biscuit base. This relates perfectly to the German perfect tense, as the past participle must be at the end and the noun is always sandwiched in the middle of the sentence. Hopefully you will have a student who does not like Jaffa Cakes because of their orange flavour – from this, you can explain how not everyone will have bought a t-shirt in the sentence ‘ich habe ein T-Shirt gekauft’ and therefore we should change this depending on our own likes/dislikes.
Next, it is vital that students process this knowledge by describing the analogy themselves. Ask them to draw a (simplistic) Jaffa Cake and annotate it with the German perfect tense parts (not the Jaffa Cake parts!) With a different colour pen, they should then explain the connection between each speech part, and the relevant Jaffa Cake element. For example:
‘Ich habe’ – this can be changed to ‘er hat, wir haben’ like the chocolate can be changed on the Jaffa Cake. By changing this we are making our sentences more interesting.
You could give younger students/SEN(D) students a pre-printed picture of a Jaffa Cake with some annotations or missing words to support their learning. Your Language Assistant could support less able students whilst you are ensuring others are recalling the concept accurately.
To consolidate learning and increase vocabulary, a dice game works exceptionally well. On the board prepare a table with three columns and six rows (this activity could be adapted to suit different student abilities) Column one should include six different pronouns with ‘haben’, or repeated pronouns for less able students; column two has six different nouns (food items are the easiest) and the final column is a number of past participles which link to the nouns eg gekauft, gegessen.
By rolling the die three times, students are drilling complete sentences using the correct structure. Model this activity with your Language Assistant and the students will see how easy it will be to create dozens of sentences in the past tense!
STRETCH THEM FURTHER
Following lessons could include your Language Assistant telling the students about their weekend and the activities they did. Students can be grouped into Team Chocolate, Team Orange and Team Cake(/Biscuit); the groups have to write down their ‘part’ of the sentence when your Language Assistant says it. These teams can then be mixed up to make Team Jaffa Cake One, Team Jaffa Cake Two and Team Jaffa Cake Three. As there is at least one member from the original ‘parts’ the groups can re-write the sentences given by the Language Assistant and develop these further with opinions and additional information such as time phrases and adverbs.
Give the students a challenge to ‘be a creative teacher’ and ask them how they would teach another young person the Jaffa Cake structure. They could create a stop-motion video; a large, home-baked, Jaffa Cake with annotations on tooth picks; a poster; or even the cross-section of a Jaffa Cake clay model with annotations. Your Language Assistant might have some fresh materials straight from a German speaking context that could give them some ideas.
It’s good to support the students in repeated practice in changing and substituting the different elements to ensure they have mastered the full concept. By consistently reminding students of the Jaffa Cake structure during the practice stages, it will be embedded into their learning – and I know from experience, it is so much easier to recall later by just saying ‘think about the Jaffa Cake structure.’
An interactive quiz, such as Kahoot or a Jeopardy style game, also assesses the students’ learning really well, as you can change word order and sentence structure easily. By giving multiple choice answers in the AfL activity, students will really have to apply their knowledge of Jaffa Cake structure to work out which sentence is correct.
- For more information on how to host a Modern Language Assistant in your school visit britishcouncil.org/languageassistants/ employ
- Visit the British Council Schools Online website schoolsonline. britishcouncil.org for information on how to find partner schools, accredit international work and access funding.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Allison is currently 2nd in Charge for MFL at Manor CE Academy in York. He is also a British Council eTwinning Ambassador for Yorkshire and Humberside, and the Co-ordinator for ALL (The Association for Language Learning) Primary MFL Hub in York.