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Eric’s Intercultural Experiences

By , June 28, 2016 5:39 pm

Eric’s Intercultural Experiences

A reading-writing project to prepare students for an exchange trip abroad. 

Class-trips abroad are certainly one of the most motivating experiences for learners. After years of studying the language in the classroom, they can finally test their skills in real life. This is especially the case if the learners live in host families in the foreign country and accompany their host-brothers and sisters to school for a week. On the other hand, class-trips are very expensive and must be more than fun package-tours during school time. The aim of the following project was to prepare the learners for a class trip abroad and raise their awareness of cultural differences as well as similarities in the host country.

The main teaching goals of this project were:

  • to develop learners’ curiosity about new cultures and experiences
  • to raise the learners’ awareness of cultural aspects of their everyday lives
  • to challenge the learners’ attitudes including preconceived notions and stereotypes
  • to develop learners’ understanding of the various layers of “culture” (surface culture, deep culture) and their influence on human behavior (universal / cultural / personal dimensions of human behavior)
  • to improve the learners’ story-writing skills in English (L2)
  • to teach the language of “thank-you cards” and “describing personal experiences” in the learners’ L3 (French or Spanish)

The project was designed as a cross-curricular project in the learners’ first and second foreign languages in a class of 15 year-old students in Austria. The main part of the project was carried out in English (5th year of L2), some smaller parts were done in the learners’ second foreign language (3rd year of Spanish or French) in order to prepare them for their respective trips to Spain or France. Due to the lower level of proficiency in the students’ L3, these parts mainly dealt with the description of events and basic surface culture phenomena like food, daily routines at home and in school. The more demanding tasks and class discussions were done in English in order to allow the learners to dive deeper below the surface and explore some phenomena of deep culture. The class trips to France and Spain lasted a week and were followed by return visits of the foreign students at our school. Basically, the tasks in this project can be used to prepare language trips and intercultural exchange trips to any country or culture.

Choosing the right input to introduce the topic

We chose the picture story “Eric” by Shaun Tan in order to introduce the topic. In Tan’s story an extraterrestrial exchange student visits a family and surprises them with his unexpected behavior and questions. He seems very inquisitive, asking questions which may seem bizarre to those who have become blind to the patterns of everyday life. His hosts come to the conclusion that some of Eric’s behavior must be a “cultural thing”. The story is told in beautiful pictures that leave a lot of room for interpretation, and is accompanied by a minimum of words. The story ideally raises the question how culture shapes our perception and behavior. While textbooks regularly present topics of surface culture, such as sights, holidays, celebrations and habits, Shaun Tan’s story invites the reader to explore the uncharted depth of “deep culture”, the invisible strings that guide us.

Why a picture book?

At first sight the picture-story might seem a bit childish for 15-year-old learners, but when looking more closely, the book opens a whole new world waiting to be explored. The pictures and minimal words create more questions than answers. In his essay “Picture Books: Who Are They For?” Tan states that “a successful picture book is one in which everything is presented to the reader as a speculative proposition, wrapped in invisible quotation marks, as if to say `what do you make of this?´” This openness provokes questioning and “in asking questions of the book, the reader is inevitably asking questions about their own experience in seeking individual closure. What aspects of it are familiar, and why? What does it remind you of, or make you think about? This is a picture book that works through such resonance rather than recognition, or any didactic imperative; ideas and feelings are evoked rather than explained.”

In this sense, the story “Eric” provides a springboard for exploring subtle cultural values and behaviors and raising the learners’ awareness of cultural differences they might encounter during their class-trip.

For more info read our article about this project.

Read this wonderful story and have a look at the project tasks and learner products.

booklet-cover title
  Shaun Tan, Eric Shaun Tan’s ERIC


in the Guardian

Student booklet


with tasks

French materials


by Joelle Donnerer

Below find some of my students’ Eric stories and see what cultural aspects they have become aware of during the project and their class-trips.

emily-title clara-title
 salome-title lilly-title
 saraR-title  maren-title
ldorothea-title rosaG-title hanna-title





America, the Melting Pot

By , October 4, 2010 10:11 am


African American Literature

The Color Purple

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Black Boy Native Son
Go Tell It On The Mountain Black Like Me
Invisible Man I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
The Coldest Winter Ever Grand Central Winter

Jewish American Literature

Portnoy’s Complaint Fear Of Flying
Call It Sleep The Chosen
Snow In August Catch 22

Native American Literature

Gardens In The Dunes Mean Spirit
Waterlily Black Elk Speaks
Lakota Woman  


Hispanic American Literature


Bodega Dreams Living Up The Street
The House on Mango Street  

Who was…

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By , November 20, 2020 7:09 pm

Extraordinary people project: WHO WAS…?

In this reading project the learners choos an interesting personality and read their biography. The book series covers countless famous personalities from all areas of life: Artists, Explorers, Writers, Inventors and Scientists, Athletes, Musicians, Influential Women, Famous African Americans and Civil Rights Leaders…

All these personalities had to overcome serious obstacles on their way to success. 


Find all the books here.




At the end of the project the students presented the extraordinary persons that they had read about. Each student prepared a display with objects that play an important role in the life of their person. They also showed the books and some pictures. 

Half the class was presenting at their tables, while the other half of the class was moving from table to table and listening to the individual presentations. The “visitors” took notes on their “visitor’s sheets”. We used A4 paper (front and back) for this purpose.

Later the learners used the collected information for a final writing task.






Final Writing Task: The students wrote a letter to our international Erasmus partners. See the task here.

More Research

For even more research about some of these famous personalities, visit the following page.

There you will find interesting videos and short texts about famous people and their lives.


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By , July 6, 2020 3:38 pm

Developing intercultural awareness and understanding

On these pages you will find several  projects that  aim at developing  the learners’ intercultural awareness and understanding. 

The main teaching goals of these projects were:

  • to develop learners’ curiosity about new cultures and experiences
  • to raise the learners’ awareness of cultural aspects of their everyday lives
  • to challenge the learners’ attitudes including preconceived notions and stereotypes
  • to develop learners’ understanding of the various layers of “culture” (surface culture, deep culture) and their influence on human behavior (universal / cultural / personal dimensions of human behavior)
  • to improve the learners’  reading, listening, speaking and writing skills in English (L2) 



Project 1:

Eric’s Transcultural Experiences

In this project students meet an extraterrestial exchange student and learn to see the world though his eyes. The project prepares learners for an exchange trip abroad.

For details, go to the project page.


Project 2:

Unsere Wurzeln — Unsere Schätze

In this project the students explored their roots and family cultures and produced digital stories about an important family “treasure”. In a final project presentation the students shared their digital stories and presented their treasures to classmates, parents and teachers.

To find out more about this project, go to the  project page.



Project 3: Travelling across Europe

In this project the students produced a boardgame where the players travel across Europe. In order to travel, they must pick up “tickets” containing QR-codes that supply them with info-videos and texts. All the info-texts and info-videos have been produced by the learners. In this game the learners present our everyday culture, school life and their favorite places in town to each other and to international students in an Erasmus project.


For details about this game go to the project page.

Unsere Wurzeln – Unsere Schätze

By , February 20, 2019 6:28 pm

Unsere Wurzeln 

Unsere Schätze

Projektwoche von 3 ersten und zweiten Klassen:  ca 65 Kinder im Alter von 10-11

In diesem Projekt an der PraxisNMS der PH Steiermark ging es um die persönlichen, familiären und kulturellen Wurzeln und Schätze der Schüler und Schülerinnen. Das einwöchige Projekt basiert auf der Methode des digital storytelling nach Joe Lambert,  und möchte Schüler und Schülerinnen vor den Vorhang holen und ihnen eine Stimme geben. Viele der Kinder an unserer Schule haben  Migrationshintergrund und wachsen in mehreren Kulturen und Sprachen auf. Das Ziel des Projektes war es, in den Familien nach Schätzen zu graben und dadurch die eigenen Wurzeln besser kennenzulernen, stolz darauf zu sein und diese Schätze dann mit anderen zu teilen.

Für viele Kinder war die Suche nach großen und kleinen Familienschätzen ein spannendes Eintauchen in die Geschichte, Herkunft und Kultur der Eltern und Großeltern, von denen sie vorher oft nur wenig wussten. Für einige, vor allem für geflüchtete Kinder,  war es auch ein Aufwecken alter Erinnerungen an das Heimatland, die alte Schule oder alte Freunde.  Die folgenden Originalzitate der Kinder zeigen, wie Eltern und Kinder durch das Projekt ins Gespräch kamen:

“Ich habe mit meiner Familie Fotos angeschaut und mein Vater hat mir alles erzählt … und eigentlich habe ich nichts gewusst.”
“Meine Eltern waren sehr stolz. Sie haben mir von den Bildern erzählt… und bei jedem Bild haben wir 30 Minuten gesprochen, oder mehr.”

In den digital stories zeigen die Kinder ihre Schätze und erzählen deren Geschichten. Unsere “digital stories” basieren, wie im California Digital Storytelling üblich, auf einer Reihe von Bildern und werden von den Kindern selbst mit der eigenen Stimme erzählt. Die Bilder stammen aus alten Fotoalben, oder sie wurden auch speziell für dieses Projekt angefertigt oder gezeichnet. Um die technische Komplexität möglichst niedrig zu halten, und den Kindern größtmögliche Schaffensautonomie zu ermöglichen, verwendeten wir Tablets und erstellten die Filme mit dem App Com Phone. Mit diesem Android App können auch junge Schüler und Schülerinnen ohne spezielles technisches Know-how ganz einfach digital stories herstellen. Bilder werden importiert oder direkt im App fotografiert, die Tonaufnahme erfolgt für jedes Bild separat, sodass Fehler ganz leicht ausgebessert werden können. Zusätzlich kann eine Textspur und eine zweite Tonspur für Hintergrundmusik verwendet werden. Wir haben bewußt auf technische Perfektion verzichtet und die Kinder ganz selbständig arbeiten lassen. Die Qualität mancher Fotos oder mancher Tonaufnahmen ist deshalb nicht immer perfekt, dafür sind die Geschichten umso authentischer und geben einen wunderschönen Einblick in die Welt der Kinder.

Die Geschichten der Kinder handeln von ganz unterschiedlichen großen und kleinen Schätzen: Schöne, alte Kannen, Tassen und Teller; Briefmarken und Münzsammlungen, geliebte Stofftiere, Souvenirs von Urlaubsreisen oder Besuchen bei Großeltern im Ausland, alte Fotos, Schmuckstücke aus der Familie, etc. Allen Schätzen gemeinsam ist der hohe emotionale Wert und die Erinnerungen an geliebte Personen, die sie hervorrufen, und die in den digital stories erzählt wurden. Sowohl Kindern als auch Eltern wurde durch dieses Projekt oft erst die wichtige Rolle von Großeltern und anderen fernen Familienmitgliedern bewusst. Für viele Kinder mit Migrationshintergrund spielten Erinnerungen an alte Freunde und die alte Heimat eine wichtige Rolle.

Meine Wurzeln - Meine SchätzeDa auch die unterschiedlichen Muttersprachen der Kinder ganz besonders wichtige Schätze sind, haben die meisten Kinder ihre Geschichten mehrmals vertont: Auf Deutsch, auf Englisch und in einer (manchmal sogar in mehreren) Muttersprachen. Im Projekt sind so digital stories in den folgenden 13 Sprachen entstanden: Albanisch, Arabisch, Bulgarisch, Deutsch, Englisch, Französich, Italienisch, Kroatisch, Kurdisch, Serbisch, Spanisch, Türkisch und Ungarisch.

Die derart entstandenen Kurzfilme wurden dann im Rahmen der Projektpräsentation vor Eltern, Lehrern und Mitschülern gezeigt. Jedes Kind gestaltete einen Tisch auf dem die eigenen Schätze präsentiert wurden.  An diesem Tisch konnten die Besucher und Besucherinnen auch die jeweiligen digital stories am Tablet der Kinder ansehen und hören und mit den Kindern ins Gespräch kommen und noch mehr über den Hintergrund der ausgestellten Schätze erfahren. Auf diese Weise, konnten die Kinder auch viel Neues über ihre Mitschüler und Mitschülerinnen erfahren und kulturelle Diversität auf sehr positive Weise erleben.

Im anschließenden Feedback berichteten die allermeisten Kinder, dass es ihnen anfangs peinlich war, ihre Geschichten vor so viel Publikum öffentlich zu zeigen. Das große und echte Interesse der Besucher überraschte die Kinder dann und füllte sie mit Stolz. Hier ein paar Originalzitate aus den Feedbackbögen:

“Es war für mich ein sehr schöner Tag, weil ich meine Geschichte und Schätze anderen Personen mitgeteilt habe und ich habe viele neue Personen kennengelernt. Es war für mich ein bisschen peinlich weil meine Geschichte am Beamer gezeigt wurde, aber ich war dann sehr stolz auf mich.”
“Ich habe das Gefühl gehabt, dass sich die Leute dafür interessieren aber mir war es auch peinlich und ich war auch stolz.”
“Also, wo mein Video auf der Leinwand gelaufen it, war es mir ein bisschen peinlich. Aber es hat mir sehr viel Spass gemacht.”
“Ich fand es voll cool dass so viele Leute zu meinem Stand kamen und es sich anhören wollten. Fand ich voll cool und lustig und ich war sehr stolz.”

Wie alle Ideen und Erfahrungen auf dieser website, lädt auch dieses Projekt zum Nachmachen ein. 

Alle Arbeitsschritte sind in der Projektbrochüre für die Schüler und Schülerinnen beschrieben. (Um die Brochüre zu öffnen, klicken Sie auf das Bild links.)

Die folgenden digital stories wurden von den Kindern und deren Eltern zur Publikation freigegeben. Um die interaktiven Poster und  die einzelnen digital stories  zu sehen, klicken Sie auf die folgenden Bilder.  Für den Vollmodus klicken Sie jeweils .



Wurzeln und Schätze: Stories 

Click on the image to go to the video gallery:



OSCARS: Die Preisverteilung am Faschingdienstag

Nachdem so viele spannende und berührende Geschichten entstanden sind, war es nicht einfach die besten Geschichten auszuwählen. Aufgrund der votings von Kindern und Eltern im Rahmen der Projektpräsentation und der Bewertungen des Projektteams, wurden die Gewinner ermittelt, und 1 Oscar und 10 Goldmedaillen vergeben. Zusätzlich erhielten alle Kinder eine persönliche Urkunde, die die besonderen Qualitäten der eigenen Geschichte beschreibt. Diese persönliche Wertschätzung haben wirklich alle verdient.

My SPIN Projects

By , October 7, 2016 11:53 am










The following two projects have been awarded the SPIN Logo. 

Click on the picture to go directly to the  project blog “reading is cool”. 



On this blog my students present self-made book-trailers about their favorite books. Show the blog to your students. It will help them find a book they REALLY want to read.

You’ll find the Spin project description here.








This transcultural project prepares learners for a trip abroad and wants to raise the students’ awareness of cultural phenomena and behaviors. Click on the picture to go to the project page. 

You’ll find the Spin project description here.










gefördert von: 




New York Novels

By , November 15, 2013 6:41 pm

New York …. here we come.

Literature reflects various aspects of the life and culture of a society. Let’s look at people, places, issues and trends through the eyes of writers. What do they have to say about their social environment and culture?

We will use our trip to America as a basis for this topic.

1. Project:  A Literary Mosaic of New York City :In the footsteps of…

Read one novel that plays in New York. In what places and areas of NYC does the story play?

Keep a reading diary and write 3 short entries (10 minutes free-writing each).

Analyze the role of the setting in the story. Authors use settings very consciously to convey a certain atmosphere. Every setting carries lots of connotations, be aware of these. Find the settings on Google Maps. Find out background information about each setting and the time-period. Collect pictures (take photos during our trip and/or use internet pictures) or draw/paint your own based on the descriptions you find in the novel.

List the different places and prepare an illustrated story map following the main character through the city.  Present the character’s wanderings through the city to the class. Make a poster,  or use  powerpoint to illustrate your presentation.

What do(es) the setting(s)  say about the society and time? (values, problems, wishes…) Why do certain episodes happen at certain places?

Answer all these questions in a 2 page essay-paper + the story map(12pt). Find a clear thesis statement that explains what the story says about New York and its society at a certain time. Could the novel play somewhere else? If so, where?


2. Reading Short Stories and Poetry

Read the assigned literature and keep a regular reading diary. Focus mainly on the importance of the settings. What do the settings imply? What are the connotations? Why has the writer chosen this setting? What atmosphere is conveyed?  What is the tone? Does the text say anything about the society of the time? What do you know about the time (politics, social problems, historical events)? Be ready to discuss these issues in class. Always bring your reading diary to class.


3. Snapshots of Life in America: Poetry Project and Short stories

 a: ObservationsThis step has to be done during our trip!!!!!

Choose a place in New York or Kansas City that you find especially interesting. Take 10 minutes to observe the place in detail and take notes of your observations.

Take notes about  the following aspects:

What is the atmosphere right now?

What contributes to this atmosphere? Jot down bits and pieces, what are people doing, what do you see, hear, smell? What is the temperature and weather? You might also want to take a few pictures. (Please respect people’s privacy. Do not behave like a paparazzo!)

Collect bits of information that will help you write a poem (a haiku or a short free verse poem) and a short story about this place.

b: Back home: Write a haiku or a short free verse poem about your experience. Prepare a well designed, illustrated page that will be “published” in our book of Snapshots of Life in America. See the two haiku pages for details.

c: Short story: Use one of the characters in your observation in a brief short story. The main purpose of your story is to recreate and convey the atmosphere of the moment. Bring your short story for a peer conference. Then revise it carefully and hand it in in your writing folder.

Write a 3rd draft and illustrate your story if possible (use photos you took in New York). We will  publish the stories in our Snapshots of America book.

List of New York Novels:

Choose one of the following novels. Read it carefully and keep a regular reading diary. Mark all the references to the New York settings for your literature essay and presentation.

Please buy one of the books before you go to America. It will be a great experience for you to really see the places you are reading about. If you have not quite finished the book read the last chapters on the plane. You will have plenty of time to kill. Bring a pencil to mark interesting passages – otherwise you will have trouble finding them later.


  • J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
  • Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
  • Henry Roth, A Diving Rock on the Hudson
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • Scott F. Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Ernesto Quinonez, Bodega Dreams
  • Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho
  • Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City
  • Jay McInerney, Brightness Falls
  • Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of Vanities
  • John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
  • Claude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land
  • Henry Roth, Call it Sleep
  • James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Sister Souljah, The Coldest Winter Ever


  • Gwen Kinkead, Chinatown, A Portrait of a Closed Society










By , December 12, 2011 3:49 pm

Reading and writing poetry

in the foreign language classroom:


Ideas for Using Poetry in Upper School


  • What is poetry?

Students work in groups and write a definition of “poetry”. They present their definitions to the class. Then show them the following definitions by famous poets.






  • Working with poetry:

Introduction to Poetry

Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.

from The Apple that Astonished Paris, 1996 University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, Ark.


  • Pick a poem:

Hang a selection of poems  on a tree in the schoolyard or on a clothes line in the classroom (use pegs). Students walk around, read lots of poems and pick one they like. The students then paint the poem (see next step) or use it for another follow-up task.


  • Painting a poem:

    Students choose a poem from a fairly large collection and try to express the same idea in a painting. Bring watercolors, water soluble wax crayons, paper, brushes, cups and a rag to clean up the mess.



    “This is just to say” by William Carlos Williams


Randal Jarrel, “Death of a Ball-turret Gunner”


  • Writing poems:

Students choose an object (sea-shell, stone, plastic toys, postcard….) and collect ideas on a sheet. Only single words are allowed. (10min) Then write a poem using (only) the words they have collected. Give a choice of formats (see extra poetry package), e.g.: list poem, recipe poem, diamond poem, haiku, acrostic poem, visual poem…

  • Line-breaking:

    Type a poem as run-on text. Ask students to rearrange lines in form of a poem and decide where to break the lines. Compare different student versions, then show original on an OHT.

    These poems have worked well: examples for line-breaking

  • Sonnets:

    Teach typical rhyme and rhythm of sonnets, then cut up a sonnet – students reassemble it correctly. (Cut after every other line!!! Single lines are too hard.)

  • Working  with parodies:

    Show students some parodies of famous poems (e.g. Straphanger, Poems not on the Underground). Students choose a famous poem and write their own parody. Students my use internet poetry pages to find famous poems and parodies.

  • Poem into short story or article:

    Find 3-4 poems where the speaker has a clearly identifiable problem. Students choose one poem and write a short story based upon it. The speaker of the poem becomes the protagonist of their short story. Ballads can be used as springboards for writing stories or newspaper articles.

Collect several poems around a theme (war poems, love and lust poems, dreams and nightmares, civil rights, growing up, family, …) Do some of the above tasks

  • Poems and Paintings:

    Find famous poems that have inspired artists to paintings and vice versa. E.g: Icarus poems and paintings: Students read and discuss the myth, read different poems and discuss the different interpretations of the myth, then  match poems with fitting paintings or paint their own. 

Vincent van Gogh’s paintings can also be very inspiring starting points for writing poems and many poets and song-writers have been inspired by his work. Find a few project ideas here.


  • From Painting to Poem:

Use a painting (arts postcards or OHT), students interpret the scene (collect ideas….) then write a poem or a short story about it. Hopper paintings work very well for this task (e.g.: The Automat…) Portrait paintings can be used in this way to write “Secret thoughts of…” poems or stories.

  • Found poems:

Hand out a recent newspaper article, advertisement or other prose text. Students highlight words they like, then use some of these words to make a poem. No extra words must be used. (The topic can be kept or changed, e.g. using a tourist brochure to praise or criticize tourism or a place…). Find more details on this handout.

  • Haikus: Snapshots of Life

Haikus are a wonderful format to catch the students’ memories and impressions during a class-trip abroad. Have a look at the worksheet “Snapshots of America”.  After the trip each student contributes a haiku and a picture to a book “Snapshots of America”.


    Tools of the trade:

Use this glossary of poetic terms with care! Too much of it might ruin the fun of working with poetry for your learners.

Existence is Absurd

By , October 4, 2010 10:15 am


Waiting for Godot The Dumb Waiter Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
The Zoo Story The American Dream Who Is Afraid Of Virginia Woolf


Scandals in Literature

By , October 4, 2010 10:09 am


Lady Chatterly’s Lover The Awakening Fear of Flying
Portnoy’s Complaint Lolita Rubyfruit Jungle
The Color Purple The Cement Garden American Psycho
A Clockwork Orange Catch 22 The End Of Alice
Lord of the Flies The Catcher in the Rye The Satanic Verses
A Prayer for Owen Meany The Da Vinci Code Nineteen Eighty Four
Animal Farm Tropic of Cancer Fanny Hill
Brave New World Fahrenheit 451

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Grapes of Wrath Slaughterhouse Five Many more …

for more banned books, have a look

at our course handout


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