Renate Gegner and Hartmut Schulz: Learning by teaching


The new grammar school curricula demand a teaching style which requires cooperation among the students as well as promoting learner autonomy, independent decision-making and creative thinking. This implies the ability on the students’ part to participate actively in the planning and teaching of lessons. The concept of "learning by teaching" satisfies these demands by perceiving the students as active and conscious learners and granting them a much more central and active role in classroom instruction than more conventional, teacher-centered methods.

Learning by teaching is based on the assumption that students are particularly well motivated, if they are regularly allowed to take on teaching assignments thus complementing their traditional student role. With the help of their teacher they plan and prepare lessons presenting the new subject matter themselves. After an initial phase of guidance by the teacher they assume responsibility for certain stages of the teaching process counselling their fellow students and checking their results.

If the objective is the acquisition of a new language skill this could mean some of the following: Two or more students could present and supervise exercises or drills. They might discuss homework assignments. New vocab could be introduced. The factual background to a text might be presented and examined. If the basics of a straightforward bit of grammar have been explained beforehand classes it might even be possible to expand on it using learning by teaching. (e.g. introducing additional inflections of conjugations or declensions).

Certain stages of the translation process could also be handled by the students. Two students each could be given one of the following jobs: reading the text aloud, assisting with the vocab, acting as experts on an important aspect of grammar, explaining the background to the text, diagramming the sentence structure etc. One student is given the part of facilitator: He calls on his fellow students to translate aloud involving the various groups of "experts" who have prepared parts of the lesson. As an additional benefit this kind of team work gives the students valuable practice in improving their interactive skills.

Latin literature classes lend themselves even more readily to student participation in the teaching process. The students could prepare and present the the new text. Another assignment could be moderating the discussion when a piece of literature is analysed and interpreted by the whole class. Revising author-specific grammar or creating visual aids to support the learning process are other tasks that spring to mind.

Thus the concept of learning by teaching is in full accordance with the global objective of "preparing the ground for university" as postulated in the general section of all German curricula. The students learn the proper use of resources. Planning and working in cooperation with their peers, they develop an awareness of methodology acquiring the ability to present and defend the results of their work. Furthermore learning by teaching emphasizes the communicative aspect of teaching. The task of structuring learning processes for others forces the "teacher" to reflect on his choice of procedure, to critically examine the results of his own work, and to develop ways of presenting his subject matter that provide both visual and verbal stimulation.

Teachers and learners find themselves in changed roles. The teacher hands some of his teaching responsibilities to his students. This role change takes getting used to. It requires training. The new activities and tasks have to be practised in the classroom both in pairwork and groupwork assignments. It is the teacher’s job to create a set of both general and subject-specific instructions to prepare her/his students for their new responsibilities. He/she has to draw up a plan to share out tasks as the subject matter requires organising both the distribution of assignments and the scheduling.

Giving up his/her monopoly as a provider of information he/she can invest more time and energy into other matters such as a closer observation of his students’ social behaviour and a more detailed analysis of their individual powers of concentration and intellect. In sum: everybody involved is given a chance to learn more about themselves and the others.