Curriculum Overview

General Structure

The curriculum is divided into five curricular levels.
Levels I - III, the so-called sequenced courses, must be taken consecutively.
Levels IV - V are non-sequenced courses, except that Text in Context, a level IV course, is strongly recommended before students enroll in other non-sequenced courses at Level IV and, ultimately, in Level V courses.
On this page we provide a summary of the level-specific instructional learning goals that characterize the curriculum.
For details on the courses themselves, consult the syllabi for the courses provided on this portion of the departmental web page by using the back-button on your browser (particularly for Levels I - III syllabi and unit goals and overviews) or see the department's complete listing of courses.
Another way to understand the curricular progression is through the assessment practices that have been developed as a result of its content-/text-/genre-base as it is realized in genre-derived tasks. A particularly detailed view of the integration of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment can be gained by exploring the department's approach to developing and assessing writing.

Curricular Details


Level I: Contemporary Germany

The overall goal of Level I courses is to help students develop basic knowledge about contemporary Germany and, through that content, acquire linguistic knowledge that allows them to feel comfortable thinking of themselves as users of German, in reading, listening, writing, and speaking. Level I courses introduce students to culturally appropriate notions of self, family, and broader groups in society; to occupations and pastimes (school, work, and free time); and to activities and events in present and past story-telling. Comparisons between the and current German life and society build the foundation for cultural literacy and familiarity with the German-speaking world.

Reflecting the broad conceptualization of a content-oriented and task-based approach which characterizes the entire curriculum, Level I incorporates critical reading and writing right from the beginning. Students work with a variety of genres and themes in a variety of media, in comprehension and production. These range from personal and interactional to routine public. At the end of the year students should be able to communicate effectively beyond immediate and person-centered areas of interest and should be able to incorporate broad cultural knowledge into short presentations on a variety of topics and issues.

As instruction engages students in meaningful activities it also attends to gradual but continual development of accurate and differentiated language abilities in all modalities. Instructional interventions at Level I emphasize effective and meaningful communication in which linguistic accuracy is an important long-term goal though it cannot yet be attained. Creativity, negotiation of meaning and form, and sensitivity to different social contexts and for different tasks are encouraged. They build the foundation for long-term achievement.

Throughout the level, assessment formats incorporate all modalities (for details see Assessment.

Level II: Experiencing the German-speaking World

Level II courses are organized topically to familiarize students with the cultures of the German-speaking world. They place particular emphasis on the story in a German context, ? personal (e.g., diary), public (e.g., journalistic writing) and literary stories (e.g., short stories). Cross-cultural comparisons between the and the German-speaking countries provide a backdrop for engagement with the German texts.

Students begin to develop self-expression across a variety of culturally and politically significant topics, thereby increasing both accuracy and fluency of comprehension and production. The themes and topics expand on those in Level I, in terms of complexity and variety (students work with selected episodes from a German television series, Unser Lehrer Doktor Specht); in terms of length (students read a first complete novel, Die Geschichte von Herrn Sommer); in terms of processing focus (a slow shift from sentence to discourse-level processing); and in terms of presumed cultural knowledge that invites a number of perspectives on a given issue. These content and language challenges ? comparisons, contrasts, causality, imagination, and speculation ? lay the groundwork for the historical treatment of stories and histories in Level III.

At this level, partner and group work is central to enhancing students? conversational and negotiating abilities. Students complete formal speaking and writing tasks that focus on specific topical issues and language features as exemplified in the texts.

Level III: German Stories, German Histories

Level III courses are designed to give students a thorough understanding of contemporary German history (1945-present) and contemporary social issues, while improving their language use in German in all four modalities (writing, reading, speaking, listening).

The thematic and topical sequence which deals with the period 1945 to the present emphasizes personal and public stories throughout German history, while connecting oral with written narratives. Students improve their ability to narrate, compare and contrast, and establish causal relationships in speaking and writing. Through the integration of all modalities, this course promotes accuracy, fluency, and complexity in language use. The development of advanced reading and writing is considered the primary means for expanding students? language abilities at this level of instruction.

Students continue to enlarge their repertoire of strategies for processing meaning and form, develop criteria for evaluating their language performance under different conditions, and to set both short-term and long-term objectives for the improvement of their own specific abilities, knowledge, and interests. Independent and group projects are central for all these aspects of learning. Speaking ability is enhanced through class discussion, group work and panel discussions. By incorporating a range of textual sources and tasks, students have the opportunity to move from personal forms of communication to more public use of language.

Students are encouraged to take increasing responsibility for their own learning. The courses focus on a theme for an extended period, so that students encounter multiple perspectives and genres in both written and oral forms. Students acquire theme-related vocabulary through repeated use in integrated tasks. By reading independently and working collaboratively through texts, students increase their understanding of textual organization and the way German lexicogrammatical structures and patterns are used to express ideas both orally and in writing. Students become increasingly adept in shifting between personal and public forms of communication.


A small group of courses has been designated as Level IV courses. With their focus on discourse features and textuality, all Level IV courses build upon a number of intricately interrelated and at times sequenced pedagogical tasks that raise studentsí awareness of and ability to use those features. These tasks focus on prominent characteristics of a range of genres in the secondary discourses of public life (monologic and interactive), textual organization according to underlying cognitive structures, the relationship of author stance and intentionality to language use, expanded lexicogrammatical patterns, and differentiated thematic vocabulary, including, as appropriate, special characteristics of literary language. Students' ability to produce high-level oral and written language is enhanced through the opportunity to practice and perform a series of previously identified subcomponents or subskills (e.g., through class activities and/or homework assignments). In both cases group feedback as well as individual feedback are essential. With written work, feedback is provided on both content and language, according to previously specified, differentiated weighting of language features that are characteristic of advanced levels of language use, and differentiated expectations with regard to accuracy. Whole class and individual feedback indicates areas in need of improvement that students attend to in their rewrites. In the course of the semester increased emphasis is placed on nuanced forms of expression through semantic fields that tend to occur in particular genres/registers/contexts; and on fixed collocations, idioms, metaphors, and the structuring impact of grammatical metaphors that reflect linguistic-cultural preferences. In this fashion the relation between linguistic code and culture is increasingly part of studentsí metacognitive awareness of their L2 as well as their L1 language use.

At this level, the curriculum's overall emphasis on students' responsibility for their own learning becomes even more prominent, as students set specific individual learning goals within the course goals and objectives. The following are highly recommended practices: an initial questionnaire that reflects studentsí perception of their abilities at the beginning of the course; a mid-semester meeting that provides individual feedback in line with the studentís personal learning goals and allows for adjustments in pedagogical approach and instructional emphases for the whole group on the part of the teacher; and a final retrospective questionnaire and, where possible, conference.

As students progress through the curriculum their performance profiles are likely to become highly divergent even though they are appropriately enrolled in a particular course. This means that instructors and students, as a group and as individuals, need to work out a plan that allows the whole class and individual students to attain the stated global goals for the course. At the same time this individually tailored plan takes into consideration that a number of aspects of an individual studentís performance need to be brought into careful balance. In general, these are background knowledge, cognitive abilities, particularly forms of academic and textual literacy, and linguistic abilities. With regard to the latter, there is strong evidence for a need to balance carefully diverse extended and focused speaking, reading, and writing tasks and to differentiate these further with regard to task complexity, task difficulty and performance conditions. It is critical to continue to work toward a balance between accuracy, fluency, and complexity of language use, something that is crucial for continued interlanguage development toward target language norms by the advanced learner.

Given the different foci of the Level IV courses, the varying profiles of each class, and of individual students in it, instructors must assure that learners do, in fact, follow a plan that is most appropriate for them and must recognize students' engagement and success toward those goals.

Level IV - Text in Context

This is the last course in the required sequence, highly recommended for all students, but particularly for majors. Working in depth with three topics, it is designed to help students gain a level of fluency and accuracy in German that enables them to live and study in a German-speaking country.

Referring back to the primarily contextualized, highly personal stories of Level III, it deliberately privileges public and academic forms of language, even in daily classroom interaction. For example, it makes explicit linkages between the literate forms of language use in reading and writing and prestige forms of oral expression in public life. Through this integrated text-based approach students gradually shift their language from the more congruent forms of expression that characterize oral language to the more metaphorical forms of expression in public fora, oral and written (see Halliday, 1985). They acquire differentiated vocabulary and greater grammatical accuracy, fluency, and complexity by focusing on the relationship between meaning/content and linguistic forms. They become sensitive to language use with different textual genres in different communicative situations where the participants have different communicative goals. They emulate such language use in a variety of assignments. Work inside and outside the classroom includes: textual analysis and interpretation for enhancing reading comprehension in both intensive and extensive reading; creative, journalistic, essayistic, and academic writing in a process-writing approach; and listening comprehension with diverse audiovisual materials through outlining and note taking.

Students begin to develop the kinds of literacy abilities that are at the heart of summarizing, interpreting, critiquing, presenting and substantiating an opinion or argument, and practice these orally and in writing. Such language use is critical for study abroad as well as any other professional context in which the German language is used.

At present, there are five additional courses that are categorized as Level IV courses: Issues and Trends; Liebe, Lust und Leidenschaft; Berlin Stories; Murder, Mysteries, and Madness; Business German.

Level V (All Remaining Courses in the Curriculum)

Building on the work begun at Level IV, these courses comprise the remainder of the offerings in the undergraduate curriculum. They draw on all areas of academic expertise of the faculty and incorporate various theoretical perspectives and genres. Students may take any of these courses in German Studies and/or German Linguistics after completing at least two Level IV courses. Reflecting language use that characterizes a given topic, they emphasize different aspects of language, from performance (e.g., in a drama courses), to beginning analytical and research abilities (i.e., through reading research articles in a certain field of inquiry), to being able to connect language use with a socio-political and socio-cultural agenda. Throughout, intellectual exploration of the topics is connected with attention to developing appropriate literacy and writing skills in conjunction with textual analysis, and accuracy and complexity of language use.

Two broad areas of genres provide the basis for a range of tasks that support students' development of academic literacy: classroom-based genres along with their subcomponents and specific subskills, and "real-world" genres. Among the former are various forms of note-taking; extensive reading for extracting evidence; plot summaries; outlining with attention to rhetorical organization; determining, through rhetorical and linguistic evidence, author stance and position toward theoretical approaches; establishing the validity and reliability of data, conclusions, and inferences; the nature of argument framing. Among real world genres for Level V courses are book reviews, literature review of a number of thematically coherent secondary works; abstracting; evaluative and interpretive comments on a primary or secondary work or sub-component thereof (scene of a drama); a newspaper article for a lay audience; a conference proposal)

As appropriate, faculty teaching these courses mentor students through the extended process of writing a research paper, from topic selection and delimitation, to bibliography preparation, preparation of drafts, and final submission of the polished paper.

October 24, 2007; updated June 30, 2010; revised July 2011