Teaching “Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs” (DW)

Here are additional materials and activities I have created for teaching Deutsche Welle’s Top-Thema module entitled “Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs“. The original Deutsche Welle materials can be accessed from the theme webpage, or the text and exercises (pdf) and audio (mp3) can be downloaded for offline use.

In the post Teaching with Deutsche Welle’s Top-Thema and Video Thema, I outline how I use these Deutsche Welle modules in an intermediate- to advanced-level courses with varied goals. Visit that page to see how my students begin to work with the materials Deutsche Welle provides. Here I am offering and explaining the extension activities that I use (before and) after we have exhausted all of the excellent materials Deutsche Welle provides to accompany the text. Downloads of all exercises described here are linked at the bottom of the page.

Identifying time

After students were familiar with the article from having done our intial work with it, I had them go through and determine whether each sentence referred to something that happened in the past, a present state of affairs, or a future event.

Teaching Deutsche Welle Top-Thema "Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs" - ZeitenThis is not a grammar activity. Students are not identifying verb tenses here (even though all of the sentences containing past tense refer to past events). Since German can and often does use the present tense to refer to future time, students have to be mindful of the context and reflect on what they are reading. This activity presents some opportunities. Consider these sentences, for instance:

Seit einem Vertrag mit der EU im Jahr 2002 sind jährlich etwa 80.000 EU-Bürger ins Land gezogen.
This sentence clearly refers to the past, but includes the past since the year 2002 up to the present. The present perfect tense can have this connotation in German, and the use of a prepositional phrase with seit sets the context for the concept of continual past time.

Das kann auch einen Einfluss auf die Wirtschaftsbeziehungen zwischen der Schweiz und der EU haben.
This sentence caused some initial disagreement and discussion among my students. The sentence points to possible future consequences. But in rereading the sentence, the students had to concur that the verb kann refers to present possibility. It means that the situation right now, as it currently stands, has the potential to affect the economic relationship between the EU and Switzerland.

Der Präsident des Europaparlaments Martin Schulz sagt: “…”
Clearly, if the man is being quoted, his statement is something that occurred in the past. So what effect does it have when the writer uses the present tense to relate a past statement? The students decided that using the present tense makes the quoted statement seem to reflect the president’s general sentiment. It makes his statement seem more valid and relevant for the current time and not just a fleeting reaction he had in the past.

This kind of activity engages students more deeply with the language of the text and spurs them to reflect more deeply on its content. It also brings linguistic patterns to their attention and makes them more aware of how choice of language and expression affects what is being communicated.


Vocabulary definitions

Students work in pairs or small groups to define and explain selected words and phrases from the text. They should always reference the article during this sort of activity, because seeing the word in context aids memory, makes the concept more concrete, and reinforces correct usage of words and expressions.

Teaching Deutsche Welle Top-Thema "Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs" - Definitionen

In-class vocabulary work is always oral, and not just written. I feel that students ought to take advantage of the classroom environment where they readily have German-speaking conversational partners to practice their speaking skills. In addition, this kind of cooperative give and take helps them practice useful negotiation and collaboration skills. Students also have a lot to learn from one another and this gives them the chance to share and have to explain what they know in German. Teaching others is one of the most effective ways of reinforcing material, so all participants in this activity reap benefits.


Vocabulary flash card game

DOWNLOAD Vokabelkarten.

On Day 2 of working with the text, students work with vocabulary again. This time, they use flashcards containing vocabulary words. Sitting in groups of 4 (ideally), pairs of students take turns trying to describe the word on their card to the other pair, but without using the word or any root contained within the word. For example, if the word is Arbeitnehmer, students are prohibited from using the words Arbeit and nehmen.

The words can be copied onto slips of paper or index cards. Or you can print my flash card set using three pieces of paper or cardstock. I usually divide my stack into piles and give a pile to each group, making sure I have an extra pile. As they finish with the pile, I give them the extra pile and take their old cards for the group that finishes next. Or you can also print multiple sets if you have a lot of students. Use a different color paper for each set so it’s easy to keep them separated. If you want to turn it into a game, have students keep track of which pair or which student correctly guesses the most words.



Students explore the content further using a set of content and discussion questions I put together. First, they discuss answers in small groups, and then we talk about some of the issues as a class. They have the chance to gather and express their thoughts in German in a small group first.

Teaching Deutsche Welle Top-Thema "Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs" - Diskussion

I like to show a map of the EU so students can check themselves on question #1. (Mitgliedstaaten der EU)

One thing this article does not explain is that the small, far-right Schweizerische Volkspartei was the only political party supporting the anti-immigration initiative. It’s important for students to know this. The article also does not spend a lot of time explaining why there are so many foreigners in Switzerland and why Switzerland needs them. Unter the treaty agreement, EU citizens were allowed to move to Switzerland, if they had already secured a job there. (It says so in the second sentence of the article.)

It’s useful to read about the details of the situation to help fill in information gaps during the discussion. The unshortened version of the article is available on the Deutsche Welle site (Enttäuschung in der EU über das Schweizer Zuwanderungsvotum). Deutsche Welle also published an informative commentary (Kommentar: Schweizer Abschottung trifft Europa) explaining the faulty thinking that prompted Swiss citizens to pass the initiative (though just barely) and suggesting broader consequences for all of Europe.

If you have a mix of student levels, you could assign the above two texts to the advanced students ahead of time and make them responsible for supplying additional arguments and information during the discussion.


Here are the downloads for “Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs”:

Weitere Übungen zu “Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs”

Vokabelkarten zu “Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs”

And the original Deutsche Welle Top-Thema page in HTML, with audio and comprehension exercises, is here:”Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs“.


2 comments on “Teaching “Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs” (DW)
  1. Henna K says:

    Hallo, danke für diese DW tipps! Aber auf diese seite gehen die linken nach “Europa wird alt”, nicht nach Schweiz und Isolation… Viele Grüsse aus Zürich, H

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