With the increased use of technology in learning and classrooms, the opportunity presents itself for British and German schools to connect with one another on a regular basis. A virtual exchange allows pupils (in pairs or groups) to interact with each other digitally using, for instance, email or Skype. Such virtual exchanges can be used in class or set as homework. They provide an excellent opportunity for pupils to develop not only their German but also their intercultural, teamwork and digital skills. Notes on online safeguarding are given at the end.

Example activities for virtual exchanges:

  • Video calls: Virtual calls between the groups or pairs, say with 15 minutes of interaction in German and 15 minutes of interaction in English. Each week, the teachers can set a specific topic for discussion.
  • Email exchanges: regular email exchanges between the exchange partners, perhaps with a minimum number of emails to be written set by teachers). Variations are possible: British pupils could write in German while German pupils write in English. Alternatively, emails from both pupils could be written in German one week, while emails the subsequent week are written in English.
  • Joint tasks/projects: the teachers of the two partner schools could set joint tasks. A pupil from the British school and his/her German exchange partner then complete the task/project together. The pupils can work on the task/project together using digital tools such as Google Docs and Skype. Topics could include:
    • Comparison of British and German school life
    • Comparison of British and German culture
    • What individuals can do to combat climate change
    • Comparison of hometowns
    • Creating a tourist brochure for the exchange partner’s hometown
  • Video or written diaries: exchange a few sentences or video clips each on the events of that week
  • Guiding around your school, home town, house, etc.: Commentary in the foreign language
  • Cookery demonstrations: how to cook your favourite food.
  • Games: computer, board or other
  • “Pub” quizzes: these are almost unknown in Germany. Try www.freepubquiz.weebly.com, and www.paulsquiz.com for material in German
  • See also UK-German Connection here for more excellent ideas.
  • Follow this link for a short video on Manchester Grammar School’s virtual exchange: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDcDsu2PimA

Finding a partner school in Germany:

If your school does not have a partner school in Germany, various tools are available to help you find one.

  • The Schools Partner Finder Tool is provided by the British Council to help British schools find a partner school abroad.
  • Partnerschulnetz is an initiative of the German Federal Foreign Office that enables British schools to find a partner school in Germany.

Link to in-person exchanges:

Virtual exchanges can be linked with an in-person school exchange, thus allowing the exchange partners to build a friendship and develop their language skills ahead of a reciprocal visit. Virtual exchanges can also be organised by schools that are not yet in a position to organise an in-person exchange, thus allowing their pupils to nevertheless reap some of the benefits of an exchange.

Online safeguarding

Jessica Houghton of Manchester Grammar School explains how she runs virtual exchanges and ensures online safeguarding when conducting virtual exchanges:

We wrote to parents before we started to explain our process and our expectations. I arranged for my pupils to meet in an online meeting, with me present, together with the host school and their teacher, too. We met fortnightly via Teams, and I set up a shared team for this to work which had all pupils and teachers in the same team, monitored by IT staff as well.

Initially, in these virtual meetings, both teachers and pupils led whole-group presentations. Later in the project, pupils went into virtual breakout rooms in groups of four, and the teachers then circulated in these rooms and monitored the chats – both verbal and written. We used a shared digital notebook for pupils to present work, for example, photos of their town and embedded video clips they had made. Each teacher checked what items pupils were planning to share before the next virtual meeting. In between each meeting, pupils were given a new task to work on, so that they had a focus for the next meeting, which helped them to stay on task. I think this helped give a sense of purpose and pace too.