16 Unforgettable German Classroom Activities to Power Up Language Learning
Teaching should not be one-directional—your students can be active and happy participants.
Research has concluded that active learning stimulates more neural connections in the brain and leads to better memory retention.
What you need are great classroom activities. Play a verb game or a number game with your students, have them playfully explore grammar or use immersive methods to engage them.
If you are looking for some fresh activity ideas for your German class, you have come to the right place.
- 1. The Icebreaker
- 2. Vocabulary Dice
- 3. Singalong and Song Lyrics
- 4. Crosswords and Word Scrambles
- 5. Going Native
- 6. Board Games
- 7. Arts and Crafts
- 8. Roleplaying
- 9. Cooking Class
- 10. Trail of Post-Its
- 11. At the Movies
- 12. Who Am I?
- 13. Four Corners
- 14. Organized Chaos
- 15. Mock Dialogue
- 16. Hot Potato
- The Many Benefits of Classroom Activities
- The Most Effective Follow-up to German Classroom Activities
1. The Icebreaker
What better way to kick off your lesson than with an icebreaker?
For this simple classroom activity, randomly assign pairs of students and task them with finding out something about their partner in German. This is a good time for students to learn each other’s names and get to know their peers better by asking about hobbies and interests.
After the pairing phase, everyone presents their findings to the whole class.
Another variant is to equip all students with bingo sheets and have them walk around to find someone to put into each box; the student with the most boxes filled wins a small prize.
2. Vocabulary Dice
This is one of the easiest possible classroom games. You name an English word and ask a student to provide the German translation for it. If they get it right (one try!), they get to roll a six-sided die and acquire a number of points according to the result; if they don’t, no points for them.
Go through all participants until the round is over. Whoever has the most points at the end of a predetermined number of rounds (5 or 10 are good numbers) wins the game.
You can divide your students into groups or let them play against each other individually. If you don’t want to cover vocabulary alone, ask about grammar rules, German traditions or the names of German cities.
Oh, and if everyone forgot their dice that day, roll some digital dice instead.
3. Singalong and Song Lyrics
Everybody loves music, so add some multimedia variety to your lessons by having your students listen to German songs! You can even let them try to transcribe and translate the lyrics.
A good source for this is music channels like Digster Pop, which collects the official music videos of new German songs and archives them in a variety of playlists (for artists, genres, top tens and so on).
For bonus benefits, bring up the songs whenever you discuss vocabulary that appears in their lyrics—it will help your students remember.
Another option would be the German songs and music videos on FluentU since they come with interactive subtitles and vocabulary lists for learners. You can go over these word for word with your students:
It’s an engaging way to learn for your students, plus each video comes with a multimedia quiz and vocabulary list. With a teacher account, you can also assign videos and quizzes that can be completed in-class or at home.
4. Crosswords and Word Scrambles
This classroom activity works best if you divide your students into groups and pit them against each other. Take a crossword puzzle from an internet source or the online version of a newspaper and give a printout to each group. Then, let them solve it as teams (maybe with the help of a dictionary) and give a small prize to the fastest group.
You will be amazed at how interested your students suddenly become in new vocabulary!
A variant of this is the word scramble where you have the teams compete to unscramble a letter salad you write on the board. You then give an award to the team that correctly unscrambles three words the quickest.
5. Going Native
Since you probably cannot take your whole class on a field trip through Germany, why not invite Germany to the classroom? Find a native German speaker and introduce them to your students, then have them do a Q&A session.
If you need help finding a native German speaker, contact the German, Austrian or Swiss embassy if there is one not too far away. You can also check and see if there is a local Goethe Institut or even a German expat living and working nearby.
It is best to offer a framework to get this going. Set two or three topics you know your German speaker can talk about, like:
- Their job
- Differences between Germany and your country
Then have your students take turns asking the speaker a question in German.
To get the most out of this activity, discuss the results afterwards or ask your students to write up a summary of their insights.
6. Board Games
Playing a board game with your students might not get them out of their seats, but it will put them on the edge of it.
There are numerous German board games you could play, from Mensch ärgere dich nicht to Die Siedler von Catan—the German love for board games is famous and has produced countless classics. Playing them in a classroom setting allows you to introduce new words in a playful context, and it requires your students to pay close attention and understand the rules in German.
If you want to get an even greater teaching effect, you can choose a game that’s specifically designed for teaching, like Alles über mich (All About Me) or Familie (Family).
The rules are simple, but your students still need to listen and be alert. In addition to that, they have to tell something in German about themselves or their family on nearly every field they land on.
These games are also faster than many of the more complex commercial board games and don’t need any setup except for a printed-out playing field, some tokens and regular dice.
7. Arts and Crafts
Understanding instructions in German is a crucial step to language mastery. For one session, turn your classroom into a workshop and have your students create something, either on their own or in groups.
Present them with a series of blueprints for different arts and crafts projects and make them choose one object to build. After its completion, let your students explain what it is, how they went about it and what significance it holds in German culture. It could be an eagle, Lederhosen or a windmill.
To learn German properly, your students should try their hand in conversations or more interactive situations.
Decide on a scenario from a murder mystery to daily life at the grocery store and provide your students with a handout containing the basic background of the scenario. Then, have them play it out either until they reach a predetermined goal (like using key vocabulary or holding a basic conversation) or until a certain amount of time has passed.
Depending on the size of your classroom and your scenario, you can either have everyone participate at once or have a small group act out the scenario while the others serve as the audience.
9. Cooking Class
Often, food in the classroom is frowned upon. But why should it be? Go online and download recipes to analyze and discuss with your students. Have them translate the ingredients and the cooking methods, memorize the order of things or try to find equivalent dishes from their own experience.
Then, if you really want to involve them, try cooking in the classroom or as homework, maybe have one student prepare a snack or finger-food item for each session.
10. Trail of Post-Its
This activity requires more preparation but is certainly worth the effort. You need to formulate ten to twenty questions related to your current curriculum and put them on an equal number of post-its/pieces of paper. Each piece of paper also has the solution from the previous station on its backside.
Now, every student starts at one station, checks out their question, writes the answer on a piece of paper and proceeds to the station that corresponds to that answer.
For example, the questions could be about vocabulary and the number of letters in the answer could correspond to the number of the next station. Alternatively, you could have factual questions corresponding to stations named after objects, or questions about colors corresponding to color-coded stations. It does not matter how, you just need something in the answer that tells your students where to go.
If they don’t find their answer at the back of the Post-it they went to, they have to go back to the original station and figure out the right answer to move forward. A student finishes when they complete the loop and arrive back at their original station.
11. At the Movies
This activity might bring back school memories: watching a movie. Sometimes, it is a documentary that delivers valuable insights. At other times, it is shorthand for a teacher who did not prepare a lesson!
But you can turn watching a movie into a classroom activity that engages your students. Do this by giving your students several questions or topics to look out for. Watch a short movie or a German commercial. Afterwards, have a discussion round where everyone reads out their notes and compares and contrasts opinions with each other.
12. Who Am I?
“Wer bin ich?” is a popular German office or party game, and you don’t need much to adapt it to the classroom.
Each student gets a post-it with the name of a historical German person taped to their forehead and has to find out who they are. To do so, they can only ask (in German, of course!) yes/no questions from other people, who can see and read their names.
Questions like “Am I still alive?” (“Lebe ich noch?“), “Was I born before 1900?” (“Bin ich vor 1900 geboren worden?“) or “Am I a scientist?” (“Bin ich ein Wissenschaftler?“) are all perfectly acceptable. As long as it can be answered with either yes or no, everything goes.
You can either have your students ask questions in turn or give them a limited number of questions (10 is reasonable) they can shoot off in a row. Whoever manages to get it first or with the least amount of questions wins!
This is naturally not limited to historical personalities: you could also assign every student a profession, a German city, a Bundesland etc.
13. Four Corners
You ask a question with four possible answers which correspond to four different corners of the classroom.
Once the question is asked (or projected on the wall), students have 10 seconds to get to the corner with the right answer—and there is no guarantee that following the majority will get them there.
Award one point for each one in the correct corner, and continue playing rounds until one student reaches 10 points (or whatever goal you wish to set).
As an alternative variant, you can choose two corners or two sides of the room and ask true/false questions.
You can even replicate the same activity in the next session but in digital form. Use Socrative to recreate the same questions, then let each student answer them on their phone or laptop. You get immediate feedback and can easily see who answered what for which question.
This can be extremely helpful in identifying areas of knowledge to focus on. Especially if the majority of students get specific questions wrong.
14. Organized Chaos
This one involves a bit of preparation and might be a waste of paper, but it is great fun and most of the prep is part of the game.
You write eight questions that cover the last session’s topic, then copy these questions eight times. You now have 64 sheets of paper, although I would recommend printing several questions on one sheet, so you end up with smaller pages for each question.
Hand out the sheets and ask your students to crumble them and throw them around the room. When the classroom floor is all good and covered in paper balls, your students each get a blank sheet of paper and put the numbers one to eight on it.
Now, the action begins. Against the clock and against each other, all students in the room can rummage through the paper balls, unfold them and write the answer to the question under the corresponding number on their sheet of paper. They then crumble the paper up again and start fresh.
This goes on until the students have each found and answered all eight questions, at which point you can sit them down and go through the questions with them.
Oh, and don’t forget to clean up the room together! Put the wastebasket in the center, and your students might feel like basketball pros while they gather the balls and throw them.
15. Mock Dialogue
This game comes with a prepared worksheet, but you can very easily come up with your own sentences and situations as well.
Using the worksheet, you begin with part one, where your students try to decide on a meaningful continuation of a number of short dialogues.
In part two, the students now work in pairs to come up with their solutions to one of the presented dialogues. Students then enact their dialogue in front of the whole classroom, which is then opened up for discussion.
If your students are more advanced, skip the options and just present them with the first line of dialogue or the question asked. They can then go freestyle and use their creativity to find hilarious or strange answers.
16. Hot Potato
What could be more German than a potato?
Hot Potato or Heiße Kartoffel normally refers to an athletic game where players pass a ball (the titular “hot potato”) around to music or a timer and try to avoid holding the ball when the music or the timer ends.
To adapt this to the classroom, print numbered “hot potato” cards for each of your students and have them sit in a circle. They pass the cards around while a short song plays. And once the music ends, you call a number.
The student with that card of the number you called must then answer a question related to the session’s topic, after which the music plays and the cards are passed again.
You can make it more intriguing by either having students sit out after a wrong answer or assigning points to those who answer correctly.
The Many Benefits of Classroom Activities
Classroom activities offer high immersion and a fun language-learning experience for your students. They loosen up and energize the classroom, plus they are rich in variety.
There are many types of German classroom activities, as there are things to teach and learn. And best of all, you can implement them into any classroom and any lesson to teach everything from vocabulary to grammar.
Because activities force your students into active learning, and because they often address multiple senses, your students will have more brain connections and retain the learned content much better. And on top of all this, activities can bring your students into close contact with German culture and everyday life, preparing them for real-life language application and showing them the value of what they are learning.
The Most Effective Follow-up to German Classroom Activities
Before you jump into trying out the awesome classroom activities above, consider this: You will have to justify them from an educator’s perspective.
Fortunately, this should not be a problem—Just remember that they are not only fun things to do, but are also tied to the language content your students are supposed to learn.
To make sure that the learning process happens, it is important to check your students’ comprehension. At the end of the lesson or the beginning of the next, have them summarize what they learned.
For example, you could have them draw a mind map of the most important facts, give a one-word summary of key concepts (harder than it sounds—if they can do this, they really understand the concept) or go with the 3-2-1 exercise.
This is when you have your students state three facts, ask two questions and give one opinion about what they learned (all parts obligatory).
You can also hand out questionnaires or review cards to the class and have them evaluate the activity, which will give you a feedback loop and the opportunity to finely tune your lessons for the future.
Keep in mind that you can do these activities more than once without boring your students. Just do not continue to do them the same way you did the first time—add a twist.
For example, if the activity had teams, change members periodically.
If there was a time limit, make it shorter. And if there was no time limit, introduce one.
Be creative and mix it up. Repeat these sixteen activities as often as you want, tailoring them to different lessons as you see fit. Your students will thank you!