German is notorious for its complex grammar, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a drag!
So take a step away from the textbook, and let’s explore some ways to liven up your classroom.
With just a pinch of imagination, German grammar can be taught with music, podcasts, apps and…games!
Wouldn’t you love to play some fun games with your class – that also double as a grammar learning tool?
Look no further, we’ve got the top classroom games for the trickiest of German grammar.
Why Play Games to Learn German Grammar?
Everyone begins life learning through play; we start by imitating adult speech and behavior as we figure out the mysterious world around us. Working on grammar through play has several advantages over more explanation-based approaches.
In this way, games can be fully immersive experiences where students can understand and use the language actively. Games can be a crucial part of a German immersion classroom, complete with German books, stories and authentic German videos. For that, I recommend FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Studies have shown that students are more responsive to games than straight-up grammar exercises; it allows them to get out of “classroom” mode. Unlike listening to a lecture, play involves a lot of concentration, demanding that the brain work hard on several levels, and increasing the chances of retention of the target material.
The competitive aspect can provide added motivation for students who tend to find grammar dry and uninteresting. Without further ado, viel Spaß (have fun)!
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Games for Two-way German Prepositions
The Wechselpräpositionen are probably second in line for the crown when it comes to “Most Difficult Grammar Topics”. They require the student to keep a lot of things straight at once: the correct verb (stehen – stand, liegen – lie, legen – lay, stellen – place, stecken – stick, etc.), the names of the prepositions and the correct case of the object of the preposition. Until German decides to do away with case (I give it another 500 years), this isn’t going to get easier. However, it can be more fun to learn!
The Preposition Dice Toss
Create three customized six-sided die. For the first, replace traditional numbers with the names of six two-way prepositions (an – on, unter – under, vor – in front of, über – over/above, hinter – behind, neben – near/next to, in – in, auf – on top of), repeating where necessary.
The second die represents six subjects (die Lampe – lamp, das Buch – book, etc.), and the third shows potential objects of the preposition (der Tisch – table, das Regal – shelf, etc.).
Students roll all three dice and build a sentence with the results. For example, if a student rolls “die Lampe,” “auf,” and “der Tisch,” they can build the sentence, “Ich stelle/du stellst die Lampe auf den Tisch” (I/you place the lamp on the table) or “Die Lampe steht auf dem Tisch” (The lamp is “standing” on the table).
If you like, you can create a separate die for dative and accusative. Guides for making dice, including one pre-made die, can be found here: Make Dice!
Design Your Dream Apartment
If available, bring a dollhouse (with plenty of cardboard doll-furniture) to class. If not, create a digital house to show your students complete with digital accessories. You can do this in powerpoint or the old-fashioned chalk board way.
Start with a fully furnished house and have students describe what furniture is where, such as “das Bild hängt an der Wand” (The picture is hanging on the wall). In the next step, remove all the furniture and ask students to build sentences describing how they would arrange everything in their dream apartment.
Depending on the level of the class, you might want to keep a list of the furniture names and verbs handy for easy access.
Games for Learning German Case
Case! That dreaded enemy of the German student, the cause for so many tears of frustration. Often case is applied “senselessly,” as in idiomatic expressions such as “auf der Lauer.” But its original purpose was to assign roles to members of a sentence, such as agent (subject), patient (direct object) and recipient (indirect object).
For beginning students, the crucial distinction is between nominative and accusative cases. Here are some games that focus on just that!
Describe the Drawing
Divide students up into pairs and present each pair with a drawing. The drawings should present a picture of a person wearing and carrying objects that the students are familiar with from their vocabulary. Be sure to throw in some tough things like particular hairdos and mustaches.
The student with the drawing must describe it to their partner (without showing it to them!). The listening partner’s job is to draw, as faithfully as possible, the person being described. Students will be forced to use both nominative sentences, like “der Mann ist dick” (The man is fat) and accusative, as in “der Mann trägt einen Pulli” (The man is wearing a sweater).
Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst…
Ah, the classic German “I Spy”! A great way to flex those accusative muscles (not to mention question-forming on the side). As in the classic game, have students spy objects in the classroom to be guessed at with a series of questions. This can be played in pairs or as a class.
To work on specific vocabulary words, you might want to have your students pick a noun from a hat instead of describing something in the classroom. If they’re learning about furniture, you might put in things like Tisch (table), Bett (bed), or Kommode (chest of drawers).
Or, put some interesting objects in an opaque bag that the students can reach into and feel around in. I like to use bottle openers, staplers, flashlights, USB-sticks – anything that the students probably aren’t familiar with. Without knowing the name of the object in German, the students have to describe it as best they can. Other students ask questions and guess.
Games for Learning German Adjective Endings
Time for the hands-down winner of the “Most Difficult Grammar Topic” contest, ladies and gentlemen: the adjective ending. When an adjective comes before a noun in German, it must agree with that noun in both case and gender. Even if the German case system doesn’t agree with your students.
One student stands and calls out a letter of the alphabet, followed by a noun starting with this letter and accompanied by a descriptive adjective. For example, “S! Schöne Schlange!” (S! Beautiful snake!).
The student then picks another student and calls out another letter for them to use. In the second round, the direct article can be added. For example, “S! Die schöne Schlange.”
This straightforward game can be adapted for a range of levels. Beginning students can be allowed to pick any adjective, rather than follow the pattern of alliteration. This is a great activity for getting students to speak adjective endings, rather than regurgitate them for a test.
A classic activity, the Lückentext can be adapted to fit all your adjective-ending needs. Simply choose a level-appropriate text (such as the opening paragraph of “Die Verwandlung” for intermediate-advanced students) and remove the adjective endings, replacing them with blanks.
For example: An dem Tag trug er ein__ schön__ Hut (On that day he wore a lovely hat). At the expert level, you can leave off everything including the direct article, forcing your students to recall the gender of the nouns.
Irregular German Verb Games
Irregular verbs are, well, irregular, and have to be memorized from the get-go. The sooner those forms are stuck in your students’ heads, the sooner they can start fluidly using them in conversation.
What better way to memorize something than with a round of Memory? The classic game can easily be adapted to help students get those irregular verb forms under control! Create an even number of verb pairs (or quadruplets) to be placed on cards.
Examples of pairs could be brechen – brach (to break – broke), while quadruplets might be brechen – bricht – gebrochen – brach (to break – breaks – broken – broke). Place all of the cards face-down on the table. Students take turns turning over two (or four) cards at a time. When they find a match, they keep the cards and get a point. It’s important to make sure that students are repeating the patterns verbally as they collect cards.
To spice things up, add similar-sounding verbs to make sure students aren’t just matching consonants!
Hopefully I’ve helped convince you that you need to start integrating grammar games into your curriculum ASAP. Your students will certainly thank you for it!