5 Great German Listening Activities That Don’t Involve Drills
“Listening activities” seem like an oxymoron, right?
Either you sit and listen, or you actively do something—how can it be both?
And isn’t listening what your students do the entire class period, anyway?
You tell them about language, about rules, words and context, and they take notes and follow your lecture.
So, is listening really an activity?
Well, yes and no.
Listening can be passive, but to get the maximum effect for your classroom, it should be truly active. Engage your students in active listening and perform listening activities with them, and they will thank you—especially after you give them the five listening activities covered in this article.
Don’t Skip Listening Day
When I was sitting in language classes, I was always curious what the language I studied really sounded like. All I ever heard was my teacher, who was easy enough to understand, but I often wondered whether it would be just as easy to understand in the real world. Out there, with native speakers who weren’t trying to slow down or break down their speech for me.
Let’s face it. Listening to native speakers can be intimidating, but it is pretty important. Because most people do not talk as slow and as clearly as the speakers in German language learning material. For this reason, it is important to give your students ample listening activities to get them used to understanding German when it is spoken naturally.
What’s more, active listening exercises build confidence and reinforce what your students have already learned.
It allows them to feel the flow of a natural conversation and to internalize the way native speakers choose and pronounce their words. If you require your students not just to listen but also to react, they will benefit more and memorize better; and they will gradually feel safer and more comfortable speaking German.
Choosing the Right Resources for Listening
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to new German teachers is to not rely solely on teaching materials for your listening activities. Often, they are too deliberate, too technical and too slow. They do not reflect how German sounds in the wild.
The better and more exciting way to go is to use authentic resources. There are authentic German audio and video sources everywhere you look. Whether it is German pop songs or good, old-fashioned radio, there is a wide range of German material online that you can integrate into your listening lessons.
5 Great German Listening Activities That Don’t Involve Drills
Now that we established the importance of authentic listening resources, let’s look at how you can create fun and engaging listening activities in your German classroom!
The following activities can be implemented into German-language classrooms of any level and are easy to understand, easy to set-up and great fun to try.
1. Learning by Listening: Simon Says
Sitting all the time is bad for your health and bad for your posture. It is also bad for learning, as concentration wanes and that sweet, sweet nap on the desk beckons. Wake your students up by getting them to move around!
Simon says is a simple activity that doesn’t require any preparation and will really help to turn listening into a fun kinesthetic exercise.
Have everyone up on their feet and start the game. You tell “Simon sagt…” and follow it with an activity prompt.
For example, “Simon sagt … klatscht in die Hände,” and everyone has to clap their hands. Whoever is too slow or doesn’t get it has to sit down for the rest of the round, while you continue with increasing speed. The last student standing can be the prompter for the next round, or you continue prompting yourself and award points and rewards for those who survive the most rounds.
It is a great way to teach verbs, body parts and action words.
The German variants of this game are “Kommando Pimperle” and “Alle Vögel fliegen hoch,” which are played sitting at a table and require sharp listening and quick comprehension as well.
2. Telephones and German Whispers
This activity is known under a variety of names in different countries, including “Telephone” in the U.S. and “Flüsterpost” (Whisper Mail) in Germany.
You probably know how it works:
- One person whispers a message into the ear of another.
- This person relays in the same way to the next student, and the relay continues until you get the last person.
- At the end, you often get a vastly different phrase than you put in at the beginning.
To use this for your German language classroom, divide your students into two teams and give both teams the same message in German. Their task is to relay the message with maximum accuracy. To do this, they will need to listen very carefully to lose as little as possible on the way.
If you want to make the activity more physical and more competitive, turn it into “running dictation.” Each team has a writer sitting down at a table, and runners who—at your signal—sprint to the other side of the room, try to memorize as much as possible from a pre-printed text and relay it back to the writer, who takes it down on paper.
At the end, award points for speed as well as accuracy, including content, spelling and punctuation.
Another variant of this can be done with a longer story, which the first student reads aloud to the second in a separate room. Then, the first student comes back, and a third one enters the separate room to have the story retold by the second. This is continued until all students are done, with the final student recounting the story to the whole class.
Have work as a group to write down or visualize the parts of the story they recognize, and then trace the story’s evolution throughout the different participants.
- What has been kept and what has been altered?
- Where have the story elements changed?
- What has been misunderstood?
Take stories from the internet and try this multiple times. Your students will improve their language skills without even trying.
3. Using German Newscasts
Many Germans listen to the news, and so should your students. Listening to newscasts is an awesome and authentic way to learn about language and the topics that loom large for the German public.
Slow-tune the News
German newscasts don’t always have the easiest language, and although they are spoken in clear High German, they may be too fast for early language learners to understand. But there are good news resources for beginners. You can start off listening to daily news spoken in a slow way.
Not news, but there is also a podcast that offers a similar service of “slower” German with clear pronunciation and handy transcripts you can use with beginners, before you graduate to regular-speed.
Catch the Gist
Listen to the news beforehand and create a quiz for your students to see how much they understand. It will motivate them to listen more actively and retain information, especially if they play against each other or if there is a reward for the class high score.
You can also organize a debate between teams or individual groups of students. Assign them positions and discuss the pros and cons of different news items and current events; maybe have a third group try to write it all down and turn it into a short article or press notice.
4. Turning Interviews into Listening Activities
If you want to make listening activities harder for your students, cut them off from visual feedback like lip movements, gestures and body posture. Have them sit back to back in pairs, and have one student interview the other.
The interviewer asks questions and writes down the interviewees’ answers to the best of their understanding. There is a number of ways to conduct this activity:
- Getting to Know Each Other: To start, maybe keep it casual. It can be a fun way for your students to get to know each other and learn about their backgrounds, hobbies and interests. There is no role-playing involved here, just have students ask personal questions and respond with personal answers.
- Aren’t You Famous? Another option is to provide the interviewees with a sheet of answers or a short sketch of the person they are playing. Have them impersonate a movie star, a person from history or even a fictional character, and suddenly the whole activity will be more fun—and it will help greatly if you plan to include said person later in your curriculum.
5. Listening to Directions
The importance of navigation is often overlooked, but if your students plan to be in a German-speaking country at any time (and they likely do!), they will need to find their way around. And they will need to do it in German.
Take a German city map or go on Google maps to choose a location in Germany. Once you have chosen a location, print out the map to give to your students—make sure you print enough copies! I recommend dividing students into groups of four or five so that they can work together.
Begin by handing the maps to your students and giving directions. Their goal is to find the place you have in mind by listening to your directions and navigating a city.
Make sure there are street names and landmarks on the map to help them out. It will teach them careful listening, directional words and a good bit about the layout of German cities. To make it more visually interesting, have them take a virtual 360-degree tour through Berlin or use Google Streetview to give them a glimpse of any place on the map.
Don’t Get Lost
Teaching advanced students? Make the activity even more challenging—don’t give directions straight away. Instead, have them listen to a German conversation and extract the main directions out of it. You can find ready-made audio files with transcriptions online, or you can record your own with a colleague. All you need to do is play them once or twice for your students, and then have them find the location you want to get to and the route to get there, either by public transport or on foot.
As with other German activities, listening exercises can really liven up the classroom and make both teaching and learning more fun. Listening might not be the be-all-end-all to mastering a language, but your students won’t get far without it. And if they can listen properly, they are already well on their way to communicating in German.