Eins, zwei, drei…
Learning the numbers in a foreign language is crucial.
But you can’t just make your students count aloud over and over.
They will be bored, and so will you.
So what can you do?
These five German number games will help your students not only memorize their numbers, but use them in fun and practical ways.
Never again will your students stumble through their own phone numbers. That tricky “three-and-twenty” versus “twenty-three” word ordering will start to become second nature.
They will get competitive, they will practice some interdisciplinary skills and, best of all, they will be learning.
5 German Number Games to Make Your Lesson Count
1. Concentration (Memory) Card Game
Create a deck of cards using however many numbers you’d like your students to review.
Each number should be included twice: once in numeral form (1, 2, 3…) and once spelled in German (eins, zwei, drei…). I recommend using at least ten numbers. More is better.
Once those cards are ready, there is a good chance your students will already know the rules to this familiar game. Divide your students into pairs or groups of three. Give each group a deck of cards. The students will shuffle the cards and arrange them face down. Then they will take turns overturning two cards at a time to find and collect matching pairs. After all the pairs have been collected, the student with the most pairs wins.
This game is quick, easy and familiar, and it is effective in helping your students form associations with the written forms of the German numbers. This will make them better at spelling, which (with a little phonics training) can help with pronunciation too.
2. Pampelmuse (Grapefruit)
This is based on the French game of a similar name, Pamplemousse, and may be known to some English speakers as “Buzz.”
Pampelmuse is the German name of a citrus fruit such as a grapefruit or pomelo, though the exact English translation depends on the speaker’s dialect and level of pickiness about botany classifications. The standard German word for grapefruit is die Grapefruit, though, and that is just no fun. Regardless, any German word can be substituted for Pampelmuse here. We are just paying homage to the original French game.
To begin, the teacher selects a number between two and twelve. Let’s take the example of three.
Students will then count aloud in German one by one. The first student will say “eins,” the second will say “zwei,” and so on. However, when a student reaches a multiple of the teacher-selected number, she will instead call out “Pampelmuse.” This gives us a counting chain that sounds like “Eins, zwei, PAMPELMUSE, vier, fünf, PAMPELMUSE, sieben…”
If a student hesitates, makes a mistake or forgets to say “Pampelmuse” at the appropriate time, she is out. The game continues without her until the last remaining student wins.
As you can see, this game is just counting with a twist. Students will have to pay attention to one another in order to succeed, so this game will lead to silence and focus. They will also have to do a little mental math to figure out where the multiples fall, so if you want to give them a challenge, choose a larger interval such as nine. Finally, if you swap out “Pampelmuse” with a vocabulary item the students are learning, you will help them memorize that specific word too.
3. Collecting Phone Numbers
This game doesn’t have a snappy name, but it is the single most practical game on the list. It relates to a real-world situation that your students will encounter if they visit a German-speaking country: giving and remembering phone numbers.
Students have one minute in the beginning to translate their own phone numbers into German. They can write this down, but they cannot show their papers to anyone else.
Next, students will have three minutes to ask as many classmates as possible for their phone numbers, without seeing them written down. Students can only listen to their classmates say their phone numbers in German and copy down what they hear.
The winner is whichever student has the most correct phone numbers at the end of three minutes. This student, of course, has to read these phone numbers in German for extra practice.
You may even choose to spice up this activity with some authentic German from native German speakers in videos. For this, I recommend FluentU.
This is another classic that everyone knows. Standard Bingo materials can be homemade or store-bought for this game.
The teacher or a selected student draws from a random collection of possible Bingo combinations (such as B17, I32, etc.) and calls them out in German. Students mark their Bingo cards in accordance with what they hear. When a student marks a straight line on his bingo card, he calls “Bingo” and reads out his combination of marks in German to win.
It sounds easy, but saying “I zweiunddreißig” requires both the caller and the listeners to know the German alphabet as well as German number compounding rules. A student who flips zweiunddreißig (32) with dreiundzwanzig (23) will notice his mistake in the end, and so will a student who mistakes fünfzehn (15) for fünfzig (50). That’s how even a simple game like Bingo can help your students master the trickier German numbers.
5. Bankrutschen (Around the World)
Your students may remember “Around the World” from their early arithmetic classes. The game is also played in German schools, where it is known as Bankrutschen (literally “bench-sliding”).
In advance, the teacher creates a deck of cards with large-print, simple arithmetic problems such as “5 x 2” or “10 + 7.” Alternatively, you can simply speak the questions without cards to give extra listening practice. This will also help your students learn expressions such as mal for “times,” plus for “plus” and so on.
To begin, Student 1 stands next to the desk of Student 2. Both are presented (visually or aurally) with a math problem. Whichever student gives the correct answer faster moves to the desk of Student 3. This means that either Student 2 remains seated while Student 1 moves on, or Student 1 takes Student 2’s seat while Student 2 moves on, hence the name “bench-sliding.”
The winner of each pairing progresses to the successive desk until one student has gone “around the world,” or beaten every other student in the classroom. If no individual student goes all the way “around the world,” the game can continue indefinitely.
This game requires your students to be very quick not only in their computations, but also in their recall of the correct German numbers. Since you are in German class, it’s best to keep the math very easy for this reason. However, the emphasis on speed, precision and individual competition will help your students go a long way towards internalizing these numbers in a way that endless counting in unison will not.
Bringing Number Games Into Your Classroom
Numbers are one of the first things covered in an introductory German class, so any of these games are suitable for beginners. However, ask your advanced students sometime if they can recite their phone numbers or school ID numbers on the spot, and you may be surprised to see that they have to stop and think about each digit! This is why number games are appropriate for everyone.
If you have five or ten minutes at the end of a lesson, or if you want to break up the monotony of a particularly arduous day of grammar drills, it is easy to throw in one of these games. They can be played with almost any number of students, and they don’t require fancy materials.
When you incorporate these games into your lessons, you are helping your students rehearse an important foreign language skill. Numeracy is fundamental—and it can be fun, too!
Amanda “Andy” Plante-Kropp teaches at the HTW University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. She strives to bridge the gap between second language acquisition research and practical pedagogy. You can learn more about her at English with Andy.
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