Whose “Nein” Is It Anyway? 5 Hilarious Ideas for Teaching German Vocabulary

What’s the thinnest book in the world?

Ah, please don’t say “A Millennium of German Humor”!

As a German language teacher, you’re surely familiar with the comedy, jokes and sense of humor in German-speaking countries. But have you ever used those in your lessons?

Understanding humor in a foreign language is one of the best ways for students to learn that language. Experiencing a joke or funny situation will make them remember words that they would never master using a textbook alone. Humor offers context, emotion and a better understanding of natural language use.

Here are five classroom German vocabulary games with the theme of “German humor”!

5 Humorous German Vocabulary Games for Teaching Language with Laughs

1. How Funny German Vocabulary Sounds

A great way to introduce new students to the German language is to make them laugh about German words. This is something that English-speaking people do anyway. They laugh because the language sounds harsh to them or because they find those long compound words amazing.

So what could be better than to employ this giggle-inducing stuff in a classroom vocabulary game?

That’s exactly what we’re going to do here—play with those funny sounds in vocabulary words.

Provide some dictionaries. Give your students time to look up the funniest, longest and most unpronounceable German words they can find. They then have to translate it and practice its pronunciation. Alternatively, you can let them use the Internet to dig up some words. There are plenty of sites and videos out there talking about crazy long German words.

Each student writes down his or her word of choice on a sheet of paper. When they’re all done, get the group together in a circle. One at a time, have students hold up their sheets of paper and say their words. The other students then have to repeat those words. In this quick first round, students will undoubtedly stumble over some of the words.

Now let the class decide which words they like best. Write the winning words down on the board. Ask the students what they mean. Explain something about German pronunciation and word dissection. Then have the class pronounce the word again, to see if they do better.

Tell your students to remember these amazing words forever, so that they can impress German friends and acquaintances.

This game helps students lay the foundation for fluency in German. They’ll learn how consistent German pronunciation really is when compared to English and French, and they’ll also learn how they can break down and better understand compound words.

2. How to Make a Fool of Yourself in German

Germans love to laugh about the mistakes that foreigners, but also German students and even adults make in their language.

These mistakes can result in an unintended funny meanings, like:

  • Futtern Sie die Affen nicht (missing Umlaut)
  • Sehr geehrte Herr …. (wrong adjective declension)
  • Die Freizeit ist zur Erholung der Schule da. (wrong sentence construction)
  • Nach dem Krieg standen wir vor dem Abgrund; jetzt sind wir einen großen Schritt weiter. (is this progress?)

With somewhat advanced learners, you can do a research challenge on this, called “Was gibt’s denn da zu lachen?”

Prepare a list of cases. Just search for Übelsetzungen and Stilblüten on the Internet. Or maybe you already have your own collection.

Now draw a table on a sheet of paper. The first column should have the texts. The next columns need headers like: “wrong word,” “spelling error,” “declension error,” “false friends,” “multiple meanings of a word,” etcetera. Don’t make this too complicated though.

Divide your students into pairs or small groups. Give each group a copy of the list. The assignment is to find out how many mistakes there are in the texts. When they’re done, get the class together and ask each group how many mistakes they found, and in which categories. Then announce how many there actually were. For some cases, ask who got it and who can explain.

Ideally, your students become interested in this German language humor and will continue spotting cases on their own. This is a great way for them to learn vocabulary and improve their alertness to detail in the language.

3. German Fairy Tale Character Guessing Game

German children love Märchenrätsel. These are games where one child says something about a fairy tale character and the other has to guess which character it is. You can do Märchenrätsel as a runaround-style vocabulary game in your classroom.

It’s a great idea to plan a lesson about German fairy tale characters first, and play this game after that. Otherwise, just use international fairy tale characters.

You need cardboard figures or posters of the characters, and some statements about them in German. Describe what a character looks like (“big nose”), wears (“white dress”), does (“She sleeps for a long time”) or has experienced (“They never got to Bremen”). You’ll find lots of inspiration on the Internet by just searching for Märchenrätsel.

Call the game “Wer bin ich?” and introduce the characters by their German names (Aschenputtel, Schneewittchen). Have the students repeat the names. Now split the class into two or three teams. Have one student keep score on the board.

You read out a statement and the students should run and stand next to the character they think you’re talking about. For each student that makes the right choice, their team scores a point.

After each run, ask some students what German word or phrase made them decide. Then reveal the correct answer and explain what was said. Announce the scores and do a round of applause for the best team.

Through this game, children will become motivated to understand spoken German, which is the best way for them to learn vocabulary and phrases.

4. Flashcards: Can You Tell a German Joke?

Here’s a game that you can play with a class that is not too shy. Explain to your students that Germans actually tell jokes! Let them find out if they share the sense of humor.

Prepare flashcards with German jokes on them. Search online for Witze and you’ll find more jokes than you’ll ever need. Write the translation on the back of each card, because the students should understand the joke right away. If a joke is difficult to understand in English, add some explanations.

Dialogue jokes work best for this game. Other than that, use any category of jokes that you think is appropriate. You could bring some props for the students to use.

Divide the students into pairs or small groups. Give each pair or group some cards. The assignment is simply to tell the jokes in German. It’s okay if they just read from the card, but of course you prefer to see role-play.

After each performance, ask a student from the audience to explain what was funny (if anything). You can make this into a contest, where the best joke is chosen.

Telling a joke trains vocabulary, but it also helps students experience fluency in German, even before they actually are fluent in the language.

5. What Did You Order? A German Food and Drink Vocabulary Game

Adults in Germany love Ratespiele just as much as children do. They play these guessing games at parties, for example, or during car trips. Here’s an idea for playing such a game in your classroom…at an actual German beer table!

You can call this game “Oktoberfest.” In the classroom, you need to create a long table by placing some tables in one row. You also need glasses and drinks for the students. Since you probably wouldn’t want to serve beer, you could try and find Apfelschorle.

Prepare sheets of paper with names and images of German foods and drinks on them. First off, you may come up with Bier, Wurst and Sauerkraut. But there are so many German dishes and drinks that can make interesting conversation. How about Maultaschen and Weißbier, or even Schweinshaxe and Spätzle? Add some explanations in English if you think your students need it.

The class should sit at the table with the (soft)drink in hand. They each get a sheet of paper, which they should hide from the others. Now the class asks the first student, “Was hast du bestellt?” This student then says, “Rate mal.

Students have to ask questions to find out what was ordered. This means they have to come up with any German word and phrase they can remember (e.g. “red,” “sour,” “does it taste…”). As soon as someone has the correct answer, the first student says “Zum Wohl.” If no one knows, then the first student has to give hints in German.

The game continues until each student has been questioned. Between rounds, you can take the conversation a bit further by asking questions like: “Kennt ihr das?” or “Wer hat das schon mal gegessen?

This is a great way to learn food and drink vocabulary, as well as basic table conversation.

Have fun!

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