Talking About School in German: 98 Useful Words and Phrases

School is a commonly discussed topic for German language learners, so there’s lots of unique vocabulary you’ll find useful.

In this post, you’ll learn all the words and phrases you need to talk about school in German, from grade levels, to class subjects, to complaining about homework and more.


Basic School Vocabulary in German


Here are some key terms you might need to know to talk about school in German:

die Schule
die Stunde period/hour
die Pause break
die Hausaufgaben homework (plural)
langweilig boring
interessant interesting
schwer / kompliziert tough
einfach / leicht easy

(The antonym pair Schwer and Leicht could mean "difficult" and "easy" or "heavy" and "light.")
die Prüfung exam
bestehen to pass
durchfallen to fail
die Klasse class / grade (e.g. the seventh grade)
das Fach subject
die Bildung education
der Abschluss graduation
die Klassenarbeit classwork
das Zeugnis certificate
der Lehrplan curriculum
die Note grade (e.g. I got a good grade)

The German school curriculum is quite comprehensive with an emphasis on extracurricular activities. It also encourages students to take up unconventional fields such as sports, fashion, etc. as a full-time career.

The grading system in German education is cumulative. The grading scale ranges from 1 to 5, with 1 being the highest and anything lower than a 4 counting as a fail. The scores range in decimals of .3, .5 and .7. For example, a student could have grades such as 1.3, 2.5 and 3.7.

School Subjects


The German education system is quite practical and example-oriented. For instance, fractions in mathematics are taught with the help of cake-cutting.

Probability is quite an important topic in math and science classes. This all shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, given Germany’s preoccupation with certainty.

The subjects dealt with at school are pretty much the usual ones:

die Physik physics
die Chemie chemistry
die Biologie biology
die Mathe math
die Geschichte history (can also mean "story")
die Erdkunde / die Geografie geography
die Literatur literature
die Kunst art
die Musik music
die Fremdsprachen foreign languages
der Sport sport / P.E.
die Informatik computer science
die Ethik ethics
die Wirtschaftswissenschaft economics
die Philosophie philosophy
die Psychologie psychology
die Soziologie sociology
die Wahlkurs extracurricular activity / optional class

People at School


Here are some of the words for various people who you’ll find in a school, either working there or attending:

der Student / die Studentin  male/female student (generally refers to students going to college, i.e. adult students)
die Schüler pupils (young students)
der Klassenkamarad / die Klassenkameradin
male/female classmate
der Lehrer / die Lehrerin  male/female teacher
der Schulleiter /
die Schulleiterin
male/female principal
der Sekretär / die Sekretärin male/female secretary
der Bibliothekar / die Bibliothekarin male/female librarian
der Hausmeister / die Hausmeisterin male/female janitor
der Schulberater / die Schulberaterin male/female school counselor

School Supplies and Materials 


If you’re going to school in Germany or sending your kids to school there, you’re going to need to know the words for different school supplies. Here are some of the most common ones: 

die Schulsachen school supplies
die Lehrmittel teaching materials
die Schuluniform school uniform
der Schreibtisch desk
die Kreide chalk
die Tafel chalkboard
das Buch book
der Stift pen
der Bleistift pencil
der Radiergummi eraser
das Heft notebook
der Spitzer sharpener
die Schere scissors
der Klebestift glue stick
das Lineal ruler
die Mappe folder
der Ordner binder
das Papier paper
das Etui pencil case
der Taschenrechner calculator
die Büroklammer paperclip
der Pinsel the paintbrush
die Buntstifte crayons
Schultasche backpack

A schoolbag plays quite an important role in a German child’s life. In fact, there’s a tradition called Schultüte (literally “school bag,”) where children starting school are given cone-shaped bags filled with chocolates and stationery.

In the old days, children were told that these bags grew on a special Schultütenbaum (schoolbag tree) in the teacher’s classroom, ready to be picked for the child’s first day of school. 

Places in a School


These words will help you find your way around a school in Germany, or help a German speaker find their way around if they’re visiting your school: 

das Klassenzimmer classroom
die Kantine cafeteria
der Schulhof schoolyard
der Pausenhof playground
die Bibliothek library
das Labor laboratory
die Turnhalle gymnasium
der Computerraum computer room
das Lehrerzimmer teacher's lounge
das Direktorat principal's office
die Aula auditorium
der Flur corridor
die Musikraum music room
das Kunststudio art studio
die Werkstatt workshop
die Toilette restroom
das Sportfeld sports field
der Schulbus school bus

The German School System


In Germany, school attendance becomes mandatory starting at age six. The school policies and structure of each schooling level depend on where in Germany the student lives.

At the secondary level (after four to six years of elementary schooling), students can choose between one of four types of schools, which we’ll discuss below.

The following are the types of elementary schools one can find in Germany:

Type of schoolExplanation
Kindergarten (Pre-school education)Usually for children between ages three and six. This isn't free and it's also not mandatory.
Grundschule (Elementary school)From this level onwards, it becomes mandatory to attend school, for any child in Germany. Public schools are free and private schools have a fee.

The secondary level (high school) that follows the primary level can be a choice from any of the below:

Type of schoolExplanation
Hauptschule (Main school)This is typically a five-year school that prepares students for vocational training, trade jobs or public service work.
Realschule ("Real" school)This provides a somewhat broader level of education than Hauptschule. Students can continue on to Gymnasium (below), vocational training or public service work.
Gesamtschule ("Together" school)Where all subjects that are required for survival in life are taught together. This type of school isn't found everywhere in Germany. It essentially combines some elements of Hauptschule and Realschule.
Gymnasium (Grammar school)Gymnasium isn't a gym but a type of school. It's considered to be the highest level of the German high school system. It emphasizes academic learning, in comparison to Hauptschule and Realschule.
Abitur (School graduation diploma)These are the final set of examinations that a student takes after completing any of the high school systems stated above.
Ausbildung (Vocational/formal training)A three- to four-year practical training program, where the student could learn and work on the side. This is considered the most practical degree in Germany, especially if one wants to get hands-on experience, on the job.

After the Ausbildung, students are free to either pursue further studies by going to college or opt for vocational training in a field of their choice, such as teaching, nursing, baking, plumbing and electricity, machine building—the list is endless.

Phrases for Talking About School in German


Here are some example sentences to show you how these vocabulary terms are used in context: 

Ich gehe in die Schule. (I go to school.)
*Note that this usually implies you work at or attend school. It’s somewhat more common to say zur Schule, when talking about your journey to the building itself. Notice also that with the use of the verb gehen (to go), we need to use the accusative case after the preposition in

Ich bin in der Schule.   (I’m at school.) 
*Note that this refers to your physical location, so you need to use the dative case after the preposition in

Wann machen wir Pause? (When do we take a break?)
*The Germans say Pause machen, which literally translates to “to do a break.”

Ich mache Sport. (I’m doing P.E. / I’m playing sports / I’m doing exercise.)
*Again, the Germans say Sport machen (to play sport).

Welche Stunde haben wir jetzt? (Which period do we have now?)

Hast du die Hausaufgaben gemacht? (Have you done the homework?)

Der Lehrplan für das neue Schuljahr wurde überarbeitet. (The curriculum for the new school year has been revised.)

Deutsch ist einfach. (German is easy.)

Mathe ist schwer. (Math is tough.)

Der Unterricht war interessant. (The class was interesting.)

Der Unterricht war langweilig. (The class was boring.)

Ich habe eine gute Note bekommen. (I got a good grade.)

Ich habe die Prüfung bestanden. (I passed the exam.)

Ich habe die Prüfung durchgefallen. (I failed the exam.)

Du fielst in Geschichte durch. (You’re failing in history.)

Du bestehst bestimmt dieses mal. (You’ll pass this time for sure.)


These words and phrases will pop up frequently in various conversations about school, so studying them can be very helpful!

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