German Learning Scenario:
Schulanfang: Back to School in Germany

Author: Michelle Barnett & Denise Tanner
Level: Novice (Elementary or Middle School)

In this scenario, a children’s book and a video are used to introduce students to German school customs. Learners explore typical preparations made by German students at the beginning of a new school year and customs associated with the beginning of German students’ school careers in 1st grade. Through a variety of activities and resources, students learn related vocabulary and practice expressing wants and needs. For the final product, students create a list of supplies needed for school and their associated costs and roleplay making purchases.

(Multiple options for tasks within each activity set are suggested below. Teachers may choose those which best suit their situation and teaching style.)

ACTIVITY SET 1: First Day of School
To activate students’ background knowledge and introduce the topic, they are asked to share their memories of their first day at school. They also indicate any special family “ritual” associated with that day or gifts they received. Then a German children’s book, Conni kommt in die Schule, is used to introduce students to related German customs. This simple story describes the events that surround the day a little girl begins school for the first time: shopping for supplies, receiving a Schultüte (a large paper cone filled with treats), having her picture made with her class, etc. The teacher reads the book and, using the pictures in the book, objects in the classroom, pantomime, etc., helps learners understand the gist of the story. The video, Ich heiße Raphael may be shown in addition to, but not in the place of, the book. The video follows a little German boy through a typical day as he prepares for school, takes the bus, is engaged in classroom activities, etc. Afterwards, students compare/contrast what they’ve learned about German customs with their own experiences by creating a Venn Diagram either on butcher paper or using index cards and hula hoops. To learn more, students visit a German culture Web site that describes the differences and similarities in the German and American school systems (see Resources).

Next, students are introduced to additional school supply vocabulary through a game called Kofferpacken, but using a Schultüte rather than a suitcase. The teacher has filled the cone with school supplies, and students try to guess what is inside it. Once they have guessed, the teacher opens the Schultüte and names each item as it is removed. Learners can check to see how well they predicted the contents as they are learning the names of the items. Next, students make their own Schultüte from a photocopied master or using a German craft book and fill them with candy. Each student donates a small package of candy to share, and the teacher may also provide small gifts such as Willkommen pencils or German stickers available from teacher supply catalogs. Students’ photos are taken with their Schultüte as is the custom for German 1st graders beginning school. (This is particularly easy with a digital camera.)

ACTIVITY SET 2: School Supplies and Stores
This activity set uses a variety of games to reinforce vocabulary and to practice expressing needs and wants using basic structures. For example, students draw or use photocopied pictures of school supply items, coloring and pasting them to index cards, two per item, to be used for memory games such as Go Fish or Was fehlt? (What’s Missing). For a game called Zaubertüte, school supplies are placed in a “magic” bag, and students try to identify the object by touch. Another fun option for practicing school supply vocabulary is to use a thematic song, poem, or other rhythmic verse. (A good one called In der Schule can be found in Gesang, Rhythmen und Reime; see Resources for details.) Students also visit a German Web site to see how many school supply words they can locate (again, see Resources). Any number of other familiar games and/or written tasks (such as word searches or matching) can be used for vocabulary support.

Once students are familiar with school supply vocabulary, they are introduced to the different stores where school supplies are purchased in German-speaking countries. Although many American students do all their school shopping at the Super Walmart, German students will more likely go to a variety of stores: clothing, shoe, stationery, etc. A graphic organizer is used to compare and contrast German shopping customs to those of the United States, where one-stop shopping often is the rule. Next, students work in groups to decorate small signs for the various types of shops; each sign is then attached to a shoebox that represents that shop. The teacher (or students taking turns) places the school items (real ones or laminated pictures) in the boxes and asks the students, “richtig oder falsch?” (true or false - is it found in this shop or not?) to determine if the items have been correctly placed. If not, students sort the school supplies into the appropriate “shops” (boxes) as a class or in groups. (Although clothing vocabulary is not an explicit part of this scenario, prior knowledge, cognates, brand names, and words used for comparison and contrast in activity set one can be used for the purposes of this task.)

ACTIVITY SET 3: School Supply Wish List
In order to go “shopping,” students learn how to state their needs (Ich brauche…) and wishes (Ich möchte…). They begin by creating a school supply “wish list” and then compare it with a list of authentic German school supplies provided by the teacher. They make changes to their lists, adding and deleting items as desired. Students then visit a German school supply Web site where they see pictures of supplies and prices. They add prices to the items on their wish lists (to be used in Activity Set Four). Next, students create a German Schultasche (school bag) out of paper/cardboard. (Directions can be found in German craft books; see Resources.) They fill it with paper school supplies based on their lists. Students use photocopied cutouts or draw the items themselves. Utilizing their wish lists and personalized Schultasche, students play the telephone game using the phrases “Ich möchte/brauche _____” to express their needs and wants. As they go around the room, successive students must rename all items already mentioned and add their own to the wish list.

ACTIVITY SET 4: Budgeting and Shopping Roleplay
Using their wish lists from the preceding activity set, students predict their budgeting needs and, as a class, come to consensus on a maximum budget for their school supplies. They then calculate prices using authentic German newspaper advertisements, German Web sites, or teacher-created ads using photos, photocopied pictures, or German-language ads from the Internet. (Depending on the time of year, it can be easy or more difficult to find prices for school supplies!) Students compare prices for their personal needs/wants with the predetermined class budget.

Next, students practice counting and making change using paper Euros to prepare to roleplay a school supply shopping expedition. (Color copies of Euros are available from the Raffeisenbank; see Resources.) Using the prices identified above and working in pairs, students figure out how much change is due from a large bill used to purchase several items. With a partner or in small groups, students use their paper Schultaschen and the items in it, naming the objects and indicating the cost in Euros. Groups calculate the total for each person to determine who spent the most, who spent the least, etc.

Finally, students make signs out of poster paper (or computer-generated) for the shops introduced in Activity Set 3. They use real school supplies or laminated pictures or drawings to roleplay the shopping expeditions. Working in groups, students develop a roleplay including the proprietor who runs the store and makes change and customers who purchase the supplies on their lists and pay with Euros. Each group has a chance to present its skit, complete with props if desired. Afterwards, students write a reflection in English, comparing their roleplay experience to their real experiences shopping for school supplies in the U.S.

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Targeted Standards

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  • Conni kommt in die Schule (or other German children’s book about starting school for the first time.)
  • Video: Ich heiße Raphael
  • Butcher paper/markers or index cards/hula hoops for Venn design
  • A collection of authentic German school supplies (fountain pens, pencil case, etc.), a German school bag, and Schultüte (large paper cones designed to fill with school supplies/treats)
  • Art supplies for making vocabulary cards, cones, school bags, etc.
  • Camera
  • Pretend Euros (European Union currency)
  • School supplies bingo game (teacher made)
  • German language advertisements for school supplies (authentic or teacher-made)
  • Computers with Internet access

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met

Communication: The interpersonal mode is used by students to communicate with each other when playing games that reinforce vocabulary and in the roleplay of purchasing school supplies. The Interpretive mode is used as students research school supplies on the Internet and look at target language advertisements.

Cultures: Students discover differences and similarities between German and American school supplies (cultural products) and apply this knowledge in preparing their own German school supply lists. Students learn about cultural practices and perspectives associated with beginning school (e.g., Schultüte) and shopping for school supplies.

: Students use the Internet to access German shopping Web sites to research supplies and their costs. They connect with mathematics as they budget and shop with Euros.

: Students compare German school supply needs to their own and make comparisons of shopping practices in the United States and in German-speaking countries.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Invite a guest speaker to share their experiences attending school in Germany and preparations that students make at the beginning of each school year. Of particular interest are the special customs surrounding the very first year of school.
  • Students e-mail German students and teachers inquiring about school supply needs and lists.
  • Invite students from upper level German classes to serve as shop clerks for the roleplay activity.
  • Students check exchange rates in newspapers or on the Internet to calculate prices of German school supplies from Deutschmarks to dollars or Euros to dollars. Students compare the prices with comparable items purchased in the United States and discuss results.

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Bauer, K. & Drew, R. (1995). Germany: World neighbor series. Cypress, CA: Creative Teaching Press, Inc.

Dai Zovi, L. Gesang, Rhythmen und Reime!: Chants, rhythms and rhymes for the German classroom. Albuquerque, NM: Vibrante Press.
This book contains a song useful to the scenario entitled In der Schule.

Frederickson, S. A little wurst. Jacksonville, FL: Concordia Programs.
A collection of twenty-five illustrated word search puzzles for elementary-level German students.

Inter Nationes. (2000). Ki-Ko — der Kinderkoffer. Bonn, Germany: Author.
This is a multi-media resource pack that contains the video referenced in the materials list (Ich heiße Raphael). The video combines a cartoon story (Die Rinnstein Piraten) with another sequence showing a day in the life of a seven-year-old German boy (Ich heiße Raphael). The kit also includes a craft activity book (Mein buntes Bastelbuch); a vocabulary card-matching game (Lese MEMORY); 5 glove puppets; a cultural collage/poster (Schau ins Land); a jigsaw of the same picture; and a Handreichungen für den Lehrer.

Inter Nationes. (2000). Ki-Ko - der Kinderkoffer. Bonn, Germany: Author.
See above note on this resource; the craft activity book in the kit (Mein buntes Bastelbuch) contains information on/samples of Schultüte and Schultasche.

Instructional Fair (Ed.). (1998). International crafts & games. New York: McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing.

Norris, J. (1997). Folk art projects around the world. Monterey, CA: Evan-Moor Educational Publishers.

Schneider, L. & Wenzel-Bürger, E. (1998). Conni kommt in die Schule. Hamburg, Germany: Carlsen.

Sherman, L. et al. (Eds.) (1994). Kinder lernen Deutsch, Loseblattsammlung. Cherry Hill, NJ: American Association of Teachers of German.


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.

    Information on and pictures of Euro bills and coins can be found at the above Web site.
    The American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) Web site contains a multitude of resources for German teachers. Of particular interest with regard to this scenario are the Loseblattsammlung, which are collections of activities, songs, games, resources, methods, etc. developed by elementary classroom teachers of German involved in the Kinder Lernen Deutsch program.
    This shopping site includes lots of pictures of school supplies and lists their prices.