Fun Activities For Weather Vocabulary
Making the clichéd topic of weather interesting, relevant and linked to other useful language
Weather is a topic that keeps coming up, for example:
- in songs and mimes in kindergarten classes
- as idioms, proverbs and sayings in Advanced classes
- on TV and in newspapers
- in daily conversation
As students older than ten are unlikely to be coming across weather words and phrases for the first time, you will need to extend the language that they learn, prove the value of it by tying it in with other language, and choose activities that are original and stimulating. The activities below are designed to achieve those three things.
Many textbooks have activities where students listen to a weather forecast and fill in information on a map. This is both boring and unrealistic. The only time students are likely to listen to English language radio is as podcasts, in which case the weather forecast will be out-of-date and/or for a different country. The reason why this activity is still often included is that it is seen as good practice of future tenses, but in fact it is far from obvious whether the correct tense is “going to for predictions with present evidence” or “will for predictions”.
If you do want to use the topic of weather forecasts, the best thing is to get the students to make their own predictions. For example, they could predict the weather between this class and the next, then compare that with what really happens. If they can’t wait that long, you could take a clip or picture from a weather forecast from a long time ago or another country and ask students what happens next. They can then look at the next picture or clip to check.
A similar task is to play a video of a forecast with the sound turned down, asking students to predict as much as they can about what is said (perhaps with a gapped text to help them). You can also do it the other way round, asking them to listen without the picture and to place weather symbols on a map, then watch and check.
You can also make weather forecasts the basis of more general conversation. For example, they could discuss what scientific signs (e.g. air pressure) and less scientific signs (e.g. headaches and the behaviour of cows) tell them about the weather. They could also read, listen to or watch various weather forecasts and judge them by how clear and interesting they are.
Weather and culture
The last two ideas above are great ways of introducing the topic of cultural differences. Students will probably be interested that “red sky at night” means “shepherd’s delight”, and that Groundhog Day is a real thing. They will also probably have their own local equivalents. Other interesting topics tying together weather and culture include:
- Festivals that celebrate, or are supposed to bring about, certain weather, e.g. water-throwing festivals
- Cultural things that can be explained by the weather, e.g. the tendency of Mediterranean cities to have people sitting around outside
- Surprising facts about culture and weather, e.g. the British rarely using umbrellas
- What kinds of weather are seen as positive and negative (e.g. the use of humidifiers in winter, and how “bracing” is a positive adjective)
- Proverbs that involve the weather
- Guessing the country from descriptions of its weather, maybe including extreme weather
- Differences in how much people talk about the weather, and what they usually say
Talking about the weather
Being able to start and sustain conversations about the weather is much more important to most students than being able to understand a forecast. Starting gambits are the most useful kinds of phrases, so you could do roleplays where students must start conversations with people in places like bus stops, maybe giving them useful phrases like “Do you think the rain is going to stop?” and “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
More in-depth discussion of the weather is less usual, but you could use a list of discussion questions. Ones that might really come up in conversation include “What is the weather like in your country (in spring)?” and “What is your favourite season?”
Weather and grammar
As mentioned above, “It’s going to rain later” and “It will rain later” are two perfectly natural sentences in English, with the difference often being very fine indeed. Weather can therefore be a good chance to examine the nuances involved in “predictions” and “predictions with present evidence”. Other possible future tenses with weather include:
- “I’m taking a plane at 7 o’clock but they are predicting a cyclone”
- “It’s about to snow”
- “The sun will probably be shining again by the time you arrive”
- “The snow will have blocked the roads by the time night falls”
- “It looked like it was going to rain but the wind blew all the clouds away”
Other grammar points that can be combined with the topic of weather include present tenses (e.g. “It rains almost every day” versus “It isn’t raining at the moment”), conditionals (e.g. “If it had rained yesterday, what would you have done?” and “How do you get home when the snow stops the trains?”), and past tenses (e.g. completing the sentences “It had been raining for two days…” and “The wind was blowing really hard when I arrived, so…”).
Weather and vocabulary
The easiest ways of teaching basic weather vocabulary is through Pictionary and miming. These games can also be used with longer sentences, e.g. drawing “My umbrella turned inside-out because it was windy”. Trickier language (e.g. “drizzle” and “breeze”) can be presented or practised by classifying the language, e.g. as good/bad, or a lot/a little.
Weather and skills
Children love story books and songs about the weather, e.g. “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring”, “Rain, rain go away” and “Incy Wincy Spider”. Interesting skills-work for older students can take a bit more effort to find, but good sources are science magazines (e.g. explaining the strange weather this year) and channels like Discovery Channel (e.g. programmes on tornado chasers).
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.