Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Weather Talk in World Language Classes - An Authentic Approach

WEATHER VOCABULARY IS A STAPLE OF WORLD LANGUAGE CLASSES, with weather reports and/or themes a common part of many programs. Over the last few years, I have seen it lose popularity with some teachers for a variety of reasons including a concern that it's not relevant to students, or it's boring, etc. I cannot say whether this is true at older levels, but I have found that amongst my elementary students, nothing is farther from the truth. Little kids talk about the weather ALL the time-if you are an #earlylang teacher, take a moment to listen to them. Weather plays a huge role in their lives-if it's raining, chances are they will have inside recess. If it's snowing, there could be an early release, or a snow day. Or they might get to go sledding at recess time (at least in my school). Not to mention snow is still magical to most kids-just think, they have only seen first snow of the season 5-6 times! Thunderstorms can be scary, and heavy wind is definitely an event! All of this is to say that I hear weather talk from my students on a regular basis, and since I am always listening to what they are saying in order to figure out how I can move that from English to Spanish (in what I call the 'replacement approach'-more on that in another post :) ), it is natural for me to want to incorporate weather in my classes.

Weather Talk for Authentic communication in world language classes

HERE'S THE THING-I WANT IT TO BE ORGANIC, I want it to be part of the natural dialogue and interaction we are already having in class, part of the CONVERSATION- because I want it to be authentic and meaningful for my kiddos. There is a difference between giving a weather report as part of calendar time and stopping class to point out the window and call out 'It's snowing, friends!". For those who say there are no authentic moments in a language classroom, I respectfully disagree. If you all rush to the window and watch the snow together, commenting and reacting in the target language, you've got an authentic moment on your hands. If it's a beastly hot day and you all comment on it, complaining about the heat, that's an authentic moment. And, oh, I also call it INTERPERSONAL because you and your students are interacting with one another in the target language, swapping opinions and reactions.

SO, HOW TO BRING WEATHER TALK TO YOUR CLASSES? It's both simple & a bit challenging at the same time. It's simple because the phrases themselves are familiar to us as teachers, and short, which is great for delivery purposes. The challenge is in being comfortable with the impromptu nature of changing course in the middle of a lesson to react to weather as it unfolds, and remembering to include it as part of other themes, activities you are doing. The other piece of course is that it adds an element of the unknown to your planning, and may skew some classes in a grade level off of others, which can get a little hairy. Practically speaking, you need to be prepared with visuals to help you stay in the target language and provide clear, comprehensible input for your kiddos. I don't do calendar time (another topic that I incorporate organically), so no weather report either-and by this I mean where a student stands up at the front of the class and tells the weather to everyone. I don't have an issue with this, especially since most elementary kids are familiar with this activity, I just don't do it in my classes. Instead, I intentionally plan on mentioning the weather "in passing" or reacting to weather events as they occur outside my classroom window. If I have time, I will run outside between classes to take a photo of the current weather with one of our characters that I can then project on the whiteboard to support a comment I want to make. Sometimes I mention the weather and ask questions as my kids are arriving, or I embed it in other thematic activities we are doing, the greeting, or even as they are leaving. The key is in being authentic yourself-remember, interactions like this build community as well as language skills! :)

HERE'S A SIMPLE INTERACTION for novice learners to serve as an example:
Me: Look, kids, it's snowing!
Me: It's snowing-it's so pretty!
Me: Wow, it's snowing. I really like the snow. _____ (kid's name), do you like the snow?
____ answers. (I react depending on their answer- Yes, me too, I really like the snow. or No, you don't like the snow? Is it too cold? (this could go on depending on student & class, or stop here)
Me: _____ (kid's name, different kid), do you like the snow?
____ answers. I react.
Me: Kids, raise your hand if you like the snow. (I count hands and react)
Me: Kids, raise your hand if you don't like the snow (again, I count hands and react)

I could continue this conversation depending on the kids and the class-we could end up talking about things we like to do in the snow using yes/no questions, the cold and whether we like it or not, the rate of snowfall (fast or slow), if we brought our snowsuits to school that day or not (again yes/no), whether they will be sledding at recess or not (yes/no format again), etc OR I may just move on or return to what we were doing before I noticed the snow. This 'go with the flow' teaching is part of what I mentioned above in terms of being a bit challenging-but it is very rewarding to see kids sharing and building community together!

NOTE: in the above, having visuals for the yes/no questions is crucial to stay in the target language, especially with novice speakers who may not be familiar with some of the vocabulary. For example, if I am asking about going sledding at recess, I use a photo of kids sledding on OUR playground to ask the question 'Are you going to sled today at recess?'. All they need to answer is yes/no-REMEMBER, you can pose questions with unfamiliar vocabulary if you are using a yes/no format and still have an authentic conversation!

BONUS! WEATHER EXPRESSIONS ARE A GREAT WAY TO INCORPORATE CULTURE in a contextualized format-working them in as you go makes for what I call 'everyday culture', those small ticket items that make up so much of our lives, such as idiomatic expressions like the one in our photo of Olivia below (NOTE: this is another expression for Está lloviendo a cántaros, another being Está lloviendo hasta maridos)

Está lloviendo a mares Weather Idiomatic Expressions in Spanish

NEED WEATHER VISUALS FOR CLASS? We currently have them in Spanish (click here), French (click here) and Russian, and German on the way!