Welcome to our new series of blog posts about the environment. Throughout the year we will share an article each month complete with a lesson plan and reading tips to help you focus on different aspects of the environment and raising environmental awareness in your English classes. Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. We also think that literacy and language development and environmental studies mutually support each other. To put it simply: the better your students’ literacy and language skills become, the more they will be able to learn about the environment and understand the urgent need to live in a sustainable fashion.
To start off we talk about the importance of winter and the changing of the seasons by exploring some language activities, book recommendations and project ideas for both higher and lower level classes as well as young learners.
Winter and the seasons
Wintertime in the northern hemisphere is a magical season. It is a time of celebrations, and a time to slow down and spend time with our family and friends. It has the promise of magical snowfalls, frost and ice, and cozy evenings with a good book and a hot cup of tea. Winter sport enthusiasts can’t wait to start skating, skiing, sledding or simply snowballing. Of course winter comes with cold temperatures, but cold is good for our thinking and health. Cold is also good and necessary for our environment. Indeed, even if some people can’t wait for warm summer nights to arrive, we should all embrace winter cold. Late winters and early springs mean serious problems for our environment. According to research published by the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information, “the cold seasons are warming faster than the warm seasons”, and these changes have an immediate impact on people’s lives as well as long-lasting effects on the environment.
How do these changes affect the changing of the seasons? The term season creep was first included in dictionaries in 2007, and it describes the gradual changing of the seasons. Your students will have noticed these changes, for example, in the earlier budding and flowering of plants, birds no longer migrating in certain areas, and the increasingly early arrival of spring. These signs all indicate the climate crisis, one of the most critical issues of our times.
We are all aware of the climate emergency and hear about it on a daily basis on various platforms. By bringing this issue closer to our students through different learning activities we help them realize the sort of impact it is having on their own lives.
Here are some activity ideas. We will start with some vocabulary-building activities because we all need knowledge of words to be able to observe and describe the natural phenomena around us.
Lower and higher levels students (A2-B1 and above)
1 Vocabulary activities
We have all heard that Eskimo languages have dozens of words for snow - and there is a logical reason for this. The more you experience, observe and know something, the more you can describe it. Let’s see some tips on how students can build their winter vocabulary. You can give these exercises to students based on their interests and then ask them to present their findings, or you can work on them together as a class. You can also ask students to find pictures on Instagram or other image/video-based social media platforms by using hashtags as search terms.
- Learn about the weather. Instead of handing your students a list of complicated words, ask them to do some research about different types of snow. For example, this website has a classification of snow with detailed information and some pictures.
Here are some basic words: snow, snowfall, snowflake, snowfall, blizzard, drift, snowstorm, snow flurry.
Qualities of snow: crunchy, wet, soft, slushy.
- Learn about animals that love cold temperatures. What animals live in the Arctic and in the Antarctic? What animals live in cold conditions? How did they adapt?
- Learn about plants that love cold temperatures. How do plants adapt to cold temperatures. You can talk about evergreens, mosses, lichens, shrubs.
- Look for synonyms to describe cold and feeling cold. For example: chilly, cool, freezing, icy, icy-cold, glacial, wintry, crisp, frosty, frigid, bitterly cold, biting, piercing, numbing, sharp, raw, polar, arctic.
- Look for descriptions of snow in stories. For example, you can read the quote from the reader adaptation of The Call of the Wild by Jack London and ask students to guess what is described.
2 Speaking topics
As you are building vocabulary, ask your students some questions to get them to use words and think about winter. Here are some discussion topics.
- Talk about two things you like about winter.
- How is winter different in different regions of your country/continent?
- How do you imagine classic wintertime?
- Imagine you are an Inuit, describe your surroundings.
3 Writing ideas
- Get your students to write a poem about winter. You can use some of the ideas from our resource book Creative Writing. Create a list poem or write a poem without any verbs. Check out our post about poetry in the English class here: Celebrate World Poetry Day
- Ask your students to write a winter story. Help them by setting up the story.
- Get them to select from a list of story types: humorous story, detective story, crime, thriller
- Help them with the setting. See this blog post for ideas: Create a mysterious setting in 8 easy steps
- Give them the first line if they need some extra help. If they need more help, give them a series of questions to think about:
Where does the story take place? Who are the main characters? What happens to them? What is the problem they have to solve? How do they solve it? What happens in the end? Why is wintertime important in the story?
- Higher level students can write a short essay about life without winter. If might sound like an apocalyptic and dark theme, but it is an inspiring one for students.
4 Reader recommendations
If you live in the southern hemisphere or snowy and frosty winters rarely arrive where you live, read about them in our classic and original stories.
- The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London
- The Kingdom of the Snow Leopard by Elspeth Rawstron
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- Sherlock Holmes and the Stolen Jewels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1 Vocabulary activities
Introduce new words with the help of photos, illustrations, songs and rhymes to your students. Here are some ideas:
- Check out the seasons chat in our picture book The Dark in the Box by Rick Sampedro
- Search the web for nursery rhymes about winter, e.g., Five Little Snowmen; Cold and Raw The North Wind Blow
2 Speaking and writing topics
Depending on your students’ level, you can either get them to finish these sentences in speaking or/and in writing.
- I like winter because ...
- The perfect winter day …
- My favourite season is … because …
3 Reader recommendations
- The Dark in the Box by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Manuela Scarfò
- Food for the Winterby Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Estella Guerrera
Here are some books which will take you on a winter journey and make sure you fall in love with this season.
- The Call of the Wild, White Fang, To Build a Fire (short story) by Jack London
- The Triumph of the Night (short story) by Edith Wharton
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- The Snowmanby Raymond Briggs
- Small in the City by Sydney Smith
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
- Winter by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Here are some interesting research projects that can keep your students (especially B1 level and above) busy. Set them up during one lesson, and give students 2-3 weeks to come up with short, 5-minute presentations.
1 Why do seasons change? What is climate crisis?
Students who are interested in geography can prepare a presentation about the scientific reasons for the changing of the seasons and climate crisis.
2 Interview your family
How did your parents and grandparents experience winter? What winter stories do they have? Ask your students to call and talk to older members of their families and ask them about their experiences of winter.
3 People who fight for the environment
David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg are well-known and much-loved personalities who have done a lot for the environment. Ask your students to talk about who they are, what they are fighting for and any other interesting things we know about them.
Students can find other famous people - also called environmentalists - who are fighting for the ecosystem. Here are some links to get you started:
- Meet six environmentalists who are changing the world (UN Environment website)
- Lewis Pugh, Ocean Advocate, Patron of Oceans (UN Environment website)
- Antarctica 2020 Program
Creative and musical students can create a list of songs about winter and the different seasons. Ask them to find a song for every month of the year.
5 Visual arts
Create a classroom gallery with famous paintings about winter and your students’ own work if they have any.
Here are some collections of artworks to get started:
- How great artists depict winter in 10 sublime paintings (BBC website)
- Six Winter Scenes in Art (TATE UK website)