Lesson ideas: Primary and lower secondary school

1 “How’s the weather?”: Talking about the weather in the primary EFL classroom

Jana Küpers and Nele Lange

1 Introduction and rationale

The weather plays a central role in everyone’s daily life and is therefore also an essential part of everyday English: it is a common topic for small talk, when talking about our holidays, and is also a crucial factor in our choice of clothing. Thus, weather is a topic everyone can refer to and that everyone can say something about. This is also why it is one of the first topics to be taught in English as a Foreign Language (ELF) classes at primary school. In this way, the topic “Weather” contributes to achieving the main objective of all EFL teaching: “to equip learners with competences that allow them to communicate with other speakers of the English language in a respectful manner” (Surkamp & Viebrock 2018: 21) and is thus also in line with the primary school curriculum of Lower Saxony, Germany (Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium 2016: 7).

However, the majority of EFL tasks about the weather in primary school textbooks often only require pupils to repeat, assign or classify pictures and/or single words, which does not help them develop communicative and intercultural competences. According to Thaler (2012: 84), one of the main disadvantages of tasks in EFL textbooks is that they can be repetitive and do not really activate pupils. In line with the core objectives of teaching English as a foreign language, the EFL materials and tasks created in this chapter therefore aim for a more effective and interactive way of learning English at primary school. This chapter provides teachers with a step-by-step guide on how to effectively make use of an appropriate corpus to compile idiomatic spoken language materials that enable primary school pupils to engage in (brief) authentic conversations about the weather in- and outside the classroom.


Outline and objectives

Target learners: Primary school pupils at the end of year 3 or (the beginning of) year 4

Teacher preparation time: 90 to 120 min (for three tasks)

Lesson time: 3x 45 min.

Learning objectives:

By the end of the lesson, pupils should be able to…

  • answer questions about today’s weather,
  • ask others about today’s weather,
  • understand and use a range of adjectives typically used to describe the current weather situation in natural conversations,
  • understand a simplified weather report.

2 Corpus, tools and methods

As even third grade primary school pupils are still in the process of acquiring and learning grammatical and orthographical features of the literacy system of their native language, the focus when teaching English as a foreign language in primary school should clearly be on oral skills (speaking and listening) (cf. Suhrkamp & Viebrock 2018: 26). The unit described in this chapter therefore mainly aims to improve pupils’ speaking and listening skills. Accordingly, it is advisable to create teaching materials based on language data derived from a corpus of spoken English. The Corpus of American Soap Operas is particularly suitable for this purpose. Several scholars have highlighted the potential of soap operas for the acquisition of a foreign language as they introduce learners to very natural and authentic spoken-like language (Jones & Horak 2014: 12-13; Quaglio 2009: 148-149). The Corpus of American Soap Operas contains 100 million words from more than 22,000 transcripts of ten American soap operas aired between 2001 and 2012. Moreover, this corpus does not include any swear words and is therefore particularly suitable as a basis for the generation of teaching materials for younger learners. The corpus can be accessed freely on www.english-corpora.org. Although it is necessary to register to use this online platform, the creation of a free account (which limits the number of searches per day) is more than sufficient for our purposes and does not restrict the website’s functions in any other way.

The data used for designing teaching materials can be derived with the help of the website’s “Collocates”-function. Collocations are words that “occur most frequently and with statistical significance (i.e. not just by random occurrence) in the word’s environment” (O’Keeffe, McCarthy & Carter 2007: 14). Both actively teaching collocations and making pupils aware of them is key to successful EFL learning, as learning collocations “contributes to the learner’s ability to create associations between words and to place them meaningfully within various networks in relation to other words” (O’Keeffe, McCarthy & Carter 2007: 54). Therefore, it is argued that “learning the collocations of that language is not a luxury if anything above a survival level mastery of the language is desired, since collocation permeates even the most basis, frequent words” (O’Keeffe, McCarthy & Carter 2007: 60). Consequently, it can be seen as a crucial factor for the acquisition of authentic language skills that primary school pupils are given the opportunity to work with EFL materials which include collocations and that they are made aware of these collocations by both the materials and the teacher.

3 Step-by-step guide

3.1 Teacher preparation

3.1.1 Data collectionConducting corpus queries

Step 1: Registration on www.english-corpora.org

First, go to www.english-corpora.org. Create a free account. Click on “My account” and then on “Register”.

Fig. 1: Registration on www.english-corpora.org

You will then have to fill in a registration form. After submitting this form, you will receive an e-mail which includes a confirmation link.

Fig. 2: Registration form on www.english-corpora.org

Step 2: Selecting a corpus

Next, on the home page, select a corpus from which you would like to draw data. For the unit described in this chapter, the Corpus of American Soap Operas is particularly suitable (see section 2).

Fig. 3: Selecting a corpus

Step 3: Searching for question words – How to ask somebody about the weather

Now you can start searching for language data that can be used for designing your teaching materials. As the topic of the unit is “Weather”, it is advisable to firstly identify how to ask somebody about the weather. In order to do so, you need to use the “Collocates”-function. With the help of this function, you can determine question word(s) which occur together with the word weather. For this, you need to type weather in the upper box and click on “POS” (= part of speech), which appears in light grey letters next to this box. With regard to the lower box, you only need to click on “POS”, which again appears in light grey letters next to the lower box, and select “adv.WH” (Fig. 4). This way, you will obtain a list including all the adverbs that occur together with the noun weather and simultaneously function as question words.

Fig. 4: How to fill in your search box

Last, you need to select the position in which the question word occurs within the sentence. As question words usually occur at the beginning of a question and thus in front of the word weather, you need to select a number on the left side. Since one can assume that there are about two to three words between the question word and the word weather, it is advisable to click on number four. In the end, your search box should look like the one shown in Fig. 5:

Fig. 5: What your search box should look like at the end

If you click on “Find collocates”, a list with question words should appear on your screen (Fig. 6). The most frequent question word used before the word weather is how.

Fig. 6: List of question words that function as an adverb and occur in combination with the noun weather

If you click on the word how, a list appears, showing concrete example sentences in which this particular question word occurs in combination with the noun weather (Fig. 7):

Fig. 7: List of examples in which how occurs in combination with the noun weather

If you compare the single sentences with each other, you will find a common sentence structure: How’s (or is/was) the weather (in …)?

Step 4: Searching for particular parts of speech – Finding adjectives that describe the weather

As a next step, you need to find adjectives that can be used in order to describe a specific weather situation. For this, you again need to use the “Collocates”-function (see step 3). In the lower box, click on “POS” again and this time select “adj.all” (meaning all kinds of adjectives). As the adjectives you are searching for can either occur directly in front of the noun weather (as in xxx weather) or up to three positions after it (as in the weather is very xxx), you need to click on number 1 on the left side and on number 3 on the right side. Your search box should then look like the one shown in Fig. 8:

Fig. 8: Collocate search box before clicking on “Find collocates”

However, you will probably get several different inflected versions of the same adjective (e.g. warm and warmer, cold and colder) if you leave your search box like this. If you want to know how frequent an adjective is regardless of its particular grammatical forms, you need to click on “Options”, which can be found in light grey letters in the right-hand corner, and select “Group by lemmas” (Fig. 9). A lemma is “a form of a word that appears as an entry in a dictionary and is used to represent all the other possible forms” (Cambridge Online Dictionary 2020).

Fig. 9: How to group words by lemmas

If you now click on “Find collocates”, a list similar to the one shown in Fig. 10 should appear on your screen.

Fig. 10: List of adjectives (grouped by lemmas) that frequently occur in combination with the noun weather

The list shown in Fig. 10 includes all adjectives that occur in combination with the noun weather, either directly in front of the word or up to two positions afterwards. To find out more about the specific context in which a certain adjective can be used in combination with weather, click on that particular adjective. Then, a new list will appear on your screen, showing all the example sentences in which this particular combination of the selected adjective and the noun weather occurs. If you click on the date on the far left, you can see more context and obtain information about the American soap opera from which a particular sentence was taken.

Fig. 11: List of example sentences featuring the adjective bad in combination with the noun weather

Based on your findings, you can now choose some adjectives that you would like to introduce to your pupils in the upcoming lessons. When selecting these adjectives, keep in mind that they are sorted by frequency. Given that one of the core objectives of teaching English as a foreign language is the teaching of authentic English, it is advisable to only include adjectives in your lessons that are frequently used in combination with the noun weather.

Step 5: Categorizing your research results

As a last step, you need to categorize your results in order to use them for your lesson preparation. Table 1 serves as an example of what such a categorization could look like:

Table 1: How to describe the weather in different ways (neutral, positive, negative)

Describing the weather in a neutral way

Describing the weather in a subjective way (positive)

Describing the weather in a subjective way (negative)

The weather is …








The weather is …








The weather is …





3.1.2 Task creation – Designing corpus-based teaching materials Warm-up activity

Step 6: Creating a warm-up activity in the form of a dialogue

As an introduction and warm-up activity, you can create a fictional dialogue between yourself as the teacher and a fictional person or the class mascot, talking about your plans for the holidays. At this point, it has to be noted that the pupils should already be familiar with typical vocabulary, phrases and sentence structures that can be used to greet somebody. Ideally, information regarding these phrases, sentence structures and vocabulary has also been derived from a corpus in previous lesson preparations. The warm-up activity thus serves both as a revision of old knowledge and as an introduction to new skills and vocabulary. The introductory dialogue could look like this:

Teacher: Hey (name of class mascot)! How are you?

Mascot: Hello Mr./Mrs. (name of teacher). I’m good, thanks. How are you?

Teacher: I’m good, too. What are you going to do in your holidays?

Mascot: I’m going to (country/city).

Teacher: Wow, you are going to (country/city)? That sounds like a lot of fun! How’s the weather in (country/city)?

Mascot: It’s chilly in (country/city).

Teacher: Brrrr, I don’t like cold weather.

Mascot: What are you going to do in your holidays then?

Teacher: I’m going to (country/city).

Mascot: How’s the weather in (country/city) then?

Teacher: It’s nice and warm so I can go to the beach!

Mascot: That sounds like a great plan!

Alternatively, you can also show an appropriate video in which people are talking about the weather and afterwards ask your pupils what the video was about. However, it can be quite difficult and time-consuming to find a video that is suitable for this particular warm-up activity. Therefore, it is advisable to create such a fictional dialogue. First task

Step 7: Creating word and picture cards

The warm-up activity provides the transition to the first task, which introduces new vocabulary. To create the material for this task, create picture cards that correspond to the adjectives listed in Table 1. All the cliparts used in this chapter are from https://publicdomainvectors.org and have the Common Creative license CC0.

Fig. 12: Example word and picture cards (clip arts: https://publicdomainvectors.org) Second task

Step 8: Designing a dice template

The second task aims to motivate the pupils to actually use the vocabulary in a dialogue or other forms of communication with the help of a weather dice featuring the clip arts you already used in order to design your picture cards. You can either create the ready-to-use dice on your own or provide your pupils with a template they can cut out and glue together. Such a template could look like this:

Fig. 13: Example dice template (clip arts: https://publicdomainvectors.org) Third task

Step 9: Selecting a weather report video and designing play cards

The third task can be introduced by a weather report. Try to find a short weather report that can be easily understood by beginners of the English language and that, at the same time, can also be fun and motivating for primary school pupils. A great example is the following video by Maple Leaf Learning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpBuaU5OPi8.

Based on this video, you can create play cards that illustrate the weather in different cities/countries and include a question to ask. You can use the same clip arts used in the picture cards pinned to the board during the first session.

Fig. 14: Example play cards (clip arts: https://publicdomainvectors.org)

3.2 Lesson sequence

Table 2: Lesson sequence “How’s the weather?”




Interaction form



Warm-up activity

Revision of previously acquired vocabulary, introduction of new vocabulary


Fictional dialogue (or video), class mascot

First task: Asking about the weather

The pupils work out the sentence structure of How’s the weather (in…)? and the corresponding answer. They familiarize themselves with this question and its possible answers.

Plenum (possibly sitting in a circle)

Word cards, picture cards


Second task: Consolidating and deepening the pupils’ knowledge

In pairs, pupils make use of the weather dice. One pupil asks the question How’s the weather? The other throws the dice and gives the corresponding answer.


Weather dice/dice templates


Third task: Creating a classroom conversation about the weather

All class members work together and ask each other how the weather is in a certain city/country they want to travel to. The different play cards appoint one city/country and the corresponding information to a pupil.


Weather report video, play cards


Additional task: Creating a weather report

With the help of some pre-fabricated sentence structures, the pupils create their own fictional weather reports.

Pairs or small groups

Worksheet with sentence structures/chunks, camera/tablet


Additional task: Working on a weather diary

After the first lessons, the pupils can start collecting daily information about the weather and record their observations in the form of a diary.

Individual work

Weather diary with pages for each day of the remaining unit and a page with supporting sentence structures/chunks

4 Options and further ideas

Having completed the first steps of the unit presented in this chapter, pupils could also be encouraged to further develop or deepen their acquired skills by creating their own weather report or weather diary. The report could be produced in groups. The word and picture cards introduced beforehand, as well as cards with supporting sentence structures, may serve as additional support for weaker pupils. The sentence structures on the support cards may be based on the weather report video, which will already be familiar to the pupils from task 3.

The weather diary could also be part of the pupils’ homework. The pages for the first few days may contain sentences with gaps that simply need to be filled in. As pupils progress, the design of the pages could them become more independent in writing their weather diary entries. By the end of the diary, pupils should be able to fill a page entirely on their own. Entries could include general information about the current weather situation, as well as information regarding the temperature or the next day’s weather forecast.

Fig. 15: Example pages for the beginning of the weather diary task (clip arts: https://publicdomainvectors.org)

5 Caveats and limitations

Fig. 16: How to continue your research without creating a paid premium account

When using english-copora.org to derive data for the purpose of designing teaching materials, some difficulties might be encountered. Firstly, a free account on this platform only allows the user to conduct a limited number of searches per day. In addition, after having used the searching tools for a while, a notification informing you about the possibility to upgrade your account will be displayed (Fig. 16).

If this notification appears on your screen, you simply need to wait for a few seconds. Then, a new button appears, which enables you to continue your search without creating a premium account.

Secondly, there are three ways of obtaining the clip arts that you will need for the tasks described in this chapter. You can either create them yourself, buy them from an illustrator or make use of open educational resources. In the latter two cases, it is mandatory that you are aware of and follow the respective copyright guidelines of the clip arts that you use. If you buy your clip arts from an illustrator, you are often only allowed to use them for your own personal crafting and classroom use. Thus, you are generally neither allowed to share these clip arts nor use them commercially. Consequently, if you intend to publish and resell your teaching materials, it is advisable to make use of open, publicly accessible educational resources. They are openly licensed, which means that users are allowed to reuse and even publish these materials and resources in their own works. The clip arts included in this chapter are open educational resources, too, and are covered by the Common Creative license CC0.

Lastly, it should be noted that there are different ways of how to ask somebody about the weather. It is also possible, for example, to ask What is the weather like today? Depending on which corpus you use and which kind of language data this corpus is based on (British or American English, spoken or written English, etc.) your data collection results may well differ from the ones presented in this chapter (see section 3.1.1). We deliberately decided to only introduce one way of asking about the weather in our proposed tasks because there is a high probability that pupils will otherwise mix several variants, thereby creating unidiomatic questions, e.g.,*How’s the weather like today? Nevertheless, it is, of course, possible to set the same tasks using the question What is the weather like today? or any other idiomatic expression.

6 Conclusion

This chapter has shown that working with corpora enables teachers to design innovative and authentic teaching materials and thus allows pupils to acquire useful, idiomatic phrases for conversations in English. Though the data compilation process may initially seem quite time-consuming and more complex than working with a conventional textbook, working with corpora can compensate for some of the weaknesses of the materials traditionally used in the primary school classroom (see section 1). However, in order to take advantage of these benefits, it is important to consider the appropriateness of the corpus chosen. Once collected, the corpus data can be easily stored and reused numerous times. Finally, the processes of collecting corpus data and developing motivating teaching materials on the basis of this data can be applied to any other topic of the EFL classroom that aims to enable (primary school) pupils to acquire communicative competences based on authentic English.

7 Resources and references

Corpus of American Soap Operas. https://www.english-corpora.org/soap/ (25 February, 2021).

Maple Leaf Learning. 2011. International Weather Report – Simple Skits. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpBuaU5OPi8 (25 February, 2021).

Public Domain Vectors. https://publicdomainvectors.org (25 February, 2021).

Cambridge Online Dictionary. 2020. Lemma. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/de/worterbuch/englisch/lemma (04 August, 2020).

Jones, Christian & Tania Horak. 2014. Leave it out! The use of soap operas as models of spoken discourse in the ELT classroom. Journal of Language Teaching and Learning 4(1). 1-14.

Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium. 2006. Kerncurriculum für die Grundschule, Schuljahrgänge 3-4: Englisch. https://docplayer.org/11297531-Niedersaechsisches-kultusministerium-kerncurriculum-fuer-die-grundschule-schuljahrgaenge-3-4-englischnieder-sachsen.html (25 February, 2021).

O’Keeffe, Anne, Michael McCarthy & Ronald Carter. 2007. From corpus to classroom language use and language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Quaglio, Paulo. 2009. Television dialogue: The sitcom Friends vs natural conversation. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Surkamp, Carola & Britta Viebrock (eds.). 2018. Teaching English as a foreign language: An introduction. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler.

Thaler, Engelbert. 2012. Englisch unterrichten: Grundlagen, Kompetenzen, Methoden. Berlin: Cornelsen.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Creating Corpus-Informed Materials for the English as a Foreign Language Classroom Copyright © 2021 by Jana Küpers and Nele Lange is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book