The weather may be frightful, but that certainly doesn’t mean English class has to be. The colder weather can be an excellent opportunity to introduce your students to a variety of fun winter words and terms.
Winter Weather Vocabulary for ESL Students
There are so many words and concepts relating to winter to share with students. One of the best places to start is with the weather itself. For beginner students, this may be as simple as teaching words like cold or snow. These can be shown with pictures and gestures. You can also teach them to say brrr to show they are cold. You can use the TPR of hugging yourself while doing this. You can include less common weather words such as blizzard, sleet, and hail for more advanced students. Very advanced students may even enjoy learning words like Nor’easter. Wind chill is also a good phrase to discuss, and you can ask the students about the weather in their cities. Is it freezing in the winter or just cool? Pictures can again be useful for conveying these concepts. Words that describe degrees of cold can be great for helping more advanced students increase their vocabulary. Do they like weather that is a little chilly or frigid? How do they feel about subzero temperatures? How many different ways can students describe winter weather?1 Bleak, slushy, frosty, wet? Ask the students what other winter weather synonyms they know.
Winter Sports and Activities Vocabulary
Winter sports can be great fun to both participate in and discuss. In addition to snowball fights and ice skating, students can also be taught some of the words relating to ice hockey, such as puck and stick and goalie. Zamboni is also a fun word to teach. You may want to discuss the difference between cross country skiing and downhill skiing with more advanced students.2 You can discuss popular sports from the Winter Olympics such as luge and bobsled as well. Which sports do the students like to play, and which ones would they like to try? Do they like to watch others play these sports on tv, too?
Building Snowmen can be a fun topic, especially for younger students. You can use them to discuss body parts and ask students if they think carrots make good noses. What else can they build out of snow?
Descriptive Winter Words for Holidays and Food
There are various winter holidays to discuss from Christmas, to New Years, to the Spring Festival and Valentine’s Day. You can ask the students what their favorite winter holiday is and what they like to do to celebrate. Don’t forget to ask students about what foods they like to eat for different holidays. Popular winter foods make great vocab words. Do students like to drink hot chocolate in the summer or in the winter? Have they ever had gingerbread? You can use a gingerbread house as a prop to discuss parts of the home or a gingerbread man to discuss body parts.
Winter Words for Clothing
Any discussion of winter isn’t complete without mentioning vocabulary related to cold-weather clothing. Vocabulary can range from “winter hats” to “snow suits” to “wool socks.” You can ask students if they prefer to wear “mittens” or “gloves.” Be sure to dress up with your favorite winter clothes to use as props, and ask your students to describe their own clothing items and style. More advanced students may be able to talk about different fabrics their winter clothes are made out of, such as wool, fur, or leather. You can discuss the difference between cotton hoodies and wool sweaters/jumpers and ask which students prefer and why. You can mention the difference between the American term and the British/Australian term for more advanced students.
Expansion Questions for Winter Weather Vocabulary
Ask more advanced students to describe their perfect winter day. What is the temperature? Is it snowing? Will they stay inside or go out to play? Who do they want to share a perfect winter day with? Ask students about what an ideal winter vacation looks like. Do they want to ski in the mountains or take a break from the cold and visit a beach?
How are students’ houses different in winter? Do they use heavy blankets? Is the heat on? You can also ask students what they think of having a fireplace. Is it cozy or too dangerous?
Winter also brings with it different chores. While ALO7’s ESL students in Shanghai rarely see snow,3 you can discuss with students what they think of the idea of snow shovels and snow blowers. You can also talk to students about snowplows and snow tires and what people do to stay safe while driving in snow. You can discuss how people in cold areas salt their roads to help prevent them from becoming too icy. Ask students what winter chores they would and would not like to do and why.
Winter may not be everyone’s favorite season, but it can still be a lot of fun. Winter vocabulary will help students describe their world more vividly. With the right knowledge, your students will be able to learn and share about the winter season in no time.
Citations for Winter Vocabulary for ESL Students:
1 Descriptive Words for Winter. (2015, December 16). Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://descriptivewords.org/descriptive-words-for-winter/
2 Winter Vocabulary: Useful List Of Words About Winter. (2020, December 06). Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://games4esl.com/winter-vocabulary/
3 Shanghai Weather in January. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/shanghai/weather-january.htm
Lauren Krystaf has been teaching with ALO7 since 2017 and loves having the opportunity to teach English from anywhere with an internet connection. She enjoys traveling, reading, hiking, and spending time with her family.
Lauren has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from SUNY Buffalo and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Drexel University. She also has a 120 hour TESOL certificate. Lauren is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Beta Phi Mu honor societies.