Survival English: Listening to Weather Reports

It’s one thing to understand textbook sentences about the weather. It’s another to actually listen to an authentic forecast and try to make sense of it. A lower level student can deal with statements following a familiar pattern, such as it’s sunny today, it’s hot outside, it’s a rainy day, it’s windy, etc. Trouble with comprehension mounts with a stream of quickly delivered info: Today’s high will be 72, with winds from the southwest. Clouds will develop by evening, and there will be a 60% chance of light showers. The current temperature is 68.

Audio recordings, downloads, and live streaming make it possible to bring authentic listening practice into the language classroom. The National Weather Service offers a variety of options. I took interest in the collection of audio files for download or online listening. The site warns that the weather radio messages may not be current, but for instructional purposes, that’s irrelevant. What’s great is that you can select weather reports for different regions across the U.S. For Flagstaff, Arizona alone you have seven different transmitter locations. Choose a location, and then you can select the kind of message you wish to hear (under Select a Product): Regional Synopsis, Zone Forecast, Hourly Observations, Daily High and Low Temperatures.

  • The Regional Synopsis and Zone Forecast for each location provide the most varied information. I’d recommend having students listen to a set of audio files and answer questions to confirm their general comprehension. Without understanding or recalling all the details, they could be asked to identify which activities would be appropriate in a certain area for a specific day of the week according to the forecast. Model questions: If we go to Flagstaff, AZ this weekend, could we have a picnic in the park on Saturday? Should a visitor to Hibernia Park in Pennsylvania plan to go fishing or snowshoeing this week?


  • The Hourly Observations test students’ comprehension of numbers and percentages. The reports include not only outdoor temperatures, but also air pressure and relative humidity. For this kind of listening, I’d select 2-3 files and prepare the transcript. (Your efforts will pay off if you recycle this activity with other groups.) Make the transcripts gapped texts, leaving out key numbers and percentages. The Daily High and Low Temperatures can serve the same purpose for beginners. You can also help them process the temperatures in Fahrenheit,since so many students are used to the Celsius scale. Select 4-5 files in advance. Ask them to indicate cold, warm, and hot weather.

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