Teaching ESL Climate & Nature Vocabulary

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, you'll be learning how to teach ESL students about the natural world around them. We'll go over important vocabulary words for climate and nature, then review different strategies to teach your students these words.

The Natural World

Climate and nature are all around us. On a daily basis we discuss the weather, and when it gets warm outside, many people's plans involve spending time outdoors. It's important for your students to have the vocabulary to engage in these common topics of conversation. Since the vocabulary for climate and nature is so vast, you might want to focus on vocabulary that is relevant to your region. For example, if your students live in Kansas, a tornado might be on your climate vocabulary list. But, if you teach in Alaska, snowstorms might be more relevant. Here, we'll suggest some general climate and weather vocabulary, but customizing it to your region will make it most useful to your students.


Our vocabulary is divided into different topics: weather, climate, and nature. By teaching different categories of vocabulary on different days, you can give students time to practice one topic before moving to the next. This is particularly helpful for the large volume of vocabulary associated with these topics.


Temperature Clouds Rain
Snow Storm Cold
Hot Sunny Windy

Optional depending on your region:

Snow Hail Sleet
Tornado Hurricane Flood
Earthquake Wildfire Drought


Global Warming Tropical Temperate
Dry Wet Humid
Desert Arid Tundra


Deciduous Forest

Tree Flower Fern
Insect Spider Snake
Lizard Fish Rabbit
Squirrel Bear Deer
Hawk Blue Jay Robin

Forest animals and plants
animals and plants


Cactus Grass Shrub
Dust Storm Oasis Insect
Lizard Snake Mice
Cougar Coyote Armadillo


Grass Moss Fox
Bear Wolf Rabbit
Owl Caribou Elk


Card Sort

ELL students are often from very different climates compared to where they live in America. Common words to us, like elk or deer, are completely foreign to them. Likewise, students from tropical climates may have never seen snow in real life. Starting with image associations can be very helpful. You can dedicate class time to having students make flashcards with images. Either provide images already printed out for students, or have students draw their own images. Include the image on the front and write the vocabulary word on the back. Then students can practice vocabulary word recall by flipping through the images.


Videos of weather in action can be a very powerful learning tool. It's a lot easier to understand a tornado when you can watch it, compared to simply reading a definition. Consider showing students videos of different weather patterns and climates and having them use vocabulary to describe what they are seeing. They can share their descriptions with each other or the class to promote verbal language skills.

Showing students videos of weather helps them understand the vocabulary


Although teacher-made definitions ensure that students get the correct information, having students write their own definitions can be a highly beneficial learning tool. Students can either look words up in a dictionary, or create a definition in their own words based on class instruction or reading. They then can create their own glossary in their notebook.

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