Students at Gearies Primary School, in collaboration with the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies (ILCS) and local artists, have created a multilingual, illustrated dictionary of weather for schools and educators to use for free. This blog introduces the project and provides some ideas for how the resources can be used in the classroom.
In 2022, Artangel created an exhibition at Senate House Library called ‘A Thousand Words for Weather’. The project involved ten poets:
"Each poet chose and defined ten words for the weather in Arabic, Bengali, English, German, French, Mandarin, Polish, Spanish, Turkish, or Urdu. They then went on to translate one another's chosen weather words or phrases, contributing to a unique multilingual weather ‘dictionary’..." - Artangel website.
The weather is a great theme to use to explore nature, creativity, language use and multilingualism. Words for weather often demonstrate deep understandings of ecosystems and their impact on human behaviour, and vice versa. According to the University of Glasgow, the Scots have 421 different words for snow alone, and research in Hawaii has found over 200 words for rain. How many words for weather could there be in one primary school in East London?
A multilingual illustrated dictionary of weather
Inspired by Artangel’s work, students at Gearies Primary School created their own multilingual dictionary of weather. Working with writer Neela Doležalová, a group of Year 5 students chose six types of weather – snow, rain, storm, sunny, cold and wind – and shared translations of these words with each other from their own languages. The students worked with nine languages including Bengali, Dutch, English, Hindi, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Tamil and Ukrainian. The process led to interesting conversations about how easy or hard it is to translate certain words, and the nuances of meaning. Using these weather states as prompts, the students also engaged in free-writing, poetry, and drama activities in order to explore their own multilingualism through creative writing.
The students’ multilingual dictionary of weather was handed over to illustrator Clio Isadora who was commissioned to create six original pieces of art, one for each weather state. Designer Calixte Davis then created posters that incorporated the illustrations and translations, for a chosen target audience of Early Years and Key Stage 1 students. These posters are now freely available as an open-source resource to download, print, and use as desired (please see download links below).
How to use the posters
Aside from making a colourful and welcoming display, there are many ways these posters could be used in a classroom or education setting. The following activities provide a few examples:
• Add to the posters: Can students identify the languages that are already on the posters: how many of these languages do they recognise or know? Are there any other translations that the students could add directly onto the posters? This might be a good way to explore what languages are present in your classroom.
• Add to the series: The posters have been created for six weather words only (snow, rain, storm, sunny, cold and wind). Students could create new posters for other weather states. If you do this, please send us photos, we’d love to see!
• Expand for detail: Choose one poster to explore a word in depth. For example, how many different words or phrases are there for types of rain? Discuss why some languages might have more words for rain than others.
• Creative writing: Use the posters as creative writing prompts, exploring the weather as a stimulus for figurative writing. For example, is it possible to describe an emotion using only the language of weather? Can students ‘guess the emotions’ that other students have written about?
How to access the posters
The posters are available to download in two A4 formats: A high-quality 300dpi format, which is best for professional printing, and a lower quality 72dpi format, which may be more useful for general classroom use. You can download the posters here.
Additionally, we have some free printed A3 poster sets available for collection from Senate House, London. If you are interested in collecting some posters for your educational establishment, please contact Joseph Ford: Joseph.Ford@sas.ac.uk. Please also let us know how you use the posters, as we would love to share ideas from other educators.
Thank you to everyone who supported this project, in particular the students and teachers at Gearies Primary School and those who kindly offered their time to check translations and provide feedback.