Welcome to the third post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we will post monthly articles complete with lesson plans and reading tips to help you focus on different aspects of the environment and raise environmental awareness in your English classes. Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. We also think that literacy and language development and environmental studies mutually support each other. To put it simply: the better your students’ literacy and language skills become, the more they will be able to learn about the environment and understand the urgent need to live in a sustainable fashion.
Last month we spoke about SEEDS, so this month the most obvious topic to bring our seeds to life is RAIN. We will explore rain from linguistic, cultural, literary and scientific perspectives.
“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener.” Henry David Thoureau - Walden, or Life in the Woods
What does rain feel like?
Warm up with this guessing game, asking your students one of the following based on their level:
- when the sky is crying
- water that falls from clouds in the sky
- water that falls in drops from clouds in the sky
- condensed moisture in the atmosphere falling visibly in separate drops
What images, sounds, smells and words come to your mind when you think of rain? Rainy days are often spent indoors and the soothing sound of the rain falling can help you concentrate or relax. The fresh smell of nature after rain gives us a sense of cleanliness and energy, especially in spring or summer. Ask your students what rain makes them think of. Do a brainstorming activity and focus on the senses first:
Then, ask them if they have had any memorable experiences that involve rain and to share them with the others. Get your students in the mood by playing an audio of different types of rain (there is a wide selection of copyright-free sound effects available online).
The language of rain
One of the most frequent comments language learners make is that it rains a lot in the British Isles. For this reason, there are lots of interesting words, phrases and sayings about rain in the English language. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Different types of rain
- light rain
- heavy rain
- torrential rain
- to spit
- to pour
- to pour down
Phrases with rain
- to rain cats and dogs
- (come) rain or shine
- to take a raincheck
- to save for a rainy day
What do you/your students think of the phrase “It never rains but it pours.”
You can also check out this article by the BBC. We recommend it to teachers and advanced learners.
When you have built some rain-related vocabulary, you can move onto some rain-infused cultural and literary projects.
When it rains in stories
We all have a story to share about the rain. Maybe we got caught in the rain, we were scared of a thunderstorm, or we simply love to go for a walk when or just after it rains. There are lots of stories in which rain has a crucial role. Rain is often a narrative device which shapes the plot, influences the characters’ decisions and creates an unforgettable scene.
Rain in films
Are there any famous rain scenes in your students’ reading and film experiences?
Before we turn to famous rain scenes in literature, let’s look at some iconic rain scenes in film. Choose the most appropriate film for your students and watch it together as a warm-up exercise. Ask them why the rain is important in the scene and what it means to the characters. Remind students that these scenes can symbolize hardship, new beginnings, unexpected moments, etc.
- Singin’ in the Rain (1954)
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
- Solaris (1972)
- Blade Runner (1982)
- Withnail & I (1986)
- Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- The Bridges of Madison County (1994)
- Magnolia (2000)
- Spider-Man (2002)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Rain in the classics
There are several famous rain scenes in the Helbling Readers Classic and Original stories. Let’s see some of them.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
We all remember the famous scene when Jane Bennet goes to Netherfield to dine with Mr Bingley. Mrs Bennet encourages Jane to go on horseback instead of taking the carriage, secretly hoping that if it rains, her daughter will have to stay the night. Of course Jane catches a terrible cold and needs to stay in Netherfield for a few days. How does this rainy decision influence the rest of the story?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
At the end of the novel, Nellie finds Heathcliff lying in his bed soaked in rain, shortly after, he dies. After his death people say they often see two ghosts in the moors walking in peace. Rain has a symbolic meaning here connected to Heathcliff’s life. Why is this rain significant?
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
There are several rainy and stormy scenes in this story. As your students are reading it, ask them to collect all of them and describe what happens during the rain.
The Fall of the House of Usher in Tales of Mystery by Edgar Allan Poe
There is a famous storm scene in this story. What happens during the storm? What kind of atmosphere does the rain create?
Some classic extracts for higher levels
Let’s see some more scenes from classic examples. These texts are best suited for B1 and higher level students.
Ask your students to find specific words which describe the rain in these extracts. What is the role of the rain in these passages? What atmosphere is created through the rain?
From Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The weather had been all the week extremely sultry, but the storm broke so suddenly—upon us, at least, in that sheltered spot—that before we reached the outskirts of the wood the thunder and lightning were frequent and the rain came plunging through the leaves as if every drop were a great leaden bead. As it was not a time for standing among trees, we ran out of the wood, and up and down the moss-grown steps which crossed the plantation-fence like two broad-staved ladders placed back to back, and made for a keeper’s lodge which was close at hand. We had often noticed the dark beauty of this lodge standing in a deep twilight of trees, and how the ivy clustered over it, and how there was a steep hollow near, where we had once seen the keeper’s dog dive down into the fern as if it were water.
From ‘Araby’ in Dubliners by James Joyce
One evening I went into the back drawing-room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: "O love! O love!" many times.
From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
“On the fifth day, which was a Sunday, it rained very hard. I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.”
Rain in original stories
The Time Capsule by Robert Campbell
In this exciting story about time travel, you will find an important storm scene. Read it and note all the rain-related expressions.
She’s still thinking about Michael when the sky becomes dark and the black storm clouds appear. Suddenly there’s a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. The electric lights in the house flicker on and off. ‘What’s that?’ Jan thinks she sees a shadow moving under the tree. Yes. There’s a boy standing under the tree. Jan knows that it’s dangerous to stand under a tree in a thunderstorm. She knocks on the window but the boy doesn’t hear her. She takes her anorak from behind the door and runs downstairs, through the kitchen and out the back door.
The Thirsty Tree by Andrán N. Bravi, illustrated by Valentina Russello
Although this story was written for young readers, we suggest you also share it with teens and adults as it is a beautiful tale about the environment and the symbolic importance of rain. In its apparent simplicity the story shows how all things are connected. Use the story with intermediate and advanced-level students to approach creative writing activities where the students use story to explain the importance of natural phenomena such as wind, sun, volcanoes, winter.
Rain in music
From time to time it’s nice to create a thematic playlist of songs and sounds. Ask your students to collect their top 10 songs about rain. Here are some famous ones:
- Singing in the Rain - Gene Kelly
- Umbrella - Rihanna
- Why Does it Always Rain on Me? - Travis
- Rain - The Beatles
- Purple Rain - Prince
- November Rain - Guns’n’Roses
- Come Rain or Shine - Frank Sinatra
- Have You Ever Seen the Rain? - Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Only Happy When it Rains - Garbage
- Set Fire to the Rain - Adele
- Here comes the rain again - Eurythmics
Science projects or your English classes
As the story of The Thirsty Tree illustrates, rain is essential for the cycle of life. Without rain we face droughts and famine. However, too much rain means floods and mudslides. Extreme rainfall can be increadingly explained by global warming and climate change and unfortunately we hear more and more stories of extreme rainfall, torrential rain, storms, floods and mudslides. You can explore the many aspects of rain through scientific projects.
1 Water cycle - Geography
- Ideal for all levels.
First, have a quick chat with a science teacher (Geography, Biology or Chemistry will work) and ask them for a quick diagram of the water cycle. Of course you can search the internet but it’s always nice to talk to our colleagues and ask for tips.
Then, check out a website about creating a water cycle experiment. Here are some examples:
2 Why does it rain on the British Isles? - Geography
- Ideal for teens.
Why does it always rain on the British Isles? Talk about the geographical reasons for those rainy images we have of the Isles. First, learn about the climate of the UK. Here you will find a simple overview:
Then, talk about British rainfall. You can study this site for some info:
Here you will find some advanced expert information about rain in the UK:
3 The rainiest places on Earth
Students can do some research about the rainiest places on Earth.
- How does rain influence the daily life of the people?
- How do you prepare for long days of rain? What clothes do you need?
- What types of houses do you need to build to cope with rainy seasons?
4 Extreme rain (or lack of rain)
Collect some information about the following points:
- the rainiest day in 2020
- the rainiest day of the 21st century
- the rainiest day of the 20th century
- the rainiest day of all time
Is it raining more or less in your country compared to previous decades? How can you measure the amount of rainfall in your area?
What are the consequences of extreme rainfall? Ask your higher level students to do some research about floods and mudslides.
Then, talk about extreme droughts.
- What causes them?
- How can we protect our environment against them?
- How do they influence food supplies?
5 Weather forecast
You can also encourage students to read the weather forecast in English. Ask them to collect information about your own area in English.
Then, they can find information about their dream holiday destination and describe the weather there at the moment and throughout the year.