You can’t stop winter happening but you can change the impact it has on you.
That’s the heart-warming message from this series of wintry activities. They are ideal for classrooms, and particularly recommended for informal sessions or youth work.
This resource will help young people prepare for winter and maximise the season’s fun aspects, while reducing their risk of encountering its cold, dark, shivery side.
These ready-to-use slides can be used as a powerpoint presentation, an interactive whiteboard resource or as printed A3 student worksheets.
Prefer to pick and choose your activities? See below for even more ideas.
Plan B... and C, D, E, F...
New for 2014
Storm and floods quiz
Begin by showing the powerpoint of four pictures. How do they make the group feel? Cold is an obvious response. But some reactions will be interesting and surprising. Anyone feel nostalgic, excited, sad, cheerful, calm, secure, anxious...? List the responses and discuss. What is it about wintry weather that makes us feel this way?
Focus more on each picture with these quick ideas:
What might people trapped in these vehicles be thinking? They could be facing hours in their vehicle or perhaps a long walk to an overnight emergency centre. Compose a text message as if from someone – it could be you – trapped in a vehicle. Who would you contact, and what would you say?
Why might this school be closed? List as many reasons as the group can think of to explain why a head or manager would take the decision to close a school. Discuss counter arguments too – why would they want to keep it open? What are the crucial factors that decide it one way or the other?
Imagine that someone has not seen this picture. Your job is to describe the scene to them. Try to be accurate and precise, for instance with the estimate of how high the snow drift is. Include a description of the man.
Are the words chosen neutral and objective or do they include subjective assumptions that cannot be verified? Talk about where assumptions, for instance about elderly people, come from.
Who would drive through this?
Every winter some people misjudge the danger and risk driving through flooded roads. Talk about what may happen to cars that are stuck, or washed away.
The police issue warnings reminding drivers not to drive through floods "Turn around, don't drown" is one slogan. Can students devise others?
Warm up for winter weather with a dash-around game swapping past experiences. Try it before or after the photograph session above. Adapt the rules to suit anyone in the group with restricted mobility.
The format is "Swap places if..." Sit in chairs grouped in a circle, spaced as widely as you think right. Participants listen as you call out various experiences. Anyone who fits the description has to change places rapidly with someone else – and not someone sitting next to them. It can be a superquick activity to remind everyone of what happens in winter – a genuine icebreaker! Or you can pause after each question, invite people to say more about what happened, and so stimulate discussion and learn more about each other's experiences and personality.
Swap places if you've ever...
- stepped in a puddle that was deeper than you thought
- seen flooded fields or houses
- heard thunder and lightning nearby
- slipped on ice
- thrown a snowball
- been stuck because of transport failure
- checked on an elderly or vulnerable neighbour
- made a slide on an icy pavement
- missed something you were looking forward to because of snow
- missed something you weren't looking forward to because of snow
- helped push a car stuck in snow
- stayed in bed to keep warm
- put grit or cat litter on a path
- seen cars collide because of skidding
- been excited by severe wintry weather
- been bored by severe wintry weather
Add other experiences, relevant to local landmarks or events.
©Reuters/ AlertnetLook again at photograph 1. Every year people are caught out in bad weather and stranded on their travels. Others are stuck at home, cut off by closed roads and possibly without basics such as electricity or even water.
This photograph shows vehicles on the M8 motorway near Harthill in North Lanarkshire in December last year. Hundreds of drivers were stranded overnight as a result of snow and freezing temperatures
Try to imagine what it might be like to be in such a vehicle, stuck on a motorway in a queue of broken down and abandoned vehicles. It will soon be dark and it begins to snow again. You’re running out of petrol and battery power to keep the car heater on. What do you wish you had with you?
Planning experts say that when severe wintry weather is forecast it is a good idea to make up a grab bag. Prepared in advance, it contains supplies and information that would be useful if you become stranded away from home. A similar bag can be collected to be ready if you are trapped indoors.
Collect a large bunch of magazines and newspapers, marker pens, scissors, glue and very large sheets of paper. Explain the principle of a grab bag for wintry weather. Ask the group, working in pairs or smaller groups, to create a pictorial representation on their large sheets of paper of what they think they would need if they were trapped by snow on their travels (by car or public transport), or isolated by severe wintry weather. Use the magazine images and pens to create memorable visuals. Decide by discussion and voting, and have fun.
Leave time to compare and discuss at the end.
Use the list below, either as a trigger to get people thinking or as a checklist at the end for the group to identify anything they think is missing.
- list of emergency contact numbers
- battery-operated torch and spare batteries (or a wind-up torch)
- battery-operated radio and spare batteries (or a wind-up radio), so you know what’s happening
- any essential medication, toiletries and a first aid kit
- three-days’ supply of bottled water and ready-to-eat foods that keep
- copies of important documents like insurance policies and birth certificates
- pencil, paper, a penknife and a whistle
- spare keys to your home and car
- spare glasses or contact lenses
- if needed, baby and pet supplies
Finally, ask who thinks a grab bag is a good idea. Who is going to make one up?
Read more about grab bags.
©Reuters/ AlertnetFocus on picture 2. It shows a sign outside a closed nursery and kindergarten in south London in December last year.
Discuss the picture and invite the groups' experiences of school closures. Has anyone ever turned up somewhere to find it closed or cancelled? Ever decided not to go somewhere and later wished they had? Discuss the importance of accurate information. Talk about how stressful it can be when you don't know what is going on – especially if you have dependents or other responsibilities.
Clearly this school, attended by 250 young children, has tried to text parents to let them know of the closure, but found them not getting through. That is not that unusual during a crisis – heavy usage causes systems to fail.
Their next step is to say watch the website for news. But what if the website was down, or people's internet connections failed?
Discuss the different ways that parents could be told the school is closed and alerted when it reopens. Talk generally, then focus on a situation that young people might find themselves in:
- You have organised an event – a celebratory party, a music or sporting event. You get a message from the venue that the boiler is broken and the premises closed. Your job is to let everyone who might be coming know about it and avoid wasted journeys.
Invite all suggestions – texting, message on local radio, Facebook, going to see people. Record every solution and then ask what if that didn't work. What if the texting network was overloaded? Or you didn't have everyone's phone number? What then?
The idea is to build up a comprehensive picture of all the possibilities, and all the back-up options. Scrutinise the options, and look for potential problems that you could fix in the event planning. For instance, if you make sure you collect people's phone numbers when they book or give out a contact number with the invitations for checking before travel, you make cancellation easier. List those measures that can be built into the event planning.
Look at picture 3. Ask for quick responses - what is this man thinking? What might be the main things occupying his mind at the moment the picture was taken?
The picture was taken last winter in Auchterarder, Perthshire. Overnight snow brought down electricity lines, meaning that many thousands of people, possibly including this man, were without electricity. Many roads in the area were closed.
What would you advise him? Make a list. If you could speak to him, what would you suggest he does? If you could visit, what would you take with you? Discuss some of the options then set up a role play of a telephone conversation. Use the following role-play briefs:
You've phoned the man to check how he is coping with the snow. Introduce yourself as a neighbour who is concerned about elderly people. Ask how he is and listen to his concerns. Ask if he is able to keep warm and well-fed. Is he aware of the severe weather and how long it may last? Is there anything he wants? Be friendly and supportive. Make suggestions and offer help – but only what you know is realistic. Do not offer false reassurance.
Use your knowledge and imagination to identify with the character of an elderly person stranded at home with deep snow around, roads cut off and no electricity. You could portray your character as:
- Confident, determinedly independent, and sure that he needs no help from anyone.
- Anxious, fretful, grateful for offers of help and for hearing a friendly concerned voice.
- Confused in thought, rambling in speech, unaware of his surroundings and often asking for things to be repeated.
Afterwards discuss what was hard and what was easy about making the phone call. What comments or questions were helpful and which better avoided? Did it make you think more deeply about what was involved? Would you actually do it in real life? Why? Discuss the obstacles that might prevent some people from making that kind of phone call. What would make a difference?
© InfoInvite your group to guess the word that has been removed from the headlines or statements in this powerpoint. After each slide, try the ideas and activities below or move on, depending on the group and the time available.
Download the powerpoint quiz.
Putting _______ over shoes reduces the risk of slipping on ice
Wearing socks over shoes appears to be an effective and inexpensive method to reduce the likelihood of slipping on icy footpaths. That was the conclusion of a study reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal which tested the widely-known tip.
- Imagine someone agrees that this probably works. But they say "It looks stupid and I care what people think about me – so I'm not doing it." How would you respond?
- Interview each other for top tips on keeping upright on icy paths. Make a list of the popular ones, and decide on the most practical.
Children throwing snowballs could be _______
A Daily Telegraph report said police will crack down on youngsters caught "acting irresponsibly". Those found throwing snowballs in such a way have been warned they face arrest, a fine, or both.
- Talk about the first impressions of the complete headline. What kinds of reaction does it invite? Talk about different types of snowballing. Why is throwing snowballs at moving vehicles regarded as risky and possibly criminal? How is it different from a playful snowball fight?
- Draw up a list of safety rules for snowballing. Which aspects are easy to agree on, and which more difficult?
Elderly more likely to _______ in cold weather
- Did you realise that cold temperatures lead to raised blood pressure which increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks? Talk about how communities and individuals might check on the health of elderly neighbours. What else might they do?
- What can be done to keep warm? Use government advice websites to draw up some useful guidance on how to keep warm. Identify some of the barriers to staying warm and talk about how they can be removed.
Big rise in _______ cars on frosty mornings
- Talk about the modern method of car theft that relies on drivers starting engines in icy mornings then going indoors to keep warm while the windscreen clears. Thieves wait for the opportunity, sneak in and drive off using the owner's keys. Discuss how victims might feel. One driver in Wigan had her car stolen with two young children in it. Discuss how the thief might have felt. (The children jumped out shortly after it was stolen, suffering bumps and bruises.)
- Drivers are unlikely to receive insurance payouts because leaving a car unattended with the keys in the ignition is usually excluded from insurance policies. Many drivers do not realise that. Did you? Talk to drivers, tell them about the insurance rules, and ask about other times when they leave their vehicle with the keys in.
Download the storm and floods quiz.
Try this quiz as a group activity. Score points for correct answers to factual questions and add bonus points for discussion contributions. Or the material can be reformatted as a worksheet, printed and distributed for individual or pair work.
Alternatively, simply choose one of the questions to use as a starter from which to develop more focused work.
1. News reports in early 2014 featured part of southern England that was badly hit by floods. Was it:
a) The Wiltshire heights
b) The Somerset levels
c) The Dorset depths
Discussion: Many homes were evacuated over the weeks of the flooding. Would you have left your home early, or waited until the last possible moment? Explain why.
2. Moving flood water is extremely dangerous, to vehicles and pedestrians. How deep does fast-moving water have to be to knock over an adult?
a) Around 15 centimetres, up to the calf, could be enough.
b) Around waist high.
c) Up to a person's chest.
Discussion: What other hazards might there be for someone wading through flood water?
3. The met office issues weather warnings when severe weather could be a hazard. Its three warning levels are yellow, amber and red. What do these colour codes correspond to?
a) "Don't be cowardly", "Slow down" and, in the most extreme weather, "Stop".
b) "Wear something yellow", "Wear something amber", and in the most extreme weather, "Wear something red".
c) "Be aware", "Be prepared" and, in the most extreme weather, "Take action".
Discussion: Has a met office severe weather warning been issued for your area? Explain how you would find out and, if so, what it is.
4. What is measured by the Beaufort scale?
a) Wind speed and impact
b) Rain speed and impact
Discussion: It's very windy - Beaufort scale 7 with wind speeds forecast over 50 kph. Your friend is wondering whether it's safe to cycle. What do you say?
5. Experts say that every household should prepare a HELP in case of emergencies such as flooding or severe storm damage. What does HELP stand for?
a) Here Everything's Looking Peaceful
b) Household Emergency Life-saving Plan
c) Hurry, Excitement, Loss and Panic
Discussion: It is sometimes said that information is one of the most vital supplies during an emergency. Do you agree? Explain why, with examples.
6. "Cornwall cut off" was the headline after a severe night of storms in February 2014. What had happened?
a) A massive sea surge swept across south west Britain making Cornwall an island.
b) Fallen trees blocked every single road into Cornwall.
c) A section of the main train line was swept into the sea, disrupting the rail network.
Discussion: Imagine you were on a train that was halted because of storm damage to the line. It will be hours before alternative transport is available. How will you pass the time?
7. Schools are advised to train staff to carry out tasks in severe weather and floods. Which one of the following groups of tasks is NOT on the recommended list?
a) Making contact with emergency services, providing first aid and moving children to a safe place.
b) Updating social media, issuing gas masks and teaching children to swim.
c) Calming children, contacting parents and dealing with media interest.
Discussion: Several slates have blown off the school roof and stronger winds are forecast. The head has to decide whether to close the school. What factors need to be considered?
If your area is prone to flooding, it makes sense to know where to get up-to-date, accurate information about river levels. Even if flooding isn't a local hazard, it can be useful to know - for river activities or general knowledge - what state the water courses are in.
For a research activity, ask students to build up a picture of the local area, finding out what the typical level of river or sea levels are, and what the current level is. At what point does flooding become possible?
Useful information can be accessed through the Environment Agency website http://apps.environment-agency.gov.uk/river-and-sea-levels/
Another useful source is http://www.gaugemap.co.uk/ , which also allows students to sign up for a daily tweet from their local monitoring stations.
Ask students to devise a guide for anyone wishing to be well informed about the risk of flooding in their area. How can they receive alerts by phone, text or email? What phone number can they ring to get the latest flood update?
The activities on this page were written by PJ White and were last updated in November 2014.