In this numeracy lesson plan Paul Ainsworth describes how learning about probability can provide excellent opportunities for speaking and listening and incorporate plenty of challenge for the most able

Go straight to the lesson plan or read on for background rationale. I’ve always enjoyed teaching probability, largely due to the many opportunities for playing a variety of games with pupils, often using dice. However, in the rush to look at fractions, probability space diagrams (tables) or the rules of probability, I have often skipped over the section on handling data, which considers developing the language associated with probability . Last year I moved from teaching A-level statistics to working in a middle school environment. This made me realise again how crucial it is to develop a thorough understanding of the basics of probability which will then place into context the use of fractions and decimals in pupils’ future studies. One of the other pleasures of probability is the link to everyday life and I wanted to relate the language of chance to as realistic a scenario as possible. In the Year 5 national numeracy lesson plans there was a lesson on weather forecasting which seemed to be perfect for developing into a group of lessons which would be enjoyable for all the children and also provide appropriate stretch for G&T pupils in a number of directions, according to their interest. In addition, one of my school’s priorities was to develop speaking and listening skills. Previously, I had not given this aspect of my teaching the attention it should have received. Too often, the opportunities allowing children to develop their speaking and listening have been limited to describing patterns in investigations or explaining why they had performed a calculation in a certain way. What I really wanted to do was to give children a longer opportunity to speak about their mathematics. Delivering a weather forecast seemed ideal, without being too contrived.

Key to the lesson plan

Opportunities for achieving ECM outcomes are marked within the text in brackets (S Safety H Healthy Ea Enjoy and Achieve E Economic wellbeing P Positive contribution). G&T extension activities are marked with the * icon and the text is blue.

Forecasting the weather

Lesson: Forecasting the weather    Length: 50 minutes Subject: Numeracy

Key Stage 2 (Year 4,5 or 6)

Context and curriculum links: Handling Data/Probability – Developing an understanding of the language of probability by considering weather forecasting. Summer term unit 6a, lesson 1. NC Attainment Target 4: Handling Data Level 5: They understand and use the probability scale from 0 to 1. Pupils find and justify probabilities, and approximations to these, by selecting and using methods based on equally likely outcomes and experimental evidence, as appropriate. National Numeracy Strategy Unit Objectives: Year 5: Discuss the chance or likelihood of an event happening.

Year 6: Use the language associated with probability to discuss events, including those with equally likely outcomes.

Teaching objectives: To use the language associated with probability to discuss events including those with equally likely outcomes.

Learning outcomes: Pupils will be able to:

  • use the vocabulary of probability to describe how likely an event is to happen
  • locate the major cities in the United Kingdom
  • present a weather forecast to the group.

  • IWB or projector. Weather map (BBC or Met Office)
  • Photocopies of weather maps with a variety of weather symbols. Show-me boards.
Activities: Starter – whole class – five minutes

  • Show pupils a probability scale including only one probability word: impossible. Pupils have to write as many probability words as possible on their show-me boards. *Tasks 1 and 2

Introduction – whole class – five minutes

  • Collect the probability words and place them on the probability scale in the appropriate places.
  • Question: In pairs pupils have to consider how likely is it to rain tomorrow? *Task 3
  • Development – small groups – 35 minutes
  • Read a weather forecast and count how many different probability words are being used.
  • In groups, (*act as group scribe) pupils study the weather symbols and decide what weather condition is being described.
  • Distribute a weather map and each group has to write a weather forecast for two locations on the map and use as many probability words as they can. *Task 4
  • Each group chooses two people to present their weather forecast (next lesson). Each pupil uses a pro-forma to assess the quality of the presentation.
  • Homework
  • Pupils find a weather forecast map and glue it into their books (it can be from a newspaper or an internet site) and then discuss with a parent or carer whether the forecast was correct. *Task 5

Plenary – whole class – 15 minutes

  • What information should there be in a good weather forecast?
 * Tasks for extension

  1. Pupils place the probability words on their scale.
  2. Pupils write a numerical probability against each word.
  3. Is there a weather condition which is equally likely tomorrow? Why?
  4. Pupils use precise locations in their weather forecast such as cities or counties and/or discuss sea conditions and wind strengths in their forecast.
  5. What is the shipping forecast? Use the internet to research the meaning of the following terms; synopsis, Viking, North Utsire, Tyne, Dogger and northwesterly 4.
Pupils in their groups present their weather forecast. The numeracy assessment would consider their correct use of probability terms. A speaking and listening assessment could also be conducted for their literacy.
What next? You could:

  • Consider other area of life where probability is used. For example what do horse racing odds mean? How likely are your parents to win the National Lottery?
  • The different areas of the maritime map could also be explored and the weather in each area could be compared.
  • Pupils could keep a diary of the weather for a week and compare it with the forecast.

Notes on the lesson


The lesson was begun by pupils brainstorming on show-me boards as many probability words as possible after being given the starting point of impossible on a probability line against zero. This immediately gave two extension activities for G&T children. Firstly they could try and place their words on the probability line in the appropriate places, followed by considering the decimals or fractional values which could be given to certain terms such as likely, unlikely, very likely, very unlikely and equally likely. IntroductionThe brainstorm was collected on the board and placed on the probability scale in the appropriate places. To begin leading the lesson towards weather forecasting, the group was asked: How likely is it to rain tomorrow? Pupils often seem to wish to plump for ‘equally likely’ as this appears as a safe bet to them. However, ‘equally likely’ is a term that when used in assessment answers is often wrong due to the precision of its definition. Therefore, to stretch the G&T pupils they were asked to think of an example when rain tomorrow was ‘equally likely’, which they then had to explain to the rest of the group. DevelopmentA short weather forecast was then read: ‘Rain is likely, strong winds are certain and it is possible the temperature will  reach 8 degrees C.’ The pupils had to identify all the probability words and the time of year. This led to an interesting discussion on what the temperature was at different times in the year. Fortunately, I had already checked what the temperature was on that day; that information, and the fact that water freezes at 0 degrees C gave the pupils a starting point. Next, the pupils were given a weather map which had been photocopied from a newspaper. Their first task was to suggest what each symbol on the map denoted. One pupil in each group was allocated the role of scribe and the group had to write two weather forecasts for two locations from the map. The G&T pupils had the opportunity to take the role of scribe; they were also encouraged to think about describing locations on the map accurately and to consider the more unusual symbols on the map. Living in an inland location, one of the symbols presenting a challenge was the indication of how rough the water was.

This process took a 50-minute lesson. Second lessonIn the second lesson, the pupils presented their weather forecasts to the group. There was no insistence that each member of the group spoke and it was interesting to observe what each group decided to do. The pupils assessed each presentation taking into account the use of probability words, the locations given and the how well each forecast was delivered. This was done by each group and the G&T pupils helped their groups decide on their assessments. PlenaryThe plenary was to summarise all this information and decide which information should be included in a good weather forecast. Pupils could refer to the forecasts given by the group and also to consider the weather forecasts they see on television.

There are so many ways that this could be developed further. One of the pupils in the group was quite intrigued by the geographical terms given in shipping forecasts. The lesson as a whole could lead into the geography of the United Kingdom and where various cities, rivers and seas are. Finally, the pupils could keep a weather log for a period of time.

There is no doubt though that the aspect of the lesson which I and the pupils enjoyed the most was the speaking and listening element. It was fascinating to see their skills and aptitudes in a different area and the pupils thought it was ‘cool’ to be doing so much talking in maths.