Teaching materials: using newspapers in the classroom 1
By Lindsay Clandfield and Duncan Foord
Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Reference material
This article comes from the onestopenglish archive but ties in with this month's Guardian Weekly promotion. Advice and suggestions on using newspapers in the English classroom.
Ask any new ESL/EFL teacher (or, for that matter, a seasoned teacher) what comes to mind as an authentic reading activity for their learners and almost certainly one of the first things they will say is “using a newspaper”. There has been much use and abuse of newspapers in the ELT profession. This article takes a fresh look at newspapers and suggests what to do, and what to perhaps AVOID doing.
Why do so many teachers like using newspapers? Well, to start with, newspapers are much more current than coursebooks. There is also a lot of information in newspapers which make them an excellent springboard for lessons. Finally, there are lots of different kinds of texts in newspapers (narratives, stories, letters, advertisements, reports…)
So what do teachers do with newspapers? One of the problems with newspapers is that they are often used as an up-to-date coursebook activity. The teacher applies the same pedagogical principles and exercises that are in the coursebook. Two major problems tend to emerge from this approach:
- It can be extremely time-consuming for teachers
- It is not necessarily interesting for learners
If you are going to use a newspaper, the task itself should be authentic wherever possible, not merely the material. One aim of reading newspapers should be to encourage their reading outside the classroom as well. If you TEFLise a text too much, you run the risk of killing the enjoyment from it.
We have put together a list of 6 Dos and 6 Don’ts that we adhere to when using newspapers in class. Read them and decide for yourself whether you agree or not. Then perhaps you can try some of the ideas we include that follow.
Newspaper DOs and DON’Ts
- Use English language newspapers produced for the local community if you are teaching in a country where English is not an official language. Many large cities will have a newspaper in English. The topics within these papers are likely to have more of an impact on the learners than topics that are specific to the British or American press.
- Allow learners to select an article that interests them, work on it and report back to other learners.
- Be clear on aims. Is it reading or speaking you want to practice? Or both?
- Get learners to read outside class as much as possible.
- Make your tasks as authentic as the material. Tasks like “underline all the verbs in the past” are of limited value and should be used sparingly. Think about what people do when they read newspapers in their own language.
- Help learners to become better learners. Reading is a great way of acquiring language. If you can get your learners to regularly dip into English newspapers then their reading skills, writing skills and vocabulary will improve. Talk about reading and comprehension of English texts with your learners as well, and share strategies that they use when reading. How often do they use a dictionary for example? At the end of a course, do they feel they are reading faster or better?
- Make a song and dance about teaching words like headline, editorial, column, leader. Is it that useful to learners?
- Assume learners are interested in British, American, Canadian or Australian culture, particularly tabloid gossip. The British tabloids, for example, are a culturally specific type of newspaper and are not universal.
- Dwell on comparative style and discourse features of tabloid papers versus broadsheets. These are often either obvious or of interest only to journalists and media students.
- Assume what you find interesting in a newspaper will interest your learners.
- Spend ages with tippex blanking out words (if you want to do this type of exercise get your learners to white out words themselves and test each other).
- Set simple tasks for lower level learners with a very difficult piece of text, e.g. Find three numbers and two countries in this 3 column article on the Middle East. Unless these tasks are followed up with an opportunity to comprehend and interact with the text, they’re condescending and (almost) pointless.
Ideas on how to use newspapers
The following are a list of ideas on how to use a newspaper authentically in the classroom. Of course, old habits can die hard, so we have included some other, TEFL classroom type activities that we like as well.
1. Letter to the editor
Material: A series of recent newspapers in English
Direct learners to the letters to the editors page of the newspaper. Ask them to read some of the letters and discuss in pairs which ones they find most interesting/ controversial/ easy to understand. Feedback on this as a class. There is often one or more letters in the letter to the editor section that can spark discussion or a controversy.
Now ask learners to write their own letter to the editor. They can respond to one of the letters on the page, or they can write about a recent news item. They must write between 25 and 75 words. When they have finished, ask them to compare letters with a partner and try to peer correct any big mistakes. Circulate and monitor. Then post the letters to the editor around the class. If someone responded to an earlier letter then they should copy and cut out the original letter to which they are responding.
2. Q AND A (question and answer)
Material: Paper and pens, Copies of Notes and Queries section of the Guardian newspaper (optional)
Some newspapers, like The Guardian Weekly for example, have a section where readers write questions and other readers answer them. Here is an example:
Set up a Q and A board in your classroom. Every week ask 3 or 4 learners to submit a question for the board. You can set a theme (e.g. sports questions, grammar questions, movie questions) or leave it open. Check the questions for accuracy and post them up. During the week ask other learners to look at the questions (as they arrive in class, just before the end of class, if they finish early) and try write a response to one of them. They should post their answers under the relevant question. You can do this using 'Post It' notes, as the questions and answers should be relatively short. For more typical TEFL type activities try the following:
3. Brief News Items
In some newspapers, there is a news summary section consisting of many short news items (one paragraph each). Give each pair of learners one of these news items and ask them to write a headline for it on a separate slip of paper. Collect all the stories and the headlines. Post them on the board or put them on a table and ask learners to match the stories and the headlines.
4. Lies, damn lies
Ask learners to choose a short item of news that they find interesting and rewrite it, changing some of the details. Have learners exchange news items with a partner and see if they can spot the lies.
1. What's this?
Materials: photos cut out of various newspapers (not necessarily English newspapers)
Cut out some photos from the newspaper of recent news items which are familiar/ relevant/ of interest to your learners. Put the learners in pairs. Demonstrate the activity by holding up a picture and doing the following:
- Describe what is in the picture (there is… there are… a man is talking… two women are walking….)
- Speculate about what the news story could be (it could be… it must be… he might be…)
Ask learners to do the same with their picture in pairs. As a follow up they could write the caption for the photo on a separate piece of paper. Collect the captions and photos. Redistribute them to the learners, who now have to find the photo to match the caption.
2. Newspapers as a prompt
Material: Some recent newspapers (in the learners’ L1)
You can always use newspapers as a prompt to start a discussion on a given topic. Just as you would show a picture of something to prompt discussion, do the same with a newspaper article. If your aim is discussion and speaking skills, then why not use a newspaper written in the learners’ L1 to prompt discussion? Learners will be able to skim an article much quicker in their own language, especially at lower levels. If it is an issue that is local (and therefore unlikely to be covered in an English newspaper), then all the more reason to do so.
A variation of this would be to ask the learner to read something from the newspaper in their own language and explain it to you in English (of course this works best in small classes, or one to one classes).
3. Newspaper as a prop
Material: A newspaper (any language)
You can use a newspaper in class without learners having to read it at all. For some role play speaking activities give out props. For fidgety learners, having something to hold while they are speaking can help!
For example, role play a conversation between two people over a coffee in the morning. To help them get started, give them the following options to start a conversation:
A (reading a newspaper) – Can you BELIEVE this?
B – What is it?
A – This is an outrage. Listen to this…
A – Are you listening to me?
B (reading a newspaper) – Hmmmm?
A – I was saying…
For a more typical TEFL type activity try the following:
4. Roleplay the news
Choose an interesting article or story from the newspaper and make enough copies for every pair of learners. There are often “human interest” stories in the newspaper which adapt themselves well to role play (“Man finds long lost brother”; “Lottery winner buys a house for pet dog” etc.). Ask learners to first read the newspaper and then improvise a short role play. Role plays from newspapers are often conducted one of two ways: 1) one learner plays the journalist and the other plays the protagonist of the story; the journalists does an interview, or 2) learners each take the role of a person in the story and act out the story, or something that happens before or after the story.
1. What's in the news today?
Materials: English language newspapers
Distribute the newspapers, one for each group of two or three learners. Tell them they have a time limit with which to skim through the newspaper. When the timit limit is up, ask two groups to get together and report to each other everything they remember that is in the news. They must do this in English, and cannot refer to the newspapers (this is important, because otherwise you may get one or two learners who bury their heads in the paper and don’t participate!). Do feedback as a whole group. This is a combined reading and speaking activity, although the time limit forces learners to use the reading skill of skimming.
Newspaper show and tell
2. Materials: English language newspapers, enough so that each learner has one (or a section of one)
Give each learner a newspaper and tell them that for homework, you would like them to take the newspaper home, choose an article and prepare a report on it to classmates. The report must be no longer than five minutes, and should include peer teaching on new vocabulary that the learner encounters in their article. This encourages reading outside the classroom, as well as dictionary use. Set up a schedule and have the last five minutes of every class devoted to news reports by a learner or learners and make this project part of your class routine.
Do it yourselves newspaper quiz
Materials: One newspaper, or section of a newspaper for each group
Give each group of four or five learners a newspaper and a piece of paper. Tell them that they have ten minutes to make a quiz based on that section of the newspaper. Suggest different kinds of questions, e.g. How long has X been… Where is …? How many people…? What happened in …? Who is…? Who won…? How much did…pay/cost…?
In groups, learners write six questions. Circulate and monitor, checking the grammar and spelling in the questions (and making sure that questions are not too difficult!)
When the groups are finished, they pass the paper and the questions to another group. Set a time limit for new groups to do the quiz. Repeat the process if you have time. Do feedback and check the answers to the quizzes. This is good to practise the reading skill of scanning for information.
Why do all the work making a class for a news story when it is right there for you? You can download a free lesson based on a news story every month at onestopenglish.com. There are different lessons for elementary, intermediate and advanced learners for each news story. Take a look at the archive for some great pre-prepared materials.
How can we make sure that students are informed about what’s going on around the world? That they are armed with the tools to be able to distinguish between opinion and fact; between evidence-based statements and empty rhetoric; between sensationalism and solid journalism? Just like most other things in life, the best way to do all that is through practice.
In honor of National News Engagement Day, here are 50 ideas to help teachers bring current events into the classroom, grouped below by category:
Some ideas work best as regular routines, others as one-shot activities. Many might be easier to use together with the new K-12 New York Times school subscription, but all of them could be implemented using the free links to Times articles on The Learning Network — or with any other trusted news source.
In our comments section, we hope you’ll share how you teach current events.
Reading and Writing
1. Read the Paper and Find What Interests You: If we could recommend just one thing teenagers should do with the news, it’s this. Just read and discover what you care about. Every summer we try to promote this with our Summer Reading Contest, and we hope teachers are continuing this student-centered approach now that school has started.
You might invite your students to pick one article each week and write about why they chose it, perhaps using student winners from our summer contest as models. Our Reading Log (PDF) might also help.
Then, set aside time for students to share their picks with a partner, or even with a wider audience through social media.
2. Share Your Opinion: Each school day we publish a new Student Opinion question about an article in The Times. Students can participate in our moderated discussions online, or you can borrow from hundreds of published questions for class discussions or personal writing from 2016, 2015, 2014 and beyond.
3. Read About News-Making Teenagers: Every month we publish a collection of all the recent Times articles and multimedia that feature teenagers. Students can use this list to identify someone they admire, learn how other teenagers are taking action or make connections to issues in their own school and community.
4. Find ‘News You Can Use': Use The Times, or any other news source, to find things like movie or video game reviews, recipes, sports scores, health information, and how-to’s on subjects from social media to personal finance that can help improve your life.
5. Ask and Answer Questions: Each day we choose an important or interesting Times story and pose the basic news questions — Who, What, Where, When, Why and How — in our News Q’s feature. Students can first answer the “right there” questions that test reading comprehension, then move on to the deeper critical thinking questions, then write their own “News Q’s” about articles they select.
6. Write an Editorial: Have your students pick an issue that matters to them, whether climate change, gender roles or police brutality, and then write an evidence-based persuasive essay like the editorials The New York Times publishes every day. They can practice all year, but save their best work to submit in our Student Editorial Contest in February. Each year we select 10 winners along with dozens of runners-up and honorable mentions from nearly 5,000 student editorials.
7. Compare News Sources: Different papers, magazines and websites treat the news differently. You might have students compare lead stories or, via the Newseum’s daily gallery, front pages. Or, you might just pick one article about a divisive topic (politics, war, social issues) and see how different news sources have handled the subject.
8. Be a Journalist Yourself: Perhaps the most powerful way to engage with current events is to document them yourself, as a student journalist. Write articles or opinion pieces for your school or community paper about how a national or global issue is playing out in your community. Contribute comments online or letters to the editor reacting to news stories you’ve read. Use social media to document what you witness when news happens near you. Take video of local events and interview participants. Or, suggest ways that you and others your age can take action on an issue you care about. The National News Engagement Day Pinterest board has ideas like this and many more.
Speaking and Listening
9. Hold a Debate: Want your students to be able to develop arguments and support a point of view on current issues? We offer numerous resources to help, including: ideas for different classroom debate formats; ways to use The Times’ Room for Debate feature in the classroom; and a graphic organizer for gathering evidence on both sides of an argument (PDF).
10. Interview Fellow Students: Ask students to generate a question related to an issue they’re reading about, and then conduct a one-question interview (PDF) with their classmates. The room will be buzzing with students asking and answering questions. For more detailed instructions on this activity, consult our teacher instructions.
11. Brainstorm Solutions to the World’s Problems: Why not put students in the role of policymakers? They can look closely at an issue covered in The Times and brainstorm possible solutions together, using our Problem-Solution handout (PDF) to take notes. Then they can work together to draft a policy proposal, perhaps one that suggests a local solution to the problem, and present it to the class or to the school board or city council.
12. Create a News-Inspired Theatrical Performance: Whether a simple monologue or a full Reader’s Theater event, our series, Drama Strategies to Use With Any Day’s Times, can help you use simple theater exercises to spur discussion and thinking about current events.
13. Hold a Mock Campaign and Election: Looking to teach an upcoming election? Let students take the role of campaign strategists and candidates. Our Election Unit can be adapted for any election to get students researching candidates, studying issues, trying out campaign strategies and holding their own mock election. Or, choose another approach from our 10 ways to teach about Election Day or our list of resources for the 2016 presidential election.
14. Organize a Teach-In, Gallery Walk or Social Action on a Topic: Our country and world face complex issues — war, drug abuse, climate change, poverty — to name a few. Students working in groups can follow a topic in The Times, and then organize a classroom or whole school “teach-in” to inform their peers about topics in the news and decide how to take action. Alternatively, they can create a classroom gallery of photographs, maps, infographics, articles, editorial cartoons, essays, videos and whatever else they can find to immerse others in the topic. Ask yourself and your classmates, what can people our age do to effect change around this issue?
Games and Quizzes
15. See How You Do Compared to Others on Our Weekly News Quiz: Have students test how well they’ve been keeping up with the week’s news with our 10-question current events quiz. The answers provide an explanation along with links to relevant Times articles so students can learn more. Then, in December, students can take our annual year-end news quiz, like this one from 2015.
16. Play Fantasy Geopolitics: Have students draft teams of countries, similar to how they might draft players in a fantasy sports league, and then accumulate points based on how often those countries appear in The New York Times. Classrooms can track point scores and trade countries using the resources on the Fantasy Geopolitics site, a game created by Eric Nelson, a social studies teacher in Minnesota.
17. Battle Others in Bingo: Encourage students to get to know the newspaper — digital or print — by playing one of our many versions of bingo: Page One Bingo, Science, Health and Technology Bingo, World History Bingo or Geography Bingo (PDF).
18. Do a Scavenger Hunt: Send your students searching for answers to our New York Times Scavenger Hunt (PDF) as a way to become more familiar with how a newspaper covers the day’s news.
19. Mix and Match Headlines, Stories and Photos: Cut up articles, headlines and photos into three separate piles and mix them up, then challenge students in groups to see who can correctly match them in the shortest amount of time. When they’re done, they can fill out our related handout (PDF). Our teacher instructions provide more details.
20. Hunt for the Three Branches of Government in the Paper: What articles can you find in a week’s worth of papers about the different branches of the United States government? Record what you find with our Branching Out handout (PDF).
Photographs, Illustrations, Videos and Infographics
21. Analyze Photographs to Build Visual Literacy Skills: On Mondays we ask students to look closely at an image using the three-question facilitation method created by our partners at Visual Thinking Strategies: What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find? Students can participate in the activity by commenting in our weekly “What’s Going On In This Picture?” moderated conversation.
Alternatively, you might prefer to select your own news photos. Slideshows, such as the regular “Pictures of the Day” feature, are always a great place to find compelling images related to current events.
22. Interpret Editorial Cartoons and “Op-Art”: Patrick Chappatte publishes editorial cartoons on topics ranging from ISIS to the Ukraine. You can use the Visual Thinking Strategies facilitation method to ask open-ended questions, letting students make meaning out of the cartoons. Or, have students analyze some of the “Op-Art” on the Opinion pages of The Times. How do these images make an argument? Students can also try their hand at drawing their own editorial cartoons, and then enter them into our annual editorial cartoon contest.
23. Decipher an Infographic: Take an infographic or chart in The Times and have students explain what it shows using sentences. Our handout “A Graph Is Worth a Thousand Words, or At Least 50″ (PDF) can serve as a guide.
24. Create an Infographic: Or, do the opposite, and have students take the data provided in a Times article to create their own graph or chart (PDF). The Reader Ideas “From Article to Infographic: Translating Information About ‘Sneakerheads’” and “Telling Stories With Data” suggest ways to approach this task.
25. Illustrate the News: Students can draw an illustration that captures some aspect of an article. Using our handout “The One-Pager” (PDF), students accompany their illustration with a quote from the article as well as a question for the journalist or someone mentioned in the article.
26. Write a Postcard: Or, maybe having students create a mock postcard to or from a subject in a Times article would work better for your class.
27. Say What’s Unsaid: Another option is assigning students to add speech and thought bubbles (PDF) to a Times photograph to communicate something they learned by reading an article.
28. Create Storyboards: Students can break a story into various scenes that they illustrate (PDF), like a storyboard, and then write a caption or choose a quote from the article that captures the essence of each frame. Our teacher instructions can help with this activity, as can a recent lesson plan on using storyboards to inspire close reading.
Creative Writing and Design
29. Write a Rap or Song: Each December, we ask students to compose a rap about important and memorable events from the past year. Get inspired by the winners from our 2015 contest, and start polishing your rhymes for this year.
30. Make a Timeline: Students can design their own timelines, using photographs, captions and selected quotes, to understand and keep track of complex current events topics. Times models can help since the paper regularly publishes timelines on all kinds of topics, whether Mariano Rivera’s career, the evolution of Facebook or the Ferguson protests
31. Create a Twitter Feed: Or, students can create a fake Twitter feed documenting a news story, paying attention to time stamps and author tone, such as we suggested in this lesson about the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
32. Explore a Particular Community: Find reporting on a community of which you’re a member — whether an ethnic, religious, professional, school or artistic group, or any other — and analyze how it has been reported on. Then use these ideas for finding ways you can help express what, in your experience, makes this group unique. What do you think people need to know about this community and how can you communicate that?
33. Write a Found Poem: Every year we invite students to take any Times article or articles published since 1851 and mix and combine the words and phrases in them into a new piece. Take a look at the work of our winners for inspiration, but the exercise can be done with anything from a science essay to an obituary to an archival article reporting on a famous event from history.
34. Make a News Broadcast: Students can turn an article they read in The Times into an evening news broadcast, with an anchor, on-the-ground reporter and interview subjects.
35. Create an Audio Podcast: Listen to some Times models, then get students to create a podcast (PDF) of a news story instead.
36. Connect the Past to Today: Help students tie what they’re studying in history class to what’s going on in the world today. We regularly do this in both our Text to Text feature as well as our social-studies-focused lesson plans. You might also consider following @nytarchives on Twitter and our own “Throwback Thursday” posts to see echoes of the past in today’s headlines — or, visit Times Machine on your own to view by date or through search terms 129 years of Times journalism as it originally appeared.
37. Pair the News With Literature and Poetry: Encourage students to look for connections between literary themes and current events. Our Poetry Pairings and Text to Text lesson plans can provide inspiration, as can our Classic Literature posts.
38. Think Like a Historian: What events make the history books? How and from whose point of view are they told? Have students research a current events topic, and then write a paper arguing whether this topic will make “history” and how it will be remembered.
39. Connect The Times to Your Own Life: Have students make connections between the articles they read in The New York Times and their own life, other texts and the world around them using our Connecting The New York Times to Your World (PDF) handout.
40. Consider Censorship Through Any Day’s Front Page: What if we didn’t have freedom of the press? Ask students to take the front page of any New York Times and put an X over the stories that might be censored if our government controlled the press. You might use our Censoring the Press (PDF) handout to help.
41. Take Informed Action: When students become more informed about the world, they can get inspired to become civically active and engaged in their communities. Have students brainstorm issues that matter to them, either at the local, national or global level, and then design a plan of action for how they can begin to make the change they hope to see in the world.
Students at High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J. made this video about their year reading The Times in class.
42. Determine Reliability of Sources: How do we distinguish good journalism from propaganda or just shoddy reporting? Students can use simple mnemonics, like those developed at the Center for News Literacy, to evaluate the reliability of an article and the sources it relies on. For example, apply the acronym “IMVAIN” (PDF) to an article to surface whether sources (and the information they provide) are Independent, Multiple, Verifiable, Authoritative, Informed and Named. This and many other strategies can be found in our lesson on “fake news vs. real news.
43. Distinguish Fact From Opinion: Even within The Times, students can get confused when navigating between news and opinion. What’s the difference? Use our Skills Practice lesson on distinguishing between the two to help students learn the basics, then go on to our lesson “News and ‘News Analysis’,” to help students learn how to navigate between news reporting and Opinion pieces within news outlets.
44. Start With What Students Already Know: Students are often aware of current events on their own, even before topics come up in school. When delving into a subject, start by asking students what they’ve heard or seen, and what questions they already have. Use our K/W/L Chart (PDF) or a concept map to chart what students say and think. And this post, about reading strategies for informational text, has much more.
45. Identify Cause and Effect: Much of journalism involves tracking the ripple effects of big news events or societal trends. Our handout (PDF) can help students get started, as can this Facing History “iceberg” strategy that helps learners think about what’s “under the surface.” Another resource? This Skills Practice lesson.
46. Compare and Contrast:Venn diagrams and T-charts (PDF) are often useful for comparing two topics or issues in the news, and our Text-to-Text handout can help students compare two or more texts, such as an article and a historical document.
47. Read Closely: By using a double-entry journal (PDF), students can become better readers of informational text by noting comments, questions and observations alongside lines or details they select from a text.
48. Support Opinions With Facts: Whether students are writing their own persuasive arguments, or reading those written by other people, they need to understand how authors support opinions with facts. Students can practice by reading Times Opinion pieces and identifying how authors construct arguments using opinions supported by facts (PDF). Then they can develop their own evidence-based counterpoints.
49. Summarize an Article: Having students pull out the basic information of a news story — the five W’s and an H (PDF) can help them better understand a current events topic. Here is a lesson plan with a summary quiz and many ideas for practice.
50. Learn From Our Mistakes: There are several places in the newspaper where you can see corrections and analysis of where The Times has made a misstep. For a weekly critique of grammar, usage and style in The Times, see the After Deadline series. For a list of each day’s corrections, go to the bottom of the Today’s Paper section and click “corrections.” And for a full discussion of issues readers and the public raise around Times coverage, visit the Public Editor column. What can you learn from the mistakes The Times makes, and from how they are addressed publicly?
Let us know in the comment section below how you teach current events in your class, or which ideas from the above list inspired you.
Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.