Newspapers are a useful tool in the ELT classroom for improving reading skills and enhancing students' knowledge of current affairs. There is a danger of putting students off reading newspapers if articles are used in the same way as course books, with tedious comprehension activities. If used in a more inspiring way, newspapers can help students to develop not only reading skills but also writing, grammar, vocabulary and speaking skills. Below are some tips and activities which I believe can help.
- Encourage students to read newspapers outside the classroom, explaining that ongoing reading can help them to articulate/discuss ideas more fluently, as well as read and understand a whole variety of texts.
- Use different newspapers to suit your students' tastes. If you are teaching in an area where English-language newspapers are produced for the local community, these may include articles and topics of particular interest and relevance to your students.
- You don't need to have a great supply of newspapers in the classroom. Most newspapers have an online version, where you can print off articles, e.g. http://www.guardian.co.uk/ or http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/
- Talk to your students about reading and comprehension of English texts. It might be helpful to share strategies for reading. For example, How often do they use a dictionary? Do they take notes, or jot down new vocabulary? Do they skim read to get a general idea of a text?
- Guess the headline
Cut out a number of headlines and from each one remove an interesting word (e.g. Missing Painting Found In ________ ). Stick the incomplete headlines on a piece of paper, photocopy and distribute to teams of 3-4 students. Ask each team to come up with two possible answers for each headline: the most likely word and the funniest word. Collect all the responses and give each team a point for any correct answer, and for the funniest answers. Get everyone involved by holding a vote for the funniest / most original answer for each headline.
- Guess the article
Select an interesting newspaper article, preferably one which involves an exciting / unusual story. Choose eight key words from the article and write them on the board. Ask students to work in teams of 3-4 to come up with a story including these words. When they have finished, read out / tell them about the original article. Get students to read aloud their own versions - this can create a lot of laughs!
- Newspaper lies
Ask students to select a short item of news and to summarise it to a partner / team, changing some of the details. Partners need to try and guess which of the facts are true and which have been changed.
- Wall quiz
Write a list of questions based on a selection of newspaper articles, and distribute the quiz to teams of 2-3 students. Pin up the articles around the room and ask students to walk around the room trying to find the answers. The winning team is the first to find all the answers. This can be quite a lively activity!
To encourage students to read newspapers in English on a more regular basis, organise short presentations at the beginning of each class. Ask a different student at the end of each class to find an interesting newspaper article and to summarise it to the other students during the next class, explaining why they chose it. This can lead to interesting discussions about current issues.
- Newspaper treasure hunt
For this activity you will need a pile of old newspapers, enough to distribute amongst teams of 4-5 students. Write a list of articles / words / pictures which the students need to find, and give teams a copy of the list. Tell them to cut out their 'treasures' and glue them next to the appropriate word in the list (or make a note of the page number). Possible list:
- A job advert
- Some good news
- Some bad news
- Reference to a famous political figure
- News about a star
- Weather forecast
- News about a sport
- Name of a country
- Favourite news item
This is an easy activity for helping students to summarise articles. For this activity it is best to use tabloid newspapers or articles involving a bit of scandal, perhaps about famous people. Teach students useful phrases for chatting or gossiping, e.g. 'Have you heard about…?', 'Did you know that…?', 'Guess what?' etc. Use appropriate gestures and intonation. Ask students to choose an article of their choice, underline or jot down important parts of the article and report it to a friend, as though having an informal chat. They could then go round the class, chatting with different people about their news article. You could also teach students some useful phrases for responding, e.g. 'Really? I don't believe it!', 'Are you joking?', 'How / when did it happen?'
- News programmes
This is a great team activity for both reading and speaking practice. Put students into small teams and give them one or two recent newspapers. Tell them that they are going to work together to produce a news programme, including the headlines, special reports, interviews, perhaps some footage from a story (if students like acting!), perhaps the weather forecast. Their programme should be based on news items from the papers, and everyone must be involved in some way. If you have the equipment, you might like to film the programmes, or if not, each team could act out their programme to the rest of the class.
Kate Joyce, British Council
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