Topical news stories are a great source of teaching material. This article presents different ways to exploit news reports in the classroom and focuses on raising the level of involvement and participation that the students have in the lesson.

Using news articles - reading article

 

  • Selection criteria
  • Before reading
  • First reading
  • Second reading
  • Language focus
  • Follow up
  • Sources

 

Selection criteria
It is important that you choose your news article wisely. You should consider the following criteria.

  • Appropriacy of topic
    Will your students be interested in the topic? Will it be upsetting for some students? Is it suitable for the age group?
  • Length
    Be careful to avoid articles that are particularly long. Reading a news report in a second language is demanding, and if the article is too long it will discourage students. If the news report is lengthy, do not be afraid of editing. The style of news articles often means that entire paragraphs can be omitted without affecting the overall sense of the piece.
  • Language content
    Besides the general interest in the topic, this may well be the most important selection criteria. Does the article contain a useful lexical set (crime, money)? Are there some good grammar exponents (past perfect, reported speech) or interesting syntax and sentence style? These will provide the basis of your language work on the text, how can the language be exploited?
  • Generative?
    Can you think of a good way to follow up the basic textual work? Does the topic lend itself to discussion or role play? Can you practise the language further?
  • Task suitability
    When working with authentic material there are issues concerning the authenticity of the tasks. The most authentic task is for students to simply read the article. Although we usually look to exploit the text a little more in the classroom, it is important to keep tasks as realistic as possible.

 

Before reading
There are many things to do before students begin reading to generate interest, build confidence and to facilitate comprehension.

Introduction exercises
These are used to raise awareness of the topic, activate knowledge and current language. The following activities could be used.

  • Discussion questionnaire
    • Students discuss questions related to the topic
  • Quiz
    • This can test their knowledge of the topic or people/places featured in the article
  • Pictures
    • Describing or discussing pictures that relate to the topic

 

Pre-reading Activities
These are activities that are directly related to the text, rather than the topic in general

  • Students predict the story from the headline
    • The students may need dictionaries and you should be careful of puns and double meanings. Students should work in pairs, and feed back ideas to the board/teacher.
  • Students predict the story from a picture accompanying the article
  • Predict vocabulary
    • Once students know the topic of the article, they predict words that they think they will read. Again, feed back these predictions to the board. As students read, they should tick the words they find. Which pair predicted the most words?
  • Vocabulary selection/sort
    • In this activity, the students are given a group of words, some of which are from the article, others are not. The students decide which ones are from the article. Obviously, they need to know the topic of the article.
  • Sentence selection
    • This is the same as vocabulary selection, but students sort sentences instead.

 

First reading
The first reading activities should avoid a large number of detailed questions. By the end of the reading the students should be able to give a brief summary of what the article is about, what the main points are.

  • Check pre-reading ideas (story/vocabulary prediction)
  • Ask one or two questions for general understanding
    • These questions should focus on the main point of the article
  • Put the text in order
    • Students are given the article which has been cut into sections. Working with a partner they have to reassemble the article. Be sure to make sensible cuts, so that either the sense of the piece or the language syntax can be used to put the story in order. News texts can often be put in several possible orders, so be careful - utilise dependent prepositions, pronouns and clauses.
  • Gap fill
    • Remove lexis or clauses from the text. Students try to put the words in the correct places

 

Second reading
The second reading should lead to a detailed understanding of the article.

  • Ask more detailed comprehension questions
    • True or false
    • Choose the best answer, a, b or c
    • Which paragraph says…
    • What do these numbers refer to?
    • What do these people think?
  • Information Transfer
    • Students complete a table or chart with information from the article
  • Make questions
    • Students read the article and write comprehension questions for other students to answer. This is best done in pairs.

 

Language focus
This is the time to exploit the article for its language content. News articles are rich sources of vocabulary, and also provide good grammar exponents.  

Vocabulary

  • Lexical sets
    • An article may provide vocabulary associated with particular topics - money, crime, politics. Students either search the article for members of a given lexical set, or you could provide them with a sorting activity which uses words from the text.
  • Deducing meaning from context
    • This is a key skill for students to develop. Either ask students to give definitions of certain words or you could give them choices or a matching exercise (match the word to a definition) students can then check their ideas with a dictionary (if there is time)
  • Student 'News Language Notebooks'
    • News articles often use vocabulary that may be referred to as journalese, and the students' understanding of this register needs to be developed.

 

Grammar
Often a news article provides good examples of grammar - for example the past perfect. In this case, asking students to put particular events in chronological order leads to further work on this verb form.

Sentence structure/style

Draw students attention to well-crafted sentences, or ask them to find sentences that they think are good or interesting examples.

Follow up
There are lots of opportunities to extend the work done on the article, and to use a different skill such as speaking or writing. This gives students a chance to use the language they have learnt from the text.

  • Role play based on text
    • e.g. an interview with a protagonist from the story
  • Discussion of topic/ideas/argument of the text
  • Design something / task
    • e.g. following an article on a new housing initiative, students plan a dream house
  • Research project
    • e.g. following an article about Homelessness in UK, what is the situation in the students' own country
  • Writing
    • e.g. the next day's story, someone involved in the news event writing to a friend
  • Debate
  • Comparison activities
    • A topical story will appear in several different places, and comparing how different sources deal with the news event can be very revealing. This could focus on content/style/critical analysis of reporters' attitudes/politics
      • A comparison with the same subject in the students' own press
      • A comparison with radio or TV reports on the same event
      • A comparison between different newspapers e.g. a quality paper and a popular paper.

 

Sources

  • Newspapers and current affairs magazines
    • English language newspapers are available worldwide. Most papers also provide an online service
  • TV
    • BBC World
    • Satellite TV

 

Gareth Rees, teacher and materials writer, London Metropolitan University 

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Comments

Probaby this is the great way to capture and keep student attention. So would like to try this in practise. Also I admit that you cannot grab attention if you are not smart enough in what you are teaching.

Dear Gareth Rees,           In my opinion, your article is really worth reading.  I think that the way you suggested, that is, to use topical news stories as teaching materials, is an effective method in teaching English.  In addition, you are right by mentioning that the articles should be chosen according to the recommended criteria. I agree that learning English through news articles may enlarge students’ vocabularies.      On the other hand, I tend to disagree with the idea that often a news article provides good examples of grammar.  Newspaper language is sometimes difficult to understand for the teachers due to their grammatical structure, so I do not think that students are able to comprehend it.  I also do not share your opinion that students can use the language they have learnt from the articles, because there are lot of idioms and phrasal verbs that are used only in journalism and it is difficult to use them in everyday life.     From my point of view, the articles should be chosen according to the level of English that students have.  What’s more, to spend time for predicting the headline and the words of the article according to the headline is an activity done in vain. Because as far as I know, journalists try to find headlines that attract readers even though they are not related to the article.     Personally, I believe that your article is useful as a methodical approach to teaching English, but at the same time, you should consider that in general, articles contain exophoric, that is, “outward” references so that sometimes it is impossible to understand sentences and segments of articles, sometimes even the idea of the article.  That is why in most cases, students without cultural backgrounds cannot understand about what the article is.  Therefore, the students will need to consult some sources of encyclopedic information or asking an informant.  But what if none of them is available???     All in all, teachers may get something useful for their classroom activities from your article.  I hope that you will give some attention to the points I mentioned and make some changes in your method.        Your sincerely,   Dilmurod Djumabayev   

 I found your artilce very helpful! News articles keep students in touch with the latest use of language! Students seem to know what to expect from textbook articles. A news article, selected according to the criteria you mentioned would attract students attention, which is the our aim after all.

Thank you! Your ideas are practical for scaffolding the metacognitive strategies for reading news articles in the ESL classroom. The steps can be adapted accordingly as a personalized routine for student needs. The follow-up ideas will encourage transfer of learning. I appreciate the thoughtful stress on the importance of re-reading text for comprehension.

Hello!
Thank you for the great article. I just wonder if there are any online ready to use materials for teaching based on latest news with tasks. Could you advise some websites where can I find such kind of content?
Another question is what do you think about adopted text? Is it ok to use adopted text of news or it is evil?:)

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