Using the news in lessons

When preparing for our classes we’re trying to come up with lesson plans and ideas that will make our sessions more interesting for the students and as close to real-life as possible. Teaching with news articles is one of the ways to make your lessons more engaging and up-to-date. They are a very nice source for lesson planning as they are based on real-life events and can be easily used to exploit the ‘today’s’ language to the most benefit of the learners.

However, when choosing to plan your lesson on a news article, there are several things to keep in mind. Probably the first thing to start with is to choose what text you’d like to work on. To do that, you need to take into account a couple of factors:

  • The background of your learners

To make sure the text is interesting for your learners, you should find out the interests and the cultural/regional specificities of your learners. 

  • The appropriacy of the text to a specific group of learners

Here you should consider how relevant the text is for your target group. Do they care what the article has to say? Is the content appropriate for your learners (age group for instance)?

  • Language

Besides being interested, you should also be picky about the language that is used in the article by keeping in mind the level of your learners. If the text is going to be too challenging in terms of vocabulary, then the end result will be your students being too tired and disappointed in their learning. At the same time, the length of the text should be considered as well. Too long texts are too boring to read, let alone to analyze even for advanced level learners. 

  • Possibility to exploit

Apart from being an authentic reading activity, news articles should also be tried to be used as a reading lesson, meaning that it should be possible to develop a follow-up discussion. Hence, while choosing the text, one should take a minute to think about whether the learners will be able to manipulate the text, generate a discussion, summarize it, etc. 

So, how can a News lesson be structured?

  1. Lead-in

As usual, a lesson should start by introducing the topic of the lesson to the learners. It can be done before the session, as homework, or in the session. 

Before  you can ask the students to do a short quiz based on the article you’ll be discussing during the class. They can do a T/F exercise and later check their guesses. They can also research about the topic of the article and develop it into a bigger discussion.

During  you can start with a regular warm-up, asking the students to guess the content of the article by looking at the headline, coming up with possible stories and then comparing it with the original text. You can read more about teaching reading skills here.

2. Language work

Another important step we take before setting the students to read a text is to prepare them for the unknown words/phrases they will encounter. Why is this a crucial step? As we don’t want the students to wander around looking for the meaning of those words/phrases at the time of reading. It will make it more stressful and the students won’t enjoy the process.

A couple of activities that can be used to deal with unknown words are;

  • Matching activities  matching the words with their synonyms, definitions, translations, etc. The type you choose will depend on the language competency level of your learners.
  • Content guessing  asking the students to use the newly covered words/phrases to speculate on the content of the article before reading it.
  • Gapfill  filling in the blanks of sentences taken out of the article with the new words/phrases to better understand the content of their usage.

You can read more about vocabulary introduction here.

3. Reading activities

Here we are talking about gist and detailed reading tasks to boost the understanding of the content. There are several types of activities we can use here.

For gist tasks, it’s best to avoid detailed questions and stick to asking for

  • General information
  • Context summary
  • Compare the content to prior guesses, etc.

Detailed tasks, however, are there to check how well one could understand the text altogether. Some activities that work here the best are;

  • T/F statements
  • Gapfills
  • Student-generated questions, etc.

4. Post-reading activities

This is the stage where the students have a chance to speculate on the ideas of the text and use the language they were introduced to in an independently developed context. If this stage is successful, we can rest assured that the students feel comfortable conversing in this specific topic and can do it independently later on without our supervision. Some activities that can help to reach this communicative role are;

  • “What do you think…” questions based on the article
  • Agree/disagree questions
  • “What would you do…” questions
  • Role-plays, discussions and debates.

Teaching through authentic materials like news articles can be fun and challenging at the same time. To lay the necessary grounds for success, take some time to think why you are doing it and how it will benefit your learners.

P.S. Here are a couple of web resources I’ve been using with my learners. There are ready-made lesson activities for ESL/EFL news based lessons.

Resource 1

Resource 2

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