Twenty-five great ideas for teaching current eventsNews 16.06.2016
Looking for ways to work news into your classroom curriculum? Check out these great ideas for connecting current events to all subjects.
Young Americans today know less and care less about what's going on in the world than young Americans of previous generations did. Those were the conclusions presented in a 1995 report from the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press (now called the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press). "On average, only 20 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 paid close attention to the stories covered in the News Interest Index [an index of top news stories]." Attentiveness rose to 23 percent among respondents 30 to 49 and to 29 percent among those 50 years and older.
So what can be done to raise students' interest in and awareness of the stories making news headlines?
Another study, highlighted in the introduction to the Education World story Why Teach Current Events? indicates that the more exposure students have to newspapers and current events the more likely they are to be aware and interested in learning and reading more about them. Indeed, including current events in the school curriculum can go a long way toward developing lifelong newsreaders!
Education World is pleased to offer 25 activities -- activities intended to help teachers make use of newspapers and to help students make sense of the news. Also included, at the end of the activity list, is a list of additional activities and Internet resources.
This first activity won't make better or more interested news readers of your students -- but it was too interesting not to include in our list! Taken from an ERIC document, Twenty Ideas for Teaching Science Using the Newspaper, the first activity provides a recipe for keeping old newspaper clippings from turning yellow. Try it!
Preserving the news! Dissolve a milk of magnesia tablet in a quart of water, and let it stand overnight. Pour the mixture into a flat baking pan large enough to hold the news clippings that you want to preserve. Place the clippings in the solution so they're completely covered by the liquid. Let them soak for an hour. Then take them out and pat them dry. They'll be crisp and new for a long time to come! (This works because the magnesium carbide in the solution neutralizes the acid in the paper; it is the acid that makes the newspaper yellow.)
Listening for details. Students can do this activity individually or in small groups. Ask students to listen carefully as you read aloud a story from the day's newspaper. (Story length will vary by grade level.) Then hand out to students a sheet with questions about details from the story. The higher the grade, the harder (more detailed) questions you can ask. Invite students or groups to respond to the questions. Who caught the most details?
News-mapping. Post a map (a community, state, U.S., or world map, depending on the focus of your current events curriculum) on a bulletin board. Post stories around the map and string yarn from each story to the location on the map where the story takes place.
More news-mapping. Take a look at the front page of the local newspaper each day. Plot on the map the location of each of the news stories on that page. Invite students to use the scale of miles on the map to figure out how far each place in the news is from your community. If longitude and latitude is a skill your students are expected to master, students might plot each location's longitude and latitude to the nearest degree.
News scavenger hunts. Provide students with a list of things to find on the front page of today's newspaper. Students might hunt in the paper for math-related words and terms (a percent, a measurement of distance, a cost, an address, and a fraction) or grammar-related terms (a present-tense verb, a past-tense verb, a proper noun, an abbreviation, a colon, and a list separated by commas). Or students might scavenge the main sports page for a list of sports-related terms. Or you might let students work in small groups to hunt for as many nouns (or proper nouns, or verbs) they can find in a story or on the front page. The group that finds the most is the winner!
A to Z adjectives. Each student writes the letters from A to Z on a sheet of paper. Challenge students to search the day's front page (or the entire newspaper, if your students are older) for an adjective that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Students cut the adjectives from the newspaper and paste them on their list.
Graphing the news. Pull facts from the news that lend themselves to graphing (e.g., the cost of a postage stamp, the population of your community, the number of barrels of oil imported). Provide students with the information needed and invite them to create a bar, line, or picture graph to depict that information.
Scanning the page. Provide a copy of a news story for this activity that teaches the skill of "skimming for information," or let all students work with their own copy of the front page of the same daily paper. Provide a list of words from the story/front page and invite students to skim the page to find as many of those words as they can. Set a time limit. Who finds the most words before time runs out?
Abbreviation/acronym search. The names of many common organizations are shortened to their acronym form when used in news stories. For example, the American Broadcasting Corporation becomes ABC, the National Organization for Women becomes NOW, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration becomes NASA. Also, abbreviations are commonly used for state names and some titles, such as Tex. (for Texas) or Sen. (for Senator). Invite students to work in groups to find and create a list of acronyms and abbreviations they find in the daily newspaper. (Note: You might include the classified ad section in your students' search. Many abbreviations can be found there.)
Local, national, or international? To develop your students' understanding of a news story's "place," create a bulletin board divided into three sections. Invite students to bring in from home news stories that might fit into each of the three sections. News of the community or state will be posted in the "Local" section. News of interest around the country will fit in the "National" section. And world news will be posted in the "International" section.
Headline match. Collect ten news stories and separate the story text from the headline. Number each headline from 1 to 10. Assign a letter, from A to J, to each story text. Invite students to match each headline to the correct text.
The five Ws. Introduce students to the 5Ws found in most news stories. Often, the five Ws are introduced in a story's opening paragraph. Create an overhead transparency of a major news story. Invite students to talk about the who, where, when, what, and why of the story. Circle or highlight and label the areas of the story that tell each of the five Ws. Then provide each student or group of students with a news story and ask them to report to the class the who, where, when, what, and why of the story. Students might underline each of the five Ws with a different colored crayon.
A five W variation. Provide each students with a news story. The student lists on a separate sheet of paper the who, where, when, what, and why of the story. Then the students' papers are collected and redistributed so no student has his or her own sheet. Each students takes a look at their five W list and writes the opening paragraph of a news story based on that information. At the end of the activity, students share their stories and the original stories to see how they compare. How accurate were the students' stories?
Sequencing the facts. Select a news story that includes a clear sequence of events. Write each of the facts of the story on a separate strip of paper. Invite students to order the sentence strips to tell the story in its correct sequence. (Option: Once you've done this activity, you might invite students to do the same thing. They can retell the events of a story in five simple sentences, each written on a separate strip of paper. Then each student shares the activity he/she created and a copy of the original story with another student, who gets to try the activity.)
Why is it news? Each day, newspaper editors around the world must make decisions about which stories they will publish. Stories make it into newspapers for many different reasons. Invite students to look at the stories that have made the front page of a local newspaper during the last few days and to talk about why each of those stories made headlines. Among the reasons students might come up with are these:
- Timeliness -- News that is happening right now, news of interest to readers right now.
- Relevance -- The story happened nearby or is about a concern of local interest.
- Magnitude -- The story is great in size or number; for example, a tornado that destroys a couple houses might not make the news but a story about a tornado that devastates a community would be very newsworthy.
- Unexpectedness -- Something unusual, or something that occurs without warning.
- Impact -- News that will affect a large number of readers.
- Reference to someone famous or important -- News about a prominent person or personality.
- Oddity -- A unique or unusual situation.
- Conflict -- A major struggle in the news.
- Reference to something negative -- Bad news often "sells" better than good news.
- Continuity -- A follow-up or continuation to a story that has been in the news or is familiar.
- Emotions -- Emotions (such as fear, jealousy, love, or hate) increase interest in a story.
- Progress -- News of new hope, new achievement, new improvements.
In the days ahead, study each front-page story and talk about why editors decided to put the story on page one. Which reason(s) on the students' list would explain the newsworthiness of the story?
Voice your opinion. Set up a tape recorder in a convenient location in the classroom. Pose to students an opinion question and let them think about it for a few days. When students are ready, they can take turns expressing their opinions to the recorder. This can be a little less threatening for some students than talking in front of a class would be. Later in the week, once all students have had a chance to express their opinions, you might begin a class discussion of the question by playing back the tape or by sharing select opinions that you cull from it.
Charting the weather. The weather page in the newspaper can be the starting point for many great classroom activities. The class might follow the local weather for a week or a month and create charts and graphs to show the ups and downs of temperatures. Or each student might follow the weather of a different city in the United States (or the world) for a set period. Students can use the collected information to compare weather (high and low temperatures, total precipitation, sky conditions, etc.) in different places.
Create historical newspapers. Challenge students to create a newspaper about a period of time they are studying. If students are studying U.S. history, they might include stories such as "Pilgrims and Indians Gather for Feast" and "Lincoln Wins Election." The stories relate the facts as students have researched them. Students should include each of the five Ws in their first paragraphs.
Plan a healthful menu. After a study of nutrition, invite students to plan a healthful menu for a day. Provide three paper plates for each student; each plate represents a different meal -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Invite students to find and cut out from newspapers, magazines, store ads, etc., pictures of foods and to arrange them into healthful meals on the three plates. Invite students to share the results, which will make a colorful and attractive bulletin board!
You be the editor. Rewrite a news story to include ten errors of punctuation, capitalization, or grammar. (Emphasize skills your students are working on in class wherever possible.) Invite students to "edit" your story free of errors!
There's plenty of math in the news too!
Figuring an average. Students might collect classified "Homes for Sale" ads for ten homes in a given area or for homes of a given size (e.g., two-bedroom homes). Invite students to figure from those ads the average cost for a home. (Or students might figure the average rent for homes of similar characteristics from the "Apartments for Rent" section of the newspaper.)
More ad math. Invite each student to choose a job ad from the newspaper classifieds; the ad must include a yearly salary figure. (Teach students that the term "40K" often seen in job ads is short for $40,000.) Invite students to figure from that salary figure the average monthly, weekly, daily (based on a 5-day week), and hourly (based on an 8-hour day) salary for that job.
Ad math #3. Provide a group of five ads from a local newspaper and the section of the paper that describes how much it costs to place an ad. Invite students to use the per-word or per-line cost information to figure out how much it cost to run each of the five ads.
Guess-timating! Provide each student with the copy of a news story. (Story length will vary depending on grade level.) Invite students to count the number of words in each of the first five lines of the story and to guess-timate, based on that figure, how many words long the whole story is. Older students might average the number of words in the first five lines and consider half-lines and other elements of a story to come up with a more accurate figure. Let students share their estimates and how they arrived at them. Then inform students of the exact number of words in the story (which you have pre-counted). A prize goes to the winner!
Furnish a home! Invite students to use store ads to figure the cost of furnishing a home. You might provide a list of items for each of four rooms, including a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, and a bedroom. For example, living room furniture might include a couch and side chair, a coffee table, a television, and an air conditioner. Older students might also need to figure the cost of carpeting the living room! (Options: Provide students with a budget for furnishing a four-room home and let them set priorities for the furnishings they'll select. For older students, state and local sales taxes might be figured as part of the total cost.)
Some great Internet "current events" resources
These activities are worth checking out.
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Looking to hold a debate in your classroom? Here are some simple, straightforward formats from which to choose.
Organization of a Newspaper
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Creating a classroom newspaper is a perfect opportunity to develop students' writing skills.
This museum of news calls itself "the most interactive museum in the world."
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
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