It has occurred to every TEFL teacher at one time or another that the topics in their textbooks are not necessarily relevant, current or at all interesting to the students that they teach. This isn’t really the fault of the textbook, it’s an impossible task to come up with topics, stories and articles that people from all over the world, of different ages and backgrounds, will find interesting. For teachers, however, there is often a better solution: using the news to teach English.
The news is always relevant. Even to people who say they aren’t really interested in the news, if they were to truly scour a full printed newspaper, they would find something that they are interested in. The news is also a great source of discussion that has resources being created by professionals daily. So why aren’t teachers using the news more often?
Read on for my tips on what type of news to use in the classroom and a number of activities that work in an English learning environment. I’ll even share a free resource with you, a step by step process of how I choose relevant news (and from what sources) and use it in my classroom. You can gain access to this resource by clicking on the button below.
Things to Be Careful Of
The most important thing to consider is the age and level of your students. Obviously giving a six year old, no matter how high their level may be, a copy of the New York Times isn’t really appropriate. For the most part, using the news in an English language classroom is for adults, teens and mature adolescents who are a high A2 level or above.
Even for pre-intermediate students, an article written for an English speaking audience wouldn’t really be appropriate. If you plan to use an actual article in the classroom, there are several great free sources for simplified news stories such as BBC Learning English or Breaking News English (for a more extensive list, check out the free resource for this post). These can even be used to swap reading activities in the book for ones that are more relevant and interesting for your students.
Another thing to be wary of are news stories with sensitive topics. You are teaching English after all, not trying to impose propaganda or personal beliefs upon your students. You will likely encounter points of view that are quite different from your own and yes, as a teacher, you need to respect these. In general, I try to stay away from any topics that will make myself or my students upset. Controversial topics can be ok, but only if you have a clear vision for how to keep things civil in your classroom. Again, you don’t want the students arguing with you, or each other, in a heated way.
Lastly, don’t let the news take over the class curriculum. Your language center likely has a pacing guide and academic pathway that you need to respect. So use the news as a warm up, extension activity or as a substitute reading/listening activity from time to time. The exception to this might be with advanced students who don’t want to use a textbook anymore, but want to keep using and practicing their English.
Last Week in the News
The news is more than printed articles or videos, it is current events that affect everyone. I use something, which I call “Last Week in the News” with my IELTS classes and high level adult classes. It basically boils down to me choosing four news stories from the week, some serious, some humorous, some local, etc. I do this once a week and have a series of activities and use them to start out the class.
There are a number of different activities that I choose from each time I do this. One is to have a picture displayed from a news story with a relevant question at the top. I have the students try to guess (either as individuals or groups) what the answer is or what the story is about. A variation of this is to have the students guess at some missing information in a statement.
Another activity is that we will discuss the story, and I will simply have the students give opinions or offer potential solutions to a problem (this type of activity is straight out of IELTS). We discuss the story as a whole class so that everyone understands, I set a few talking points for groups or partners and then I wrap up with a quick group chat where groups paraphrase their ideas.
One game that I often play with my “newsworthy” classes is that I will show several news headlines and they need to spot the fake news. For example, I’ll offer several stories from credible news sources that have been cited and researched and one where there is no proof to substantiate it. I have a lot of fun creating this activity as there are some very humorous news stories out there (both real and fake).
Using Real Articles in the Classroom
Again, be careful that any news story that you choose is level and age appropriate. Also, try to choose a story that they are interested in as this will take up a substantial amount of class time. Real news stories for advanced users of English are difficult for students who are not at that level. To make using it worthwhile, an adequate amount of time needs to be set for pre-teaching vocabulary and making sure that students understand the concepts involved.
Real news is also very good for teaching students reading skills. There are definitely going to be words they don’t know forcing them to use context clues. Also, they are usually quite lengthy and are great for skimming and scanning activities. Here are a few reading activities that I like to use for news stories.
Possibly the most enjoyable for students is my predictive reading game. Students are allowed to see the headline and, based solely on their predictions for what the story will be about, choose three words that they think will appear a lot in the article. Students then scan the article for their word or synonyms to their word. They get one point for synonyms, two points for every time their words appears.
One more activity that students enjoy is trying to put the article in the correct sequence. For this, I take a story and cut it into individual paragraphs that the students need to order. This is good for teaching students structure and, especially with current events, helping them to pay attention to order of events.
Other than the two above, the types of activities that you see in many textbooks, or that I’ve mentioned in other posts about teaching reading, are definitely relevant. Activities such as matching headings, paraphrasing, filling in the blanks, multiple choice, true or false, etc. are all easy to create. In fact, if you are feeling lazy, you can even have the students make their own reading questions for each other.
I hope that you consider using the news in your classroom. It’s definitely a great addition in mine and makes the class feel more relevant. If you want a step by step guide for how I go about choosing my “Last Week in the News” stories and activities, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.