Cutting news for the classroom
Would you like to involve your English students in
a topical discussion? Do you find your ESL students
need to develop greater understanding of many world
issues to help them develop general language proficiency?
Through newspaper articles students can access up-to-date
information from countries all around the world. They
can learn geographical, historical, social/cultural,
economic, and political information using the target
Learning through newspapers
Learning through newspaper articles provides learners
with an interesting challenge. Many of us, as language
practitioners and teachers, recognize this and regularly
turn to newspapers and magazines for authentic texts
of current interest to enhance our teaching. We scan
the paper, find a piece we consider interesting, cut
it out and then photocopy it for the class. Often, however,
the hoped-for goal of reading and discussing the news
article with the class is a disappointment; it can prove
to be an unfocussed and relatively unproductive exercise.
The material is too long, too discursive, the vocabulary
can be off-putting, and in the end, very little discussion
is generated. Sadly the text is often abandoned, even
though the objective was sound.
Authenticity itself does not assure a valid learning
experience. The exploitation of an authentic text requires
considered development to achieve direction and focus.
Textbooks provide us with a systematic and organised
way in which we can focus our teaching. However, much
literature focuses on the potential of topical, authentic
text for motivating the students we teach. A piece of
text from a newspaper can have an immediate relevance.
For this reason many EFL and ESL textbooks try to incorporate
newspaper articles. Unfortunately, they are only able
to do so when all forms of exophoric reference are removed.
Exophoric reference is the background or real world
knowledge students, or readers in general, require to
understand a text. If a newspaper text is to be incorporated
into a textbook in two years time, all references to
the event must be explained in full.
Most real world communication requires exophoric referencing
so we try to incorporate when we teach. We can only
do this by using recently torn out news articles (if
we are fortunate enough to have a readily available
supply of English-language newspapers and magazines),
and this in itself presents another problem. Our students,
fellow teachers and employers are accustomed to a high
standard of presentation in the materials used in the
ESL classroom. Trying to maintain that presentation
standard, and general lesson quality in the materials
we produce, while working a full teaching load, is more
than a little daunting.
This is where of
English-to-go comes into play; the work has already
been done. English-To-Go
supplies a variety of ESL teaching resources, the main
one being Instant Lessons - English lessons
based around Reuters news articles ranging from elementary
to advanced. The materials offer reading, writing, listening,
grammar and speaking activities and include, vocabulary,
language-use, comprehension and post-reading activities
such as role plays, discussions and games. Each lesson
comes complete with student worksheets, teachers
notes and follow-on activities. On average, each lesson
contains nine different activities based around the
news article. For busy teachers, English-To-Go
can save hours of preparation time in cutting up news
articles and formulating lesson plans. Full membership
to English-to-go is not free, although you are able
to sign up for the free guest membership to receive
one free resource monthly. There are also free sample
English lessons: Free
Below is a detailed account of how one ESL teacher has
used one of English-to-go lesson with an Upper-Intermediate,
General English class.
Print lesson and photocopy.
This lesson was used with a General English class, and
related to a unit we were doing on travel.
With Pre-Reading Activity A, students needed
to understand that the first excerpt is from a diary.
I therefore brought in my own work diary and elicited
why it may be used. I wrote suggestions of different
kinds of records on the board e.g. journals,
planners and personal diaries.
Before reading the dictation text through twice at normal
speed, I went over the names for English punctuation
marks, and also gave students the word Cyprus.
Students were asked to write down exactly what they
I then placed students in pairs to compare what they
had written and allowed 3 minutes for comparisons and
corrections before reading the text again. (Note: As
students were to work with the transcript in the computer
lab. Later, I did not place the complete version on
an OHT, as I normally would with dictations.)
I had a small class, so I directed students to the world
map on the classroom wall to find Cyprus. I also asked
if students knew any further information on Cyprus.
I found the following link helpful: http://www.geographyiq.com/countries/cy/Cyprus_map_flag_geography.htm.
Pre-Reading Activity B
To direct students to questions in Pre-Reading Activity
B: Have a Guess, I asked them to look at
the name Nutkin. (Taken from a story The
Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter- http://wiredforbooks.org/kids/beatrix/sn1.htm,)
However, as the word nut can be derived
from Nutkin, I also asked students which
animals eat nuts and where they lived, their size etc.
I then asked students to deduce what they could about
the writer by looking at the contextual clues (such
as I, Mum, Dad) in the diary excerpt. I allowed all
answers at this stage and did not indicate whether students
were right or wrong.
I directed students straight to their dictionaries for
the vocabulary section, as I felt these were words students
would not be able to deduce, and I wanted them to have
a very clear understanding of their meanings.
As the reading activities required students to be clear
about what a squirrel was, I brought in a picture of
These websites were helpful: http://hotcakencyclopedia.com/Animals/image.Squirrel.photo.jpeg
Students then needed to extract specific information
from the newspaper article to complete the gaps in the
diary for Reading Activity A. They also needed to understand
the diary was by the same author as the first extract.
I pointed out the date on the article and asked when
the event took place in relation to the first diary
As a class, we completed gaps one and two. Once aims
and procedures were clear, I circulated amongst the
students then directed them straight on to Activity
B. The quicker and more confident readers, I directed
to Reading Activity C.
When I was sure all students had had enough time to
complete both Activities A and B, I stopped and checked
the answers as a class. I decided not to do Reading
Activity C with the whole class owing to time constraints,
but I had already checked the stronger students
answers as I circulated.
For Reading Activity D, students worked in pairs
to discuss the meaning of each phrase while referring
to the article. Most did not have to use their dictionaries,
although those who needed to, I allowed to do so. They
then wrote the meanings in their vocabulary books.
Activity E: Grammar we looked at in the computer
To finish this part of the lesson, I opted to do only
Post Reading Activity A. I felt it effectively
reinforced what we had already studied in the article.
Before writing the dialogues in pairs, we talked briefly
about how a young boy and his parents might talk to
each other. I posed a couple of questions on the board.
(For example, how would the parent be feeling after
discovering their son had released a pet on a plane?)
Students worked in pairs to complete the lines of dialogue.
I encouraged them to refer to the article for ideas
and vocabulary. Whilst circulating and assisting with
error correction, I focused on helping them to use authentic
language,(e.g. what a child would be likely to say when
recounting an action.)
Once their dialogues were satisfactorily written, students
rehearsed them, focussing on intonation and pronunciation.
I encouraged them to think about what the parent and
son would be feeling (e.g. the parents increasing
indignation), and I modeled the beginning of the dialogue,
taking both parts, to demonstrate how intonation and
stress could convey mood. Then, I suggested
two pairs of volunteers perform their dialogues, which
the other students enjoyed, appreciating the variations
in the dialogues of each pair.
After finishing the dialogues, we went to a computer
lab. Students logged on to this site, http://www.instantworkbook.com,
using a username and password that was valid for five
days. This password allowed students to view only those
exercises selected by the teacher in this instance
the 8 exercises linked to the 24-hour-hour Plane
Students were first asked to complete two listening
activities a short-answer exercise and an open
cloze. This particular listening was the dictation text
students had first heard as an introduction in the classroom.
However, this time, the students were exposed to a different
speaker, a young boy. Students had control over how
many times they heard the text. In the first exercise,
students also had clues for the answers. (For example,
if they clicked on the [?] button for the first question,
a clue The day after today appeared.)
In the second exercise, students were presented with
4 possible answers for each gap and had to listen for
specific items. Many students felt more confident after
recycling the listening in this way, as dictation exercises
can prove challenging for some. The following vocabulary
exercise was also completed.
Students were placed in pairs and asked to look at Activity
E: Grammar. This was quickly completed and checked
with plenary feedback. Students remained in their pairs
and each pair worked together at one computer. This
was done to increase peer interaction and led to much
discussion before choices were selected. Students then
competed the 5-word ordering exercises that used the
grammar point from the language section.
For the remainder of the session and homework, students
wrote a diary entry for the young boy after he had collected
Nutkin. I was thrilled at the way in which some
of the students really got into the character
and this was reflected in the quality of their writing.
Finally, their writing was printed and saved onto a
disk to allow for peer correction the following day.
The diary entry, writing and dialogue activities in
this lesson worked very well. As many of the ideas were
recycled throughout the lesson, the less able students
demonstrated that they were capable of confidently producing
some very pleasing results.
Students really enjoyed the opportunity to work with
the listening text again in the computer lab and seemed
delighted when they found that the recording was of
a young boy.
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