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English lessons - Instant lessons for teachers

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 language.

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.

Using Textbooks

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, teacher’s 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 sample_lessons
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.

24-hour plane delay
Level: Upper Intermediate
Time: 90 minutes
* to enable students to listen for specific information
* to enable students to scan for specific information
* to practise using adverbials of time
* to practise using the verb “spend” + prepositions
* to elicit information and retell events through dialogue
* to practise first-person narrative writing

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 heard.
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:
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-,) 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.

Reading Activities
As the reading activities required students to be clear about what a squirrel was, I brought in a picture of a squirrel.
These websites were helpful: or
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 entry.
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 lab.

Post-Reading Activities
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 parent’s 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,, 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 Delay” lesson.

Online Activities
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.


Teacher Resources: Printable Instant Lessons

Our high quality online English lessons and additional ESL teaching resources provide you with a valuable tool kit. Teach your students about our rapidly changing world and how to communicate more effectively within it with photocopiable lessons from Reuters news.
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