3 Using news stories in the English classroom

Newspapers and magazines can be a very useful resource for the classroom, regardless of the language used in them. This is because:

  • the content is likely to be more up-to-date and of interest to your students than typical textbook material
  • they are readily available and reasonably cheap
  • they have varied contents – advertisements, photos and other images, headlines, letters, stories, and articles about many different topics
  • they expose students to different kinds of language compared with the textbook and (if they are in English) to ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ English – that is, English not specially written for language learners.
Figure 2 You can also use news stories to teach English in your classroom.

Case Study 1: Ms Halima uses a local news story in her English class

Ms Halima teaches English to Class X. At a recent training session she learnt more about using resources in the classroom, such as the radio, television and newspapers. In this class, she uses a local news story as a prompt for a class discussion in English.

I teach in a rural school with few facilities, so it’s difficult for me to use the radio or TV in the classroom, and it’s not always easy to find an English-language newspaper. When I was at the training session, all I could think of was how difficult it was for me to find resources in English, even though I could see that my students would probably benefit if I used them.

But then something happened in our local area that everyone talked about, and the local newspapers contained many stories about it. A leopard from the nearby forests had come into a neighbouring village. The villagers had been upset and scared, and one of them had killed the leopard.

The students were very interested in this story, and I heard them talking about it before class. I thought it would be useful to capture this interest for English lessons. I decided to make use of a newspaper article about this, even though it was in Assamese. I could ask about it in English, and it could provide a stimulus for other English activities.

I found a short article on the event and brought it to class. I told my students that we were going to discuss a current event in the local community. I asked one of my students to read the story aloud to the whole class. Then I asked my students, in English, ‘Can you tell me what the article is about?’

I waited but the class was silent. Eventually, Rajesh said in Assamese: ‘Madam, it is about how humans and animals have conflicts.’

So I replied, ‘Good, that’s right. Can anyone help Rajesh say this in English?’ I got students to tell me the English words for ‘humans’, ‘animals’ and ‘conflicts’, and eventually someone said, ‘It’s about humans and animals fighting.’

I then wrote some questions in English on the board that I had prepared before class. These questions were meant to provoke a discussion among my students. There are no right or wrong answers to them.

I made sure that students understood the questions by asking for translations.

I put my students into groups of four and told each group to choose a secretary to make notes of their ideas. I told each group to discuss the questions on the board and decide together on one answer. They would then present their opinion to the class. I gave them ten minutes to do the activity.

As students discussed the questions, I walked around and listened to what they were saying. At first they mostly spoke in their home language, but then they changed to English when they planned what they would say to the class. I provided language support to a few groups as they worked, helping with unknown vocabulary words and reminding them to use the past tense.

After ten minutes, I asked the secretaries to present their group’s opinions. I decided to ask each group to give just one of the three answers, as it would take a long time to do each of them, and the students might lose interest.

Students had much more to say in this activity because it was a story that they were interested in, so I’m going to try to find more interesting and topical news stories for them to discuss. I didn’t want this activity to take up our whole class time, but next time I might make it longer. They could have written up their ideas in a paragraph after the discussion, for example. Maybe I’ll do that next time we discuss a news story.

Pause for thought

Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.

  • How do you think this teacher ensured that all the students participated in the activity?
  • What do you think students learnt in this activity?
  • How could the teacher assess their learning?

Activity 3: Using a news story in your classroom

In Case Study 1, the teacher used a local news story as a stimulus for an activity. The story she chose was useful because it was about a contemporary issue that was relevant and meaningful for her students. The questions she asked about the news story encouraged them to think critically about the issue.

See Resource 3 for further ideas about possible news stories and questions before trying the following activity in your classroom:

  1. Find a news story that you think your students will find interesting and will have opinions about. This story could be in English, but it could also be in Hindi or another language.
  2. Before class, think of questions about the topic of the story, rather than the details of it. These questions should encourage your students to express their opinions. For example, if the story is about a train crash, the questions could be about personal and public responsibilities for safe travel.
  3. Take the story into class and ask one of your students to read it aloud.
  4. Ask your students some questions about the story to make sure that they have understood it and are familiar with the key vocabulary.
  5. Write your prepared questions about the story on the blackboard.
  6. Organise students into groups of four or five, giving them ten minutes to discuss the questions and note down their thoughts in English. Each group selects a secretary to take notes. See Resource 4, ‘Using groupwork’, for more on this.
  7. Walk around the room and support students where necessary, encouraging them to use English where possible.
  8. After ten minutes, ask the secretary of each group to give their answer to one of the questions.

Pause for thought

Here are some questions for you to think about after trying this activity. If possible, discuss these questions with a colleague.

  • Were your students interested in the story that you selected? Did they give different opinions? If not, how can you encourage them to express their opinions in the future?
  • The activity in the case study is mostly a speaking activity. Can you think of ideas for extending this to a writing activity?

If your students are not used to thinking critically and expressing their opinions, it may take some time for them to gain the confidence to do this. That is why it’s important to do these kinds of activities regularly. To keep their interest, choose stories that you think are relevant to them. Ask them if there is a topic they would like to discuss in class, or ask them to bring in a news story. (See Resource 5 for links to online newspapers and more information about using newspapers in the English classroom.)

You could follow this speaking activity with a writing activity, where students write their opinions about the story in a paragraph or essay, depending on their level. See the units Whole-class writing routines for ideas about providing a model text to support students with their writing and Supporting independent writing in English for helping students to write independently. One possible long-term writing project that they could do is to produce a class (or school) newspaper – see Resource 6 for ideas.

2 Using pictures in the English classroom

4 Using television series in the English classroom