Twenty-Five Great Ideas for Teaching Current Events
Looking for ways to work news into your classroom curriculum? Check out these great ideas for connecting current events to all subjects.
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!
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.)
Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2017 Education World
Last updated 01/20/2017
Current events are being curated and edited for student access in amazing ways all over the internet. This kid-focused curated material means you don’t have to panic that something inappropriate will pop up in your classrooms unexpectedly. It also means that the work matching current events to content area is not as difficult as it used to be. Here are eight ways to help bring current events to life for students.
1. Analyze data side by side.
If you are using The Stock Market Game in math, ask kids to look at how the stock market changes depending on the year of a president’s term. These two things may seem unrelated at first, but once they list presidents and the year of their terms lined up against theDow Jones average for those years, they will quickly see the similarities. This will help teach analytical skills that can be used immediately. Students will be able to see how their president will affect the stock market and can compare this information to other presidencies.
2. Use websites like Flocabulary.
It’s hard to figure out which weekly current events to include in a writing lesson. Let Flocabulary do the work. When students listen toFlocabulary’s Week in Rap, the music keeps them engaged and the small sound bites keep them focused. After they listen to the week’s current events, ask students to reflect on this information and choose one current event to briefly research. They can share their new information in a Haiku form or as a tweet on Twitter. The shortened forms of both help students use just the right words to communicate their reflection.
3. Read picture books.
Children’s picture book writers are blazing new trails these days. Want to explain the Syrian refugee situation without scaring your young students? Check out books like those onBrightly’s list of books to help kids understand what it’s like to be a refugee. If you think you can go deeper with upper elementary kids, show this Teaching Human Rightsvideo and have them compare it to your carefully curated picture books and chapter books about refugees.
4. Challenge students to think about news from different perspectives.
When the class is learning about scientists, show them how scientists in different disciplines might look at the same information. Check out “The Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week” atLive Science and choose one topic. Share that topic with students and then have them pick scientific roles written on slips of paper. Each student must write and share about how that particular kind of scientist would view and use the science topic chosen. Students will be amazed to consider how differently a biologist and a chemist view the same information aboutHow Sleep Shrinks the Brain or any other topic.
5. Gamify current events.
Show students how politics really works in the world by teaching them how to play games likeThe World Peace Game andFantasy Geopolitics. These games, even when modified or simplified, can help shed new light on the world’s interconnectedness.
6. Read differentiated news stories.
The Common Core standards focus on more nonfiction reading and writing. Meet these needs by sharing news articles that are already vetted and leveled for your students.NewsELA is teacher tested and approved. Students are able to have a choice in the articles they read and respond to because every topic has articles written at different reading levels. This also means that two students of different reading abilities can buddy up on the same topic. The articles cover every content area in your school including music and the arts.
7. Create podcasts instead of research projects.
When kids hear they must do a research project, they groan. The work can feel overwhelming, from identifying a topic to writing a long paper with sources. Instead of going the traditional route, try a more current use of technology by having kids research current events in order to create a podcast for their technology class. This is one project that covers all content areas and brings them together under one roof. Students listen to podcasts designed for kids likeBrains On! andBuy Why? Then they find a current event, research it just enough to write a script, record the podcast in GarageBand (found free on all Macs) and export it to an MP4. If the podcasts are uploaded to one location, both kids and parents can enjoy and learn from them. This article has more on doing podcasting projects with your students.
8. Increase current events comprehension through SCAMPER.
SCAMPER is an acronym for a creative technique: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. Have kids check outKids Go Global, choose an issue and use the SCAMPER rules to think about new solutions. If they choose Endangered Species, they might consider how to substitute one kind of environment or food to help these animals live. They could discuss combining the endangered species with another animal that might serve as a protector. Perhaps the animal could adapt in ways not currently occurring in order to save itself. As the students go through each of the SCAMPER concepts, they find themselves becoming more creative problem-solvers, which is a skill that crosses all content areas.