5 Sites for Using Mainstream News in ELL Classes

Those of us who grew up before the Internet remember how our parents read newspapers and magazines. We may even recall that time we tried to read one but couldn’t make sense of most of the words. After that happened to me, I saw learning to read well enough to understand the news as a rite of passage, proof that I could understand what was going on in the world as well as any other adult.

I had the same feeling later in life when I started studying other languages. A few years of high school Spanish weren’t enough to help me understand Al Día, and it took many Chinese lessons before I could translate the headlines in Xinhua. But with practice and determination, I learned these were valuable ways to improve my reading skills.

Teachers with ELLs, especially ones who recently moved to the United States, may want to remember how strange and distant the media seemed to them when they were growing up. It probably seems much stranger and even more distant, but if you make it seem like something they can achieve, they may be more willing to try reading a news website with a familiar logo.

Thankfully, many newspaper and popular news websites have student versions of their publications. With a little vetting for subject matter and difficulty, these can be great and free resources for lessons. Some popular options are:

1. The Learning Network

Whether you’re looking for a news story for students to analyze or an opinion piece for them to debate, you may want to check The New York Times’s student-oriented section. It adds a few new articles every day that are accompanied by lesson plans with suggestions for activities, including specific reading comprehension questions. Best of all, it has a section dedicated to ELL students, where students can practice writing comments as responses to prompts.

2. Scholastic News for Your Classroom

The fact that this site is designed for elementary students is actually an advantage for English learners, because the news stories have vivid visual aids and explanations about the significance of the stories. The subjects range from science news to movie reviews, although as of now the election is getting a lot of coverage. One drawback is that it is only updated a few times a week, so it may not have a particular issue you want to cover.

3. Time for Kids

This site tends to steer away from controversial issues in favor of “feel good” features that give a quick and easy view of child-appropriate subjects. It compensates for this lack of depth with a page of printables and activities that could be appropriate for particular events, like Earth Day or Black History Month, and its “Homework Helper” section, which features a flashcard maker and a grammar quiz.

4. CNN Student News

This website gives 10-minute commercial-free news stories with transcripts. It’s a rather bare-bones approach, but these can be good starting points for more activities if you are willing to create the vocabulary lists and questions. And since it is updated daily, you’ll have easy access to the most controversial events.

5. Washington Post KidsPost

After a few serious news stories, it may be time for something more fun, like a review of the year’s best video games or a round-up of winter celebrations around the world. This site has a proportionately large sports section that focuses more on the athletes as people than the sports themselves.

About Nathan Hall

Nathan Hall
Nathan Hall, MA TESOL, MS Education, lives in Pottstown, PA with his wife and two daughters. He has been involved in ESL since he volunteered as a tutor in 2001, which inspired him to leave the field of journalism for education. He has since taught English language learners in a variety of settings ranging from community programs to colleges as well as in several different types of middle schools and high schools. He is currently an ELL specialist at Achievement House Cyber Charter School in Exton, PA.
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