Contemporary news stories and current events can be a great context for English classes. The relevance and currency of content can increase interest and engagement and having students create their own news reports can help increase fluency, accuracy, and confidence (Tseng, 2018). Teachers can provide learners with news in text, video, or audio across various levels of complexity. Learners can also be supported to create their own news stories, reports, videos, or even newspaper websites.
Today, I share some suggestions for using the news in a variety of ways. I hope that those of you who have experience using other ways will share that in the comments.
There are, of course, numerous websites that provide access to up-to-the minute news stories. Many teachers may simply want to utilize sites such as National Public Radio, CNN the New York Times or perhaps a local TV or newspaper site as a source of content. I have used such sites with a set of generic questions that can be applied to any news story:
- What happened?
- Who was involved?
- Where did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
- What might happen next?
Learners can respond to these questions in a written or oral activity. They can also do this individually or in groups. Of course, these can serve as a foundation for various more extensive activities, depending on the details of the story and the interest of students. Learners can construct new stories based on current events and share these on a class or program social media platform that would allow them to engage in a variety of collaborative and co-construction activities that can engage students with one another as well as others outside of the classroom. For a number of ideas about this, see my previous posts or this article in TESOL Journal (Kessler, 2013).
Creating Your Own Newspapers
Classes, or even an entire school, can create their own online newspapers. This can provide an authentic context for learners to reflect on international, national, or local news stories. They can also create their own stories about the people who they interact with every day in the English program. They can go out into the community and interview interesting individuals. Years ago, I was the coordinator of a student newspaper at an intensive English program, and students found the “man on the street” perspectives to be very interesting. They also wrote classified ads that were playful and, quite often, hilarious!
There are many websites that are designed to create school or class newspapers. Two of my favorites are
There are also a number of curated and archived websites that are intentionally designed for teaching English to learners across a spectrum of abilities. I am a very big fan of two of these sites: Breaking News English and Newsela.
Breaking News English (BNE) has been around since 2004 and, unlike many sites that have come and gone, it continues to provide an incredibly valuable and useful quality and quantity of instructional material. BNE posts a news story every other day that is modified for various English levels. As you can see in this screenshot (Figure 1), each of these stories is supported by an extensive set of instructional content across skills.
Figure 1. Screenshot from Breaking News English.
At the time of this post, the site claims to have “2,730 Free English Lessons in 7 Levels.” Since these go back to 2004, you can create class activities exploring the long trajectory of topics. The creator of this site, Sean Banville, is very good at selecting stories that will be of high interest to many learners. Each of these also includes an extensive collection of activities that address all language skills. Further, there is an extensive teacher’s manual that supports use of BNE.
Newsela is another site that provides an impressive curated collection of content and activities. Although it is not specifically designed for English instruction, they do provide content at five different reading levels, which may make the site relevant for many English learners. Newsela is a freemium site, which may be a new term for some readers, but certainly not a new concept. This is a site that teachers can use for free, but with a paid account you can get additional features. You can refer to this webpage for reference.
Maybe you have other thoughts about how to incorporate news and current events in your classroom. Please share those ideas in the comments. I hope you and your students go out and make some news!
Kessler, G. (2013). Teaching ESL/EFL in a world of social media, mash-ups and hyper-collaboration. TESOL Journal, 4(4). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/tesj.106
Tseng, C. T. H. (2018). Teaching online news in an EFL context: exploring student perspectives on a project-based news English course in a Taiwan university. New York State TESOL Journal, 5(2), 25–43.
Moglen, D. (2014). Tuning in: Using the news for a content-based ESL class. The Catesol Journal, 26(1), 29–36.
Nash, L. (2019). The who, what, when, where and why of using news in the ESL classroom.