When I was an ESL volunteer with a community program, I thought using brief articles from magazines like Time or Newsweek for reading activities was a good idea. They seemed easy to read and had articles about interesting subjects, right? But in practice, I learned what I thought was easy to read was often riddled with confusing idioms, and the subjects I thought were interesting were confusingly new to my students.
Since then, many new websites geared toward teaching English through current events have appeared. I used many of these for activities and learned the pros and cons of them through trial and error. Here’s what I found for some of the most popular sites.
Voice Of America Learning English
One of the most popular American English news sites, Voice of America (VOA) offers stories, recordings, and videos about current events with simple yet informative language. Other than a breakout of some vocabulary words, though, it doesn’t offer many activities, so you’re on your own for the quizzes and homework. And even though it’s arranged into three levels, I found the lowest level challenging for intermediate-level students due to the stories’ use of rather specific terms that aren’t used in conversational English.
Breaking News English
With more than 2,000 free lessons and a Google search bar, it’s easy to find something that your students will like on this site. Each one comes with a short (two paragraphs at the highest level) summary of the news story that only focuses on the issue itself. Unfortunately, many of the activities it suggests are very similar vocabulary matching games, so much so that after a while they can become routine unless you do some personalized adaptations. Also, all of the spellings are in British English, so American teachers like me may have to check and change any dialect differences.
News in Levels
True to its name, this site offers three levels of news for each article. The articles range from simple enough for high-introduction-level students to the speed and word choices of a mainstream news article. Personally, I found levels one and two to be rather close, which made the transition to the advanced level-three articles abrupt. Each article also comes with a video and a short thought question about the story. To get any more exercises, though, you need to download a file, and that automatically gets you put on the company’s e-mail list.
This site is geared toward listening activities. Every Tuesday it adds a new article about a major news event and comes with a cloze writing activity, comprehension questions, and discussion questions. Unlike the other sites, this one seemed to be at only one level—an intermediate to low-advanced one—and its archive was difficult to search, which made it hard to find topics by subject.
In addition to these sites, I also used many that are meant for native-English-speaking students. These may take a little more work to adapt to ELL students’ needs. I’ll review some of these and give some tips that worked for me in my next column.