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Why teach current events?

Why bother teaching current events? The research indicates that a regular dose of current events has a multitude of benefits! Included: Activity ideas and Internet resources for teaching current events!

Editor's note: This story includes many activity ideas for teachers who teach "current events." If you're looking for additional ideas, be sure to check out the Education World Lesson Planning story, Twenty-five ideas for using current events across the curriculum.

"All I know is what I read in newspapers."

Indeed, TV news and the Internet aside, those famous words spoken by humorist Will Rogers ring truer today than ever. Rogers wouldn't recognize the newspaper of the 1990s, when this article was originally written - or of 2016. The variety of news offered; the abundance of photos; the text peppered with charts, graphs, and maps, in print and online. Today more than ever, the newspaper is a source for all one needs to know.

And, more than ever, teachers recognize the usefulness and importance of "using the news" -- and of developing students who have good newsreading skills and an awareness of current events. Among the benefits students often cite, "current events" programs

  • cover a wide range of subjects and connect to all areas of the curriculum.
  • build language, vocabulary, reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem solving, oral expression, and listening skills.
  • develop informed citizens and lifelong newsreaders. Studying current events helps students understand the importance of people, events, and issues in the news; it stimulates students to explore and learn more about the news, and to pay attention to the news they see and hear outside of school.
  • provide a "writing model." Students can learn by imitating the clear, concise style of news writing.
  • help teachers teach media literacy skills, as important today as any of the three Rs.
  • can open up communications between students and parents. Students are often eager to emulate their parents' newsreading behaviors, and talking about the news is one way for parents to engage students in adult conversation.
  • offer ideal opportunities for cooperative-group instruction, classroom discussions and debates, purposeful follow-up writing, and much more.

Indeed, the newspaper has been regarded as a useful tool for teaching students about current events for more than 200 years! The Portland Eastern Herald recorded on June 8, 1795, that

 

"Much has been said and written on the utility of newspapers; but one principal advantage which might be derived from these publications has been neglected; we mean that of reading them in schools."

Research supports the use of current events

For children to become competent lifelong learners, they must learn how to use nonfiction materials to expand their knowledge base, solve problems, and make decisions.

That point was made by Edward F. DeRoche, dean of the School of Education at the University of San Diego in his book The Newspaper: A Reference for Teachers and Librarians (ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1991).

A large body of research supports the use of newspapers and current events as teaching tools, says DeRoche. Among the research he sites:

  • Students who use newspapers tend to score higher on standardized achievement tests -- particularly in reading, math, and social studies -- than those who don't use them.
  • Newspapers help teach students to be effective readers.
  • Newspapers can help develop and improve student vocabulary, word recognition skills, and comprehension.
  • Newspapers are effective tools for teaching many math concepts, particularly fractions, decimals, currency, and averages.
  • In surveys, students overwhelmingly support the use of newspapers in the classroom and have a positive attitude toward reading newspapers.
  • Newpapers increase awareness of and interest in current events.
  • Students who read newspapers in school tend to continue reading them when they become adults.

Students who study news or watch TV news in school are more interested in current events than those who do not, according to a large body of research cited in a 1997 report (Student Interest in National News and Its Relation to School Courses) from the National Center for Education Statistics. Studies indicate that elementary and high school students are not intrinsically interested in current events, least of all in foreign news and U.S. politics. But evidence suggests that including current events in the school curriculum can increase interest. In a recent survey, 135 inner-city schoolteachers who used a program designed to incorporate current events into lesson plans said the program was effective in increasing student interest in current events. Another study of 798 students in grades 9 to 12 showed that students who study news or watch TV news in school "are more likely to engage in news-seeking behavior outside of school."

The NCES study also reported results of the 1996 National Household Education Survey (NHES), which revealed that students who take classes that require them to pay attention to government, politics, or national issues report increased interest in those issues outside of school. About two-thirds of students in grades 6 to 12 reported in the survey that they had taken such a course in one of the last two years; about half of the students surveyed had taken such a course in both of the last two years. Overall, 65 percent of students who took at least one course during the last two years reported their interest in politics and national issues increase "some" or "a good deal" as a result. Among students who had taken such a course in both of the last two years, 71 percent responded that their interest had increased.

In another NHES measure, students who reported taking a course that generated at least some increase in interest in politics or national issues also reported outside news-seeking behaviors. They were more likely than others to discuss the news or watch or listen to the national news with parents.

Active, participatory current events!

"Teaching about world, national, state, and local happenings needs to involve active, participative learning rather than passive learning," says Thomas N. Turner, professor of education at the University of Tennessee. "This means a lot of hands-on, multisensory activities rather than activities in which the teacher or one student reports while everyone else pretends to listen."

In "Riding the Rapids of Current Events" (The Social Studies, May/June 1995), Turner suggests activities such as mock trials and using student-created questionnaires as ways to make current events learning more active. Thomas also suggests activities for comparing different news sources' treatments of the same news story and an activity that involves students in mapping developing news stories as they unfold.

"Students also love to go before the camera, and videotaping simulated reports of dramatic past and current news events often sparks their interest," adds Turner. "The students can role play news events or pantomime them while a reporter reads the event for the audience. Planning and creating the script or story board for these dramatic pieces can be a cooperative learning activity."

Another idea Turner suggest in his article in The Social Studies is one called a People Scavenge.

"In a People Scavenge, the students go around the class and find out what their peers know and have experienced," says Thomas. "The ground rule is that they can use the same individual for no more than two (or three) items but must collect the initials of someone for every question."

People scavenges can be superficial (see sample questions below) or they can have real depth and plunge into issues and opinions, adds Thomas.

Among the 20 items students seek in Thomas's "Newshound People Scavenge" are students who can initial the following statements:

  • Can name two TV anchor persons.
  • Watched the news on TV last night.
  • Can name three countries that were in the news last week.
  • Knows something about a natural disaster that was in the news in the last two years.
  • Can name at least three different sections of the newspaper.
  • Can name the governor and the mayor.
  • Can name at least two different jobs on a newspaper.
  • Can name two national news magazines.
  • Listened to the news on radio in the last day.
  • Can name three American cities that were in the national news last week.
  • Can name the leaders of three countries other than the United States.
  • Know what the five Ws of news reporting are.

This scavenger hunt might be a fun activity to do at the start of the school year. Record results, such as how long it took and how many questions could be answered. Then, at the end of a semester or school year during which you've emphasized current events in the classroom, repeat the scavenger hunt and compare results. Has your students' "news knowledge" improved as a result of your emphasis on current events?

Comparing media treatments

Today, students have a wide variety of information options -- including television, radio, the Internet, and print sources such as newspapers and magazines. One way to show students the differences between those media is to select a topic and compare how it is handled by each of them. That suggestion was made in Cruise the News, a lesson plan developed by educators responsible for the Newpapers in Education (NIE) program at The Detroit News.

Most Newspaper in Education programs are a great source for newspaper-related activities. Among the simple activities provided on The Detroit News Web site are the following from teacher Gloria Melnikoff from the Kelso (Washington) School District. Melnikoff frequently uses newspapers in her classroom to teach a variety of subjects. Modify these activities to suit your grade level and academic needs, she notes.

  • Distribute newspapers to the entire class. Have each student choose a partner and give them a set period of time, perhaps 15 minutes or so, to read anything they want in the paper. When the time is up, have each student tell what they've read with their partner.
  • Choose, as a group, one story from the newspaper. Read the story together. Find the main idea of the story. Write it down. Find four details in the story. Write them down. Be ready to explain the story to the class.
  • Direct your students to the classified section and have them read the employment section. Then have them choose a job they would like. Ask them to write a "commercial" about themselves telling the employer why they should be hired.
  • Choose a page at random from the paper and have your class use it to construct the week's spelling word list.
  • Have younger students find and cut out pictures to show these shapes: square, rectangle, triangle, circle, cone, hexagon, and pentagon.
  • Ask students to find the weather page. What was the temperature in New York City yesterday? What is the local weather forecast?
  • Tell your students they have $1,000 to spend. Tell them to use ads from the paper to determine how they will spend it on clothing, food, and housing.

 

Related resources

Additional "current events" Internet resources

 

Teaching current events via newspapers, magazines, and TV
A thorough list of resources for teaching current events.

 

The Professional Cartoonists' Index: Teacher's guide
"The largest collection of newspaper editorial cartoons on the Web," this site offers a guide and lesson plans that include games to encourage students to discuss current events and to explore and interpret the symbolism in cartoons.

 

Televison series companion materials
Support materials for PBS Learningmedia.

 

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2010, 2016 Education World

 

 

Originally published 08/03/1998
Last updated 04/03/2016