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It's News to Me: Teaching Kids About the Newspaper

Celebrate American Newspaper Week by teaching students to be knowledgeable and discerning news readers. Explore six great sites that will help you teach about the newspaper -- before you start teaching with it! Included: Seven original ideas for teaching students about the newspaper.

According to a Readership survey conducted by the Audit Bureau of Circulations and the Newspaper Association of America, seven out of ten teenagers ages 12 to 17 reported they read a newspaper at least once a week, and 47 percent said the newspaper was their main source of news and information. It's clear that most students are familiar with the informational and educational value of newspapers. But what do they know about the contents and structure of the newspaper they read? Can they tell a news article from a feature or an editorial? Can they determine the accuracy of a particular news article? Can they find specific information quickly? Do they know that

  1. a roll of newsprint is 10 miles long and weighs 2,650 pounds?

  2. the base ingredient in newspaper ink is soybeans?

  3. the white space between columns of print is called the alley?

  4. a syndicate is an organization that distributes columns or features such as comics or advice columns to many different newspapers?

  5. if you draw an inverted triangle over the first paragraph of a news story, you should be able to find the answers to the questions who? what? when? and where? within the sentence or sentences indicated by triangle?


If the answer to most of those questions is no, it may be time to put off teaching them with the newspaper until you've taught them about the newspaper. One of the best Web sites for teaching about newspapers is the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune's Education Resources. This site includes discussions of hot topics in education for teachers, articles about youth issues for parents, and lots of features for students. Its most distinctive and useful feature, however, is probably the Newspaper in the Classroom section. Here, students can learn everything they always wanted to know -- and a lot they never thought to ask -- about the contents, structure, and philosophy of newspapers.

So provide each student with a copy of your local paper and begin your exploration of this outstanding site. Click on Get Started Right! and read the nine practical classroom tips for teaching about the newspaper, and then go right to Know the Front Page. Here, students will study a sample front page and learn the meaning of common newspaper terms, such as key, flag, cutline, and jump.

Vocabulary. Have students begin compiling a personal glossary of newspaper terms by recording the words and meanings on this page, along with any other newspaper terms they know, in a small notebook.

Of course, news stories generally comprise most of the content of the front page, so students will want to learn more about Writing a News Story. Encourage them to try the first activity on the Writing a News Story page, which involves them in drawing an inverted triangle over the first paragraph of several news stories. Were they able to locate each story's who, what, when, and where?

Writing. Provide students with lists of possible "whos," "whats," "whens," and "wheres." Ask them to choose one item from each list and use it to write a news story. Encourage students to share their stories with their classmates.

At this page, you can also discuss with students the criteria that make a story newsworthy: timeliness, proximity, uniqueness, impact, prominence, suspense, conflict, emotion, progress, and importance.

Reading for meaning. Divide a bulletin board into ten sections, and label each section with one of the criteria for selecting news stories. Ask students to find and cut out examples of each type of news story, and then have them attach each story to the correct section of the bulletin board.

The first part of the Through the Star Tribune is a newspaper scavenger hunt designed to help students learn about the contents of a newspaper. Review the list with students, and discuss where in the newspaper they'd be most likely to find each item.

Locating information. Provide students with the Star Tribune list, or an adapted version, and have them find the items in their own newspapers.

As you go on to the second part of Through the Star Tribune, encourage students to locate each newspaper section and story type in their papers.


Once students have learned about the physical makeup of the newspaper, encourage them to find out about the issues that affect both journalists and readers. Messages and Meanings: A Guide to Understanding Media provides a thorough discussion of the meaning of media, encouraging students to consider both what media is and how to use it. At Functions of Newspaper Messages, students will learn that different parts of the newspaper have different purposes. Encourage them to complete the work sheet by determining whether the purpose of each feature in their papers is to inform, persuade, or entertain. Writing Styles in the Newspaper discusses the different style and structure of certain sections of the newspaper. The work sheet here will help students discover which features provide only facts and which include opinions as well. When students have finished their exploration of the newspaper-related sections of this site, ask them to review the section Let's Talk -- Classroom Discussion Topics and to think about their answers to each of the questions.

Cooperative learning. Arrange students into groups, and ask each group to discuss one of the topics provided. Encourage them to present their conclusions to their classmates.


Many students probably believe that reporting the news is a simple matter of writing down facts or opinions in a literate and coherent manner. Help them discover that journalists and newspapers must also make value judgments by encouraging them to explore the six core values of journalism from the Journalism Values Institute:

  1. Balance/fairness/wholeness
  2. Accuracy/authenticity
  3. Leadership
  4. Accessibility
  5. Credibility
  6. Judgment

Evaluating information. Ask students to go to 1st Headlines News and read at least two versions of the same story under Breaking News. Provide each student with a copy of a Target Dating chart, and have them use it to compare the stories. When they've completed the chart, ask students to rate each story according to the first four core values of journalism. (You might want to point out that the last two core values are concerned with a pattern of behavior rather than with a particular article or feature.)


Just for fun. Encourage students to CReAte Your Own Newspaper.


Be sure to check out these other related Education World stories:

  • Extra! Extra! -- Eight Great Web Sites Connect News to Your Curriculum! Discover eight great sites that will help you link the day's news to your curriculum and challenge students to look beyond the news! Connect the news to science, geography, social studies, art, math, language arts, critical thinking, and technology! Included are six on-line news quizzes for students of all ages.
  • Ten Great Activities: Teaching With the Newspaper Ten terrific classroom activities that use the newspaper to teach all sorts of valuable skills -- including reading and writing for meaning, map reading, media literacy, sequencing, word meaning, and math.
  • 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! (Published on Education World August 3, 1998.)


  • Kid News This on-line newspaper written by kids from around the world provides opportunities for kids to submit news and sports stories, features, poetry, creative writing, and book, movie, and software reviews. The site also includes pen-pal and chat areas and a comprehensive list of links to lots of other sites that feature kids' writings.
  • The Writer's Resource for Young Writers Resources include writing and marketing tips and advice from professional authors and editors. This site is the student section of INKSPOT, a resource that provides information about the business of writing.


Check out some of the following Web sites. Many are connected to familiar news sources.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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