Current Events In The Classroom - A Few Thoughts...

News is everywhere. It affects us all. Sometimes we are even part of it. It is so ubiquitous in our lives (teachers and students alike) that perhaps it should be in classrooms a little more.

What Is News?

The definition for news is (the brackets are mine):

  • a report of a recent event; intelligence; information (that interests us and touches or affects our lives)
  • the presentation of a report on recent or new events in a newspaper or other periodical or on radio or television (or the Internet or by word of mouth that interests us and touches or affects our lives)
  • a person, thing, or event considered as a choice subject for journalistic treatment; newsworthy material (who/that interests us and touches or affects our lives)

News seems to be everywhere: world news, international news, regional news, national news, local news, school news, class news ...

... for example ... TV, radio, the Internet, MSN, Yahoo, RSS, Google Alerts, newsletters, news-sheets, headlines in the street, billboards, giant TV screens at train stations, airport departure lounges, coffee shops, airplanes, hanging on doors of hotel rooms every morning, train stations, overheard conversations on the bus, chats with friends ...

Ten Things That Make News News
(And Why News Is Useful In The Classroom)

  • Relevance - Students like things that are relevant to their lives. A lesson on news about their local town, a teacher they know or something they asked about yesterday would perhaps be more relevant than the reading on page 38 of their text book. News content in the classroom can help redress the “relevance balance” of (dare I say it) boring, irrelevant, culturally-non-sensical texts. News can be motivating, interesting, and relevant. Because of its relevance, students are likely to have encountered the news in their L1 and bring a background knowledge to the classroom.

  • Magnitude and impact - Big news stories get students talking in their own languages. Powerful stories get the whole world talking. Such content provides for a very dynamic classroom. It could be world news or college news.

  • Informational value - We get a lot of our information about each other and the world around us from the news. Information gathering and sharing is part of who we are. Students like doing this in class. Furthermore, it can encourage further reading/listening/watching news stories in English and/or their L1.

  • Reference to someone famous or important - People like talking, speculating, gossiping, criticizing, attacking, defending, idolizing... people in the news. Let all this happen in class. Students love (or hate) reading and hearing about the latest people in the latest stories, fashions, sports, crimes, goings on ...

  • Continuity - It seems the same news just keeps happening. This is great to recycle vocabulary, work on recurring concepts and ideas for a second or third time, build up students’ schemata, etc. It should also motivate students to find out more about the stories in their own language. There is ample chance for the teacher and students to revisit and follow up on stories.

  • Recentness - We’re hungry for news. We need to know now. And so do students. BBC says: “Be the first to know”. CNN says: “As the news breaks, watch it on CNN”. News is living history that becomes part of our everyday lives.

  • Intellectual interest - We like to think we are experts. Students do too. Discussing news items in English perhaps gives them confidence in their learning. There may be a  “prestige” factor, especially for lower levels, of being able to negotiate news media in English.

  • It empowers conversation - “What’s the latest on....?” or “Have you heard?” Two (among many) very common and natural conversation starters. Students in class will naturally respond to the very authentic and everyday act of receiving real news, which can initiate authentic and engaged conversation.

  • It provides a sense of oneness with the world - We all like to know what is happening both in our own back yard, with the people we know, as well as what is happening on the other side of the world. News gives us a foothold into feeling part of our world. It fuels and feeds our desire to keep up to date.

Some Quotes About Teaching News / Current Events

“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.”

The Portland Eastern Herald (June 8, 1795)

“News is history in its first and best form, its vivid and fascinating form, and...history is the pale and tranquil reflection of it.”

Mark Twain, in his autobiography (1906)

“Current events provide authentic learning experiences for students at all grade levels.... In studying current events, students are required to use a range of cognitive, affective, critical thinking and research skills.”

Haas, M. and Laughlin, M. (2000) Teaching Current Events: It’s Status in Social Studies Today.

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