Newsmart: ESL Wall Street Journal

Language learners absorb English, journalism and current events

Photo Source: Newsmart

““To look at the paper is to raise a seashell to one’s ear and to be overwhelmed by the roar of humanity.”

-Alain de Botton (1969- ) Swiss-British writer

The Wall Street Journal remains a popular source of news in the United States, teeming with a variety of breaking and analytical pieces. I first heard about Newsmart at the 2014 TESOL convention in Portland, and immediately appreciated its potential for both Business English students and international English language learners. Newsmart essentially manages to provide insightful, timely WSJ articles to Intermediate and Advanced ESL students within a safe, comfortable English language learning context.

HOW IT WORKS

On its aesthetically-pleasing, simple website, Newsmart presents some top stories of the day. To serve a diverse set of readers, these articles fall into several categories: Featured, What’s News, Business, Technology, Markets and Life & Culture. Each short article displays a headline, summarizing sentence photo and exercise points.

These exercise points are unique to Newsmart; they indicate the number of Vocabulary, Grammar and Comprehension lessons within each article. Students accumulate points by reading the articles and completing each exercise point along the way in reading and listening comprehension exercises. These points can come in the form of multiple choice questions or even video activities. Ultimately, students track their point progress in each category and win badges.

Visitors can engage with the articles in some other ways. Any clicked-on word will display a definition with an audible voice clip, helping listening comprehension and vocabulary. Users can also leave comments and discuss with other readers in 92 countries, providing another opportunity to use English in an authentic global context.

STRENGTHS

Several levels of English language learners could benefit from Newsmart. Upon sign-up and anytime afterward, students can take a Newsmart level test to demonstrate their reading comprehension skills. The article’s level of difficulty as a result, adjusts to reflect their scores. Although the site seeks to engage all levels of English learners, it’s clearly far more suited for high intermediate and advanced English language learners – and future MBA students and potential entrepreneurs.

Keeping up with current events results in several desirable outcomes. Newsmart readers should become more aware of current events and business trends, expand their working vocabulary in English, and have more information to share in English. Naturally, I hope readers will choose to share some of that information in English conversations. With the added bonus of sharpening reading ability, what’s not to like about Newsmart?

WEAKNESSES

It seems as if Newsmart comes with no obvious drawbacks. The free membership, high-quality content and numerous advantages appeal to many audiences. Some articles, however, may be too difficult of a read for beginning and intermediate learners. They may want to wait later in their studies to begin using Newsmart. For these students, I recommend starting with the Easy English Times and Breaking News.

BOTTOM LINE

Newspapers certainly shape our perception of the world. It behooves ESL teachers to encourage their English language learners to read them. Newsmart serves as a natural step for students wishing to one day read papers like the actual Wall Street Journal, New York Times or Christian Science Monitor in a more natural context without vocabulary assistance.

Do you encourage your students to read the news? How do you students get “news smart?”

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