Do You Use Newspapers in Your English Class Yet?

Newspapers tell us the news, and inform us about how today is different from yesterday. They provide us with some clues and some information to help us better understand our rapidly changing world. They arrive at our homes, on our laptops, and in our libraries.

But what about our English classrooms? How often do you use newspapers in your ESL classes?

Newspapers allow students to expand their vocabulary, follow current events, and deepen their understanding of our rapidly changing world. As a former journalist, teaching English with newspapers and magazines seems absolutely natural. My standard homework requires students to select, read, summarize, and evaluate an article of their choice and bring to class for a discussion.

Students provide the basic background information:
Title author
publication date
length # of sources:
List five new or important vocabulary words:

The ESL students also make some judgments:
What’s a key quote?
What’s the main idea? Why?

Finally, students answer three other questions:
What did you learn in this article?
Why did you choose the article?
How would rate the article on a scale of 1-10? Why?

Students pursue their own interests – with some guidance – and develop a stronger English vocabulary that they want and need for their personal and academic development. Naturally, they bring in topics and articles, in English and from the internet, from around the world. This regular homework activity creates an engaging, informative classroom atmosphere while allowing students to “create” some course content.

Many ESL and EFL teachers, however, often feel reluctant to use newspapers. Sometimes teachers feel that newspapers distract from their textbooks; sometimes it adds elements of uncertainty. I suspect, however, that many English teachers also don’t quite know how to effectively deploy newspapers in their classrooms. The newspapers in classroom movement remains more of an ideal than common practice in the United States.

American newspapers would like to change that fact. The New York Times wants ESL teachers to add their quality international paper to the curriculum. Here’s an excellent 4-page primer outlining 10 Ways to Support English Language Learners with the New York Times . And despite the descriptive headline, the informative article actually outlines over 25 activities and provides links to dozens of exceptional educational resources for both students and teachers. Students can find archival photographs to write postcards from the past, research their birthdays in history, find tourist information on their hometowns for oral presentations, and compare and contrast how different countries approach global problems. Worksheets have been developed for an online vocabulary log, understanding prepositions, and a problem-solution organizer.

Bottomline: This exceptional, flexible teacher’s resource makes using newspapers much easier for novice English teachers and time-starved experience ESL instructors.

Can all English classrooms use newspapers? No. Yet many low level and intermediate classes can use Easy English Times, USA Today, or the local English paper and focus on simpler, shorter headlines and articles. High intermediate and advanced students, however, can – and I would suggest should – try to read serious newspaper such as The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.

So let’s help our students and bring newspapers into our classrooms.
Our students, after all, want to understand their world – in English!

Do you teach lower level English students? See these tips from the American literacy newspaper Easy English Times for beginner students)

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  1. devry columbus

    Newspaper will really help in the learning process of the student by increasing their vocabulary words, making them update in the current events, and enhancing their comprehension. I believe that it is the teacher’s duty to use the newspaper in the very efficient manner to teach the student.

  2. devry university online

    Eric– I’ve been reading your blog for several weeks now and only now have i commented here on how wonderful your blog is. I’ve already bookmarked this. I am also a teacher and i find your blog to be a source of motivation to give the best of my abilities thru teaching.


  3. Using authentic materials like newspapers works on multiple levels. Perhaps with greater access to the internet, more English teachers will comfortable creating assignments for ESL/EFL students that incorporate newspaper articles.

    After all, one barrier in the past to using newspapers in more adult education classrooms – and other English classrooms – was the cost of purchasing class sets of newspapers. Some newspapers, like The Los Angeles Times, donate newspapers for school students -but it takes time and patience to fill out all the paperwork, etc.

    Bottomline: it’s never been easier – or more important – for English language learners to read newspapers as part of their training.

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