How to use Newspapers in ELT
Praveen Kumar Yadav
Teaching English through the use of authentic materials can prove effective, creative, innovative and interesting for both English language teachers and learners. What we mean by authentic materials in teaching is the materials that have not been designed for teaching purpose. For example, a letter written by your friend, a press release, a notice and other materials that are not meant to have developed for teaching can be authentic materials for English language classroom. Teaching English through the use of newspapers in ESL/EFL class is one of the popular sources of authentic materials.
A newspaper refers to a printed publication daily or weekly containing news, advertisement and articles on various subjects. The NEWSPAPER has an acronym in which ‘N’ stands for North, ‘E’ for East, ‘W’ for West and ‘S’ for South respectively. That is to say, the newspapers report the incidents from all four directions of the place or the world.
Newspapers, obviously, are authentic teaching materials for English language classroom. They can be used for a variety of purposes in English language teaching. For example, they can be used to motivate students, to present new structures and practise them, for communicative activities, for teaching free compositions writing and vocabulary and so on. The newspapers include different sections and columns like editorials, news, book review, advertisements, condolences, letter to the editors that can be cut out for preparing different teaching materials for ESL/EFL classroom.
Unlike most language textbooks, this information builds from day to day—what is learned in reading a story today can be applied to an updated version of the same story tomorrow.
In other words, the newspapers are more current and updated in comparison to the course books.
- 1. News in Brief In some newspapers e.g. Newsdigest as in The Kathmandu Post, there is a ‘news in brief’ section consisting of many short news items (one paragraph each).
– Give each pair of learners one of these news items for reading
– Ask them to write a headline for it on a separate slip of paper.
– Collect all the stories and the headlines.
– Paste them on the board or put them on a table and ask learners to match the stories and the headlines.
- 2. Caption Writing
– First of all, let the learners read the captions under the photos and learn the structures and patterns used.
– Assign them to write the caption of some photos
– Collect the captions written by the learners and paste them on the board to decide the one which is the best of all.
- 3. Letter to the Editor
There is a letter to the editor section in each and every English Newspaper. For example, Voice of the People in The Kathmandu Post, letters to the editor in The Himalayan Times.
– Direct learners to the letters to the editors section of the newspaper.
– Ask them to read some of the letters and discuss in pairs which ones they find most interesting/ controversial/ easy to understand. Feedback on this as a class. There is often more than one letter in the letter to the editor section that can spark discussion or a controversy.
– Now ask learners to write their own letter to the editor. They can respond to one of the letters on the page, or they can write about a recent news item. They must write between 25 and 75 words. When they have finished, ask them to compare letters with a partner and try to peer correct any big mistakes. Circulate and monitor. Then post the letters to the editor around the class. If someone responded to an earlier letter then they should copy and cut out the original letter to which they are responding.
– If possible, email the letters written by the learners to the respective newspapers. If published, they will be encouraged and it would also act as a reward to them.
– Ask the learners to read the news or article and let them write a letter to the editor responding the news and article.
- 4. What’s this?
– Cut out some photos from various newspapers (not necessarily English newspapers) of recent news items which are familiar/ relevant/ of interest to your learners.
– Put the learners in pairs. Demonstrate the activity by holding up a picture.
– Let them speak and describe what is in the picture (there is… there are… a man is talking… two women are walking….)
– Speculate about what the news story could be (it could be… it must be… he might be…)
– Ask learners to do the same with their picture in pairs. As a follow up they could write the caption for the photo on a separate piece of paper. Collect the captions and photos. Redistribute them to the learners, who now have to find the photo to match the caption.
- 5. Newspapers as a prompt
We can always use newspapers as a prompt to start a discussion on a given topic. Just as we would show a picture of something to prompt discussion, do the same with a newspaper article. If our aim is discussion and speaking skills, then why not use a newspaper written in the learners’ L1 to prompt discussion? Learners will be able to skim an article much quicker in their own language, especially at lower levels. If the issue is local, all the more reason to do so.
A variation of this would be to ask the learner to read something from the newspaper in their own language and explain it to you in English (of course this works best in small classes or one to one classes).
- 6. Newspaper as a prop
We can use a newspaper in class without learners having to read it at all. For some role play speaking activities give out props. For fidgety learners, having something to hold while they are speaking can help!
For example, role-play a conversation between two people over a coffee in the morning. To help them get started, give them the following options to start a conversation:
A (reading a newspaper) – Can you BELIEVE this?
B – What is it?
A – This is an outrage. Listen to this…
A – Are you listening to me?
B (reading a newspaper) – Hmmmm?
A – I was saying…
- 7. Role-play the news
Choose an interesting article or story from the newspaper and make enough copies for every pair of learners. There are often “human interest” stories in the newspaper which adapt themselves well to role play (“Man finds long lost brother”; “Lottery winner buys a house for pet dog” etc.). Ask learners to first read the newspaper and then improvise a short role play. Role plays from newspapers are often conducted one of two ways: 1) one learner plays the journalist and the other plays the protagonist of the story; the journalists does an interview, or 2) learners each take the role of a person in the story and act out the story, or something that happens before or after the story.
8. What’s in the news today?
– Distribute the newspapers, one for each group of two or three learners.
– Tell them they have a time limit with which to skim through the newspaper.
– When the time limit is up, ask two groups to get together and report to each other everything they remember that is in the news.
They must do this in English, and cannot refer to the newspapers (this is important, because otherwise we may get one or two learners who bury their heads in the paper and don’t participate!). Do feedback as a whole group. This is a combined reading and speaking activity, although the time limit forces learners to use the reading skill of skimming.
9. Newspaper show and tell
Give each learner a newspaper and tell them that for homework, we would like them to take the newspaper home, choose an article and prepare a report on it to classmates. The report must be no longer than five minutes, and should include peer teaching on new vocabulary that the learner encounters in their article. This encourages reading outside the classroom, as well as dictionary use. Set up a schedule and have the last five minutes of every class devoted to news reports by a learner or learners and make this project part of our class routine.
10. Newspaper Quiz
Give each group of four or five learners a newspaper and a piece of paper. Tell them that they have ten minutes to make a quiz based on that section of the newspaper. Suggest different kinds of questions, e.g. How long has X been… Where is …? How many people…? What happened in …? Who is…? Who won…? How much did…pay/cost…?
In groups, learners write six questions. Circulate and monitor, checking the grammar and spelling in the questions (and making sure that questions are not too difficult!)
When the groups are finished, they pass the paper and the questions to another group. Set a time limit for new groups to do the quiz. Repeat the process if you have time. Do feedback and check the answers to the quizzes. This is good to practise the reading skill of scanning for information.
These are not only the exercises that can be used for English language teaching using the newspapers. A number of creative activities for different language skills can be prepared based on the different items of the newspapers.
Newspaper is a useful tool in the ELT classroom for improving reading skills and enhancing students’ knowledge of current affairs. However, it depends on the teacher or facilitators how they work out with the newspaper materials. Therefore, they should be able to select the items that suit the need of the language learners. They should keep in mind that learners should be left free to select an article that interests them, work on it and report back to other learners. They should get learners to read outside the class as much as possible.
If we teachers can get our learners to regularly dip into English newspapers, their reading skills, writing skills and vocabulary will improve. We can talk about reading and comprehension of English texts with our learners as well, and share strategies that they use while reading. If used in a more inspiring way, newspapers can help both the teachers and learners achieving their goals.