4 Ways to Teach Great Writing Using the News
When learning something new, students usually have two questions:
- Why does this information matter?
- How can I apply it to my own life?
For this reason, a good rule of thumb when teaching any topic or skill is to make it current and relevant to your students.
And when it comes to reading material, it doesn’t get much more relevant or current than the news. Using the latest news stories to teach writing skills can keep your students engaged and wanting to learn more.
If you haven’t considered using the news to teach writing before, here are five great ideas to get you started!
1. Teach Writing Structure
Despite the best efforts of English teachers everywhere, students typically struggle with structure and organization.
You can lecture endlessly about logically arranging ideas or crafting a clear beginning, middle, and ending. Or you can show students up-to-date examples using newspaper articles!
Provide a news story that you think will interest your students, or ask your students to bring in an article that intrigues them. Then help your students mark and analyze the text to evaluate its structure.
What’s the author’s claim or overall point? What’s the main idea of each paragraph, and what does it add to the article? Why are the paragraphs arranged in this order?
You can even play a game: Cut each paragraph separately, then give them to students in a Ziploc bag. Ask students to arrange the paragraphs in the correct order, providing justification for their decisions.
As your students participate in these activities, they’ll develop an understanding of how to logically organize their own ideas and form a coherent story.
2. Teach Students to Identify Bias
An understanding of bias is helpful not only for students’ writing but also for their critical thinking skills.
Find 2-3 different news stories about the same topic. The news stories you select should offer very different viewpoints, possibly with one more neutral take on the issue as well.
Help students analyze the different views presented. How and why do these stories differ? Is there any information about the author or news source that explains their bias? Do your students notice an important detail that’s mentioned in one story, but completely left out of another? Why?
You can also discuss the bigger picture here: Does omitting information have a major impact on the story? Is it fair that news sources can pick and choose which details to include?
Of course, social media is a news source for many today and it provides some excellent examples of bias. You may wish to explore viral pieces of “news” on social media. Are these stories completely accurate? How can you evaluate their accuracy? Why might someone want to publish misleading information?
You could even take students on a (chaperoned) tour of a comments section, analyzing the bias and logical fallacies that shape how different people respond to the same news story.
Ultimately, these lessons can lead to a discussion about how to compose balanced persuasive or argumentative writing. You can also talk to students about evaluating what they read and being intelligent consumers of media.
3. Teach Vocabulary and Literary Devices
Students can’t effectively process information that’s taught without context, like a list of vocabulary words or a slide defining key literary devices.
So how can you help students process information? Provide meaningful, relevant context!
One way to teach vocabulary and literary devices in context is to use a newspaper. Ask students to identify unfamiliar words, then define them. It’s best to take this a step further by having students also use the word in an original sentence or create a visual representation to go along with it.
If you want to teach your students word-learning strategies, you can require them to try to define the word using context or word roots before looking it up in the dictionary.
As your students build their vocabulary, you’ll notice more sophisticated writing with varied word choice.
Students can also improve their writing by incorporating engaging literary devices. One way to teach students to identify and use literary devices is to have them look for examples of devices like metaphors, hyperbole, and irony in a newspaper.
4. Article Writing
Once students have explored and evaluated newspaper articles, they should be capable of composing articles of their own.
Writing newspaper articles teaches students to present a clear main idea, develop the main idea with supporting details, provide a balanced account of events, and more. You can require your students to incorporate specific vocabulary or literary devices, as well as to maintain excellent grammar and spelling.
In some cases, teachers have used a class newspaper to motivate struggling or reluctant writers. Students can choose their own topics of interest to write about, and the idea of publishing their work is another motivating factor.
Newspapers can be used to teach writing skills ranging from organization to the use of literary devices. Students can learn how to develop main ideas, steer clear of bias, improve their word knowledge, and more.
In the process, you can also teach students to think critically and be responsible digital citizens.
Reading, writing, and thinking are inextricably connected—and using newspapers in your English classroom is just one way to explore and take advantage of this connection.
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