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Question the News

Young woman on sofa reading the paper.

Question the News is a simple but effective way of exploiting news stories in your TEFL class and giving your students plenty of practice in reading comprehension and speaking and also making questions.

It’s very adaptable and can be used for many different kinds of classes and students. In this example below we’re running the activity for a Business English class but as long as you choose the right newspaper article, you can run it for almost any intermediate and above class.

Selecting the Right Section & Story

First off, Identify the section in the newspaper which is closest to the interests of your students. Assuming we’re doing this with a Business English class…

  • The Business section of your daily paper could provide a good source of articles for a group of self employed businesspeople.
  • The Environment section with its articles on energy consumption might be interesting to a group of engineers.
  • The Property section could be of interest to bank managers who deal with mortgages as well as (obviously) estate agents.
  • The Sports section would be ideal for a team of athletes off to their next tournament abroad.

And so on.

The need to select the right section/topic is twofold.

  1. Students will relate immediately to a familiar topic and this in turn will help their self confidence and increase their willingness to participate.
  2. Their familiarity with the topic will also help increase their ability to skim and enable them to guess any unknown vocabulary.

When you choose an article, try and choose an article which covers a current event. It can be local, national or international but it should always be current. There is nothing more off putting than old issues which no longer make news!

Of course when you choose an article, remember it must also be of the right level. If you find that the newspapers are too advanced for your class, you can always use an article and then rewrite it, simplifying it for the class.

Running the Activity

Give the students the headline and the lead only. (The lead is a one or two paragraph introduction which repeats the main facts of the story presented in the headline and adds a few more key details.)

For example, this is from the Environment section of the UK Guardian newspaper:

Is it safe to compost food waste? A compost bin can divert up to 600lb of organic waste from landfill a year. So don’t let the scare stories put you off, says Lucy Siegle.

This from the Sports section of USA Today:

Open-Water Swimmer Overcomes Disability When South Africa’s Natalie du Toit dives into the water for the women’s marathon swim on Wednesday (Tuesday night ET), the dreams of those she has inspired will surely be riding the waves along with her.

And this from the News section of the Wall St Journal:

Global Economic Picture Darkens The world economy is slowing sharply after months of resilience in the face of U.S. economic weakness, with Japan, the U.K. and the euro zone all flirting with recession. It’s unclear how emerging economies will cope with a downturn in the developed world.

All of these were taken from online sources, of course.

When you prepare news stories, have enough so that the class groups can have at least one each.

Eliciting Questions

Headlines and leads are designed to intrigue the readers and get them to read on.

They lend themselves to questions so use them to elicit from your students their own questions. After they have read the headline and lead, what do your students want to know?

By thinking of questions that they assume the complete story will probably answer, your students will indirectly find an extra purpose for reading on. Demonstrate this to the class by giving them this headline:

Open-Water Swimmer Overcomes Disability

As a class encourage speculation as to what the news story is all about. Then, give them the lead:

When South Africa’s Natalie du Toit dives into the water for the women’s marathon swim on Wednesday (Tuesday night ET), the dreams of those she has inspired will surely be riding the waves along with her.

Make sure they understand this and then encourage them to come up with questions which remain unanswered. Elicit from the class questions like these:

What kind of disability does she have?
How did she inspire others?
Where did the women’s marathon swim take place?
Did she win? Or did she beat a world record?
Did she compete against other disabled swimmers or was she the only disabled athlete?

Once you’ve done this as a class, get the students into groups and give them an article each to do the same. Circulate while they’re doing this and help out where you are needed.

Once each group have listed a few questions give them the rest of the story to read to see if those questions were answered.

Unknown Vocabulary

Sometimes the headline and lead may contain unknown vocabulary. For example:

Global Economic Picture Darkens The world economy is slowing sharply after months of resilience in the face of U.S. economic weakness, with Japan, the U.K. and the euro zone all flirting with recession. It’s unclear how emerging economies will cope with a downturn in the developed world.

Rather than pre-teaching the unknown words ask your students to try and work out their meaning from the context. As they are working in small groups or on their own, also let them use the internet, dictionaries or any other resource which might be useful.

Variations on a Theme

After they have finished with the article, you might like them to summarize what they have read and then “present” it to the rest of the class in the form of a short news broadcast. Get a desk and chair to the front of the class and have one student from each group come and read their article. This can be further extended by presenting the news in the context of a discussion program, etc.

Image © gushnu

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