How to Teach with Current Events
The Importance of Current Events
Life is a combination of beautiful, wondrous, and often complex stories. Children are incredibly perceptive to the world around them, and though some might not have the vocabulary to communicate it, they are aware of both the beauty and complexity in their environments. When children of all ages see adults modeling helpful, adaptive techniques around potentially challenging news articles, they not only learn the important class concepts in the content of the article, but they also learn how to form their own opinions and then navigate difficult topics when necessary.
Regardless of which method you use while teaching with news and current events, it is important to consider the following tips when selecting articles for your classroom:
- Select a credible, unbiased text. Whether you use local news, TED Talks, peer-reviewed articles, or news sources such as PBS, NPR, Time magazine, and the New York Times, proofread your selected text for credibility and bias.
- Connect your text to class topics. It’s important to understand that you’re not teaching the news. You’re using the news to teach class concepts. For example, if an algebra class is learning about probability and percents, the teacher might use an excerpt of an article that discusses gambling addictions for an anticipatory set. The teacher could use a paragraph that discusses the low chances of winning along with the psychological tactics used to keep people in casinos. This example lends itself to a numerical problem and a deep, real-world application of math.
- Cross disciplines with news. Children love to make connections, especially about topics that interest them. Even before the lab, hook future scientists by reading an article on a relevant discovery. To introduce the psychological factors behind motivation, inspire future philanthropists by reading about teen activists. With the vast amounts of news and current events, connecting the outside world to your class concepts has endless possibilities.
Pre-teach any unfamiliar words or ideas. Ideally, the concepts in the article should be familiar for students, but take the time to scan through from their perspective. If students don’t understand the text, they won’t understand the important concepts you’re trying to teach.
Current Events as Mentor Texts
Lynne Dorfman, co-author of Mentor Texts, Non-fiction Mentor Texts, and Poetry Mentor Texts, defines the term as:
“Pieces of literature that you—both teacher and student—can return to and reread for many different purposes. They are texts to be studied and imitated … Mentor texts help students to take risks and be different writers tomorrow than they are today. It helps them to try out new strategies and formats. They should be [texts] that students can relate to and can even read independently or with some support.”
Among many resources, news clips and articles make excellent mentor texts. Depending on the richness of the text, the teacher can use one article to teach grammatical concepts, important themes, and text connections. Though mentor texts are commonly used for writing instruction, any subject can benefit from using one if the text is rich enough.
In order to be a rich mentor text make sure the news clip, article, or current event:
- Has clear, strong writing.
- Can be used to teach three or more concepts.
- Will become a point of reference for further discussions.
- Is applicable to the students and class content.
Learn more about mentor texts from the National Writing Project.
Current Events as Anticipatory Sets
Introduce a new topic or begin class with news. Whether you make current events a classroom staple or one article lends itself extremely well to the content, when you use news as an anticipatory set, incorporate these tips for success:
- Keep it short. The lesson’s introduction shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes or else attention starts fading. Find a stand-alone quote or short paragraph, read it once with the students, allow them to grapple with the text on their own, and then generate thoughts using class conversation, peer talk, or writing responses.
- Keep it simple. Help students recall prior knowledge by reading about a class concept. Make sure you select a text that students can easily grasp so you don’t spend the majority of class time pre-teaching the anticipatory set.
- Keep it powerful. When the teacher selects a powerful text that generates interest and is understandable, students will take learning into their own hands. When students see themselves, their worlds, or the class concepts in real-world applications, they are much more willing to take ownership of the lesson.
Current Events help with Social and Emotional Learning
Reading is an excellent way to build empathy and educate students about emotions. At times, news and current events rely on emotional appeal to retell an event. According to CASEL, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, there are 5 core components to SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
Here are some tips for thoughtfully using current events to teach SEL skills:
- Fully understand the text from multiple perspectives. Depending on the current event you’re teaching, you can analyze the text from multiple perspectives. Pick a current event that features interviews or quotes from many sources to help students understand the importance of self-awareness and social awareness.
- Ask meaningful questions. After reading or watching the current event, ask questions that are SEL focused. Start with easier questions like, “How do you think that person feels?” and “How would you feel if you were in that situation?” to “What choices could you make in order to…” or “How could the people in the article interact with each other for a more positive outcome?” When students put themselves into a text, they are more likely to generate empathetic responses.
- Don’t shy away from important conversations. Current events are often important and discuss difficult topics. Students need responsible models for challenging conversations. It is okay, in fact, it is often more powerful when the classroom content pauses for a meaningful conversation.
You Can Do It!
Regardless of the method you use to incorporate current events or news, just remember you’re doing your students a huge service. Yes, adding new resources requires more prep; however, thoughtfully using relevant articles and news clips, sets your students up for success in countless ways. Model difficult conversations, examine writing styles, introduce concepts, and explore empathy by using news in the classroom.
About the Author
Kat St.Pierre (she/her) is a former 8th grade English teacher turned freelance content/copywriter. Passionate about being kind to others, the planet, and herself, she loves using her voice to amplify important conversations and educate with empathy. Contact her at email@example.com or www.katstpierre.com.