Using the news in class

In my last post I questioned how serious language classes should be. Since then the world has got more serious, or at least it feels like it to me. Britain has voted to leave the EU and now seems to be in political meltdown. The prime minister has resigned. The leader of the opposition may well follow the same path, if he hasn’t already by the time you read this. A second referendum for independence in Scotland is a distinct possibility. This has been reflected in conversations and social media since. Facebook, or at least what I see on it, has had fewer pictures of kittens or delicious meals. But all this you already know. So if general life takes a turn in this direction should language classes follow?

My answer to this is yes. But how you do it depends on your students. While Brexit is important to me, it’s not the same for everyone. Being in Asia, there are a number of students who’ve never been to Britain or Europe. The idea of values of a political and economic union is more abstract. The fact that the electorate in the UK chose to be out of one isn’t as important as it is to me. There have been far more serious issues recently in their countries. There are some interested students, just not everyone. So what can we do?

I’m a great believer in choice. Giving students the chance to select topics without forcing them is one way to introduce more sensitive topics in class. Here are a few ways I have used to give students options in the lesson content:

  1. Students summarise an article of their choice from a newspaper/news website.
  2. Give students a list of topics, containing a mixture of serious and lighter subjects (e.g. Brexit, food, holidays, politics, Euro 2016). Students tick the topics they want to talk about. Then chat to classmates who are happy to talk about the same things.
  3. Students rank their interest in different news events and then compare in groups.
  4. Students look at a selection of pictures related to various news stories and answer the questions:
    1. What is the story about?
    2. What do you know about it?
  5. Students talk about news on social media by answering these questions:
    1. Do you use social media? What do you post about?
    2. What news stories have you seen recently on social media?

Through monitoring these activities you can see how willing students are to discuss different topics. You can judge which global issues could be introduced. You’ll find there are some who would rather talk England leaving Euro 2016 the EU referendum. (At least the English have done something to put a smile on a few Scottish faces!) In any case, giving everyone a chance to choose a topic should also include you as the teacher. After the students have discussed stories, they are generally interested in knowing about the teacher’s ideas. Without getting on the soapbox it is chance to raise something important to you.

Please post any comments on the way you use news stories in class.

Image @ Daniel R. Blume (


4 thoughts on “Using the news in class

  1. Definitely not all issues apply everywhere, so while Brexit is a big deal in Europe, it might be but a vague echo in Asia or other countries. So why not choose topics or pieces of news that are relevant to students in your area?

    The idea you suggest of letting learners choose the topics they prefer is a good solution, but if I look at my learners I’m sure that, give the choice, they would choose lighter topics. Yet when we discussed Brexit, ethnicity and prejudice they really loved the lesson.

    This is not to say we should spoon-feed our students topics we care about in spite of what they think/feel, but I think sometimes adult students need to be pushed a little in this direction.

    Then again, I’m talking from a rather advantageous teaching situation, where all my students share my cultural and linguistic background so I think I have a very good idea of what I can and can’t throw at them. It is definitely trickier to choose such topics with multilingual classes or students with a very different cultural background.


  2. Thanks for the comments Giulia. I agree with you about pushing learners, though that’s something I usually do after seeing the types of activities they choose. I’ve found that some students go for the lighter topics, but not all. It depends on their interests and the type of news they read in their own language.


  3. news… in the past I’ve just given students newspapers from that day, allowed them to flick through and decide what topics interest them. I used plenty of newspaper articles for reading lessons, plus when I was teaching in England in the run up to the last general election I was using lots of video clips/news from Sky/BBC. That was very topical though, and as you said its not always relevant.

    My 2 favourite activities involving newspapers are:

    getting students (in pairs) to summarise a newspaper article they’ve read in 80 words or so. They then pass their summaries to another pair, who have to then cut the summary down to 40 words, this halving continues until you get to just a handful of words, and students compare that to the original headline of the article to see if they’re similar

    write a tweet about an article you’ve read giving your opinion in only 140 characters

    Anyway, I guess from the above that yeah, I normally let them choose what they want to read. Safer, more relevant and personal.

    Liked by 1 person

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