The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has sparked concern and discussion in classrooms across the globe. And the ESL classroom is not an exception.
Natural disasters, catastrophes, and current events, in general, are great sources for speaking or reading tasks, and connect students with situations that are real, that may be affecting thousands of lives somewhere in the globe. Current events lessons also raise awareness of environmental issues, for example, or inform and educate students in a broader sense.
Needless to say, unless you’re teaching highly-advanced students, you will not be able to simply cut out a newspaper article and read it to the class. News stories must be adjusted and adapted to your group's English reading or comprehension level. Still, taking the time to summarize a news article in fewer, easier words won’t take you too long, plus you’ll have the added benefit of using the vocabulary and structures you yourself have taught your students.
So, let’s get started, and let’s see how you should proceed once you have achieved a news piece that is suitable for your students’ level.
How to Teach Current Events
Start with a warm up
You must set the mood for the topic - you can't just dive into the news piece, right? For example, if the news piece is about a natural disaster, such as a tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, or mud slide, introduce the topic and asks students to tell you what it is, where it takes place, what the consequences are, what causes it, etc…
You may also ask for predictions. Give them the headline and ask them to predict what the article is about. If the headline mentions the “Benefits of a Healthy Diet”, ask them what they think these benefits are.
Some great pre-reading or listening tasks are:
True or False – Students may not know what is true and what is false - ask them to guess!
Synonym matching – Students guess and try to match the synonyms in two columns.
Sentence matching – Provide sentences that have been cut in half. Students try to match the beginning to the end of the sentence.
You may choose to either read the news piece out loud, or print copies for everyone to read. No matter what you choose, be sure to give them a task to complete. Some examples may be:
Gap-filling (with options)
Gap-filling (without options)
And many others, but make sure tasks are more targeted towards reading/listening comprehension and not entirely open-ended.
Some great activities or tasks for post-reading or listening are:
Whereas during the reading students were tested on their reading comprehension skills, in the post-reading they must somehow put everything they learned together, and hopefully produce something out of what they learned.
Use these steps and create engaging lessons out of any current event you think your students might find interesting. But, if you’re short on time, we’ve got great news for you! There are websites that provide news stories that have been tailored specifically to the needs of English learners.
BreakingNewsEnglish.com provides news stories based on themes, in HTML format or PDF, which means they are ready to download and print. The website also provides MP3 audio for listening tasks, which you may easily download to your computer. Talk about taking the guesswork out of teaching current events!
BBC.co.uk also has great news stories that have been adapted for adult learners, but most are a bit outdated. Still, there are plenty that may still be of use in the ESL classroom. They also come with audio and a file for download.
Claudia has been an ESL teacher for 20 years and has taught a wide variety of students from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, complete beginners to advanced students. This vast teaching experience has helped her write over 100 articles for BusyTeacher.org. When she is not teaching, she is also a freelance travel writer contributing reviews for V!VA Travel Guides' upcoming Uruguay edition, as well as travel articles and blog posts for a variety of online publications. She is currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina with her spunky 7-year old daughter and crabby 10-year old cat, Ulysses. Google +.