News as a Tool for the ESL/EFL Classroom

EFL Classroom

by Tory Thorkelson

This semester, I had to design an all new course entitled “Current Events and Listening” and, since as usual, I received little or no guidance about what this course should cover, I decided to do something I have been wanting to do for a while; explore news sites for materials related to current events that (hopefully) also had an audio component or could lend themselves to the creation of such a listening activity as part of the lesson.

Here is what I found as I created and taught this course for the last 7 weeks.

1) FluentU (https://www.fluentu.com/blog/educator-english/esl-news-articles/ ) was the first place I stumbled on and, although most of the materials listed were not at the appropriate level for my university students, they did offer some excellent pre-reading questions as listed below for instructors to consider before use in class:

  1. What level are my students?
  2. Is the article interesting to me?
  3. Is the article age appropriate?
  4. Are there any conflicting cultural views?
  5. What are my students most interested in (business, fashion, etc.)?
  6. What are the needs and goals of my students?

2) Next, I looked up some specifically ESL/EFL focused news sites and found a couple that seemed useful. At a more basic level, https://www.englishclub.com/efl/category/listening-news/ offers “ [r]egular listening practice based on the weekly news, with pre-reading vocab, reading, gap-fill exercises, a comprehension quiz and answers”.

However, this site is actually too easy for most of my students so I looked at Sean Banville’s http://www.newsenglishlessons.com/ which offers two page mini lessons along with 5 speed listening scripts, 20 questions, dictation, Listen and spell and North American and British English versions of the same scripts. Each lesson also included script-based exercises with fill in the blank, pre-listening questions and scrambled word versions to test comprehension.

3) In the first class, I had them fill out a media sources survey (https://www.research.net /r/interestmedia offers a simpler version as an example) which they then discussed in groups and then gave to me so I could use it to select news of interest to them. I specifically asked what types of news they liked (Travel and Food were popular), and disliked; no one liked sports news, for example.

4) Fourthly, I had to consider some class assignments. For the midterm, they have to do an expanded version of my media bias lesson by filling in the chart with 8-10 media sources across the spectrum from left to right. For more details on step one, see my original article on media bias here: https://www.eflmagazine. com/ media-bias-and-critically-evaluating-information/.

Then, using a format and formula like that found here (https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ methodology/) they have to pick 3 representative media sources from left, right and center and profile them as has been done for the Korea Herald here (https://mediabiasfactcheck. com/ korean-herald/).
Lastly, they have to pick one issue/story covered by all 3 of their selected media sources and analyze how the coverage/stories are similar and different using the following questions:

5) For their final assignments, they will create a listening and discussion lesson of their own lasting about 10 minutes which they will then use with groups of their classmates who will then peer grade them. I will also grade them separately and the combined grades will be their final grade for this class. For this assignment, they will use either:
https://www.nytimes.com/video/the-new-york-times-minute (The latest in national and international news, politics, ideas and culture delivered with smart analysis from Times reporters and editors – all in 60 seconds.) or
https://www.bbc.com/ideas/ (Short films and videos for curious minds.)
The lesson and materials they produce should follow a format and structure like this one: https://www.englishclub.com/efl/listening-news/china-artificial-moon/
6) While I decided not to use them in my class, a number of mainstream news outlets have their own student sites including:
https://edition.cnn.com/studentnews/, now called https://edition.cnn.com/cnn10 (News in 10 minutes)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/witn (Words in the News; Now ended)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/lingohack (Video news)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/news-report (Audio News)
https://learningenglish.voanews.com/

I found their materials to be a bit above or below my students’ levels and the accompanying activities were too limited for what I wanted my students to do, but they may appeal to some of you for your classes.

As I mentioned above, this course is still a work in progress but I hope that the above ideas will help those of you considering using news in your ESL/EFL classrooms. I am also very excited to see what the students produce for their midterm and final assignments as they often astound me with the content and directions they choose to take with assignments.

Don’t tell them, but I usually learn as much from them as I hope they are learning from me.