Fifth-grade reading levels are not high enough to completely comprehend a newspaper, yet students have thoroughly enjoyed and been able to learn from what we do with papers. By the end of the year, they are comfortable using the paper and look forward each week to having their own copy.
I have a math activity where we look for fractions, percentages, whole numbers and statistics in articles. Students cut out graphs found in, for example, USA TODAY, write a summary paragraph and then display it all on a chart.
We have a set of over forty reading and phonics activities that require cutting-edge examples from a newspaper. I use newspapers often to illustrate or write about phonetic and structural analysis. With a partner or individually, students practice the skill of skimming and choosing a favorite article, summarizing it on a 3 x 5 card, and then giving an oral report to the entire class. This is a favorite activity of my students, and many of them end up discussing the articles at home with their parents, and having a copy for each child really makes a difference.
Make them focus on a significant event or individual
Every student selects a newspaper article to focus on a significant event or individual. Having them read different articles makes them become aware of others. The students then justify what makes that article important. Because they all have different articles, they all get the main news every day so they are aware of what is going on.
Another important activity I have them do is read an article with a controversial issue. They use the paper’s view and the opposing view to do a position paper on the article. They must first clearly state the controversy. Then they summarize the arguments in favor of the controversy – pro arguments – and the arguments against the controversy – con arguments.
Then they weigh the sides and take their position. It is their responsibility to choose a side based on supporting statements. They have to back up their decision using convincing facts from the article. When they are through with that, they are challenged to solve the controversy. Sometimes they share their solutions in class; other times, they submit them to me for a grade.
Being in an urban setting, textbooks are outdated. There’s nothing dealing with HIV, crack cocaine, or even new drugs being approved by the FDA. Stories on mental health, nutrition, suicide, or sexually transmitted diseases may appear in newspapers, and I can use these to show students what’s happening in the world. I can show them that it has been documented. Reading the stories makes serious issues more believable to students. Grover Cleveland has 34 different cultures and 24 languages. It’s multicultural. The scope of newspapers is international, but students also get a better grasp of what’s happening in the far corners of the USA.
Often I’ll have students research health-related articles and make a presentation to the class. They get graded on note-taking, presentation, etc. The exercise gets small groups to work as a team. It gets them to use this instrument for knowledge, because, as we say, “knowledge is power.”
That’s the key to teaching, you have to make it relevant. You want to make sure they’re as prepared as young adults when they leave this school.