How we teach reading at our Kansas high school

Letter from Immaculata High School, Leavenworth, Kansas

Quad-peat! Yes, we have done it again. For the fourth straight year Immaculata High School, Leavenworth, Kansas, has achieved the Kansas State Standard of Excellence in Reading. What an achievement! We have tried many different avenues to help our students become better readers.

About ten years ago we installed a 15-minute reading period into our schedule on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. During the period we do nothing but read. And for the third straight year, one of the materials read is a newspaper. The students, faculty, and staff love to read it. And obviously, it has helped us reach our Standards of Excellence. Thanks to all of you at the paper, USA TODAY, for helping us reach our goal.

The creation of relevant, effective high school electives is a challenge principals often face. We aim to provide electives that complement the existing educational program, are meaningful to the students, and reflect the overall philosophy and vision of the school.

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Use the news for education purposes

Letter from a teacher in Florida
As a veteran teacher, I had heard these comments numerous times during the course of a day from students in classrooms throughout the school. I would commiserate with my colleagues daily asking them for suggestions on how to get our students involved in reading with the hope that at some point they would even enjoy it. Through the course of my career, I had seen so many reading programs come and go, but the results never met my expectations.

Two years ago, I had an opportunity to see a presentation of an education program by one of America’s leading newspapers and really liked everything about it. I went back to my school and wrote a grant which partially funded a project that I had been wanting to implement for a long time.

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Making Choices

Anything in the news that involves choices – what you buy, what you eat, even going to the movies – is about making choices. Economics is really about people making choices – not merely about making money. The definition of economics is the “science of choice.”
Most importantly, I want my students to know that when you make a choice, you give up something else. For example, when you purchase something, you have to give up money or another product or activity because of your choice.

I like USA TODAY’s features on lifestyles and food in the newspaper’s LIFE section, and the entire SPORTS section because they highlight stories involving choices that children are interested in. The stories on food involve making several choices to determine how much it costs to create a meal.
The lifestyle material is effective because we can talk about, for example, which movies they like. We read the reviews and compare them to other opinions, or write our own reviews. We also discuss why kids and adults like different movies.

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Reading newspapers in class

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.

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Teaching Current Events

Recently I read an article on monuments in the USA and how Americans have become engrossed in monument building. I had my students design monuments that would be good on our school’s campus. They drew pictures of their monuments and then wrote dedications to the school. They used reading skills to read the article and writing skills to create the dedication.

I also have my students write a weekly journal. In a recent editorial in a newspaper, the debate was about starting the school day later. This couldn’t have appeared in the paper at a better time because we were discussing study skills and learning styles. I had the kids write in their journals their opinions on starting school later.

Another uncanny link was the science section article about the peregrine falcon. We had just done a unit on animal survival. In terms of tying a newspaper into my math class, about three weeks ago, there was an article on the median income in the USA. The article lent itself to teach the students all about median and what it means. The children were amazed at the poverty level in the USA.

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A lesson on plagiarism

I teach my students about plagiarism and how to cite sources, paraphrase and use quotes. We study how USA TODAY cites sources and keeps from plagiarizing. The students learn from a reliable source.

I also have my students read an editorial in the paper. I then teach persuasive writing and writing for a purpose. We look at how the newspaper’s writers set up arguments and format their thoughts. For instance, the cigarette smoking debate was featured, so we read the writers’ arguments and debated the issue.

Every day, the kids have a quiet time to do their homework or read. Many students ask to read the paper, they find it to be very friendly. They have told me that when they are on vacation, they are drawn to the racks to get the paper because they’re familiar with it. They know the layout.

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Teaching with newspapers

I want to thank you for suggesting the use of newspapers in our classrooms. From the first day of class many of m, students have been carrying and reading the paper, even without my prompting.

On several occasions, I have used the Experience Today lesson plans available on the Internet. Each time I have used the prepared lessons I found them to be clear, concise and easy to use. The discussion questions really help my students see to the heart of the news story and encourages them to form their own opinions and comments.
I especially like the early availability of the Experience Today lesson plans. Being able to pull up the lesson plans the day before the newspaper is printed is a great convenience and a time saver!

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