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Using the news to boost children’s learning

12 Sep 2019

“Sir, what’s Brexit?”

 

Now that wasn’t a question teacher training had prepared me for. And I’m still not entirely sure what it had to do with the Maths morning starter. 

 

I’ve always been surprised by how much the children I’ve taught are aware of the news. Whether through the internet, social media, TV or overheard adult conversations, they know bits about everything from Brexit and Donald Trump to Climate Change.

 

This is a huge opportunity for us as teachers. Current affairs are a great way to engage our class with the world they are a part of and see them grow into being citizens of the world. 

 

Crucially, it’s also a fantastic way to teach key curriculum aims. Whether it’s reading skills, writing with a purpose, topic learning or even Maths, the current affairs can be a great way to boost your classes learning!

 

Finding the News

This is all well and good, but we probably can’t just give a class of eight-year-olds a copy of the Times and expect them to get on with it. Most newspapers are not written with children in mind, and their topics, content and language will probably not be suitable for your context. 

 

As a class teacher, I would often rewrite news sources to make them child-friendly. Fortunately, we don’t have to do that anymore! There are plenty of child-friendly news sources. Twinkl NewsRoom produces daily news content for children aged 7-11 to explore in your class while the Twinkl Daily Debate Packs are great ways to spark a discussion about current affairs. 

 

Start by choosing a story for your class. Don’t be afraid to look around a bit - often the headline news might not be particularly relevant or appropriate. Again, this is where child-friendly news sources come into their own - they have often spotted the perfect children’s news story others might have missed.

 

Teaching Reading Skills  

 

As teachers, we know just how vital it is for children to become fluent readers who have a secure comprehension of what they are reading. However, while we tend to love a good story book, reading non-fiction texts can sometimes be less natural!

 

Reading the news with your class can be a great way to develop these essential reading skills. Sharing a child-friendly news story and encouraging your class to read it together will help develop fluency and build their vocabulary skills. Most news stories aren’t afraid of a punny title which can be a great way to discuss language choice!

 

As well as fluency, exploring the news with your class can be a great way to develop comprehension skills. Targetted questions can build inference, retrieval, prediction, summarising and other essential reading skills. 

 

While you can create your own questions about the news, many children’s news resources and sites (including Twinkl NewsRoom) spend time creating these to go with each news story. 

 

Finally, children’s news stories are fun! Many of the children I taught devoured child-friendly news stories in the same way others whizz through a good fiction book.    

 

Teaching Writing Skills  

 

In my class, the best pieces of writing were always those which had a clear purpose and relevancy. This was especially true of non-fiction writing. An information leaflet about another country was fine but an information leaflet for a tourist travelling to that country was always going to be more targeted, interesting and better written.

 

News stories give children this amazing purpose. After hearing a news story about the deforestation of the rainforest, my Year 2s wrote some amazing letters to various companies and the government, asking them to do more to help protect our environment. After exploring news articles about refugees, my Year 5s were inspired to write letters to the newspaper editors encouraging them to be more accepting in their reports. 

 

Current affairs are a great stimulus for writing. They give the children’s writing real-world relevancy and immediacy. 

 

Moreover, in the age of social media, it’s never been easier to get your children’s writings under the nose of the people directly involved in the news story! 

 

Wider Curriculum Learning

 

A news story can be a great hook into your learning. Whatever your science, geography or history topic, there will be a news story which could introduce it. This could be a news story about the discovery of a viking longship, news about space exploration or a lake of lava found in a subantarctic island. 

 

These news stories are a great way to show your class how current and relevant their learning is. It’s one thing to teach about the solar system but it’s far more exciting to show children that NASA are letting tourists holiday up in space! Stories about hoards of Saxon gold being discovered behind supermarkets or the discovery of mummified Ancient Egyptian mice can get your class excited about a new topic. 

 

Mathematical News

 

Now this is one which has got me raised eyebrows when I’ve mentioned it before. Teaching reading through the news makes sense, but maths? 

 

Yet some of the most exciting and engaging maths lessons I’ve ever taught have been based around the news. When there’s a debate in the news, why not get your class to complete a survey about it? This is a great way of exploring stats and data with percentages and fractions. 

 

I once had my class pouring over the election results from different constituencies to work out the margin of victory - perfect for subtracting and adding four and five digit numbers!

 

Global Citizens

 

Age-appropriate news is a great way to engage children and teach across the curriculum, boosting their learning. 

It’s also an amazing way to engage children in the world they are part of. Seeing children become excited, engaged and passionate about their world is one of chief joys of teaching. Children who are able to explore what is happening in the world around them are more likely to become engaged citizens, with curiosity and excitement about their world. 

 

How could you use the news in your teaching? What ideas do you have? Let us know!

 

Jonathan Park is the Product Owner of Twinkl Newsroom. Before joining Twinkl, he taught both in Key Stage 1 and 2, primarily in upper key stage 2. As a teacher, he was always looking for ways to use current affairs and the news to teach across the curriculum, providing engaging topic hooks and engaging children with the world. He believes that children who read reliable, age-appropriate news are better equipped to understand and engage with the world around them and is thrilled to have the opportunity to help teachers do this.


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