Newspapers: Rigor and Relevance Invigorate Teaching and Learning

  “Read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.” --David Coleman, co-author of the Common Core State Standards.    Newspapers in Education works best when teachers share their efforts with others in their schools and schoolsystems. Educational conferences offer opportunities for sharing statewide. A recent session on informational text held at the NC Association of Elementary Educators conference stressed the importance of using informational text to invigorate classrooms. Newspapers remain an accessible source of informational text. Common Core Standards can be applied readily to newspapers: Read closely (use texts of all kinds in newspapers to answer questions), find academic vocabulary (spot key words; use context clues to figure out words that students will use in their writing and speaking), find evidence that writers use (or those quoted provide) for arguments or points of view, and, as students develop as readers, choose more difficult or complex texts (analyze the readability of different texts in news with students, so they understand better what affects their ability to understand what they read). So why, more than ever, use newspapers (and other informational text)? The Common Core emphasizes a 50-50 balance for use of informational and literary texts, which involves K-5 students in reading informational text half of the time. Some students prefer reading about current events, news and information. Life after school requires students to understand the organization of multiple texts, read for information, follow directions, make their case for positions they support and engage in civic life. The following chart appears in explanations about the CCSS.
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  • Newspapers are readily available and inexpensive.
  • Ads and stories in newspapers deal with what’s most familiar or relevant to students—people, places and events in their community and surrounding area.
  • Newspapers encourage readers to talk back (collaborative conversations) by discussing what’s seen and read with others and by sending letters to the newspaper.
  • Newspapers offer opportunities to apply literacy skills to varied subjects, which include the arts, social studies, science and careers.
  • Newspapers offer teachers varied texts that appeal to students’ interests and inspire a love of reading. Following a favorite player or team, studying photos, charts and graphs, reading briefs and/or stories of various lengths, reading comics, picking out words from texts, underlining, marking and tearing—all can be done readily with newspapers. Teachers differentiate instruction simply by tearing pages from print editions and having students mark the pages when they need practice finding letters, words, sentences, nouns or verbs.
  • Newspaper readers practice reading every time they pick up a print edition, open an e-edition and/or visit a website. Newspapers cultivate the reading habit.
  • Curricula support teachers in their efforts to make effective use of newspapers for building students’ literacy skills and expanding their knowledge of and interests in a variety of subjects:
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  • Newspapers provide models for teaching and learning about all types of informational text. This STUDENT SHEET (Word & PDF) invites learners to identify navigational aids common to informational text and prominent in print and digital editions of newspapers. Follow up activity will be for students to find similar and different navigational aids (text features) in other informational text. The following offers ways to use newspapers to present all types of informational text:
  1) Narrative nonfiction has a beginning, middle and end. Students, do any profiles or stories about people in your newspaper have a beginning, middle and end? Can you write a story with a beginning, middle and end, using a photo or series of photos as text? 2) Expository texts use text features or navigational aids to help readers. Students, how do you use a newspaper’s index? Do you find pages or sections that interest them, such as comics, sports and/or opinion pages? Do the section headings (flags) at the top of pages tell you what to expect on the pages? LOCAL, SPORTS and OPINION are page headings that appear in many newspapers Expository texts also use text structures. Students, can you find a cartoonist, photographer or writer who uses description, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, problem and solution, question and answer and chronology or sequence (what happened first, second, third)? Are you able to use those structures when writing about news? 3) Opinion writers use argument or persuasion in editorials, political cartoons, columns and letters to the editor. Students, what supporting details do opinion writers or cartoonists offer? What do others have to say about the same topic? Students, develop arguments or write persuasively. What are your favorites in a newspaper? Why? What topics, issues or problems do you know and care about? What do you learn about the topics through news? Do you identify individuals in your community who share your interests? Where do they work? How would you reach them and/or their organizations? What do you learn when you “search” e-editions for topics (or words) you are investigating. Students, use what you learn to build an argument in support of (yes) or against (no) to a question or concern, such as: Should X do this? Should my town support Y? Should my friends choose X? Verify facts that you use to build your argument. 4) Procedural texts, such as recipes, games, puzzles, job applications and/or “how tos” for placing ads, appear in newspapers on a regular basis. Students, follow directions for using newspapers that teachers give you, such as “turn to pages X, Y and Z and find out who’s in the newspaper.” You may also teach another student how to read the newspaper, one page or a section, such as box scores or weather pages. Doug Fisher spoke at the 2013 International Reading Association conference. In one presentation, he noted that “Collaborative Conversations” (Standard One under Speaking and Listening in Common Core) have potential to transform classrooms, invigorating learning. Current informational text, relevant to students in their home communities spark authentic discussions and debates and make clear that democracies require citizens to gather information and hold civil conversations about issues that shape local communities, the state, nation and world.   Dr. Sherrye Dee Garrett prepared a 2006 NIE Week teaching guide titled Keep It Real! Newspapers: The Ultimate Informational Text. Newspaper content aligns with the “Informational Text” section of the Common Core’s section on Reading under English/Language Arts. Here is a link to the Keep it Real! guide on informational text.