How to Effectively Use News Articles in the EFL ClassroomJames Andrew Farmer
jamesandrewfarmer [at] gmail.com
articles can be an invaluable resource
for teaching intermediate and advanced students. However, teaching a
lesson isn’t as simple as cutting an article from a newspaper and
taking it to
the classroom. This article proposes a structured approach to teaching
articles in the EFL classroom. Some example activities are also
News articles are a good
for intermediate and advance students. They are real, relevant,
lessons, news lessons should be structured and have a clear goal.
be used to work on speaking, listening, reading, writing, and
it’s a good idea to focus more on one of these skills, but of course,
skills will still be practiced.
The first place to start when
effective news lesson is with the article itself. Teachers
should consider the following when selecting an article:
- Appropriateness: Is the topic appropriate? Is it suitable for the class level and age group? Could it be upsetting to some students?
- Interest: Will the students be interested in this topic?
- Length: Is it too long? Articles that are particularly long should be avoided. Reading news articles is demanding and if they are too long, students will be discouraged. It will also take time to process reducing talk time. Long articles should be edited (200-300 words is a good length. As a rule-of-thumb, a one page double-spaced essay equals about 250 words).
- Language: Does the article contain a useful lexical set (e.g., crime, medicine, etc) or useful grammar components? Is there too much unknown vocabulary?
Potential: Is the article
generative? That is, can you think of an effective activity to follow
article? Articles that lend themselves to discussions, debates, or role
are desirable. You want the students to be able to further practice the
language after the reading and listening.
As mentioned above, news
lessons should be
structured. A well-structured news lesson comprises the following six
warm up, pre-reading/listening activities, reading/listening to the
application/follow-up, feedback and correction, and homework. Below
present the aims of each stage and suggest some activities. I suggest
60-90 minutes for a class.
The warm-up should raise
awareness of the
topic and activate pre-existing knowledge and language. As in regular
lessons, Teachers should avoid correcting students here. This allows
relax, get into English-mode, and to build confidence. Some suggested
- Warm-up questions: These should be related to the topic. The teacher can write the questions on the blackboard or dictate them.
- Quizzes: Quizzes are a good way to test their knowledge of the topic and people in the article.
- Describing/discussing pictures related to the article: In pairs or groups, students speculate about the picture. At this point, they shouldn't know what the article is about.
- Brainstorming: Have the students brainstorm vocabulary related to the article's topic.
- Do you agree/disagree?: Prepare a list of four to five statements related to the article. Students pair up and ask each other if they agree or disagree citing reasons.
- Ranking: Students
rank a list that the teacher has prepared. For example, if the article
instructor could prepare a list of common dieting fads. The students
rank them from most effective to least.
The lesson proper should always begin with pre-reading/listening activities. Unlike the warm-up activities, these activities are directly related to the text and serve to get students interested in the topic, build confidence, and prepare them for the task ahead. It's common for instructors in news lessons to carefully pre-teach the vocabulary. If the focus of the lesson is vocabulary building, this is fine. However, the teacher should ensure that the vocabulary will be recycled in the application. If not, it is not a good use of time. Why are the students spending 10 minutes learning vocabulary they won't use again? However, the focus of the lesson doesn’t have to be vocabulary-building. If the article has been well-selected, written, or edited, it is possible for students to focus on other skills such as reading or listening. If they come across an unknown word, it is a good opportunity for them to develop strategies such as asking others, guessing from context, and building their ambiguity filter.
Here are some suggested activities:
- Synonym matching: Students match words taken from the article and match with synonyms.
- Fill-in-the-blank: Students are given a set of sentences from the article and have to fill-in-the-blanks using a provided vocabulary list. An alternative is to have the students try to fill in the blanks using their imagination first and then repeating this activity while looking at a provided vocabulary list.
- Story speculation: The students predict the story from the headline and/or the article's picture.
- Vocabulary speculation: Students are given the headline and predict words they expect to read. (As students read the article in the next stage they can check the words they find. The student with the most correct predictions wins.)
- Vocabulary selection/sort: Students are given a list of words, some word are from the article, some words are not. The students read the headline and then decide which ones they think are from the article.
- Sentence selection: As in the previous example, but with sentences instead of words.
- True or
False: The instructor provides the
students with a list of sentences about the article. Some are true,
false. The students read them, and then decided whether they are true
or false. The students can check their answers in the next stage.
These activities serve to build
skills. If you want to focus on listening skills, it should be read at
least two or three
times. Two points to consider when setting listening activities: it's a
idea to move from extensive listening activities to more intensive; and
students can get all the answers correct the first time, the tasks were
easy. If you are hoping to improve listening ability, the students'
has to be challenged. Here are some possible listening tasks:
- Listening for gist: The students could summarize each paragraph.
- Fill-in-the-blanks: The teacher reads the story aloud. The students listen and fill in the blanks.
- Checking pre-listening ideas: The students listen and check their information from the pre-listening stage (true/false statements, vocabulary speculation, etc.).
- Listening for
questions: These can be written on the board or dictated. After
the first listen,
have the students compare answers. Then read again until they have the
Ideally, the questions should be related to the pre-activities.
These activities serve to build
skills and the article should be read two or more times. As in the
activities, it is best to move from extensive to more intensive tasks.
means the students will gain a deeper understanding with each
- General comprehension questions
- Check pre-reading ideas
- Skimming/Scanning: Skimming is when you quickly read through an article. Scanning is when you are looking for specific information.
- Detailed comprehension questions: "Which paragraph says (…)?", "What do (these numbers) refer to?", "What do (these people) think?", "Find a word that means (…)", Find today's vocabulary, "How was the "vocabulary" used?"
- Student generated comprehension questions
- Complete the sentence: Take the beginning of some key sentences from the article and have the students try to complete the sentences from memory.
- Write a headline for the story/each paragraph
The students write a sentence
summarizing each paragraph.
Whatever the focus of the
effective news lesson should extend beyond the article. The students
have a chance to use the new vocabulary and/or knowledge in a
controlled way. The students should be reminded to use the new
and/or target language as much as possible. As in any lesson, teachers
should refrain from jumping in and correcting during this stage. This
students' time to apply the new language in a free environment. Any
should be noted for the feedback and correction stage.
- Role Play: For example, the students could take on character roles from the article and role play the situation. This could be extended to what they think happened next.
- Discussion: The teacher can provide questions related to the topic such as "Have you ever experienced such a situation?", "What would you have done in her shoes?", or "What do you think of what he did?" Of course, students should be encouraged to go beyond the article.
The students have a debate. One
idea: If the students did the "Do you agree/disagree?" activity in
the warm up, the teacher could tie it to the debate. The students
the same statements and debate using the information from the article.
Feedback and Correction
The last five minutes of any
be reserved for feedback and correction. Together, the warm
the feedback and correction stages are the bookends of an effective
Just as the warm up serves to get them ready for the lesson ahead, this
acts as a cool down where the students can reflect upon what they have
It also guarantees that the students leave the classroom with a clear
what they have achieved. There are three things that can be covered
- Correction: This is a good opportunity for teacher to bring up any mistakes from the application to the class' attention. The benefit of this is that the whole class can benefit from the correction. Mistakes can include level relevant grammatical mistakes, mispronunciations, or vocabulary usage problems.
- Review: It's a good idea to briefly review what was covered. The instructor can review new vocabulary or the article itself. It's best to elicit this information and to call for examples. This will not only reinforce the information, but will satisfy the teacher that the students understand what was covered.
- Feedback and
Motivation: It's important to
give some praise and some advice for further improvement or study.
Homework is important for
progress in their studies. Most students have little access to English
of the classroom. Setting homework encourages them to self-study and to
re-visit the lesson. This will build retention of new information. Some
suggested homework assignments for news lessons are outlined below.
projects: Students have to
research the topic using Wikipedia and write a report.
- Comparison activities: Students have to read the same topic from different news sites to compare how different sources deal with the news.
- Letter writing: The students have to write a letter to someone from the article telling them how they feel.
- Summarizing: Students summarize the article.
If the lesson is from
a site where a podcast is available, the
students should download the mp3 file and listen to it at least
two or three times
a day. They also can listen and repeat after the recording to work on
features (e.g., rhythm, pronunciation, and stress).
News articles can be a great
resource in the EFL classroom if they are structured well and have a
purpose. Teachers can choose their own
newspapers or magazines but should bear the proposed selection criteria
mind. Alternatively, teachers can use one of the suggested EFL sites
prepare news materials. Following this lesson structure will lead to
more effective and challenging classes.
- Antepara, R. (2003). 'Using
News Stories in the ESL Classroom', The
Internet TESL Journal, Vol. 9, No 12
- Clifton, J. (2006). 'Using Newspaper Articles
Communicatively in the
ESL Classroom'.,The Internet TESL
Journal, Vol 12, No 2.
- Daly, B. (2004). 'Facilitating Discussions of
Newspaper Articles in the ESL/EFL Classroom', The Internet TESL Journal, Vol 10,
AppendixThere are sites that provide news articles for EFL teaching.
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 12, December 2008