Strengthening Reading Skills Using Current Events

As a social studies teacher in the Common Core era, my curricular responsibilities have gradually shifted away from historical material and more towards the realm of teaching strategies for reading and creating nonfiction text. More and more, teaching the skills required to engage with social studies content has usurped the push to memorize names, dates, locations, and stories.

When you think about it, this makes sense for our modern world.  If you need to know the date of The Battle of Hastings or the architects who planned out the Parthenon, the internet can bring that information to you (often with just the sound of your voice). What the internet can’t as easily do is critically analyze its own information for the reader and weed out disinformation and nonsense.

A large part of education today is focused on helping students to navigate and responsibly digest the limitless plethora of information that is available.  One way to do this is to focus on strengthening reading skills through the use of carefully selected current event materials. Putting reputable news sources in front of students is a way to build literacy skills while, at the same time promote the critical reading strategies required to become engaged, informed citizens. After all, how can we expect students to recognize reputable sources if they haven’t seen examples to build their schema from?

Traditional News Sources

When utilizing current events as a launching point for literacy education, it is important to evaluate the types of sources to use. News sources are written at varying reading levels. This means that careful consideration needs to be made to match a reader to a text that they can understand with limited, if any, support. Choosing text that is too difficult increases student frustration and the opportunity for learning can come to a screeching halt. Choosing text that is too easy can lead to students breezing through the material and seeing little, if any, gain in literacy skills.

Before putting any text in front of a student, be sure you are reading it first. Not only should you be evaluating the complexity of the text, but be sure to screen the content for appropriateness.  Be aware of biases or political leanings present in the texts you choose. It may be difficult to find current event texts that aren’t taking some kind of position; that’s OK. These types of articles can be used to help students identify biases as they find them. Not only is this developing critical reading skills, but it is helping to cultivate civically responsible citizens.

With online sources, pay special attention to the links and advertisements surrounding the news text.  If the content is questionable, take the extra step to copy and paste the material you wish to use into a separate document for students.

Curated News Sources

Weekly Reader -type publications that curate the news of the day for students have been around for nearly a century. Many districts still have access to modern incarnations like Time for Kids and Scholastic News. These subscriptions come complete with standards-driven comprehension and enrichment activities that make it easy for a teacher or tutor to integrate current events into their existing literacy or social studies curriculum.

NewsELA is an exciting free resource for finding curated news articles to use with students. The best feature of NewsELA is the way it offers multiple versions of most articles differentiated by Lexile level. This means, conceivably, a teacher could have multiple students reading the same content, each with a version matching their range of reading ability.

Most NewsELA articles come with some combination of comprehension questions and writing prompts to help promote deeper engagement with the texts. There are some classroom management features locked behind a subscription-based paywall, but the articles and most accompanying comprehension materials can be accessed with a free account. All in all, NewsELA is a personal favorite when it comes to finding current event materials to promote deep reading skills with my students.

How have you utilized current events with your students?

Thomas S. is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey and as a writer for The Knowledge Roundtable, a free tutoring marketplace. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as an M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Thomas has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. His core educational beliefs stem from the notion that all students can be successful; it is the role of educators to help facilitate growth by differentiating and scaffolding student learning on a personal level.