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Making Current Events Accessible to Kids

Lisa Butler | October 13, 2014

Many parents and teachers grew up doing dull current-events reports based on static text found in newspapers. Today's students, who are immersed in a world in which news can be updated by anyone 24/7, need a different skill set to read and understand the world. Classroom current-events time provides the perfect opportunity to practice critical-thinking and text-analysis skills using timely and real-world sources. There should be nothing dull about current events today.

Everyday Interest
In my classroom, Fridays are dedicated to current events, but that doesn’t mean the world waits. I model frequent reading of news articles for my students as well as provide a variety of great resources for developing everyday opportunities for students to read and think about global news.

  • Flipboard – Curate news stories to share through an iOS app.

Almost daily, I read the news and use the bookmarklet to add stories to a Flipboard Magazine students subscribe to. The news stories don’t have to be serious to be valuable. Cultural oddities pique interest in reading and provide inspiring discussion prompts. Through Flipboard, students know what I've read and ask follow-up questions.

  • Newsela – Provide leveled readings of news stories.

For students to be regularly engaged in the readings, they need to be able to comprehend what they read. Many articles are too verbose for a middle school audience. Newsela offers a compromise; every student can read about the same topic at his or her own Lexile level and participate in discussions.

  • Flocabulary – The lyrics of the Week in Rap are major news stories.

Flocabulary only publishes the Week in Rap on Fridays, but it provides motivation for students to pay attention to the news all week. This is a paid tool, but the price is reasonable and I believe it’s a worthwhile investment. A teacher subscription gives you access to all the Flocabulary videos and hyperlinked lyrics to student-friendly versions of news stories. There are times, when I haven't previously investigated a topic, that I learn with students through the site's short synopsis.

Deeper Understanding
Other tools help demystify news stories and allow students to achieve a deeper understanding of our complex world.

  • Map Story – Create timelines on top of map layers.

With Map Story, events are overlaid on top of maps. A great current-events example is the conflict in Ukraine. The Ukraine situation shows up in our weekly current-events discussions; the timeline maps Ukrainian actions and how the world reacted. This tool makes it easier to see and understand the global effects of war, and can be utilized for any conflict, past or present. An excellent feature of Map Story is the ability to search and selectively remix other examples. Not everything needs to be created from scratch.

  • Curriculet – Embed media and questions into digital reading passages.

Curriculet helps students make sense of global news. Curriculet lets you copy and build on what other teachers share. For current events, teachers have the option to upload a news article from a URL. My students had many questions about ISIS, so I uploaded the White House transcript of the President’s Address to the Nation about plans for eradicating the threats. To provide students with the necessary background, videos, infographs, maps, images, political cartoons, and definitions were embedded in the text. I like Curriculet because an appropriate image can clarify in a glance what a passage is trying to convey.

Reporting the News
Being knowledgeable about global events isn't limited to reading the news; you also need to be able to evaluate and retell the story. iMovie is a tool for having students report on what they've discovered. A benefit of iMovie is the prefabricated "News Room" settings. Students should focus on the content and not spend hours laboring over style details. iMovie also provides options for adding a map or globe, which is perfect for social studies. The mini-news segments can be shared through a teacher website to benefit an authentic audience.

These are just a few examples of options for integrating interesting current events into a lesson. Many of the activities can be completed with tools students are already familiar with. Additional strategies for accomplishing this, as well as more application details, are available on the Creating Current Event Comprehension App Flow.


Photo: "User TopView Office Keyboard" by OpenClips. Used under Creative Commons Deed CC0.

Photo: "Obama Inaugurations Newspapers" by David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott. Used under Creative Commons License CC BY 2.0.