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Pros: A best-in-class library of high-interest, cross-curricular, adjustable nonfiction texts.
Cons: Expanded search and recommendation features could help students discover texts. A lot sits behind a paywall.
Bottom Line: Up-to-date, high-interest articles will meet students right at their level, and help teachers bolster students' nonfiction reading skills.
Newsela changed its pricing structure starting in the 2019–2020 school year, making a mostly free service now mostly subscription-based. If you're not a paid subscriber, you'll find drastically less content available than there was before, and some of the best features (including reporting tools and vocabulary practice activities) are available only to paid users. That said, even in its slimmed-down free version, Newsela can be valuable for teachers, since there are still reading comprehension quizzes and writing prompts and annotation features. There's just a lot less content, so the free version of Newsela is likely to be a supplement to your curriculum rather than a central component.
Meanwhile, if your school or district springs for a subscription, you've got access to a huge library of the best leveled reading materials out there, and great classroom management and assessment features. Keep an eye on Newsela's Text Sets, which offer thematically curated texts as well as lesson plans and activities that can give students a more holistic picture of a topic. These rotate regularly, including timely content like a set of texts for Native American Heritage Month. Newsela's range of reading levels invites targeted intervention and differentiation. You can assign articles to individuals as well as small groups, using the quizzes to track progress and make further suggestions. Whole-class work has just as much potential: You can select articles for targeted instruction on specific reading standards while modeling good annotation and close-reading strategies for your students. Afterward, encourage them to practice independently.
Newsela is an online news-as-literacy platform that features high-interest articles on everything from current events to myths and legends and from literature to science. Users can choose a free account (which just features news and current events) or paid subscriptions that include daily news story updates and subject-specific products for ELA, social studies, science, and SEL. Content is updated daily, with stories from a wide range of sources (from the Associated Press to Scientific American to the Washington Post) in English and also often in Spanish. Topics run the gamut from pop culture to roller derby and Minecraft, and they touch on subjects that encourage cross-curricular reading, such as DNA testing, global women's rights, living conditions in Syria, and travel to Mars. All articles are available in five Lexile levels, ranging (roughly) from third to 12th grade. Each leveled text features a quiz tailored to that particular article plus a writing prompt that asks students to write and respond to what they've read.
For teachers, the paid subscriptions offer the site's most useful options, including a dashboard to manage students' assignments and view both individual and class results, tracking progress toward meeting the related Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Subscription packages include Newsela Essentials (formerly Newsela PRO), which features news stories, and subject-specific subscription packages for four subjects: ELA, Social Studies, Science, and SEL. The subscription-based accounts are designed for implementation by schools and districts, and they include more features for tracking student progress, customizing their reading experience, and supporting teachers' professional learning. The subscription pricing isn't available online, so contact Newsela for a quote.
Newsela is a standout resource for supporting students' nonfiction literacy. The inclusion of adjustable Lexile levels for every text (and quiz) is a significant feat and gives Newsela a considerable leg up against competitors that offer more static nonfiction reading instruction. Additionally, the customized quizzes and structured writing prompts paired with each leveled text are an asset to teachers and students alike. These assessment features offer a rich, flexible way for students to demonstrate what they've learned, to practice their close reading skills, and to use their writing to analyze and discuss what they've read. It's especially powerful that there's so much content available in Spanish, making this a great tool for Spanish speakers or Spanish-language students, as well as for Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs). The fact that ELLs can toggle between the English and Spanish versions of a text and adjust the Lexile level in either language (for many, though not all, articles) is particularly groundbreaking. Features like a comprehensive built-in dictionary, an in-line translator, or audio supports could make students' experience even richer. Also, better search (vs. filtering) functionality could help the process of finding that just-right article feel more fruitful. These additions, however, would just bolster an already impressive, robust platform.
Teachers -- especially those already familiar with Newsela -- should be aware of some changes in the pricing model. Much of Newsela's content used to be available for free; however, in 2019, the developer shifted most of the texts and assessment features (including CCSS and NGSS alignment information) behind the paywall of subscription-based accounts. With a paid account, teachers gain more customization options plus access to students' assessment data that can help guide instruction and target instructional interventions. Without a subscription, there's a much slimmer, more static content library to choose from, and this more limited experience makes Newsela stand out less from other leveled reading tools teachers might use. Overall, Newsela is an exceptional tool for bringing current events and high-interest nonfiction texts to students -- it's just a shame that its new price tag may put it out of many students' reach.