Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2015

Newsela

Absorbing daily news stories offer kids just-right learning content

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Teachers say (54 Reviews)
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2-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: An innovative tool for delivering high-interest, cross-curricular nonfiction texts to students, right at their reading levels.

Cons: Expanded search and recommendation features could help kids connect with articles tailored even more to their interests and reading levels.

Bottom Line: Up-to-date, high-interest articles meet kids right at their levels: Use this robust tool to bolster students' nonfiction reading practice.

Naturally, 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.

Included within each of Newsela's seven subject categories is a series of pro/con articles formatted specifically to encourage debate and discussion. Ideally suited for middle and high school students, these articles offer a great way to take advantage of the site's variable reading levels for each article. Even in a mixed-ability class, you can have students engage in deep discussion and debate about a variety of topics.

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Newsela is an online news-as-literacy platform (and Chrome app) that features current articles in seven categories: War & Peace, Science, Health, Kids, Money, Law, and Arts. Content is updated daily, with stories from a wide range of sources (from the Associated Press to Scientific American to the Washington Post) in both English and Spanish. On top of this, all articles are Common Core-aligned and 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 kids to write and respond to what they've read.

Newsela's resources are free to students; all the site's articles and quizzes, as well as the annotation tool, are available for open online use. For teachers, the paid PRO subscription offers the site's most useful options. These include a dashboard to manage students' assignments and view both individual and class results, tracking progress toward meeting the related Common Core State Standards. Additionally, the PRO subscription gives teachers access to the site's annotation tool as well as some other customization features.

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Newsela is a standout resource for supporting your students' nonfiction literacy. Students will look forward to reading and discussing the site's timely and engrossing articles. Though there's plenty of value in the free tool, it's likely that a PRO account will offer the best learning value. With Newsela PRO, access to students' assessment data, and to the annotation tool, is enormously useful; the annotation tool offers teachers a great way to encourage active reading among their students. With or without a paid subscription, articles are pulled from high-quality news sources, then adapted to a range of reading levels. 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.

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. 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.

The addition of features such as a built-in dictionary, an in-line translator, or audio supports could make students' experience even richer. Also, better search functionality could help the process of finding that just-right article feel more fruitful; but, as it is, the daily updates are impressive, and the range of article topics is appealing. Overall, Newsela is an exceptional tool for bringing current events and high-interest news to kids, along with flexible assessments and critical-reading practice.

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Overall Rating
5

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

High-interest news articles are updated daily in a simple, clean design that focuses on the texts and supporting images. When kids read right at (or just above) their level, they're much more likely to be engaged.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
5

Kids can read texts at multiple levels, in both English and Spanish, without compromising depth or relevance. Brief comprehension quizzes, annotation exercises, and writing prompts help kids respond and demonstrate their understanding.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
4

Options for both English and Spanish offer great access. The ability to adjust reading levels makes for an excellent, flexible reading experience. Definitions of key terms could help boost comprehension and improve access even further.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

4
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Featured review by
Melody Y. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
5
Good product; expanded features are beyond the budget of frugal districts.

If your district can afford the price, this is an excellent resource. During my brief PRO trial, I was able to coordinate articles for cross-curricular content and track student progress.

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