There is no end to language-learning possibilities that are available to us through the Internet news media. Things might be getting dire for newspaper companies, but the general appetite for current affairs continues to encourage the launching of news sites of every flavour. Here are five you might like to try, as a teacher or a learner, each with a practical suggestion for a learning activity. The focus is on learning English, but the same ideas can be applied to other languages.
1. Google News Timeline is still fairly new and has loads of potential for language learning to be discovered. It’s very configurable. You can set it up for whatever newspapers, magazines, blogs etc. you prefer to focus on. Specific search queries are also possible. Type in the query “Ford” for example, and you can trace back articles and events related to the carmaker for as many years as you care to go.
Idea. For a self-access activity, have learners research the main headlines on the day of their birth, the day of their parents’ birth, their grandparents’ etc. (if they know it). Interesting conversations ensue about what was happening in the world the day they arrived, leading into how things have changed since. (Level: Pre-intermediate and above)
We have also looked at how to set up Google News for language-learning.
2. BBC Learning English has a vast range of English-learning tools that are so well known that they hardly need mentioning here. Although have you come across the BBC World Service “Words in the News”? It’s primarily set up for listening and vocabulary activities, but each report contains a link to a corresponding print article that is different to the audio report. This provides a wealth of possibilities for integrating reading and listening: predictive activities, gap fills, writing summaries. They put the prescribed vocabulary to be studied in bold – not ideal as it doesn’t allow much latitude for tailoring to your learners’ particular needs. Some adaptation is usually required.
Idea. Use the prescribed vocabulary list as a predictive lead-in activity. (Level: Pre-intermediate and above)
3. Breaking News English is a language-learning site, not a news site. It has been a great standby for teachers on those days where all the best intentions of preparing a super lesson go out the window and you need something ready-made. Breaking News English takes interesting news articles from a variety of sources and subjects, adds language points, discussion ideas and other activities, and puts them all together in an easily downloadable and copiable format. Just what you were looking for, right?
Idea. Running out of time to prepare lessons is hard to predict, but if you can see ahead of time that you’re going to be running, E-mail the article you choose to your learners before the session. It avoids the problem of extended reading in class feeling like “down time”, and encourages learners to read in their own time for pleasure. This saves time, gives the learners confidence and allows you to get more juice out of the article during the session. (Level: Pre-intermediate and above)
4. Disinformation. Claims to have access to “hidden information that seldom slips through the cracks of the corporate-owned media conglomerates.” You’ll find the fringe, the bizarre, the extreme and the intriguing mixed with more mainstream articles sourced from all over the Internet news. Suited for more advanced students.
Idea. For an extensive reading activity, to practice fast-reading for gist, choose a provocative article. It works best with stories that are not too obscure, and that give a new slant on a known news headline. Set the learners the task of searching the Internet for two other articles, preferably originating in different countries, which give alternative views or explanations of the stories. As a follow-up speaking activity the learner could present the different points of view in the article and then discuss which arguments seem the most plausible. A good lead in for a debate activity, as long as it’s a subject learners have opinions about. (Level: Upper Int., Advanced)
5. Euronews. One of the unique features of Euronews is that it is a truly multilingual newspaper, with the same headline articles in 7 European languages (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian) and Arabic. It almost seems to be designed with learners in mind, with it’s very succint articles supported with video footage. If you’re looking for in-depth reporting, this isn’t your site. However, it opens up a number of possibilities for activities where comparing L1 and L2 can be advantageous.
Idea. For learners needing to improve translation skills into their L1, select 4-5 articles (they are generally short, 120 words or so) which deal with a particular lexical area needing work (there’s a good tabbed menu enabling easy navigation of the different categories of article so not too much hunting involved). Compare the articles in the L1 and L2 and study how the key words in the chosen field are translated. The discussion the follows could include which words were translated differently in different articles, which was the most unexpected translation, which words could have been translated alternatively, why did the translator choose a particular word etc. (Level: Intermediate )
Everyone seems to be talking about the death of print media. It’s a bit grim really. I just checked and @themediaisdying has announced the departure of ten more news organs in the past 24 hours. No matter which way you turn it, there is nothing that will replace the satisfaction of sitting down with a good coffee on one of those rare Saturday or Sunday mornings when you don’t have to set the alarm, and have nothing more urgent to do than meander through a newspaper. Even the smell of a newspaper gets me in a relaxed frame of mind.
I also find that many of the newspaper activities I like to do with language learners just don’t really work in the same way with Internet news – at least not without a lot of adaptation.
I was intrigued to discover a link on Open Culture to Newseum, dubbed as “the world’s most interactive museum”. As it’s situated in Washington DC there’s not much chance of me visiting it in the forseeable future, but they have a great feature called Today’s Front Pages. This takes you to a flash player map where you can drag your mouse over hundreds of world cities and see a popup of the front page of the day’s newspaper in that city.
Apart from the cool factor I couldn’t immediately see how to use it for language learners as the text on the popup is not very legible. Then I discovered the toolbar at the top of each popup page allowing you to download a readable pdf of the front page. So you have the best of both worlds: the print-version of the front pages of hundreds of international newspapers with the accessibility of Internet news media.
How to use “Todays Front Pages” for language learners
This just one of many ideas for exploiting newspapers that I owe to Peter Grundy (see Newspapers). It practices extensive reading skills, differentiating between and identifying the attributes of different pieces of writing.
Have learners find the same story on the front page of at least three different papers. Five or six is better for more advanced learners (if working in groups, three to six per group, and each group should choose a different story).
Ask the groups to find as many ways of classifying the versions as possible, so that each newspaper is “the best” according to a certain criterion (for example, the most complex, the funniest, the most informative, the most annoying, the most sensational etc.) They should be able to give reasons for their choices.
The activity works best if you are able to print the .pdfs and spread them out on a table. They won’t exactly smell like a newspaper, but your learners might enjoy the novelty of being away from a computer.
More practical ideas teaching and learning with the news media at 5 news sites for authentic language-learning.
Further reading on the death of newspapers in Clay Shirky’s insightful post, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.
Some people are addicted to news and current affairs. If you are a language learner who is also a “news junky” – who enjoys following the latest news, here’s a great idea for improving your reading skills and increasing your vocabulary.
It is true that the language of newspapers is often very complex. It is estimated that to read an English language newspaper fluently you need about 4,000 words. This can be overwhelming for some learners. And then there’s the question, with so many newspapers, where do I start? Few of us have the time in a day to search the Internet for the articles that we find interesting.
Enter Google News. When I first looked at Google News, the thing I liked about it was that it brings all the breaking news from a variety of the world’s newspapers and puts them all together in one place. But I didn’t realise that it can do a lot more.
One of the best motivations for improving reading skills is reading things we are interested in. This sounds so basic, but perhaps you remember doing reading comprehension exercises in school which you found really difficult, mainly because the subject matter was so boring! What do you like to read about?
First select the country of your choice for your Google News page. The default setting is for the US (why am I not surprised?) This will give you a standard layout like this:
You might decide that you are interested in sport, but not interested in entertainment. You can move the sports section up the page, and delete the entertainment section. You can also easily add news headlines from several different countries by selecting “Add a standard section“. Let’s say you are studying French. It is possible to add news from France, French-speaking Canada and Belgium to give you a more international perspective.
Let’s say you are particularly interested in Finance, or perhaps you are learning English vocabulary for an exam like the TOEIC, and you need to work on your financial words. Google News allows you to create your own personalised content. You select “Add a custom section“, and then “advanced options“. Let’s say the words you are revising are banking, finance, interest, loan and credit. Type in these key words, then give the section a label, “Finance” for example. Once you have saved these options you will see that a selection of Finance articles, each containing your chosen key words, is waiting for you. You can move it up or down the page to suit you.
You can change your content as often as you like. The best way to revise vocabulary is according to theme. This week it might be finance, next week transportation. You could create a new section for transportation with related key words to replace the one on finance. The point is that the best way for revising vocabulary you know, and for learning vocabulary that is new, is in the context of real everyday language. Memorising lists of words is not usually an effective way of increasing your vocabulary.
Google News is a great addition to your language learning toolbox. Do you use it already? Have you found it useful? How do you like to use Google News? Join the conversation in the comments.
Q. What do English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Welsh, Estonian, Icelandic and Esperanto, apart from the obvious? A. They are all languages spoken by writer and linguist Daniel Tammet. He also has the distinction of setting a European record for memorising the digits of pi (22,514 digits in 5 hours and 9 minutes), and he is the subject of an interesting New Scientist article I found this week entitled Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant.
This is just the kind of interesting article I look for when preparing reading comprehension activities for ESL classes. Here are some ideas that I might use with a class with a vocabulary building focus. The ideas could be adapted for CEF level B1 and above.
You can download a worksheet for the activities here and adapt them for your own situation: inside-the-mind-of-an-autistic-savant
Lead-in. Write the word THOUGHT on the whiteboard or equivalent. Brainstorm all the vocabulary the learners can think of related to this word and present it in a mindmap. Highlight any words that appear in the article.
Prediction. Give learners the following list of keywords from the text (For a great tool for determining keywords and word frequency in an article that you want to adapt for ESL, see Online Utility):
From this list, ask learners to predict what they expect the content of the article to be. Follow this discussion by giving the profile of Daniel Tammet and the introductory paragraph to the article:
Autistic savant Daniel Tammet shot to fame when he set a European record for the number of digits of pi he recited from memory (22,514). For afters, he learned Icelandic in a week. But unlike many savants, he’s able to tell us how he does it. We could all unleash extraordinary mental abilities by getting inside the savant mind, he tells Celeste Biever.
Vocabulary work. I would choose a maximum of 12 words, preferably words that occur more than once in the text. I have used the wordlist above in the worksheet, where there is a definition matching exercise. For a more advanced activity the learners can fill in the gaps of a list of quotes from English literature using the word list. I can just hear busy teachers saying “that sounds like a lot of work to prepare”! I have found a great tool for doing this easily but that will be the subject of another post, so if you want to find out how I did it, subscribe to the englishonthe.net feed.
Reading. The article is formatted as an interview with questions and answers conveniently separated. Give the learners a jumbled list of the questions, and ask them to discuss what can be learnt about Daniel Tammet by simply reading the questions. Then they will be ready to read the article. For a challenging exercise I might give them the article with the questions blanked out, and have them match the questions to the appropriate paragraphs.
Follow-up. Actually I’m still thinking about what I might do – so many directions you could go in with a good speaking or writing activity, depending on the class and level. One idea was to get learners to engage with Daniel Tammet’s blog – they could find an interesting post to write a comment on.
What would you do? Leave a comment and share your ideas.
Most of the information I think I might need or want to keep either gets thrown in my Evernote “drawer”, or subscribed to in Google Reader, but the reality is that there are few sites that I read in detail. I said in a recent post that I don’t save bookmarks to my browser any more because there are too many to manage, but that’s not quite true. The few sites that I know I will want to refer to regularly and read in detail have the honour of being saved to my Firefox bookmarks.
Openculture is one of them.
Open Culture explores cultural and educational media (podcasts, videos, online courses, online books etc.) that’s freely available on the web, and that makes learning dynamic, productive, and fun.
This site is all about learning. It is a labour of love that provides links to audio, video and text resources in English for no cost other than the time you invest to study them. Rather than having to Google these resources separately, Openculture conveniently groups them together in one place. Most of the material is appropriate for listening and reading comprehension practice for higher level (B2 +) students of English. Here are just a few of the possibilities.
In the free audio books section you can download great online books from a variety of sources (Librivox, iTunes…), and in different formats (mp3, m4p…) Although some of the works are downloaded whole, many are formatted into chapters for easier handling. The books are categorised into fiction and literature (Jane Austen’s Emma, The Wizard of Oz, Canterbury Tales, Great Expectations …) non fiction (Aristotle, Descartes, Roosevelt …), poetry (Blake, Coleridge, Tennyson…) plus links to a number of specialist audio-book sites.
There are free online university courses and lectures in fields as diverse as archaeology, economics, geography, history and literature.
Language-learning has its own section, with courses in 34 different languages, including English and French. There is also general material on language learning skills.
If you have spent any time on YouTube, you have discovered that there is a lot of junk in online video land. However, Openculture provides links to a variety of “intelligent video collections“, touching on a large range of general subjects, as well as university collections.
Podcast collections include ideas, books and writing, film, music and museums, news and current affairs, science, travel, technology.
If you prefer reading to listening, the “life-changing books“ section will give you some ideas, although these online books are for purchase, not free download. If you were hoping for a free book, you can click through to a number of free fiction and non-fiction e-books, which, while not life-changing, will no doubt give you food for thought.
There are also links to a huge number of culture-related blogs.
Most days the Openculture blog has articles featuring new content which is a must for the feedreader.
You could spend hours just looking through it all. As for me I’m working my way through a list of 15 free Spanish courses on the foreign languages page.
What are you going to start with? So much free learning to be had! For some specific ideas on using Open Culture resources for language learning, try the following:
Newspapers aren’t dead – yet – how to use a pdf version of front page news for tried and true newspaper activities for language learners.