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 have in common, 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.