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Curriculum and Instruction

A Teacher’s Guide to Using Newspapers to Enhance Language Arts Skills

Newspapers expand the curriculum with an unlimited amount of information to use as background for learning activities. Discover new ways to use the newspaper in your language arts studies, with these activities from the Newspaper Association of America.

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News develops every day. The beauty of the newspaper in the classroom is that it is also fresh each day. It comes to you with the latest news and information and, unlike other media, comes beautifully written with lots of detail. Stories unfold as reporters unearth more information to reconstruct what happened. There is truly no better record of the world’s happenings than a newspaper.

For teachers the newspaper offers a special attraction. It has been called the living textbook and it lives up to that name. The newspaper can be used to enhance skills in reading, writing, listening, speaking, math, social studies and science. Critical thinking is the natural outgrowth of using a newspaper to learn. Unlike textbooks, which are several years outdated by the time they get into students’ hands, the newspaper comes alive with information. The newspaper expands the curriculum with an unlimited amount of information to use as background for learning activities.

These activities will help students improve their skills in reading and writing. These skills are among the ones they will practice: how to find the main idea, how to increase vocabulary, how to compare readings, how to form sentences, how to ask a good question and how to write a great summary. They will employ many critical thinking skills as they are required to interact with the authentic material found in the newspaper.

Sports Glossary

Skill: Student uses a variety of strategies to analyze words.

Have students select an article from the Sports section. As they skim the story, they can make a list of vocabulary words that are used in the sport. Then they should write a definition for each word and draw a picture to illustrate what the word means. They can add any other words they can think of that also have to do with the sport, but that do not appear in the article. Now they have a sports glossary!

Monthly Magazine

Skill: Student uses a variety of reading materials to develop personal preferences in reading materials and locates and organizes written information.

Tell students that they are in charge of planning a cover for an important monthly magazine. They can look through today’s paper for the five articles that they think would be best for their magazine. They will design the cover, including titles that will make people want to read the articles and pictures that will catch their attention.

Comics and You

Skill: Student identifies details and uses information to construct meaning and make inferences.

Have students look through the comic strips in today’s newspaper for a character who is most like them. They can make a list of the things they have in common with this comic character as well as the differences.

Fun with Nouns

Skill: Student correctly identifies parts of speech-nouns.

Review the definition of a noun with your class. Then have them select a story from the front page of today’s newspaper and find the nouns. They can underline the people they find in red, the places in blue and the things in green. Then make a list of nouns you can find looking around your classroom.

Picture Stories

Skill: Student organizes ideas and information for creative writing.

The goal is to use pictures from the paper to tell a story. This activity gives students a chance to explore how photographs can tell stories. Have students look through the photos in today’s paper. Students then choose three photos and cut them out without captions. They can paste each picture on a separate sheet of paper and staple the sheets together in the order they will appear in the story. Finally, they should write out each story in the form of captions below each picture.

Before and After

Skill: Student creates a story in which ideas and details are in a logical order.

Have students find a photograph in the newspaper that interests them. Instruct them to think about what is going on in the picture. Have them explain what they think happened just before the picture was taken and predict what they believe will happen afterwards. They should write down their explanation. Then, for creative writing fun, have them come up with the wildest events they can think of for what happened before and after.

On Sale

Skill: Student uses writing process effectively for persuasion.

Display ads are found throughout the newspaper. They are different from classified ads because they are larger and often have pictures and large letters. Have students find a display ad that catches their attention. Have them write a paragraph telling whether or not they think it’s a good ad. How did it catch their eye? What would they change about it to make it even better? Have each student create a display ad to sell something in his/her desk.

Picture Punctuation

Skill: Student understands correct usage of punctuation marks.

The message of photos is sometimes like the message in a word sentence. Have students look through today’s newspaper and find pictures whose subject could represent a question mark (?), an exclamation point (!), and a period (.). Have them cut out the pictures and write an original sentence for each picture telling why they made this choice.

Secret Pal

Skill: Student drafts writing that conveys a sense of completeness.

Have students pretend they have a secret pal in the class and use the words from headlines in today’s newspaper to create a friendly message for their pal. They can cut out the words and paste the message on a piece of paper, or they can just choose the words and write the message on the paper. After that, they can give the message to the pal.

Searching the Paper

Skills: Student effectively skims and scans for information.

Have your students find each of the following in the newspaper:

  • someone wearing glasses
  • map
  • animal
  • television listing
  • the name of your city
  • athlete
  • action word
  • television star
  • cartoon
  • story about another country
  • letter from a reader
  • movie review or ad

Adopt a Pet

Skill: Student uses creative writing strategies appropriate to the purpose of the paper.

Pets are often in the newspaper. Sometimes they make news by doing something like saving their owner. Often they are found in ads. Have students turn to the classified ads and find the pets section. Have them read the descriptions and decide if one of these pets would be a good pet for them. They can then write a convincing argument that includes all the reasons they should have that pet.

Something Good and New

Skill: Student writes a concise summary.

The news is often about the troubles in the world. Is there any good news as well? Encourage students to find a story of good news. What makes the news good? Does the story have any impact on their lives? Have them write a brief summary of the good news and share it with your class.

Movie Promoting

Skills: Student organizes information before writing and uses creative writing strategies.

Have students imagine that they are movie promoters and it is their job to get people to come see their movie. They can look through the Entertainment section in today’s paper for one of their favorite movies. They will design an advertisement that will promote this film.

Comic Players

Skill: Student speaks with understanding and for various audiences or purposes including informal presentations.

The comic strips are really like little plays. Students can practice reading aloud with expression by reading the dialogue in the comics. Assign parts and have the strips read aloud in your classroom. Have fun and encourage students to really ham it up!

Mind Mapping

Skill: Student determines the main idea and relevant details in a passage.

Assign students to choose an article from the newspaper that they think is interesting. They can write down the main idea in a few words in the center of a piece of paper. Then they will write down some details that support the main idea.

Winning Isn't Everything

Skill: Student writes informal letter expressing mood.

Students should read through the Sports section in today’s newspaper and find an article about a game or event. Instruct them to imagine that they are a fan of the losing team and to write a letter explaining the impact of losing and some lessons one can learn from losing.

Newspaper Association of America Foundation, (2007). Newspapers Maintain the Brain. A Teacher’s Guide for Using the Newspaper to Enhance Basic Skills, 5-11. Vienna, VA: Newspaper Association of America Foundation.
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