Tools of The Trade: Student-Friendly News Sources
by Kelly Virgin
I recently gave my high school students a twenty-five question formative current events quiz with names such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Keith Lamont Scott, terms such as Republican, Libertarian, and Pipeline, and places such as Syria, North Carolina, and Brazil. I asked students to match the names, terms, and places with the reasons they were recently featured in the news. On average, students scored a seven out of twenty-five, with some students scoring as low as a one or a two out of twenty-five. This quiz led to self-reflection and an insightful discussion about the importance of knowing what is going on in the world around us.
In their most recent book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, Kylene Beers and Robert Probst insist, “Far more important than the ability to capture the teacher’s information and thoughts is the ability to acquire information on ones’ own, to test ideas against one another, and to decide for one’s self what notions have merit and which should be rejected or abandoned” (32). It was clear from my students’ quiz results that they needed more opportunities to practice the acquisition of information on their own.
While I regularly bring current news articles into the classroom for us to read and discuss together, I recognize the importance of giving my students time to research and read news independently. However, many of my students are struggling readers who read below grade level, so it is necessary that they have access to articles at their independent reading levels. In an effort to provide this to them, I have come to rely on two kid and teen friendly online news sources: NEWSELA.com and TweenTribune.com.
NEWSELA is extremely teacher and student friendly. The site gathers current news stories from news sources around the country and world and republishes them for use in the classroom. In just a few minutes I was able to create separate class accounts, upload each of my students from our Google Classroom accounts, and direct them to login through their student gmails. If you do not have access to or use Google Classroom, you can just as easily set up your own classroom accounts and direct students to login and access the classroom through a class code.
As part of the free access, students can search from a variety of current event topics
that include: Arts and Culture, Science and Math, Government and Economics, Opinion, Kids, Sports, etc. They can browse to select and save articles to their binder for future reading or simply click on the articles to read. For many of the articles, they can choose to switch the language to Spanish, and for all of the articles they can adjust the reading level, highlight and annotate in the margins, complete a writing assignment, and take a reading quiz. Teachers can assign articles or text sets to classes and monitor general student progress.
The Pro version, which is available to teachers for a free 30-day trial, includes additional features such as the ability to modify or create writing assignments and the opportunity to monitor individual student reading progress over time through a more detailed grade book.
TweenTribune is an entirely free site offered by the Smithsonian. Similar to NEWSELA, TweenTribune gathers current news stories from reputable sources across the country and adapts them for use in the classroom. Unlike NEWSELA, I had to import my class lists manually and the site created unique login information for each of my students. While this wasn’t as simple as merely directing my students to login with their Google accounts, I was able to easily download the class login list to print and distribute for my students. One unique feature of the classroom set up is the ability to individually set each student’s lexile level.
The search features on this site are organized by grade with articles available at every level
from K to 12. Browsing can also be done by topic or lexile level. The site offers many features and resources for teachers, such as the ability to assign specific articles to classes and monitor individual student progress through a detailed grade book, as well as access to a continuously growing collection of lesson plans and teaching ideas. One key aspect of this site that is not available on NEWSELA is the ability for students publish comments on articles. This feature provides students with an audience beyond the teacher and classroom for their writing.
Both sites also offer apps with easy-to-use features for both the teacher and student. In my classroom so far this school year, I have used the sites in several different ways: to assign independent study of a common topic so students can read at their level but discuss the same issue, to spark interest for a current events research project, and to provide students with nonfiction options for independent reading. Most importantly, I have used these resources to provide my students with opportunities to acquire and assess information on their own.
Kelly Virgin is in her twelfth year teaching English for the Kennett Consolidated School District and has been a PAWLP fellow since 2010. She is a proud bookworm and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing with her students. This spring she will facilitate the Strategies for Teaching Literature course on Tuesday evenings.