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How to … work with newspapers

An article by Richard Bolt which argues that newspapers, especially whole real ones, can play a valuable cultural as well as language role in the classroom. Keep the newspaper ‘alive’, provide opportunities for learners to ask their own questions and do their own analyses - and they will provide an excellent opportunity for learner-based work involving real communication between the learners and their chosen items. The article and the Teacher’s tips presented here will encourage you to develop your own critical awareness of newspapers and provide intercultural ideas allowing you to make fuller use of them in the classroom.


Do you have any newspapers from the UK? How could you make use of them from a cultural angle? The purpose of this article is to widen your perspective on their potential use and in particular how to use them alongside Polish newspapers for intercultural activities.

 

Newspapers are widely used in FLT, by both its coursebooks and its teachers as a rich source of language. For instance to provide specific material for developing reading and lexical skills, an easily available source of language authenticity and a means of maintaining learner interest and motivation. Newspapers in the outside ‘real’ world are a medium for delivering a wide variety of ‘information’ and in a number of different language genres for their audiences thus, in addition to language value, they have considerable cultural and intercultural value in the classroom.

 

Often the value of newspaper items seems so immediate and obvious it is taken for granted. The learners merely need comprehension exercises and the meaning will be transparent - cultural method is not required. Here it is argued however that an awareness of newspapers on the part of the teacher will lead to their more effective use in the classroom. The contexts controlling the selection of information and the way it is written are in fact significant and are briefly discussed here, while some simple techniques to raise awareness of these among learners will be given as well.

 

Teacher’s tip

Ø       Get real complete newspapers into the classroom (including all sections and supplements) and even if you copy individual items show them their origin

Ø       Let newspapers ‘do their own job’, let them be read for themselves and design activities for learners which will lead on from this starting point

 

The underlying aim is to develop an elementary level of critical source skills in both yourselves and your learners, enabling more independence and confidence in interpretating original sources. You will already have considerable awareness of the press in Poland which you can use interculturally to understand the press elsewhere. The emphasis here is on the cultural rather than language value of newspapers so the activities suggested will often be different to those found in coursebooks.

 

There are a number of internal links connected with this article:

  • ELT media bibliography - this lists activity, course and British Studies books at both intermediate and advanced levels, with full references on where to find media sections.
  • Newspaper Links - discussion of different types of papers and their value and direct links to a selection of websites where the actual news of that day can be found (Polish sites too)
  • Media Links - general media websites including TV and radio, and how to keep up-to-date
  • Guardian and Times Archives and Media UK two website reviews. The first with advice on how to research a point of interest and the second how to find a huge range of newspaper and magazine links.
  • British Studies Resource Points - where many books on the press can be found - and, if in a British Council library, with real up-to-date UK newspapers too

 



 

Why newspapers?

A newspaper is a medium, a collection of pieces of writing, a source of sources (like the internet too), interesting both for itself and for what it contains (both for the ‘medium’ and for the ‘message’). Newspapers have:

  • the power of realia - the feeling of touching something from another society, of somehow being vicariously there, and thus reading and looking as if from within that society and sharing the experience with its other members. The internet is lacking in this.
  • the power of authentic language - in the sense that it is intended solely for a native audience with its shared knowledge and experience. The language has a feeling of being alive and mattering, it is intended to have an edge and ‘cut’, and that investigating such language is therefore going to take you into the ways of thinking of that society.
  • the power of original material - with a sense of independence of content and purpose beyond the control of a course book, teacher or syllabus. The non-native reader is somehow an eavesdropper on its subject matter and there is often a strong sense of ‘otherness’, even of mystery, motivating further investigation.

 

Newspapers are an attractive escape from the everyday world of FLT, to remind learners and teachers of why they are in the classroom and re-motivating them both. Not only newspapers of course, literature certainly has the second and third qualities, with a creative dimension as well, and there are many other powerful original sources.

 

The texts considered will always contain more meaning than can be analysed or extracted in class (and thus available to be taken away ‘privately’ in the learners’ minds), and there will always be more texts than can be managed too. In consequence you and your learners are to an extent equalised in the face of a newspaper (as with all original sources) and working alongside one another. What you should have as a teacher is the awareness, skills and experience of culturally approaching such texts so as to lead yourself and your learners to a wider comprehension. To guide you in this is the purpose of this article.

 

Teacher’s tips

Ø       Keep newspapers in their original form as far as possible - and make them available to be looked at outside normal class times

Ø       Watch the response of your students and see what attracts them, as a guide to what to use for more detailed study

Ø       Newspapers are capable of producing surprise in the lesson and value beyond it, and they should be allowed to do so.

 

They are particularly valuable relative to other original cultural sources because:

·         they are easily and cheaply available - and it is easy to obtain Polish equivalents to place alongside.

·         there is a wide variety of items (visual as well as linguistic), in many lengths and styles, appropriate for many different classroom activities and levels of English - see What can be found in a newspaper? below. (Magazines of course provide a similar variety)

·         its adverts are a form of realia in themselves

·         many aspects of a society (as well as ideas, attitudes and so on) can be found in them giving something of interest to all learners. This can motivate them to engage in a real communicative fashion, struggling not only with the language but with its meaning.

·         if recent they have a sense of immediacy, of events unfinished, that can give them a particular ‘edge’ (but not so good as the internet in this).

·         they are flexible in the classroom - a single newspaper (like a magazine) can be dismembered and used to produce materials for a variety of activities and students, and so multiple copies of a newspaper are not necessary. In addition they are easily and effectively photocopiable.

 

Teacher’s tip

Ø       Allow learners some choice in the selection of what to examine

 

There are some difficulties too:

  • too much information - if you know what you are looking for it can take a great deal of time and luck to find it. Some internet archives are helping here - see the website review of the Guardian and Times Archives.
  • the shared knowledge and experience assumed in its readership can be considerable
  • at times a great deal of impenetrable colloquial language is found
  • newspapers report the exception not the norm
  • how to be up-to-date? - internet sites like the Guardian and Times Archives can help

 

Teacher’s tip

Ø       Use a good article if you have one (even if a little dated) and get your students to try to update it from the internet to see what has or has not changed, and why

 

How can a newspaper be used?

Culturally, in a FL classroom, a newspaper can be considered and used as:

(simple intercultural activity ideas are given alongside)

  • an artefact in itself
    • comparing the balance and content of the different sections (finance, sport, letters and so on) with a Polish newspaper
  • a reflection of social, economic and political processes
    • attitudes to a single issue (e.g. the European Union) found in both Polish and UK newspapers
  • a set of authentic language genres to be understood in their cultural contexts
    • models for writing, for instance, of a film review, a sports report, a ‘small ad’ and so on - are they done in the same way in a Polish newspaper?
  • a source of understanding of another society or issue through the content
    • e.g. crises and scandals surrounding exams and how they differ from Poland
  • an opportunity to reflect on the role language plays in linking all these
    • collecting unexpected expressions, following up references, identifying the attitudes in headlines and so on, while considering Polish equivalents

 

Teacher’s tips

Ø       If the class are young or their language level is low - use the headlines and pictures and paraphrase the story so they too can profit from a real newspaper

Ø       Use the newspaper item as a springboard for ‘external’ tasks e.g. write a reply to a letter published on the letters page - do not restrict tasks to ‘internal’ comprehension,

Ø       Produce your own class newspaper as a display of items or a real edited paper version taking advantage of what you have learned

Ø       Try the activities in Newspapers by Peter Grundy - many of them are easily adaptable for cultural and intercultural outcomes. Also British Studies Materials for Polish Teachers of English in its Newspapers unit by Anna Tomczak has a range of useful

activities linking language with culture. For details of both see ELT media bibliography

 

Newspaper awareness

Newspapers are a cultural source and must be understood as such. The selection (as well as omission) and presentation of items is not natural or inevitable but a product of a complex variety of influences. Journalists are highly-skilled professional writers who have a very specific and not easily imitated style. They also have their own closely-guarded professional ethics, while editors, not always in agreement with their journalists, have considerable power over what finally appears. A summary of points can be given.

  • News by its very nature is new and therefore different, unexpected and often surprising. What you will find in a newspaper is exactly what does not happen every day in its country of origin. Imagine a Polish newspaper and what it contains - if a foreigner were to read it to get a true picture of the everyday life of a Pole, what impression would s/he have? This comparison of an equivalent source is an important intercultural technique when using all original sources from another country.
  • They are written for a specific (often national) audience and assume a large quantity of shared knowledge, experience and attitudes which a foreigner can only guess at, even if identified. Often these attitudes are hidden in word play or in references which seem descriptive but are in fact ironic. Again take a look in a Polish newspaper and see what a foreigner would find difficult. For examples see Reading between the (Head)lines.
  • They are not textbooks - their role is not to give a complete or balanced picture, or finalised facts. They are a way in helping to define the questions but not necessarily producing the answers.

 

Teacher’s tips

Ø       Use the intercultural technique to give a sense of proportion to the content of articles

Ø       Take a look at the headlines of any Polish newspaper with your class. Let some members take the role of foreigners to see what problems arise in understanding them.

Ø       Always read ‘between the lines’ with a culturally-aware and critical eye

 

What can be found in a newspaper?

Newspapers like magazines contain a wide variety of items from a number of different genres - possibly wider than you realise. Their cultural value will not be the same as their language value and language level should not be used as the only guide in selection. Many valuable cultural activities require just a dictionary and gist understanding. The links given are to activities on the BS Web Pages based on those kinds of newspaper items.

  • News - local/ national/ international - long articles/ short news agency items
  • Opinion - columns/ editorials
  • Letters
  • Special sections - sport/ culture/ finance/ women’s etc
  • Reviews - film/ music/ TV/ theatre/ books/ restaurants etc

·         Supplements/ special features - jobs/ travel/ motoring/ education/ children’s etc

·         Weekend magazines - arts/ sports reviews/ lifestyle/ fashion/ social issues/ food etc

·         Headlines - see Reading between the (Head)lines

  • Visual images - photographs/ cartoons (single or strip). See The cartoon as a text
  • Tables/ graphs/ diagrams/ maps - economic/ financial/ social/ weather and so on

·         Information/ forecasts - weather/ traffic/ stock market/ horoscopes

  • Obituaries - articles written on the life of a well-known person after their death
  • Announcements - births/ marriages/ deaths etc
  • Advice columns - relationships/ cooking/ gardening/ health etc

·         Puzzles/ quizzes - e.g. crosswords

·         Entertainment guides - cinema/ theatre/ restaurant as well as TV/ radio etc

·         Competitions/ offers

  • Advertisements - of many types including single, often large, adverts
  • Classified advertisements - ‘small ads’ - jobs/ housing/ bought and sold/ cars/ accommodation/ services etc. See Rural Housing which investigates adverts for selling property

 

The Sunday Times normally has well over a hundred pages with more than ten sections!!! - each of which is divided into a number of the above items. A very rich source for little if any financial outlay - but heavy to carry!

 

Teacher’s tips

Ø       Divide the class so that each group/ pair/ individual takes a different kind of item and then presents it to the others

Ø       Take advantage of a variety of items - perhaps a cartoon/ editorial/ letters/ articles etc all on the same theme

Ø        ‘Follow the story’ - across several days as it develops - not only articles but in columns, letters and editorials too. Equally follow a story across several newspapers.

Ø       Selling products - the same company/ same product - but in a different country and language. What do the differences and similarities tell you.

 

Where to find UK newspapers?

Something to bring back (or get someone to bring for you) when you have been on a trip to the UK - to read when you are on the coach or plane and later use. Bring back newspapers which you cannot normally get in Poland - especially local newspapers. These in fact make much better sources of classroom materials, particularly with younger learners, than the more widely available nationals as such learners can relate to the local concerns found there in a direct way. See Newspaper Links and Media UK.

 

Your students - get them involved and cooperating. Perhaps their families have UK newspapers - perhaps if a student visits the UK a request can be made.

 

On sale expensively at EMPiK (in Poland) and elsewhere - but, as said above (and like magazines), a single copy can go a long way. A warning - often they are European editions printed e.g. in Frankfurt or Marseille (with it seems only about 50% of the national edition) and include little of the kind of specific material for the UK national audience which is often being looked for.

 

In British Council libraries - old newspapers are often available for the asking. Also in these libraries (and in all teacher training institutions - the former NKJOs) are the British Studies Resource Points. These have a number of British Studies textbooks with sections on the media see the ELT media bibliography. However in addition there are at least four fully-indexed volumes of the Carel Press Essential Articles series giving a wide range of original articles from UK newspapers. For a mini-review of these - see the ELT media bibliography.

 

On the internet - increasingly available - not the same as the actual newspapers (and without the same ‘authentic’ feel) but very easily available and continuously up-to-date. For some discussion of types of newspapers and links to them, as well as Polish equivalents - see Newspaper Links, the website review of Media UK - a site with links to a huge range of newspapers (and magazines, radio and TV stations too), the website review of the Guardian and Times Archives (a national newspaper with full, free access to almost everything published there and in The Observer since 1998) and our Media Links page.

 

Teacher’s tips

Ø       Go to the grassroots - get local newspapers if you can

Ø       Start with whatever newspapers you can get hold of and then tailor activities to them -‘the newspaper in the hand is worth two in the bush’

 


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