This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of CONNECT.
Using Newspapers/Magazines as an Authentic Resource in the ESL Classroom
Pitta-Gay Powell (Ehime)
The cliche “no news is good news” can easily be proven wrong in the English as a second language (ESL) classroom. Specifically, let’s explore the usefulness of newspapers or magazines in a regular ESL lesson. It’s great for vocabulary building, practicing English expression, stimulating multiple levels of comprehension in the target language, and so on. I’m especially particular towards it because it can be used to stimulate students’ creativity through team-work and competition.
Many believe the advent of technology and its subsequent growth in accessibility has rendered the traditional print dépassées, but has it really? I still like reading the physical paper but I also enjoy siphoning news from the virtual realm. Consider me a hybridized entity; originally from an older generation happily bumbling through the newness of our super-technologized, modern world. It may be difficult to find fans of newspapers or magazines in the younger generation, but we can still build pretty interesting activities using the printed news as a resource.
Think storyboard. To have students engaged in this activity, I suggest using small cork boards. While you’re at it, prepare safety scissors, tape/glue, pushpins—and of course—your choice of newspapers, magazines, or both. At this point, you may think this is art class prep, but you’ll be amazed at how the English language develops with this activity. I prefer to separate my classes into teams—six teams for big classes and four teams for smaller classes. They will all work collaboratively to complete the task and compete for points. But, what are they to do?
They will make small storyboards. You may provide options for themes to choose from:friendship, summer memories, and dreams are some examples. Instruct the student to search through the newspaper/magazine for words, sentences, and pictures to attach to their storyboard using the aforementioned tools.
Ultimately the student-made storyboard should be used as a part of a final group presentation—in English, of course—where they explain or tell a story according to their theme. You may assign points according to your own parameters. Consider the use of superior vocabulary, creativity, and oral expression. These sample parameters may seem highly subjective but the point of the activity is not the grade scheme, but to achieve the primary goal of oral expression practice. Written, or in this case, amalgamated written expression is a secondary objective.
This lesson may seem a little sophisticated for lesser-motivated students but it can be dressed down. Dress it down by having students search for pictures only and giving them model sentences where they can substitute words to construct their own presentation. Here you’ll get plenty of opportunities to help students model and correct English grammar without explicitly teaching a grammar lesson.
Plots for Discussion
Encourage comprehension within the English language through discussions of sequence of events. This approach is a lot more textual unless you facilitate students lifting the events from the text.
Present students with an expository or narrative newspaper or magazine article. Choose these articles carefully, not solely based on personal preference but with consideration for each class’ ESL level and interests.
Consider creating a concept map for students to explore and determine sequential or cause-and-effect relationships among events within an article. You could even have the events scrambled and instruct students to work together to re-create the correct order. This task is even more fun and accessible if the students are given pictures to arrange according to information they read from the text or to draw the pictures themselves. These ideas are more suitable for elementary to senior high school students rather than smaller children.
But for the students who can handle a little more challenge in the ESL classroom, bring the story to life. Let them choose scenes to reenact and improvise where no dialogue is present. For the narrative articles, play hot seat(s) where student(s) can assume the role of characters (major and/or minor). They may sit in the center of a class arranged in the circular storytelling format and work together to answer questions the other students created from the printed media.
We must never forget that English is not simply a subject. It is a language. As such, students’ best chance of getting better at it in the ESL environment is through social interaction, and it is the teachers job to make these interactions as authentic and entertaining as possible.
What’s more entertaining than a good story? Stories exist as tradition, exposition, narration, manga, animation, movies, and many other forms. Well, how about having the students make some?
Creating stories from scratch in a second language can be frustrating, but what if we provided some material as inspiration? Students would have fun producing new stories together from print that already exists.
The art supplies from earlier will be needed here as well. In place of the cork board, use cartridge paper. Let students work in groups to cut out pictures and arrange them to tell a story. It will be challenging and fun for them to present their creation to the class in English. Or switch it up: Let them exchange their creations and have a rival group tell the story that the picture implies. They will have to practice speaking English within their groups and ask their teachers and each other for help. This is a fantastic learning environment which appeals to tactile, interpersonal, and visual learners all at the same time.
I must warn, though, that the success of this activity is highly dependent on the Japanese Teacher of English’s (JTE’s) or the Assistant Language Teacher’s (ALT’s) understanding of the students’ actual language skill level; not to mention an ability to build rapport and excite students into action.
Another idea is to have students draw manga from information they read. Imitation is a great place from which to spark creative expression. Let them use newspaper and magazine articles as inspiration. Here the artists in the groups get to shine, the linguists get to show off, the orator gets an opportunity to develop his craft, and the actors—if you choose to let them act out the manga—have the best time entertaining their classmates in a fun ESL setting.
Is It Really About The News or The Paper?
Really, there are so many ways to use print media as an education resource. But, by now you would have realized that using the newspaper or magazine as a resource is not simply about the news but more about the appropriation of words, engaging with an authentic resource, learning grammar implicitly, and providing inspiration for students to use as a springboard into interacting meaningfully through the use of the English language. I hope I have managed to provide some inspiration for the JTEs as well as ALTs.
Finally, don’t forget that encouragement sweetens labor, so if it is possible, arrange for students to be rewarded during or after in-lesson competitions. Think Daiso or Haruya merch.
Pitta is an English teacher who has rediscovered her passion for teaching. She loves the creativity of the profession and enjoys sharing ideas to get students pumped to learn.