Why are social studies texts so difficult to read? Five pages into Building Literacy in Social Studies: Strategies for Improving Comprehension and Critical Thinking by ASCD authors Donna Ogle, Ron Klemp, and Bill McBride, I came across several answers to this question. Among them was: students have poor attitudes about the study of “old events and dead people,” especially when no connection is made to present-day events. And that can seriously affect engagement and retention.
Excerpted below is a teaching strategy you can employ to help students learn how to better dissect and understand newspaper articles. And the subject of the accompanying newspaper clipping, linked to below for your use, is on a topic quite relevant today.
What are some ways you’ve helped students grow newspaper literacy skills? Tell us in the comments section.
Understanding Newspaper Articles
Introducing the Strategy
Description: Newspapers are a major resource for keeping citizens informed on local, national, and world issues. Newspaper articles are meant to be read with efficiency, so they follow a style that is sometimes called an “inverted pyramid.” This activity will show students how to follow the organization of a newspaper article.
Introductory Activity: Do a quick informal survey of how many of your students read the newspaper. Ask the following questions and put the results on the board:
- How many of you read the newspaper (pick one) once a week, twice a week, more than three times a week? (Have students raise their hands; record results for each choice.)
- How many of you read any of the following: school newspaper, local newspaper, or national newspaper, such as USA Today? (Have students raise their hands; record results for each choice.)
- What part of the newspaper do you read first—front page, editorials, sports, entertainment, classified ads? (Have students raise their hands; record results for each choice.)
- What parts of the newspaper do you never read? (Write responses on the board.)
- Why would some people feel that the newspaper is an important part of society? (Write responses on the board.)
Explain to students that the strategy they are about to learn will help them better understand what they read in newspapers.
Teaching the Strategy of Understanding Newspaper Articles
Step 1: Explain that each newspaper article begins with a “lead” that grabs the reader’s attention and could be one of several types. Write the following types of leads on the board: leads that create an impact, leads that reveal a quote, leads that ask a question, and leads that are indirect because they create an impression before getting to the “details” of the article.
Step 2: Draw an upside-down pyramid on the board. Tell students that most news articles are written in a style known as an “inverted pyramid.” Following the lead, newspaper writers give details in a descending order. Large, important ideas are presented first and supporting details are presented later. This style helps readers read more efficiently.
Step 3: Using the article “Small Nuclear Conflict Could Affect Globe” (Figure 8.1), read the first paragraph aloud to demonstrate how the lead works. Ask students to guess what type of lead they think is used in this article. (Correct answer is “lead that creates an impact.”)
Step 4: Now read the rest of the article with the students. Walk students through the graphic organizer Understanding Newspaper Articles (Figure 8.2). Solicit responses from the students as they fill in the graphic organizer in a directed lesson. (See Figure 8.3 for an example of a completed version.)
Step 5: Have students share their responses. For further practice and assessment, have students choose one of the Applying the Strategy activities in the Student Strategy section.
Read “Small nuclear conflict could affect globe, report says” by John Johnson, Jr. from the LA Times.