A Context for Learning: Using Current Events in the Classroom to Spark Student Interest

What’s a tariff? Why should your students care?

Several years ago, says Colin, his students would have learned the definition of this term and moved on without understanding its importance. But because he works to put social studies in the context of current events, students develop powerful connections with this word and many others.

Colin offers suggested resources and activities that can enable you to use current events to improve students’ comprehension and engagement.

One of the things that I enjoy about teaching is being able to bring current events into the classroom. My love for current events was fostered by one of my teachers. He really encouraged us to involve ourselves in what was happening around the world.

One of the ways he did that was by dedicating a bulletin board to current events. After we had that board totally covered with news articles, we were able to take an extra fifteen minutes of recess.

One of the other things that he did that we didn’t enjoy so much was he had us summarize the article for the class. Then also, if there were any pictures, we took the article around the classroom. Then after that was done, we finally got to hang it on the bulletin board.

Another thing that he would do was put bonus questions on tests that reflected what was happening in our world. He might have asked us who the prime minister was, or who the governor general is, or maybe even the American president, or sometimes he may have asked us about a current event, like where a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed recently.

I’ve noticed that my students’ awareness to current issues can actually be helpful in helping them learn terms and concepts in our subjects. Four years ago, a word like “tariff” was just another vocabulary term for students to learn, but thanks to the American president and his work on NAFTA, my students now all understand what a tariff is. Another word that my students understand better than ever before is nationalism, because they all understand that many of Donald Trump’s supporters are very nationalistic, and so they get what nationalism is.

A few ways that I try to incorporate current events into my classroom include setting aside a time for current events, as well as tying it into appropriate subjects. In my homeroom, I set aside a time for current events, and I will bring in articles of interest on current issues and we’ll talk about them and get the students caught up on what’s happening in their world. If there’s an election going on, that’s a wonderful time to give students a brief lesson in civics because elections are usually exciting things to follow. Students are interested in learning what’s going on and how this is working in order to get a person to the position of prime minister or president.

In social studies or geography or history, students tend to be interested in news from countries that they’re currently learning about. Recently, we learned about Europe. Students were very interested in hearing about the spats between Kosovo and Serbia. They’re also interested in news from local cities and areas. A number of years ago, one of our local cities found a corduroy road six feet under the main streets through town. That was an interesting topic for us.

It could be a scientific discovery. Recently, I was reading an article about—It was a tongue-in-cheek article that a scientist had written after visiting a Flat Earth convention. Again, a good opportunity to teach your students about theories that people have in our society.

Another thing that I try to do is be somewhat conscious of where my news articles are coming from. Are they heavily biased towards the left, to the right, or they somewhat in the center? There are various websites that you can use to find out what a newspaper or a news organization’s rating is. Allsides.com has some media bias ratings, marketwatch.com has a chart on that, and mediabiasfactcheck.com also has some interesting resources for that.

Another thing that I have a thought of, but I haven’t learned well enough myself, is to teach students how to notice bias in articles, whether it’s looking at the pictures, the way things are said and portrayed, and so on. Is the pose a flattering pose for that politician or is it not flattering? That can tell you a lot about that particular news organization’s view on the topic.

Print media is becoming more and more scarce, so I feel there’s a greater responsibility on the teacher to make students aware of what’s happening in their world and to spark interest in that because there’s less ready access for them. I think we’re helping students to be more well-rounded when we help them to be aware of current issues in their country and in their world.

Transcription by GoTranscript

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