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Numer publikacji: 26461
Dział: Języki obce

Using Newspapers to Get Students Talking

Magdalena Szymczak – nauczycielka języka angielskiego w Publicznym Gimnazjum nr 17 im. Bohaterów Monte Cassino w Łodzi

Krótkie streszczenie artykułu (specjalność - metodyka):

Nauczanie mówienia w języku obcym jest dość trudnym zadaniem, gdyż uczniowie często ograniczają się do zdawkowych odpowiedzi na zadawane przez nauczyciela pytania, niechętnie biorą aktywny udział w dyskusji, nie czują się wystarczająco pewnie, by zabierać głos na forum klasy lub nadużywają rodzimego języka podczas lekcji języka angielskiego. Dobrym pomysłem na zachęcenie uczniów do mówienia i wyrażania własnych poglądów może być wykorzystanie na zajęciach odpowiednio wybranych artykułów prasowych, które będą inspiracją dla uczniów i pomogą ograniczyć stosowanie języka polskiego na lekcjach języka angielskiego.

“Using Newspapers to Get Students Talking”

Teaching speaking is usually quite a difficult task. Students tend to simply answer the teacher’s questions in one or two sentences. This is not enough for teachers, who would like them to speak fluently, use more elaborate vocabulary or take part in discussions in an active way. Another problem to deal with during speaking activities is the overuse of the mother tongue. Why do students avoid talking in the classroom? Perhaps they are not motivated enough or they do not know what to say.
Considering all the above, language teachers may use newspapers to teach speaking skills. Through newspaper articles students learn some new vocabulary in a context, which can later be used during discussions. Teenagers do not necessarily have to discuss the content of the newspaper material, but they can talk about their own experiences on the basis of the article.
Newspapers are very helpful in a learning process. Peter Grundy analyses a number of advantages and disadvantages of using newspapers in the classroom. These include: availability, variety, forming a reading habit, providing information, allowing for skills integration, provoking an authentic response, introducing culture and society as well as their topicality and difficulty (7-9). He summarizes his findings in the following words:
Newspapers are a cheap, widely available, authentic resource containing an immense variety of text types; they have a crucial role to play in developing second language reading skills; and they evoke authentic responses and are a major aid to acculturation ... [T]heir topicality is both an advantage and a disadvantage ... and their inherent difficulty must be recognized. (9)
There is a great variety of text types to be found in newspapers, including headlines, articles, the news, photographs, photo stories, advertisements, classifying adds, TV guides, problem page letters, strip cartoons, horoscopes, weather forecasts, and many others. They use different language styles and deal with different subjects and topics. All of these factors make newspapers interesting and motivating for students to work with. As Vilma Tafani observes, “Newspapers report real-life events, and this arouses students’ curiosity ... Newspapers are an invaluable source of authentic materials. The more students read, the more they want to explore” (84).
Newspapers can be used as teaching materials to develop students’ skills in such areas as reading comprehension, vocabulary, critical thinking, speaking, writing, grammar and more. They are very useful for mixed-ability classes. However, in preparing a lesson using a newspaper material, teachers should, first of all, take into account the topic of the article, which should meet both the teacher’s and the students’ expectations. Furthermore, the length of the article, its complexity and the language difficulty should be appropriately adjusted to the level represented by the students.
Nowadays, through the Internet, we are able to access hundreds of newspapers and magazines worldwide. We should be very careful, however, when we choose suitable newspaper materials for our students. When making the selection, it is useful to keep in mind the following questions:
Will my students find the materials interesting? ... Are the materials appropriate for my students in terms of their existing knowledge? ... Are the materials appropriate for my students in terms of language level? ... Should I use only materials from today’s newspapers? (Sanderson 8)
We should not avoid using newspapers in the classroom because of their difficulty as there are some ways of making materials usable for various levels of students. One simple method is to select interesting articles and to design tasks that suit the level of our students. As Paul Sanderson explains, “[g]rade the task—not the material is a well-known maxim in language teaching” (15).
Here are some preparation techniques that the teacher can use to simplify the difficulty of newspaper articles and to motivate students to work with them:
1. Give the students the newspaper material and ask them to check any unfamiliar vocabulary in a dictionary before the lesson.
2. Explain any problem vocabulary in the material or prepare a glossary with a translation or an explanation of the key vocabulary. Add the glossary to the newspaper item.
3. Discuss the topic of the newspaper material with your students or summarise the material.
4. Give the students the headline and show them the photograph or the illustration associated with the topic of the newspaper article. Encourage them to make some predictions about the story-line.
5. Write a few key words from the newspaper material on the blackboard and ask the students to brainstorm the subject of the material.
6. Before working with a newspaper report on current issues in the classroom, ask the students to watch the TV news or read a similar report in their own language.
7. Tell the students not to focus on the meaning of every single word while reading the newspaper material or let them use dictionaries during the lesson (Sanderson 14).
As has already been explained, it is important to know why it is a good idea to use newspapers in the classroom, how to choose appropriate articles for our students and how to create suitable tasks on the basis of newspapers. However, we should also think about ways of teaching speaking skills through newspaper articles.
Getting teenagers to use English in the classroom can be a challenge to most teachers. Students may avoid talking due to many reasons. First of all, speaking and writing are productive skills, which are generally more difficult than listening or reading skills, which are receptive ones. Another problem could be associated with the psychological aspect of speaking in public and feeling not confident enough. Furthermore, teenagers may not be able to take part in debates because of their lack of appropriate vocabulary or knowledge. If the subject of a discussion is too demanding, they often simply do not know what to say or how to say it.
Catherine Sheehy Skeffington gives three reasons why students do not talk in class. These are peer pressure, lack of motivation and lack of support. She also explains that we can get students talking by explaining why it is important and by building their confidence through the use of the following tricks:
1. Rewarding students for using simple language, which makes them feel more confident and helps them to achieve their goals. Pronunciation games, using classroom language and drilling are ideal for this sort of activity. As students repeat words chorally, they practice speaking in “a safe environment” without being exposed to speaking in public.
2. Setting such goals that are possible to achieve by students of different English levels. For instance, working with absolute beginners, the teacher may expect them to produce very little English and spend only a few minutes speaking the language per class. The higher the level of the students, the more emphasis on speaking English and minimising the use of the mother tongue (Skeffington).
Language teachers frequently deal with the overuse of the native language (L1) in the classroom. Lindsay Clandfield and Duncan Foord claim that “the teacher should actively control and influence how and when the mother tongue is used.” There is no point in trying to eliminate the use of the mother tongue in the classroom, but teachers ought to “concentrate on ways of harnessing, exploiting and playing with L1” (Clandfield and Foord). A good idea is to use mother tongue newspapers for communication activities. The teacher can prepare or encourage students to bring an article of their interest to the classroom and explain what it is about in English. Depending on the difficulty of the text, this may lead to vocabulary work as students attempt to communicate the main ideas of the text to the teacher. This strategy is similar to simply using photos or illustrations as the text in the mother tongue, like the picture, serves as a source of motivating ideas for conversation (Clanfield and Foord).
Clandfield and Foord put forward some more suggestions to get students speaking English:
1. Simplify and clarify the instructions, and grade speaking assignments. Students overuse their native language frequently when they do not know what they are supposed to do or when they lack appropriate vocabulary, language functions or communication skills in English.
2. Prepare any “talking item” such as a ball or a stick for communication activities and give it to the students who are allowed to talk, on condition that they do that in English.
3. Take advantage of the fact that students want to talk even when they use their native language. Make notes of the examples of L1 and write them on the blackboard, then ask the students to translate the words or expressions into English. If the students are asking you questions in their own language, encourage them to think of the ways how to say that in English.
4. Indicate the time when you want to hear either English or the mother tongue by using a symbol such as a flag placed somewhere in the classroom. You can show the symbol to the students whenever you need it.
Taking into account the tips listed above, teachers can encourage individual students to talk in class and minimize the use of their mother tongue. However, good classroom discussions are still difficult to organise. According to Peter Dainty, there are three main reasons for this: students are not interested in the topic, they do not know enough of the key vocabulary, and it is difficult to involve everyone in the discussion as there are people who talk a lot and those who refuse to contribute (4).
To overcome the problems mentioned above, working with newspapers in the classroom may be a good idea. First of all, teachers should choose an appropriate authentic article with a strong “human interest” element. This seems to be important as “[m]any classes find it easier to get involved in a topic if the starting point is a real life, human drama rather than a list of facts and figures” (Dainty 4). The chosen articles need to make students feel that the discussion is more about everyday situations than about something abstract, theoretical or academic. Headlines and pictures which accompany newspaper articles are also very helpful, as you can use them to make students predict what the article is about before reading the text.
Secondly, if students are not willing to participate in discussions based on articles due to their difficulty and unknown vocabulary, a good solution may be to write up key words and phrases from the article on the blackboard and to keep them there during the discussion. This makes teenagers feel a lot more confident. According to Dainty, “[s]tudents are more likely to try out a new verb that you have just taught them if they can look up at the board and check which preposition it goes with” (5).
Thirdly, if only a few people are taking part in a discussion, the teacher may encourage students to talk directly about their experiences rather than the knowledge of the subject or problems mentioned in the newspaper article. That way there will not be right or wrong answers and it may help teenagers to feel more confident and to participate more eagerly in the classroom discussion (Dainty 5).
On the whole, newspaper articles may encourage teenagers to talk because they provide not only relevant vocabulary but also opinions and topics for classroom debates. That is why articles can be used as a stimulus for discussions. If we choose newspaper materials that are controversial or interesting to our students, this may be a great starting point to practice speaking skills. When doing so, however, it is important to think about the appropriate language level of the newspaper article so as not to be too discouraging for our students. A difficult text can often mean that they will not read it and, as a consequence, they will not take part in speaking activities. If we feel that the chosen article is too complex or contains too difficult vocabulary, we can apply some of Sanderson’s preparation techniques (discussed above) to motivate students to work with the material. From personal experience, it seems to me that it is often a great solution to explain and write on the board any key vocabulary or to give students the article to read at home, asking them to check the meaning of any unknown vocabulary in a dictionary. An additional advantage of this strategy is that more time can be spent on practicing speaking skills during the lesson and that students will have an opportunity to prepare some arguments or opinions for classroom debates in advance.
We also may consider Clandfield and Foord’s suggestions to get students speaking English and minimize their use of the mother tongue. Clarifying and simplifying instructions is very important if we want our students to communicate, especially in English and not in their native language. Using a symbol such as a flag pinned up to the board and indicating thus which language the students are supposed to use appears to be quite a good solution to encourage teenagers to speak English rather than L1.
Bearing in mind those ideas, teaching speaking skills may not be such a challenge as it seems to be. What is more, a reasonably chosen newspaper material will work to our advantage and can be a very helpful “tool” in encouraging our students to talk.

Works Cited:
Clandfield, Lindsay, and Duncan Foord. “Using L1 in the Classroom.” Humanising Language Teaching 5.1 (Jan. 2003). Web.
Dainty, Peter. Newspaper Articles to Get Teenagers Talking. London: Scholastic, 2006. Print.
Grundy, Peter. Newspapers. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993. Print.
Sanderson, Paul. Using Newspapers in the Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.
Skeffington, Catherine Sheehy. “Getting Teenagers Talking.” TeachingEnglish. British Council and BBC World Service. 16 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Tafani, Vilma. “Teaching English through Mass Media.” Acta Didactica Napocensia 2.1 (2009): 81-96. Print.

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