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Get Your Students to Love the News, #2: Circa explains current events concisely

circanewsUpdate, Sept. 2014: This post is now out of date, thanks to circa’s 3.0 update, which is beautiful! But most of the post still stands.

favicon Yes, it makes me crazy that very few teachers emphasize current events. As a former social studies teacher, I can criticize my fellow social studies colleagues and ask, incredulously, “Um, how come you’re not having your students read the news?”

My modest proposal is that all English teachers should do independent fiction reading and that all social studies teachers should do independent nonfiction reading. Simple as that.

And that’s partly why I’m doing this Get Your Students to Love the News series. In case you didn’t catch the first installment (about Umano), I’m trying to suggest that it’s not all that hard or expensive to get your students excited about current events. You don’t need multiple subscriptions to newspapers or magazines. You don’t even need a computer. All you need is to convince your students to install an app on their phone.

That’s the case for Circa, an excellent phone app available for iOS and Android.

This is what the good people at Circa do. They identify the important news of the day. Then they read several articles from leading news sources, like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. And finally, in a stroke of genius, they incorporate the most important and common information from those articles into a succinct story that explains clearly what happened.

You could say that Circa summarizes the news, but David Cohn, the director of news, would disagree. I (sort of) see where he’s coming from. A straight-up summary wouldn’t necessarily give you the background and context of the news event. Circa does a good job there.

Also, a regular summary wouldn’t connect to you similar and related stories. A Circa story does. Best of all (my favorite), Circa stories include citations, so you and your students know from where the information is coming. Regular summaries don’t.

I like Circa for three main reasons: (1) It gets right to the point, and the reading level is moderate, (2) You can follow a Circa story, and when there is a new development, you can receive a notification, (3) The news is fairly serious. You won’t get articles about what your cat is trying to tell you when he knocks your valuables off the countertop.

Here’s a quick tour through a Circa story I read today — and why I think students would benefit:

Sample Title Page: Image, Headline, Lead


Nice and simple. Your students will like the image, and they can get a quick glimpse of the most crucial facts. You could also ask them, before moving on, to set a purpose for reading the article, or to ask possible questions.

 Sample Body Page: Key Facts, Key Quotations


This is a great example of how Circa identifies the key players, explains who they are, and lets them share their opinion. Therefore, students can build their background knowledge and also be introduced to important newsmakers. There’s nothing wrong, for example, with knowing who Justice Elena Kagan is and what she thinks about search and seizure.

Sample Explanation Page, Plus a Related Storyline



Many news articles, because they build from assumed common background knowledge, and because they follow an incrementalist approach (day-by-day reporting), don’t always pause to make sure you know the basics. My feeling is that students would appreciate simple declarative sentences on this screen. Also, if they’re interested, they can read a related story (and follow it, too, if they like).

Sample Citations Page


OK, so maybe this won’t be your students’ favorite page, but I think it’s excellent. It tells students, “Um, this is where we got the information,” and “News comes from news sources, and here are some of the most popular and most prestigious” (except for maybe USA Today). It’s a bit like checking a works cited page or a list of endnotes. I like it.

The only negative to Circa is that the writing may come off as dry to some students. After all, Circa is trying to remain objective. There’s not an easily discernible slant. There’s no edge. As a result, students may find the writing a bit boring.

My response to that possible criticism is that I believe it’s important that students are informed first before making a claim. Let’s teach them to gather information, to read a lot, to see different views — and then to make an argument.

If that happened, maybe our world would be a better place, too.

Please try out Circa and let me know what you think. If you try it out with students, I’d love to hear what they think. Thank you very much! (Feel free to make a brilliant insight.) favicon

One comment

  1. micheleg

    Thank you for the tour. I’m going to install this app on my Android device (an HTC One, to be specific.)
    Here’s why I think I will like Circa:
    – it provides an image (we can call that “the hook”)
    – it looks super accessible and easy to read
    – it seems like an easily-digestible-but-not-watered-down way to engage kids in reading the news.
    I like to imagine having the entire class download the app onto their cellular devices, and having a weekly “what’s going on in the news?” discussion. I also like to imagine asking students, “What is your source for that latest information?” and them having an answer.
    Great work, Mr. Isero! Keep it up!

Please share your brilliant insights!