Tagged: get your students to love the news

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Get Your Students to Love the News, #7: News360 helps students collect the news

news360_icon_playbook_largefavicon Today I’m back with a new installment to the “Get Your Students to Love the News,” which I think is slowly becoming a great resource for teachers. Today is the seventh installment. When you have time, be sure to check out the other posts, too.

So far in the series, I’ve avoided reviewing “news aggregators,” which collect articles from various sources based on user interests. After all, as I’ve written about, you want to make sure that your students understand that news comes from real people and real news organizations and not randomly from the air.

Once that’s solid, it’s OK, I think, to move to news aggregators because students can choose topics they’re passionate about and then follow them over time.

There are a ton of good aggregators, including Flipboard and Zite (which Flipboard acquired earlier this year). Flipboard is the most popular, and a lot of people like it, but I don’t, mostly because of its user interface, which involves, well, a lot of flipping. Zite used to be my favorite, but since its acquisition, I’ve been checking out News360 and am pretty impressed.

News360 has a website but looks better on tablets and phones. As I’ve said before, for students, the phone is where things happen.

To get a sense of what News360 does, consider its tagline: “Everything you want to read.” In case that’s confusing, News360’s website tells you directly the purpose of its service: “News360 is an app that learns what you enjoy and find stories you’ll like around the web.” OK, I get it. But what does that mean?

It means you first select topics you’re interested in, and then News360 goes and finds articles for you. You can choose topics large or small, specific or generic, local or international. For example, I’m following Music, Movies (both general), Running, Literacy (a bit more specific), and Amazon Kindle (very specific). You can also follow news organizations (like the New York Times), but I don’t think that’s best practice for a news aggregator, whose purpose is to offer new articles from sources you may not read.

After you choose your topics, you get a feed that looks like this (on your phone):


So that’s pretty good. But the best part comes once you start reading articles. You can vote an article up or down, and magically, News360 learns about your interests and gives you more or fewer of those kinds of articles based on your vote.

Let’s take a look at the Jon Bon Jovi article to see what it looks like:


See the thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons? The power to determine whether or not you view more articles about Mr. Bon Jovi is entirely in your fingers. (Additionally, you can share the article with a friend — or save it to your Pocket — using the share icon.)

But also take a look at the tags above the article’s headline. Let’s say that reading about Mr. Bon Jovi has really inspired you to learn more about opera (not exactly sure about why that is, but please go with it). Pressing on that icon leads you to this screen:


Yep, here you have more articles about the opera — and, by pressing on the + button up top, the ability to follow that topic, too.

These two features of News360 — voting articles up or down, and adding topics as a result of reading an article — offer you a nice balance of sometimes refining and sometimes expanding your reading interests.

Plus, News360 looks good, is simple to use, and I think will appeal to students. It’s not anathema like an RSS reader (Feedly, Digg Reader), but it’s also not too-serious = boring.

* * *
Using News360 with Your Students
I can see a lot of ways that teachers can use News360 with their students. Here are a few. Please add more in the comments!

1. Research can be fun.
Research shouldn’t be boring. It should be about following an interest over time and learning more about it. Sure, when students have to write a research paper, then things get serious again — with collecting evidence, paraphrasing, making sure you’re not plagiarizing, and citing your sources. But in the preliminary phases, it’s all about reading a ton. An app like News360 can help teachers send that message to students.

2. Current Events Roundtables.
One frustration teachers tell me about is that students may not have a wide sense of the news. To combat that problem, teachers can require students to follow a small number of topics on News360 and then select one article to share with a small group. This can be done jigsaw-style, where each member of the group has a different topic.

3. Philosophical Discussions about the Internet Filtering Effect
So News360 is one of many services that offer its customers an individualized, personal look at the world. To some extent, most online services do something similar. What’s in our Facebook and Twitter feeds, for example, is determined by whom we follow. I read Eli Pariser’s excellent book, The Filter Bubble, a few back, in which he argues that all this online filtering threatens democracy. What do students think? Engaging them on this topic may also encourage students to think about how they gather and interact with news.

All right, that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this installment of “Get Your Students to Love the News.” There are a few more posts left, including a doozy, so please stay tuned.

Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts about News360 in the comments, if you like! Do you think news aggregators are good for students and their news reading lives, or are they a sacrilege to journalism? favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Get Your Students to Love the News, #6: The New York Times Upfront is awesome!

favicon Hey, this little series, “Get Your Students to Love the News,” is becoming a real thing! Today is the sixth installment. When you have time, be sure to check out the other posts, too.

A few posts ago, I emphasized that when it comes to reading the news, there’s nothing like the real thing: an old-fashioned newspaper or magazine, preferably in print (though that’s not a requirement).

But this is not exactly easy to make happen.

Reason #1: It’s expensive. Let’s say I get a class set of The New York Times in print, weekdays only, from September through May. That’s $3.50 a week, 35 weeks, 25 students, or $3,062.50. Impossible.

Reason #2: That’s a lot of paper to recycle! Unfortunately, most newspapers won’t deliver just once a week. A good alternative would be to try a weekly newsmagazine, like Time. But it’s still not cheap. Twenty-five copies at $35 a year runs you $875.

Reason #3: Newspapers and magazines might be too hard for struggling ninth graders to read. Sure, we should challenge them (with individual articles that we find), but it’s also a great feeling for students to be able to read on their own.

Despite all those reasons to give up on print periodicals, please don’t! I have a great solution for you. It’s called The New York Times Upfront.


A Scholastic publication, Upfront takes real articles from The New York Times, modifies them for middle- and high-school readers, and reassembles them in a tidy and colorful magazine format.

What’s also great is that Upfront comes out 14 times a year. That’s a good number of issues. Not too many, not too few.

The articles are done well. Let’s take a look! Here’s one from January after the death of Nelson Mandela.

NelsonMandela2 And here’s one about the anniversary of Tienanmen Square:

Tienanmen Square


Upfront does a good job adding key maps, timelines, and images to help students gain background knowledge, a crucial ingredient in nonfiction. (Kelly Gallagher says so, and so do I!)

Also, Upfront is affordable. A class set of 25 copies will cost you $275 for the year. That’s a doable price.

One of my esteemed colleagues in San Francisco, Marni Spitz, is using Upfront this year with her ninth graders. She’s an excellent Global Studies teacher who believes deeply in the power of reading. Marni loves Upfront!

To be sure, Upfront is not perfect. I want to get my students — even the really struggling ninth graders — to the real version of The New York Times as soon as possible. And I do! But until that happens, Upfront is an excellent scaffold, a great way for students to find success.

If you’ve used Upfront in your classroom, please let me know what you think! You know it’ll be enjoyable. favicon

 /  By  / comments 4 comments. Add yours!

Get Your Students to Love the News, #5: Vox explains current events step by step

photofavicon There’s a big new trend happening in the news industry, and it’s called explanatory journalism. Also known as data journalism, it’s the recent fad to shun the typical news cycle, in which sound bites and juicy tidbits rule, and instead focus on delivering the story through data and analysis.

Nate Silver, the founder of FiveThirtyEight, and Ezra Klein, founder of Vox, are the hot names behind explanatory journalism. They believe that typical news is biased and doesn’t give readers the whole story of what’s going on.

I agree. When it comes to offering background information — the key knowledge necessary to aid your comprehension — news articles are not the best genre.

I remember my first semester at college, having just subscribed to The New York Times, and trying to read news articles on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Because I wasn’t an expert on the history, I was lost. It took me a couple months of reading the paper to get enough of the back story.

The same can be said for most high school students. You may want them to be able to pick up Time Magazine and read it cover to cover, but for most of them, it’s not going to happen without some help. Students are fine with local articles. But once things go national (and wow, international), background knowledge deteriorates, and boredom-by-ignorance sets in.

That’s why I like Vox. Its motto is “Understand the News.” And the bulk of its site is a feature called “Cards.” Important topics — like Benghazi, Ukraine, and income inequality — are explained in a series of cards, called stacks. A question begins each card. It’s perfect for students to gather enough information to feel like they belong.

Let’s take a tour of a couple cards in the stack, “What is Obamacare?” Here’s part of the first card:

Screenshot 2014-05-18 21.03.15

You’ll notice that there is a real person, not a computer or atomizer, who is writing these cards. And you’ll see the abundant use of highlighter yellow, which makes me happy. Along the left is a navigation bar if you want to skip through to a new question. And along the top you’ll see that there are 32 cards in this topic.

There’s nothing exciting about these cards — no big videos pop out, and there’s no music. Which is fine by me. Remember, there’s nothing wrong about reading, right?

Here’s just one more card in the stack:

Screenshot 2014-05-18 21.07.01

This one is a good example of Vox’s emphasis on charts. They’re not as big on data as FiveThirtyEight, but they’re less annoying (and less about sports). It’s sometimes good to see visual representations of information.

Using Vox With Your Students
I can see a lot of ways that teachers can use Vox with their students. Here are a couple. Please add more in the comments!

1. Vox as Clarifier
Let’s say that you have your students read an article about Obamacare in The New York Times or on Newsela. You give the article to your students cold, and you direct them to monitor their understanding. As Kelly Gallagher likes to say, you prompt your students to “mark their confusion.”

But instead of immediately filling in your students’ knowledge gaps, you tell them to write down clarifying questions. You don’t answer them. Instead, you have your students go to the Obamacare card stack on Vox.

What will likely happen is that your students will realize that some of their questions are similar to the questions on Vox. After shuffling around and reading some cards, students can share how the background information helped their understanding of the original article.

2. Student Vox
Vox has some great card stacks, but it’s still a new site. That means that your students should make some stacks, too!

There are a few ways of doing this:

  • Students take an existing Vox stack and add additional cards. This isn’t too fun, but it would be a good way to start out.
  • Students do a Vox stack based on a personal interest, like skateboarding or quinceaneras.
  • Once they get the hang of it: Students choose an important current event, follow it for a month or so, come up with key questions that everyone should know, and develop a Vox stack on Google Sheets or something similar.

I like the idea of encouraging students to make something, instead of just consuming current events. The best reading (the best learning, too) comes with producing something new.

So there you have it. Vox is a great way to remind your students that news isn’t just something that randomly happens every day. Each current event is part of something bigger — it’s a piece to a larger puzzle.

Please check out Vox and let me know if you think it’s useful for students. If you have ideas for using Vox, please offer that insight, too. Thank you!

Also: Read the rest of the “Get Your Students to Love the News” series! favicon

 /  By  / comments 1 comment. Add yours!

Get Your Students to Love the News, #4: There’s nothing like the real thing.

favicon If you’ve been reading this series, “Get Your Students to Love the News,” you’ll notice that I’m trying to suggest simple and easy and free ways that teachers can entice students to become avid readers of the news.

That’s my primary goal.

Journalism is changing, and the way that we find out about current events (Facebook, our phones, news aggregators, RSS feeds, Twitter) now is different from the way things worked last generation.

For that reason, it’s important to offer students digital and mobile options. As teachers, we don’t want to be fuddy-duddies.

But in my opinion, it’s still important to teach students the different ways that news is generated, and where news comes from, and that traditional news sources (like newspapers! wow, yes, they still exist!) play a crucial role in shaping how we understand the world.

The other day, I was reading a physical version of the New York Times, and a stranger stopped me and asked, “Hey, what’s that?” It was partly in jest, of course, but I saw his point. Print newspapers are, or might be, on their way out. This picture of a former student reading an actual newspaper (which Jenni from Berkeley, CA and and Denise from Alpharetta, GA donated) is rare.

Dezmond NYT - 2012

(Photo credit: Dezmond Oriola)

But I argue that we shouldn’t give up on the oldies-but-goodies. No matter what the studies say — they say that young people prefer reading on screens — there’s nothing like the real thing.

Here are a few ideas to keep print alive with your students.

1. Bring your newspaper or magazine to school.
If you subscribe to a print newspaper or magazine, bring it to school. Show it to your students. Talk about the different parts and terms of a newspaper (e.g., nameplate, headline, byline, above-the-fold, second deck, copy, photograph, cutline, article placement, newspaper sections, editorials, op-eds, and more).

Then ask your students: “How do you think these articles got into the newspaper? Who decides? Based on what criteria? Why this piece instead of another one?”

2. Have students compare publications.
Collect several publications (dailies, weeklies, monthlies) from friends and family and bring them all in. Let your students touch them and compare them. How are they similar and different? Which ones have better design? Which are easier to read? What topics does each emphasize?

Have students look at how different news sources handle the same current event. What’s the headline from the New York Times, and how is it different from the Wall Street Journal? Why?

3. Slowly introduce mobile apps.
Don’t skip to this step, and don’t go too fast. Remember, we want students to understand that news doesn’t come from thin air. Real people go out and report the news. They ask questions, do legwork, and write articles, which their editors read and revise before the piece goes to press.

Sidebar: Does my trust in old-fashioned journalism sound fuddy-duddyish to you? Do I put too much faith in today’s journalism?

Only after students have a sense that the Los Angeles Times is different from TMZ should you proceed. Have the class choose one news source that they all agree to download together. My vote: the New York Times (of course).

Then, let them choose one more for themselves. But don’t let them download a news aggregator. The rule is that it must be a real newspaper or magazine. (If you’re nice, I guess it’s OK to download the NPR app.)

4. Make sure they understand how to use the mobile app.
We assume that students, because they’re “digital natives” (a term I don’t like), know their way around mobile apps. That’s not always true. It’s always a good idea to do a little demo of the app for your students.

For instance, here are a few things that I’d show my students about the New York Times app. Here’s a screenshot to show you what an article looks like:

2014-05-09 03.40.30

You’ll see that the top is where the choices are. On the Android version, you can swipe left or right to go to the next article. Students will like that. Also, you can share an article (which I doubt your students ever do). It’s good to encourage sharing.

But then the real fun comes if you press on the “more” icon in the very top right corner. Sorry that I can’t take a screenshot of this menu, but your students will be very happy. They can:

  • Save the article on the app. This might come in handy if your students don’t use Pocket, Evernote, or a social bookmarking service (which is likely 100% true).
  • Add annotation. Digital annotation is all the rage these days (even though Diigo started the trend five years ago). The app lets students click on a paragraph and add (albeit rudimentary and clunky) notes and highlights, just in case they want to note something they’ve read.
  • Play the article or add it to a playlist. A robotic woman’s voice will read the article. This might be helpful for students who have trouble with challenging text. They can keep reading as they listen.
  • Change the font size. This is maybe the most important feature. I’ve found that cranking up the font size is one of the best ways for students to make reading more manageable.

All right, please let me know what you think. Do you think it’s important to familiarize your students with traditional news sources, or do you think that’s just a thing from the past? Please share your thoughts by leaving a brilliant insight. Thank you so much for reading this post! favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Get Your Students to Love the News, #3: Newsela meets kids at their reading level

newselafavicon Imagine my joy when I found out about Newsela, a website that modifies the vocabulary and syntax of news articles to match the reading levels of students.

I will confirm: There was significant joy.

Not only does Newsela offer students high-interest news articles, but it also does something truly novel: It provides those articles at five different reading levels. Students can choose the version of the article — ranging from a fourth grade reading level to twelfth grade — that is right for them.

Let me give you an example. A month or so ago, Newsela posted an article, originally published in the Tribune Washington Bureau, about President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program. Here is the original article, estimated at a 12th grade reading level. When a student goes to the article, she sees this toolbar on the right side: 1 This is where it gets interesting. The student can choose to read the original article, labeled “max,” or an easier version. The L next to the number refers to Lexile, a well-regarded measurement of text complexity. An 1190L is around ninth grade, 1060L is seventh, 950L is sixth, and 700L is fourth. The magic happens when the student selects one of the levels. Here’s the article’s lead at the 12th grade level.

Screenshot 2014-05-02 21.28.36 And here is the same paragraph, adapted by Newsela staff (real people, not robots!), at the 4th grade level.

Screenshot 2014-05-02 21.30.12 You’ll notice that the meaning is the same, and in fact many of the words are the same, but the second paragraph has easier vocabulary and simpler syntax.

Pretty brilliant, don’t you think?

Newsela’s brilliance doesn’t end there. There are tons of other great features that will make teachers (and maybe students) extremely happy. For example, many Newsela articles come with a four-question comprehension quiz that looks like a friend version of the upcoming Smarter Balanced (Common Core) assessments.

Screenshot 2014-05-03 08.32.30

The quizzes let students know if they “got” the article, plus each question is aligned with a specific anchor reading standard from Common Core.

I’m working with a teacher in San Francisco right now who incorporates Newsela in her ongoing study of current events, and she reports that her students appreciate the quiz feature because it gives them quick and immediate feedback. If students feel like they’ve understood the article but got only 1/4 on the quiz, maybe the answer is to lower the reading level. (The quiz’s questions are also based on Lexile.)

There are only two negatives about Newsela (that I see). The first is that there’s no way this service is going to be free for very much longer. I’m hopeful that the kind folks at Newsela will continue to offer a free option. The second is that Newsela doesn’t currently have a mobile app. Sure, not everything needs to be on students’ phones, but it never hurts.

Please check out Newsela and leave a brilliant insight about whether you like it, and if you do, how you would use it in your classroom! Thank you!

Update: I just learned that Newsela now has an two-way annotation feature. My response: OMG! Something great just got even better.

(Want to read all the posts in the series?) Please do. favicon

 /  By  / comments 1 comment. Add yours!

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

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Get Your Students to Love the News, #1: Umano caters to those who like to listen

umanofavicon I love current events, and newspapers make me happy, and I spend a lot of time reading nonfiction articles online. (Maybe too much sometimes.) It’s super important that we encourage our students to love the news, too.

That’s why I’m starting a new series, Get Your Students to Love the News. My hope is to share some of my favorite apps and websites to encourage teachers to motivate students to love current events.

First up is Umano, which I think is perfect for students, particularly reluctant readers. Umano reads you the news with real people narrating.

Can you believe it? I know, it’s crazy. The voices are not Siri or Cortana (or whatever Amazon calls its robot on Kindle), but real human beings.

Want to try it out? Here’s “A Cube with a Twist,” a New York Times article about the Rubik’s Cube, narrated by Larry Anderson. (Mr. Anderson’s voice is nice and smooth, don’t you think?)

And how about this embedded Umano player? (This article is anti-BART — but very pro-Umano.)

The website is nice, but the real magic comes on the mobile app, available on iOS and Android. It’s beautiful and powerful. (Besides, students are always close to their phones. A good phone app goes a long way.)

Here are just a few things students can do on the Umano mobile app:

1. Create “playlists.” When you open the app, you get a list of recommended articles. You can listen to them immediately, or better yet, save them to a playlist for later. That means that students can save up enough articles for the bus ride home after school (if they get bored listening to music).

2. Follow “channels.” Channels are topics of interest (like sports) or publications (like NPR). You can tell your students to sign up for a combination of interests and news sources.

3. Read articles while listening. This is a feature I really like. (I’m not one of those people who argue that listening is exactly the same as reading.) Once you’re listening to an article, you can press a “books” icon on the top to display the text. That means students can read along while they listen.

4. Submit articles for narration. Like most things in life, Umano right now serves a mostly adult audience. But there’s an option to request articles for narration. If enough of your students submit the same article, I’m hopeful that Umano will listen.

Like everything, Umano isn’t perfect. Sometimes, my preferences is for “harder hitting” news. But that’s nothing new for me. Really, if I step back, I realize that if the point is to get our students hooked on reading current events, we can’t always start with article after article on tough topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict.

If you’re a teacher — or even if you’re not — give Umano a try, and then let me know what you think by leaving a Brilliant Insight. favicon