Friday is the favorite day of the week for my students, and not for the reason you would assume. They love it because it’s our day dedicated to discussing the news.
Social Studies is responsible for telling the story of everything that humans have ever done. It also is responsible for preparing our future citizens. In sixth grade, we can create connections to what we’re studying and what’s happening in the news every week – I see this as our chance to lead students to care about what’s happening in the world. And with the inclusion of regular current events, students make rich and meaningful connections into other content areas, a very positive extension of learning. I want students to continue to read the news long after they exit sixth grade and to have the skills to decide what to base their opinions on so they’re informed and active as members of their communities — as well as global citizens.
Several objectives come in to play in our current events lessons. First, our Fridays are student-driven. I encourage students’ natural inquisitiveness, letting them explore topics they’re interested in, and offering opportunities to dive deep, research further and ask questions. It is also important that students have a positive guide through the 24/7 media barrage. In our lessons, we look at the quality of sources and try to find bias, developing students’ research and digital literacy skills. There are so many amazing online resources that help make these goals possible; these are the ones that currently work best in my classroom.
Flocabulary Week in Rap
The Week in Rap is more than just an entertaining video. It is a dynamic hook that provides a synopsis of the news in lyrical form. Students beg for the Week in Rap. It provides the starting point for class discussion or reading activities involving other great current event resources (some of which I describe below). As a teacher, I am grateful for two things. Most importantly, the hard work has been done for me: the major events are arranged in a coherent fashion with active links to a more detailed story synopsis. Second, the Week in Rap is easy to listen to. By the end of the day I hear it played at least eight times, so the music matters.
Newsela provides timely and high interest articles. Each article is written at five Lexile levels that the students can change to maximize their understanding. There are embedded checks for understanding aligned with the Common Core. I often ask students to start with an article that elaborates on a topic mentioned in the Week in Rap, but after they finish the assigned article, they have freedom to choose additional reading topics. There are so many articles it has been easy to match reading selections to course content throughout the year. Students often use their article choice to learn more about something they learned in science, health or another subject.
Technology means students are not restricted to just learn when they are in the classroom. Flipboard allows students to subscribe to magazines created by the teacher. Teachers can add articles and reflection questions to the magazine easily from an app or the website. It would be easy to set up different magazines based on the different topics that would be covered during the year— by the time the unit is covered, there would be a powerful collection of extension articles for students to delve into.
Thinglink will extend current events beyond just text. You upload an image, like a political cartoon, and add hotspots on top of the image. This would make a complex topic easier to understand through the supporting details, such as include text, images, maps, links, or videos. If you have watched a pre-teen or teen navigate a page, you know they are naturally curious about what will happen if they click on a clickable feature. They can’t help but learn more.
Learning Network Blog
The basic function of the blog from the NYTimes is providing a plethora of resources for teachers and students related to the daily news. They have ideas for teaching significant topics that have shaped or shaken the United States, like September 11th or Ferguson. The blog has cross-curricular Text-to-Text articles paired with other written pieces or media selections along with the lesson plan, and challenges students to analyze both selections.
Harnessing students natural curiosity, these tech tools allow students to dig deeper into news topics and make learning about current events ia dynamic and rich experience every week. How do you engage students in current events?
By: Lisa Butler
Lisa Butler is a sixth grade social studies teacher for Derry Township School District in PA. She considers herself an edtech adventurer and a passionate presenter and is a Flocabulary MC Educator.