A stack of newspapers provides endless lessons

If you put a complete hard copy of a daily newspaper in front of most K12 students and even college level students, they will gaze upon it and perhaps turn to their favorite section. That would be sports, tv programming, or movie reviews and entertainment. Full stop. Newspapers aren’t the stuff of legend for those raised in the shadow of a computer screen rather than grandpa hidden each morning behind the meter-wide expanse of his newsprint window on the world.

Still, the fact that newspapers exist at all and that they still dominate the news scene in many cultures is a testament to their enduring value and infinite possibilities. Long before Google, newspapers succeeded in being all things to many people for hundreds of years. In even earlier times, crucial information was carved into stone and posted publicly, but those were not the sort of publications a person could read over morning coffee. The Chinese, a mere 1700 years ago, displayed news sheets to keep the government courtiers informed about court happenings. Almost 1000 years later, after the invention of the printing press, the first widely disseminated newspaper was published in Germany. The year was 1609. From that moment until the advent of the web and the personal computer, newspapers were the number one source for all that was current, relevant, local, national, and different.

A newspaper, whether an 8 page town daily or the two inch variety of larger cities, constitutes within its pages:

1. A business

2. A keeper of history

3. A question-asking functionary

4. A watchdog for readers

5. “The unofficial opposition of any democratic government.”

6. A contributing member of the community in which it exists

7. A living textbook

8. A marketplace

9. A source of information on what has happened, is and will happen

10. Source for informed opinion and perspective.

11. An influential employer

12. A source of advertisement

13. A calendar

14. A referee

For all of those reasons, understanding what a newspaper is comes under the heading of resource competence, even before factoring in the information available.

One way to introduce students to the larger import of a newspaper is through what I call “The Great Newspaper Hunt”, which like a scavenger hunt of old, sends students into every cranny of its pages.

For a half an hour or more, the students, working in teams, will delve into the inky pages of the local newspaper to search out information, authentic material, and ideas on a dozen plus topics. The specific item demands of the search mean that there is no “quick and dirty” way to complete the task. It must be done thoughtfully and cooperatively within each group.

Each team is given a complete daily paper and a pair of scissors. The task is to find the items in the list as quickly as possible and to cut them out as neatly as possible. All of the topics on the list should be available in each newspaper, but if you find something is completely missing, move on. No article can be used for more than one item. The scavenger list is as follows:

  1. Find an article that mentions a foreign dignitary in a positive light. (Dignitary does not mean film or rock star.)

Adapt this list for age and language proficiency.

When students have found all 15 items, which may take up to 40 minutes the first time, ask them to staple the clippings together in the order they were on the list. Have students pass the stapled clippings for review to other teams, one after the other.

Ask the students to share what the experience was like. Which parts were hard, which easy? What did they learn that they hadn’t known previously? Which article was their father most likely to read? Which their mother?

The “Great American Newspaper Hunt” can be adapted in dozens of ways. Sometimes, as a less rigorous option, I have them hunt just for slang terms, or words they don’t know. By the third time my classes performed this exercise, they cut their completion time in half while comprehension of how newspapers work and what they contain rose by 200%.

Writer, ESL instructor, editor, traveler, seasonal ex-pat— my life is both an intentional and serendipitous circumstance. Motto — “Buy the ticket, and go!”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store