Randy Fox likes to reserve the last 10 minutes of class time for students to ask him questions about anything.
“I quickly learned that students ask questions that centered on current events,” he said.
So, Fox, an English-as-a-second-language instructor at Lexington 3 Adult Ed in South Carolina, introduced his class to News for You.
The weekly newspaper published by New Readers Press includes seven news and human-interest stories from The Associated Press and The Washington Post that are rewritten at or below a sixth-grade reading level.
“[The students] enjoy the human-interest stories as much as the current event stories,” Fox said. “They don’t mind some really hard topics for discussion.”
He asks students as a group to choose one article they would like to read out loud and discuss. Then he has each student share what they think the main idea of the article is. Usually, Fox then lets students pick two more articles to read and discuss. Students take the paper home to read the rest on their own.
Fox said he's noticed that his students are often most interested in what he calls the hard or controversial topics. As a result, discussions might cover difficult topics like religion, the death penalty, and famine, for example.
"Each story sparks a great discussion,” he said. “As a teacher, I always stress that each person has an opinion and that we, as a group, must agree to disagree.”
Open conversation is a key exercise to help students build their understanding of the English language, so Fox ensures students have an environment where they can share their thoughts and beliefs without feeling intimidated. He also does not limit discussion time and allows students to debate issues as long as they are actively participating.
“As a teacher, the key to preparing second-language learners to succeed in this country is to bring them to a sense of confidence in an English language conversation setting,” he said.
Fox, it seems, has been able to tap into his students’ interest in the news and current events to use News for You to facilitate conversational exercises. But using the news also means teaching students how to filter out the fake news that they might encounter outside of the classroom.
While recently the U.S. has really seen a rise in fake news, Fox said his students indicate it’s also a problem in their home countries.
“My discussion around fake news is how we deal with it and to maintain relativity as to what is important when it comes to news coverage,” he said. “… I tell them to assess news from a common-sense approach.”
Solving the Puzzle of Teaching Vocabulary
Recently, Fox started using News for You Online and has found that the interactive crossword and word search puzzles are an excellent way to teach vocabulary. He said he uses the crossword puzzle to assess organizational skills. He has a student instruct him orally how to complete the puzzle.
They must tell him across or down and which number, then they read the clue, determine the number of spaces, and tell him the answer. Next, he has students spell the answer and use the word in a sentence to assess their understanding and usage.
Then, he asks the class as a whole if there are any volunteers who can also use the word in a sentence.
“This creates a lot of excitement about the vocabulary word,” Fox said. The completion of this instruction, on average, can take an hour, and this is a great hour of instruction expanding the student’s vocabulary.” The activity can be done using either the print or online version of News for You.