By Rachael Roberts
10 March 2014 – 17:01
philhearing, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.
How should teachers use ‘authentic’ texts like newspapers in class? Author, trainer and teacher Rachael Roberts gives advice on the example of newspapers.
Back in 1981, Vivian Cook wrote:
‘One of the words that has been creeping into English teaching in the past few years is ‘authentic’. It has a kind of magic ring to it: who after all would want to be inauthentic?’
Teachers and students are naturally attracted to authentic texts (by which I mean any text which has not been produced for the purpose of language-learning). Finding that you can read something designed for a native speaker is motivating, and developing ways to deal with ‘real’ texts enables students to read more confidently and extensively outside the classroom.
But, as Cook goes on to say, we also need to consider just how helpful the authentic text we choose actually is for our students. Many of the features of authentic texts, especially newspaper texts, are far more complex than we might realise at first glance.
First challenge: Text organisation
For example, how clearly is the text organised? This can be a real headache with newspaper texts, which often have very short paragraphs, not necessarily linked clearly to the surrounding text. I remember an activity where the students had to order the paragraphs of a newspaper article. It was virtually impossible, because the links weren’t clear enough and because the students weren’t made aware that the first paragraph of a newspaper article usually sums up the whole story.
Second challenge: Headlines
Newspaper headlines can also be hard to decipher. They often use puns or cultural references. This is particularly true of tabloid newspapers, which you might think would use simpler language, but are in fact about the hardest to decipher. Look at this headline, for example, which appeared on the Mirror website not long ago:
It’s Bradley Zoo-per! LEMUR grabs keeper’s camera to join the selfie craze
To understand this headline, we need cultural knowledge – in this case, the knowledge would be that someone called Bradley Cooper took a ‘selfie’ (a popular form of self-portrait using a camera, often a mobile phone) at the Oscars (film awards) recently. We also need to know what a keeper is (a zoo-keeper, who looks after the animals) and we need to be able to understand the syntax of the headline (A lemur took his keeper’s camera and used it to take a self-portrait).
Understanding the genre
If we are going to work with news articles, students need some help and training in understanding the features of the genre. For example, the headline is frequently confusing, but there is often a subheadline to makes things clearer, e.g.:
After actor Bradley Cooper’s Oscars snap went viral, London Zoo’s lemur Bekily gets in on the act
And then the first paragraph usually summarises the story:
This ring-tailed lemur didn’t want to miss out on the selfie craze – so he snatched his keeper’s camera and took his own.
This first paragraph nearly always contains what journalists call the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where and why). Getting students to try and find the 5 Ws (or as many as possible), just using the headline and first paragraph, is a way of leading them into the rest of the text, which usually just adds detail to these main points.
Third challenge: Identifying what certain words refer to
Another common feature is the use of reference devices. Obviously, we find these in all texts, but because of the concise way newspaper texts are written, it can be particularly hard to follow the chain of reference. For example:
Bekily, 12, was watching Tegan McPhail photograph animals at London Zoo at feeding time. Perhaps inspired by Bradley Cooper’s mega-selfie with fellow stars at the Oscars he decided he wanted to pose for one himself.
I think a lot of students would assume that the highlighted ‘he’ referred to Bradley Cooper, because he has just been mentioned (or even Tegan McPhail, mentioned in the previous sentence) when it actually refers right back to ‘Bekily’. To help students with this, we could ask them to underline the reference words and then draw arrows to what they refer to.
Fourth challenge: Idioms
And, as you will have noticed, there are also a lot of idioms, especially in the tabloids. With a short article like this one, you can ask students to underline any idioms they find (go viral, get in on the act, mega-selfie) and look them up. They could then try and rewrite the article (or a section of it) without any idioms, putting the original idioms in a list below. If the students have read different texts, they could then swap and ask their partner to try and rewrite the article using the list of idioms given.
Either of these activities could be used with any news text, thus saving preparation time. But what about comprehension questions? Teachers often spend a lot of time thinking up exercises to exploit news articles. And, because they date, the material can rarely be used again.
One solution is to provide a generic task, such as the ‘5Ws’ task outlined above. Other possibilities:
- Ask learners to choose, say, no more than five sentences that seem to carry the main points of the article. This can then be checked by a peer (while you monitor).
- Ask learners to rewrite a short article, changing some of the information to make it a lie (as outrageous as they wish. For example, Bekily might take photos of the keeper. A partner then reads it and spots the lies.
- Ask learners to write their own headlines, and talk to decide on the best one (which will involve discussing the content of the text).
While there are certainly some pitfalls, up-to-date and topical news items can be very motivating for learners, and ways of helping learners to deal with them are a useful tool in any teacher’s toolkit.
Rachael will be delivering a live-streamed presentation from Belfast on writing effective classroom materials, 11 March 2014.
Find more seminars for teachers on our TeachingEnglish site.
Analysis Of A Newspaper Article
In order to write an excellent, well-organized and well-researched analysis of a newspaper article. you first need to understand how the information is put forth in the article that you’ve chosen and wish to undertake the analysis of. Most newspapers, however, get their articles written in what is called in technical jargon- “The Inverted Pyramid”. The inverted pyramid is where the meatiest part of the information or piece of news is mentioned at the commencement of the article and the news with lesser degrees of importance is mentioned gradually.
This is done in order to assist the process where a certain new piece of information is found out or got released and you have to add it to the pre-existing structure. This is done by employing the editing style where you go from the bottom of the article to the very top.
Newspaper articles aim to bring answers to six main issues regarding any news. These are:
- The ‘who’ of the news
- The ‘what’ of the news
- The ‘when’ of the news
- The ‘where’ of the news
- The ‘why’ of the news
- The ‘how’ of the news
This organized method of putting forth the news helps reader in getting hands on and proper narration of any and every event. These effective written pieces can easily be referred to primary sources for certain events that hold a strong historical impact in any press release.
These articles can also be employed as an allusion to certain academic topics and papers. A sharp eye can utilize these articles to figure out the narrative a certain newspaper article is trying to put forward, essentially finding out where the newspaper’s loyalties lie and whether its prejudiced reporting or not.
Now that we have established the fact that newspaper articles are of utmost importance in the modern narrative of affairs, we shall now move onto explaining how one can evaluate these articles. Analyses of a newspaper articles can easily by written by making sure the following steps are well taken care of:
Finding the article that you would like to comment on is quite obviously the very first step. It should be a topic that you are interested in, well-rehearsed in, have some knowledge about and are even passionate about.
Make a summary of the key points the article is trying to convey. Make sure they are concise and don’t stretch farther than three or five sentences.
Figure out and denote the intention the article was written for, whether it has some purpose and make a note of that. It’s entirely possible for a newspaper article to have more than b to achieve for example a piece of news can be influencing and entertaining, both for its cause. You must make the critical choice of opting for one main objective of your chosen article and go further enough to provide valid justifications for your choice.
While you have already explained your choice of the article’s purpose initially, you must also go into further detail regarding this by having direct quotations from the article as a part of your analysis.
Identify the ‘tone’ that your chosen newspaper article was written in. Here again, the article just might be trying to convey different tones as well as perspectives. You must make the critical choice of identifying the one major tone that can easily be seen as being the predominant tone of your article.
Again, you must then provide the reader of your newspaper article analysis with valid justifications for your choice of tone as well as provide them with the context by selecting some quotations from the article and making them a part of your analysis.
Determine the techniques and expressions used by the writer of your article and pick the major three techniques that you think have much more impact than any other. These techniques must each be explained and alluded to separately- not to forget that their objective and function must be established as well so that the use of these by the author of your newspaper article is justified.
This is a great way to make your analysis seem professional and organized. Some examples of what techniques you could easily identify and use are: the choice of certain words as being appropriate or not for the topic of the article, any wordplay that might cater to the entertainment of the audience, structures that the sentences are put in and whether or not they effectively convey the idea the article is trying to pertain to.
Another golden method to give your newspaper article analysis an upper hand is by picking up words or even writing techniques from the article that you have found unfamiliar to your previous knowledge.
These are then to be explained and alluded to in succinct detail and must connect to the context of your article.
If such a thing cannot be identified in your chosen article, another way to ace your analysis is by pointing out certain words, sentences or approach that you have found particularly well employed and refined and going in detail about THEIR significance.
Last but not the least, comment in detail about any particular ideas or perspectives that the article is trying to convey or perhaps the problems it has tried to address or the solutions provided.
This can be made even more sophisticated if the writer, that is, you give your personal opinion about all of the above. Stating whether you are in agreement or not or have found it helpful or perhaps disturbing can bring a refined edge to your analysis as well.
Are you beginning to get a better understanding of how to write an analysis of a newspaper article? Let us know in the comment sections below!