So what exactly is a news meeting again?

A question (actually more than one, but still…):

  • I get the general idea of what a class news meeting is,  but can you describe it a little better so I can picture it?  Do all my students have to read the newspaper before the meeting? Are we all reading the same stories or different ones?  Should I have more than one copy of the newspaper in my classroom? How do we start? How long does it last? Are there any rules?

In my classroom, a class news meeting is simply a time of day when we get together as a group to talk about what’s going on in the world.  We have a subscription to the New York Times to keep up on news events and use this more or less as the basis for our discussions, but we also can talk about stories we heard online, on TV or radio, in another publication or around the dinner table.

It looks something like this: about mid-way through the day, we gather in a meeting place in my classroom that has benches, a rug, pillows.  Someone brings the newspaper (usually me). The newspaper has been out in the classroom for anyone to read during our morning work time. Some days, when students are coming in,  I’ll point out a story I hope they’ll read. Other times, I hand out copies of an article and require everyone to read it.  Sometimes, I’ll leave the newspaper open to a story I know will catch someone’s attention.  And plenty of times, we come to the meeting and the only person who has looked at the newspaper is me.

That’s all okay, especially in the beginning.  Remember, news stories can be hard to read at first, and you have time to build up these skills.  The main thing is making the news interesting and accessible.

Usually, I’ll open by asking if anyone has any stories they want to share.  (I’ll deal more with necessary ground rules in another post, because often, at first, students want to talk about a fender bender their mom saw on her way to work.) Depending on what they share, this may take a few minutes or lead to a longer discussion.

Next I’ll quickly point out stories in the newspaper that might interest them, showing them where the article is and summarizing it.  These are things that are interesting but without a lot of impact or discussion potential: Princess Kate is having another baby. Then I’ll lay the groundwork for later meetings by mentioning stories that we’ll want to address at some point in the year.  Right now, for me, that includes North Korea stories and immigration issues.  I’ll also point out any great photos, recipes, fashion sections — anything that might inspire a student to pick the newspaper up again later in the day.

The heart of the meeting, though, is me summarizing a story or two that we can discuss as a class.  Sometimes, I choose this story because it’s important.  But this early in the school year, usually I’m just looking for something that’s reasonably easy to understand, is something they can relate to, and it’s great if it’s something where people might disagree. Yesterday, that meant gender-specific clothing sections. Today, it was Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma and the things people chose to rescue from their flooded homes in Texas.

I don’t expect that my students will be able to read and understand a news story on their own right now.  Instead, I summarize.  I find the high-interest quotes and details and focus on those. I make it interesting. Then I ask questions.  Or they ask questions.  Either way, we lead into the part of the meeting where we’re discussing the news — our experiences, our opinions, what might happen next, who might be affected.

Oftentimes, that’s it.  Sometimes I’ll ask students to get more information; sometimes they want to follow up in some other way, with a letter, maybe or by finding a guest speaker.  The whole thing takes about 20 minutes.  It can easily go longer if there’s a good topic and lots of discussion.  At the beginning of the year, maybe it will just be 10 minutes.  If we had a rough morning and are short on time, a 30-second summary will do.

One subscription is plenty; if you can afford two, that would be better.  More is unnecessary.  Rules:  I have some ground rules I’ll share in a future post.

But for all of the nitty-gritty details, I think it’s best to go back to your primary goals in even having a class news meeting.  Is this about improving reading comprehension or understanding governmental policies or even respecting the role of a free press in a democratic society? Nope. All good side goals, and hopefully you’ll be able to do some of that.

My primary goals: Help my students feel more connected to their world. Help them learn how to have a respectful discussion, including how to listen and how to disagree.  And, simply, give them something interesting to talk about, something they might share later with family or friends.

Or, as I said on the welcome page: Discussing the news every day — hearing and talking about what was going on in the world — helped my students feel less isolated, more aware and more willing to engage.

I make all of my decisions based on whether they’ll help achieve that.  And if something doesn’t work, there’s always tomorrow.



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