Quirky News Stories

I’m a little bit obsessed with using fluff news in my classes… You know, happy-go-lucky human interest stories, stupid criminal conundrums, animal misadventures… The kinds of stories that they put into the news to distract people from the more serious issues in the world. Some people say fluff news isn’t real journalism, but I don’t know why it has such a bad rap. I mean, I know that discussions about serious topics are important from time to time, but I find that, especially with lower-level English learners, silly stories help to lighten the mood, make students comfortable, and get them speaking and giggling. Plus, there’s so much you can do with them!

Anyway, I’d like to introduce you to my quirky news story collection. I’ve taken a bunch of silly, classroom-appropriate stories and simplified them so that you can use them with your lower-level classes. If you’re teaching higher levels, I’ll generally include links to the original news stories and ideas on how you can adapt them.

What to do with the stories

These little stories are meant for more than just reading comprehension. I’ve kept them short so that you can easily use them to practice a variety of skills.

Here’s my personal favorite strategy:

  1. Introduce the keywords: Before class, take a look at the story and make a list of vocabulary words that you think will be new to your students. I include a list of possible words with each handout, but I would recommend choosing between 5-10 of them to pre-teach. I usually write the words on the board, and discuss their meanings. Then I review them quickly, by asking “Which word means ____?” Or by asking conversation questions with the words on the board.
    For past tense stories, you may want to write both the present and past tense on the board.
  2.  Next, I read the beginning of the story aloud to the class. I pause around the most exciting part of the story, or just before the surprise ending. After I finish, I put students into pairs or small groups and have them retell the story to each other and check to see that they all understood the same thing. We then come together as a class and retell the story together. I read the first half of the story aloud again.
  3. Before I read the end of the story, I tell my groups to write their own endings. I tell them to be as creative as they want, and that they can decide whether they want the ending to be happy, sad or totally bananas.
  4. After they finish writing, the group take turns reading their endings aloud to the class.
  5. Finally, I pass out a copy of the story, and we read the real ending aloud together.

The reason that I love this strategy is because it uses a variety of skills: Listening, speaking, writing, and reading, and students can learn new vocabulary and practice basic grammar tenses in the process.

Another similar strategy is to follow steps 1 and 2 above, but read the entire story. Students can then compare what they understood with a partner, and then re-write it in their own words. You could follow this up with a related role play, or with some conversation questions.

Other Ideas

  1. Story Jigsaw: Print out copies of two (or more) different stories. Give one story to half of the class, and a different story to the other half. Have students read the stories independently. After they finish, put them into groups with students who had the same story, and allow them to retell the story, and make sure that they all understood it correctly. Next, pair them with a partner who read the other story. The students should then tell their stories to their partners in their own words.
  2. Change the tense: For some grammar practice, choose a simple present story, and have students change it into the past tense (or vice versa). For higher levels, you might choose a simple story, and have them put it into more advanced tenses.
  3. Follow-up role-plays: Put students into groups and assign them each a different character from the story. Sometimes I assign one student to be a reporter, and another to be a character. Have them either recreate the story, or  imagine a conversation that happened between them after the story. Then give them time to prepare to perform their dialogues to the class.
  4. Discussion questions: Most stories will include some related conversation questions that you can choose to use either before or after reading the story.
  5. Follow-up debates: For controversial stories, you might put students into teams and let them debate which character was in the wrong. This works well with crime stories, and stories that involve court cases.

Do you have any other ideas to add to the list?

I’d love to hear them! Please take a moment to leave a comment, and let me know how you use my quirky stories in your classroom!

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