Many teachers would like to teach current events but do not feel that they have time to incorporate them into an already jam-packed curriculum. There are many ways, however, to optimize instructional time by integrating learning about current events with other learning goals, such as developing Common Core skills related to listening and speaking, as well as reading and writing. Listenwise stories can also help to address Common Core key shifts, critical thinking, and SEL skills.  

In a previous blog post, we discussed the importance of setting up a safe space for discussions about current events and shared supports for ensuring that students are comfortable speaking up and expressing differing opinions. In this blog post, we share practical routines for incorporating current events into your teaching once a week (or more frequently) in ways that advance other learning goals as well.

1) Do Now/Bell-Ringer

Open class once a week with a current event. Ask students to listen to the story and then answer the listening comprehension questions independently or hold a brief class discussion using the questions as a guide.

  • Ask students to listen to the audio story Martin Luther King, Jr. Inspires Service and write answers to these two questions:
    • What is meant by describing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as “a day on, not a day off”?
    • According to the story, how did the garden service project benefit the volunteers?

Then, to help students connect Martin Luther King’s legacy to their own lives, ask them to discuss this question:

    • Why do you think Congress designated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a day of service?

2) Exit Ticket

Close class once a week by playing a current event story and asking students to respond to a couple of listening comprehension questions or a discussion theme question as an exit ticket to submit before leaving class. This can provide a helpful way to informally gauge students’ listening comprehension skills and understanding of events and civic issues that are important in the world outside of school.

  • Ask students to listen to the audio story Human Impact of Government Shutdown and respond to the following question as an exit ticket:
    • If you could talk to the woman interviewed for this story, what would you say to her?

This can also be a good way support development of empathy and other SEL skills.

3)  Think/Pair/Share

Use current events to engage students in small and large group discussions where they can practice and develop speaking and listening skills outlined in the Common Core. Think/Pair/Share is a simple, yet powerful routine for engaging students in conversation that deepens their thinking.

  • Ask students to listen to the audio story The Real Costs of War and then to Think/Pair/Share in response to the following question:
    • Why does the researcher say that the current U.S. counterrorism strategy may be “a failure of imagination”?

4) Student Choice: 5Ws

Invite students to choose one current event from the week to listen to and summarize using the 5 W’s of journalism (who, what, where, when, and why). This activity can help students with identifying the main idea and summarizing, which are critical comprehension skills that are relevant to all subjects and modes of accessing information (e.g., reading, listening, viewing) and also to planning informational writing. Inviting students to choose a story of interest can help to personalize learning.

  • Ask students to choose any of the week’s current events and identify the following:
    • Who was involved?
    • What happened?
    • Where did it happen?
    • When did it happen?
    • Why did it happen?

5) Debate Fridays

Use Listenwise’s Friday debate stories to invite students to discuss issues that are being debated in the public sphere. This can help students develop their capacity to think critically, reason logically, and support claims with evidence–all important Common Core skills. A previous blog post offers some tips on how to facilitate engaging and thought-provoking debates inspired by Listenwise stories. Facing History and Ourselves provides additional ideas for how to exercise students’ argumentation skills.

Current events address topics related to science, social studies, and the humanities and can help students understand the relevance of what they are learning. As Listenwise teacher advocate Jim Bentley says:

A current event–whatever the topic–is an opportunity to read, think, listen, discuss. It’s a content portal depending on the topic. If it’s a science story about recent climate change conferences or a political story about border walls impeding trade, it’s a chance to connect content or skills in standards to something current.

This is just a sampling of activities you might use to build understanding of current events while affording students opportunities to practice critical literacy skills. If you have others, please share them in the comments.