Teaching the content of news stories
The news section is the core of the Bangkok Post and it is probably the best source of classroom material. Because of the style of news stories and their timely content, news stories are probably
the easiest stories to read in the newspaper. In many cases, students will have prior knowledge of
the subject matter since it is also covered on radio and television as well as the Thai language
press. The feature stories in the Outlook section may be more attractive to the eye, but you will
quickly find out they are much more work to teach.
The Bangkok Post is written for a diverse audience with wide-ranging interests, so there
is literally “something for everyone”—even on the news pages. Despite its clear preference for
“significant” national and international news, the Bangkok Post includes numerous stories of a
lighter nature as well. With so many stories to choose from in the news section, there is obviously
much room for student selection of reading material. At the initial stages of newspaper use,
however, the teacher may want to do most of the selection, focusing on stories which are
best suited for teaching. Here are some suggestions:
1. What’s it about? In working with a single story, we strongly suggest that teachers
encourage their students to begin with the question “what happened?”. This is normally found in
the headline and lead and is the major reason why we worked with these two sections of the news story
so extensively in Tips on reading the Bangkok Post. Other questions naturally follow (when, where, why, what’s next?, etc.) and you should try to help your students generate them by themselves.
2. What's happening in our world? One of the best introductory activities for using the
news section of the Bangkok Post or your local daily newspaper is to divide your class into
regions and have them find out what is happening. You may want to have one group for your city
and another for your country. Another group could search for stories from your immediate region
(S.E. Asia for us) and others for the major continents or economic groupings. The activities
would conclude with short summaries (written, oral, or both) of the main news they were able to
find from their assigned areas.
3. Following stories A large number of news stories are not single-day phenomena. They
may appear in the newspaper for several days or weeks and sometimes—as in the case of the conflict
in Albania—they may continue for years. Having your students follow a story for two or more days
can be extremely productive. First, they will see key vocabulary repeated, so they will have an
immediate payback on any time they invested on the first day. They will also see how the news of
one day may become the background on another. Finally, stories become more interesting as
your students understand them more deeply. You might even want to assign small groups to
follow particularly newsworthy stories and give periodic updates to your class.
4. Common stories Certain categories of stories appear continually in the news section of
the Bangkok Post. Major fires, for example, are sure to make it into the paper, often on page one. It
doesn't take long to see that such stories contain a limited set of key vocabulary (billowing smoke,
flames, gut, char, etc.) and follow predictable sequences. The teacher can point out these recurrent elements or they can have their students work them out for themselves. Five or six fire stories should be enough material for an interesting and fruitful assignment. (See Common news stories for more ideas.)
5. Why is this news? Very few of the billions of daily happenings around the world are
newsworthy and, given space restrictions, few of those that are actually make it into the Bangkok
Post. Thus, a fruitful exercise—one which will lead to very different lesson plans from those
suggested above—is to consider with your class why a particular story appeared in the newspaper.
Here are some of the reasons commonly given by news editors for running stories:
|a. relevance||The story happened close by or concerns an issue of local interest (e.g.,
|b. magnitude||The greater size or number, the more newsworthy. Ten people killed in an
accident is of more news interest than one or two.|
|c. unexpectness||Something very unusual or something which happens without warning.|
|d. proximity to the deadline||Something specific which happens on the day of publication.|
|e. reference to someone famous or important|| |
|f. reference to a major country|| |
|g. reference to something negative||Bad news generally seems to sell better than good news.|
|h. continuity||Reference to something that has been in the news for some time and is
Having students consider why a story appears in print often leads them to consider the issueswhich underlie these stories. For example, in our seminars we often consider a story about awoman who was arrested in the U.S. for slapping her son in public under a law prohibiting“excessive” force in disciplining children. We first have seminar participants put the eventsdescribed in the story into chronological order. Then we have them work through the story anddecide at which point it became news (the arrest). Then we have them decide why the BangkokPost decided to run the story. Unexpectedness is a factor but so is relevance because the storyconsiders the issue of appropriate parental discipline. What is appropriate discipline and whendoes the government have the right to step in to prevent excess? These are universal concerns.
6. What else do they need to know? It is very important for teachers to realise that language is only one of the stumbling blocks students face in understanding an authentic text. Often the problem is a lack of relevant background. (See A little theory for more on this.) News writers know this and they often provide essential background in their stories, but it may not be
enough for your students. Here, you can either provide background yourself or let your students do a little research of their own. Since our department deals largely with an unseen audience — the subscribers to our fax programme — we tend to provide background on a regular basis using our own knowledge, Internet sources or reference materials like encylopedias on CD-ROM.
7. Reading critically Students too often take things in print at face value when they should exhibit a healthy skepticism. Teachers can help in this process. Considering the sources of information can be particularly useful. Why, for example, would someone give damaging information about another person? And what about the accuracy of the information given?
8. Looking for connections The Bangkok Post will usually note when there are other stories which are related in some way to the one you are reading. Such stories can be particularly
useful in the classroom—an excellent chance for groupwork, for example. Probably the best situation, however, is when there is an editorial associated with a story because this gives you a unique opportunity to show how opinion writing differs from the neutral style of news writing.
Look, too, for connections between general subject matter. Finding several pollution-related stories, for example, gives your students the chance to examine a problem from different perspectives.
9. Putting information into a different form Converting statistics to graphs or tables often leads students to significant insights. Making generalisations from graphs and tables is equally powerful. For a little more fun, consider having your students draw pictures based on a description. We did this with great success with a story about a newly-discovered species of kangaroo. Actually, the original story contained a picture which we cut out. We had half our
seminar participants draw a picture based on the description in the text while the other half tried to put the picture into words. As an extra twist we then had those who had seen the picture help those drawing the picture make improvements.
10. Responding to stories Given the chance, students will often have a strong response to a story. In some cases, they can even take action—contributing to a fund for someone in distress,
organising a cleanup campaign, or attending an event announced in the newspaper. More often, however, they can respond more indirectly, perhaps by suggesting what they would like to see done about a situation they have just read about.
11. Role playing Stories which involve several people and have a clear sequence of events can easily be turned into a mini-play. The story described above about the mother arrested for
slapping her son would be especially good for this. Students would have to consider very carefully, for example, just how hard the slap was.
For some examples of how our department handles news stories see Some example lessons using news stories.