Breaking News English Lessons for ESL Students


The internet’s full of videos and articles with recent news that can be used as materials for ESL lessons. However, there are a couple considerations that we – teachers – need to address before telling our students to dive into texts of this genre.

Is the Topic Appropriate?

One of those is whether the topic of the article is appropriate for the students’ age and learning goals. Reading an article about a serial killer might be fun but… maybe not as a part of an ESL course for kids.

An example from personal experience – I once gave my teenage students an article about financial scams. I somehow thought that at the age of 14-15 they would be able to assess people’s financial decisions and discuss money-related matters. Gosh, was I wrong – this turned out to be one of my most boring lessons ever.

Is the Text Difficulty Manageable?

Sometimes a story seems really simple – but it’s phrased in very complicated or informal language and we, as proficient speakers, might not notice this. This is especially common with articles from tabloids which are supposed to publish “lightweight” stories. Not only is language important, but also the cultural aspect – before you share an article with the students make sure that they don’t need any specific cultural knowledge to understand it… (or they have the knowledge required).

Now that we’ve made sure we know how to select the right news article, let’s explore two ways in which you can use news content in your class.

Use Fully Authentic Materials

For levels B2 and above, there is no need to simplify authentic news content. According to CEFR guidelines, students at this level can read pretty much anything “with a large degree of independence”. Here are some creative ways to use authentic news stories in class:

🧩 Current Events Jigsaw: Assign different news articles to small groups. Tell each group to read their article and summarize it. Then, form new groups with one member from each of the original groups. Ask each person to share their summary, and the other members of the group to discuss it.

🔎 News Story Scavenger Hunt: Give students a list of items to find in a newspaper / several newspaper articles (e.g., a quote, a statistic, a headline with an adjective). This helps with scanning and detailed reading.

🤔 Stance Comparison: Find two articles on the same topic from different sources or with different viewpoints. Ask your students to compare and contrast the perspectives and ideas, the language used, and how the information is presented.

💬 Fact or Opinion: Ask students to identify statements of fact and opinion in the article. You can assign different colors to specific types of information in the news article (e.g., facts in blue, opinions in red). Students can then identify and color-code sentences accordingly.

Adapt News Stories for Your Lessons

For levels below B2, you might still want to create breaking news English lessons. However, using unadapted articles might pose a challenge both to you and your students. Here are two possible solutions:

And then go ahead and create some EFL exercises based on news stories:

🧩 News Puzzle: Print and cut up an article into paragraphs or sentences and mix them up. Have students work in groups to rearrange the pieces in the correct order.

Reconstructing a Timeline: If the news article discusses a sequence of events, ask students to create a timeline using the information. This reinforces their understanding of the temporal aspect of stories (great for revising verb tenses!).

🖊️ Sentence Completion: Extract full sentences from the news article and leave gaps for students to fill in. This focuses on understanding sentence structure and vocabulary in context.

📝 News Summary: Provide students with a form to fill out, leaving gaps for details such as what happened, when, why, and so on. You can present it as an individual or group activity, and turn it into a timed contest to see who fills it in first.

Even though there might be a few downsides, keeping up with the latest news can really inspire learners. Finding ways to help them handle this can be a handy tool for any teacher.

Watch our Youtube video about how to create a cool lesson plan based on a news article:

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