We’ve Got the BEAT—Current Events

March 13, 2019
Kristina Janeway

In any social studies course, current events are a key part of the curriculum, but how are teachers and students supposed to keep up with the demands of the curriculum as well as the constant bombardment of current events? Try setting up something like a newspaper or news station in which the members of the class are assigned different local “beats” to cover related to the themes of history, then expand the beats to state, country, and global.

Something similar to the above table allows you to assign beats to a class of 27 students, which is approximately the size of average secondary classes, give or take. If your classes are larger, add regions of the country or expand the topics to include things like science and medical, as well as wars or conflicts.

Next, you, the librarian, and the kids need to discuss the most reliable, unbiased news sources in which to track the current events. With the recent coining of the term “fake news,” now more than ever, students must be taught how to fact-check as well as recognize the differences between biased and unbiased news reporting. After evaluating the reliability of various news sources for information consumers, Vanessa Otero, JD, created the following chart reflecting the results (https://medium.com/@patelatharva/what-is-the-most-objective-news-source-in-u-s-fe44111d2be9).

Understanding who is reporting the news, their political biases, and their vision for the interpretation of information is important in making sure they have the facts correct. When students begin to follow their beats, they may need to check more than one news source in order to get all of the facts and relevant information. In addition to the news sources in the above graphic, also consider having the students use Opposing Viewpoints on the Gale database for information.

Now, how to assess student tracking of current events? Try some of these ideas on for size:

Current Event Journal:

Students use a composition book or a Google Doc to track sources and notes on their beat, to be turned in periodically for you to grade or to complete an assignment.

Compose an Editorial:

Students take the information about their beat and synthesize it into an editorial article in which they expose a problem or concern, and possibly offer up a solution.

Compare/Contrast News Sources:

Students look at a particular event from a variety of sources, comparing and contrasting the information reported, the level of bias, the purpose of the bias, and how those characteristics may have convoluted the facts of the event.

Technology as a Class News Feed (Instagram, Twitter, Edmoto, Pinterest, Facebook, Edublog):

Create a course or class news feed or a podcast in which the kids report the news for their beat to their peers while providing a link to the source(s).

Class Debate, Inner Circle-Outer Circle, and Expert Panel Discussions:

When current events cross through the different themes, pose an overarching question to the students and let them at it!

Photographs, Infographics, Illustrations, and Videos:

A picture is worth a thousand words, and being able to analyze a variety of graphics is a skill that is lacking in our students. Have a student find a graphic of some kind to use as a student lead bell-ringer where the student with the graphic takes three to five minutes at the beginning and/or end of class to guide their peers through an analysis.

Throwback Tuesday/Thursday:

Periodically reserve a day in your lesson planning to allow the students to connect current events to relevant historical events.

More ideas can be found at The New York Times in an article, “50 Ways to Teach with Current Events,” by Michael Gonchar, published October 7, 2014.

Whatever the direction you may choose to take the kids through current events, making sure they see the relationship between the past and present, as well as how to spot “fake” or incomplete news, is a skill they need to know.

Kristina Janeway | Teacher & Author

Kristina Janeway is a Pre-AP, GT, and PSAT/Pre-AP English teacher in Lubbock, Texas. She has designed ELA to Social Studies curriculum for 15 years.

For more from Kristen Janeway, visit her website here.

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