Those of you who aren’t social studies teachers may be inclined to skip over this blog post, thinking it doesn’t pertain to you. Still others may be saying, “Why bother teaching current events at all?” After all, with the 24-hour news cycle, nothing stays “current” for long! However, research indicates that a regular dose of current events has a multitude of benefits, even in classes outside of social studies.
Students Should Be Aware of Global Issues
Elevating student awareness of global issues is increasingly important as the countries of the world become more interdependent. Today’s students also need an understanding of the world’s economy, politics, social structures, and environment in order to make the best decisions about how to live their own lives after high school and beyond. At the same time, consuming domestic news with a critical eye is vital to enhancing democracy and defeating intolerance. More than ever, an appreciation for news and our civic institutions is a key step toward self-empowerment and advancement.
As educators, it’s our job to make sure that students are armed with the tools necessary to distinguish between fact, fiction, and plain old opinion; between research or evidence-based statements and empty rhetoric; between exaggeration and reputable journalism – not just “factoids” from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or other information feeds.
The Benefits of Current Events for Students
And let’s remember the myriad benefits our students enjoy through current event programs:
- They cover a wide range of subjects and connect to all areas of the curriculum.
- They build language, vocabulary, reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem solving, oral expression, and listening skills.
- They develop into informed citizens and lifelong news readers. Studying current events helps students understand the importance of people, events, and issues in the news; it stimulates students to explore and learn more about the news, and to pay attention to the news they see and hear outside of school.
- They provide a “writing model.” Students can learn by imitating the clear, concise style of news writing.
- They help teachers teach media literacy skills, which are as important today as any of the three R’s.
- They can open up communication between students and parents. Students are often eager to emulate their parents’ news-citing behaviors, and talking about the news is one way for parents to engage kids in adult conversation.
- They offer ideal opportunities for cooperative-group instruction, classroom discussions and debates, purposeful follow-up writing, and much more.
Of course, the next question becomes “How can we make sure that students are informed about what’s going on around the world?” Like most things in life, the best way to do that is through practice.
The Golden Opportunity of a Campaign
A political race can include swirling controversy, impolitic debate, pivotal issues of great importance – war and peace, economics, and the very role of government in our lives – hot tempers, and a decidedly divided electorate. While many teachers are wary of wading too deeply into controversy and matters of personal opinion, other teachers consider times like these fodder for especially impactful lessons and classroom activities.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” I think we can all agree that for children to become competent lifelong learners, they must learn how to use nonfiction materials – current events – to expand their knowledge base, solve problems, and make decisions. But where does one start?
Some teachers use news stories about elections as a timely lesson in citizenship. And don’t forget one other tool for teaching citizenship and critical thinking — newspaper editorial cartoons can drive home the importance of voting, teach about the process of creating laws, track election results and voter turnout, and teach students what it’s like to make the tough decisions that elected officials make every day.
Another Thomas, this time Thomas N. Turner, professor of education at the University of Tennessee stated, “Teaching about world, national, state, and local happenings needs to involve active, participative learning rather than passive learning. This means a lot of hands-on, multisensory activities rather than activities in which the teacher or one student reports while everyone else pretends to listen.”
Now, more than ever, teaching current events is a practical and relevant part of learning which includes helping students develop nonfiction reading skills and build awareness of current events topics. Can you think of other benefits or lesson ideas related to elections and/or other current events? Share them below.