In India, Building English Fluency with Newspapers

Newspapers are a treasure trove of information and often, good writing. The same cannot be said for all internet sites. Using newspapers in the classroom can open up language fluency and build proficiency.

India is a nation of vast diversity, not the least of which lay in the areas of available resources versus user competence with same. When making CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) suggestions for the content or English classroom, I often ran up against the, “But Ma’am, we do not have that capability at my college/school/institution.” This lament is proof against the touted predominance of internet research, activities, correspondence, web-site construction, photo sharing, and gamesmanship. Not everyone is connected.

In a popular PowerPoint presentation available free from a teacher in the U.S., information is provided which informs us that “2.7 billion searches are performed on GoogBarbbytes Times of India1le every day.”  This is followed by a startling question, “To whom were these questions addressed B.G.(Before Google)?”  This query led to a recollection of my own primary source of information when I was young…the newspaper.   India is a nation of newspapers and periodicals.  From the Indian Embassy in Paris, France, we learn more specifically that “on 31 December 1998, the total number of newspapers and periodicals was 43,828 as compared to 41,705 in 1997. There were 4,890 dailies, 331 tri/bi-weeklies, 15,645 weeklies, 12,065 monthlies, 5,913 fortnightlies, 3,127 quarterlies, 383 annuals and 1,474 publications with periodicities like bi-monthlies, half-yearlies, etc”.

So, while Bill Gates and company may not have arrived in every town and hamlet, in every school and college, still the printed word is alive and well and often in English.

When language and content instructors use print media in the  classroom, students can  enhance language fluency and understanding, anchor structural concepts, and extend understanding of content areas by making current and local connections to specific subject areas.

It should be understood that all of the activities and methods used with print can be adapted to high-tech media when that should become available.  One of the first things instructors notice when introducing newspapers is that many adults and school age students are not familiar enough with the publications to find things easily.  They may scan the whole newspaper looking for the stock market reports or information on what is happening outside India but their understanding does not extend from page 1 to the end.

The two exceptions to this are “Page 3” and “Matrimonials”.  Almost everyone can find

the entertainment section and the marital classifieds without difficulty. And the reason, of course, is that these are the first and perhaps, only, pages people turn to on a regular basis.  As a result, while these two sections may not be a primary concern,  they are certainly fodder for expository writing. Teachers can push a deeper understanding of even Barbbytes Matrimonial-Published-Every-Sundaythese materials with prompts such as:

1.      Are Indians star crazy?
2.      What influence do Bollywood stars have
over the fashion, lifestyle, and opinions
of the younger generation?
3.      What is the reality of the dowry situation?

Creative writing aside, the benefits of using a newspaper as a regular teaching resource are both practical and effective:

1. Cost – usually around 3 rupees per day. Most students could afford a newspaper once a week or even more often.
2. Availability
3. Easily acquired without purchase
4. Temporary – can be recycled after use
5. Provides a wide variety of information
6. Serious news and not-so-serious news
7. Games (often language related)
8. Math elements (sports scores)
9. An infinite number of language applications
10. Content varies daily
11. Enables students to follow a story/personality/stock/etc. regularly.
12. Encourages students to read regularly, help to create lifelong readers.
13. Non-threatening – Students are not generally nervous about doing newspaper work as these publications are visually less imposing than a hefty-text.
14. Generally contains something that will draw the students’ interest.
15. “Looking good”. Students may well hide their picture-book novels in the pages of a newspaper because it “looks good”.
16. Aids the students in anchoring aspects of journalistic writing and the inclusion of all “W” questions.


Working on the Newspaper Hunt

The Great Newspaper Hunt   The Great Newspaper Hunt, whose name is far more grandiose than the activity itself, is a method of familiarizing students with the newspaper.  The first time it is performed, in the way which will be detailed for the attendees, the process may take 40 minutes. “Why spend 40 minutes on a single activity?” some might ask. The reason is based in the number of objectives which are met by the process itself. These cover a broad pedagogical arena, yet are entirely task-based.

Learning Objectives     1.      Increase familiarity with different sections of the newspaper  2.      Extend knowledge of current events     3.      Practice with skimming and scanning 4.      Practice identifying single language elements   5.      Practice finding related news items    6.      Practice identifying elements of a story     7.      Practice differentiating between article, advertisement, and announcements     8.      Experience working in groups  9.      Within context of group work: Negotiating for meaning   10.  Within context of group work: Dividing up tasks.   11.  Within context of group work: Working efficiently toward common goal

Discrete Grammar and Structural Activities  All of the research, from Krashen on, has lauded the use of authentic materials to provide a context for grammar manipulation and discovery.  Newspapers offer the best in what is real, now, and diverse. “Newspapers always excite curiosity. No one ever lays one down without a feeling of disappointment,” said Charles Lamb way back in 1833.

One caveat to guide the use of newspapers in the classroom is: Do not construct the bulk of newspaper activities as high-risk, since to do so will raise the affective filter not only around the English language used in lessons but in relation to newspapers as well.   One method of muting the filter is to build one task on another so that the ultimate goal does not seem unattainable.

For example, during my tour as a teacher trainer at the University of Lucknow, I assigned different groups of college and university instructors the task of finding a list of 10 specific grammar items in the newspaper.  Each group had a different part of speech to search out. One had nouns, another verbs, another prepositions, another conjunctions, another adjectives, and so on.  In and of itself, this can be a meaningful exercise due to the requirement of reading carefully to determine if the word is being used as required.  For example, in the sentence “The smiling baby is really cute,” smiling is an adjective, but in the sentence “They were smiling at the baby,” smiling is a part of the progressive verb tense being used.

Taking the exercise to the next level has an even greater impact. Once the participants had completed the initial task, each person in the group had to copy the group list.  Here,  the groups were redivided, so that one person from each structure group was now able to work with others from the different structure groups.  Then, the groups were asked to produce meaningful sentences using words from their various lists.  The results were sometimes laughable but often accurate and creative.  This is a case where doingness supersedes assessment. While an instructor may give ‘extra points’ to the group with the best list of sentences, no formal assessment is necessary.  The use of the language is sufficient.

It helps to inform students as to the purpose of the activity OR, at the end, ask them what was accomplished by doing the task.  The type of scaffolding briefly described here, the building of one activity on another to promote higher cognition, confidence and competence is just one of the gifts of working with newspapers. There are an infinite number of possible variations, all of which can sustain and augment continued language progress.

To learn more about the time I spent in India, visit: India English Forum


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