Brian Rock is a social studies teacher in New Jersey. He's always interested in ways to do a better job of teaching civics.
Current events are an important, if often ignored, part of social studies. They're often seen as "fluff" - extra stuff to fill time.
But knowing what's going on in the world is an essential part of being a good citizen. If you ask me, there's a lot more "fluff" in the history curriculum that's just there to take up space than there is in the news.
One way to ensure that your students are up to date on what's going on around the world is to watch CNN 10 with them on a regular basis. CNN 10 is a great resource that makes the news approachable for students. When I get my kids in September, they invariably know nothing about the news. And when they leave in June after a regular dose of current events, well, at least they know something.
So here's five ideas to help you incorporate CNN 10 into your class on a regular basis. They run the gamut from basic summaries for homework to an in depth analysis of the news coverage for bias.
Use It As a Daily Introduction and Writing
One way to use CNN 10 - and ensure your students see every single wonderful episode - is to use it as an opener for each day's lesson.
First, you'll need to get your students in the routine of arriving to class on time and getting ready to go quickly. If you do this every day, you won't have time to waste. I told my students that the video would start two minutes after the bell, and by that point they were expected to be in their seats with their notebooks out and ready to go.
Then, watch the video. Have your students take some brief notes in their notebooks about the stories and details that they watch. Afterwards, take a few minutes to briefly discuss students questions and comments related to the days episode.
Then, assign the homework. Write one paragraph in which you summarize the video from the day. Your paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence that identifies the news stories that you'll describe in your summary. Here's a sample rubric that you can use to grade the summaries.
The whole process should be done in about fifteen minutes, and you can go on with the rest of your lesson. You could alternatively have the students write their summaries in class, but this will drag out the activity some. I like to have the students write the summaries afterwards and hand in a full week's worth of summaries the following Monday. This also gives students time to make up a video if they're absent.
Use It as a Weekly Current Events Day on Friday
Look, I know. Not everyone can devote fifteen to twenty minutes of every class period to current events. I did it last year, and I sacrificed a lot of time for other content and ended up not getting through as much of the curriculum as I would have liked.
An alternative is to watch CNN 10 once a week on Fridays (or Mondays, or whatever day you prefer). I like Fridays because I can look back over the entire week's news, pick out the most relevant stories, and still have them be "new." By the time Monday rolls around, things seem to be a little stale to me.
Either way, here's what I'm doing this year. Every Friday, I queue up two or three videos for the class to watch. I do two videos for the classes where the kids actively participate in discussions. I watch three videos in the classes where those discussions are more like pulling teeth.
After we watch the first video, I pause for a two to three minute break. Students have an opportunity to ask questions at this point - I tell them specifically that they can't interrupt the video and call out a question while it's playing (with exception to the ten second trivia). I also go around the room and ask students to identify the major stories and key details. We repeat this process with the second video and, if necessary, the third video.
Again, I wrap this up with a similar writing assignment. The same rubric as above can be used. In this case, I tell the students to only select three stories from the week to include in their summary so that their paragraph doesn't just become a laundry list of random facts and stories. Again, this can be done in class on Friday and handed in as an exit ticket, or it can become homework and collected on Monday.
Flip the Classroom and Assign It as a Daily Homework Assignment
If your students have access to wireless devices and internet connectivity at home, then why not flip the classroom?
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This is an excellent opportunity to assign a daily homework assignment that's meaningful. It's not busy work, and students can handle it on their own. By watching the video at home you don't consume ten to fifteen minutes of class time doing so in class every day.
You can still require the daily homework as in the suggestion above. If you have the students do a weekly writing assignment, you might also have them do a daily note taking activity in which they identify the key stories in each day's video. It's just a little accountability and check to make it more likely that they watch each video.
But the real advantage to this format is you can open each class with current events and do so in a much deeper way. Instead of watching the video and moving on, your students will already have watched the previous day's video before they come to class. Your opening can be a discussion of that video - what did they find interesting, important, or surprising?
You can have a quick five minute discussion each day and then jump into the main lesson. This spaced repetition - where the students watch it at one point in the day and talk about it in another - is also good for helping them remember more of what they've seen. Ultimately, they'll be more news-literate than students who just watch it in class write about it, and forget about it till the next day.
Use It as a Project and Have Your Students Create Their Own Newscast
So you want to up the ante a bit? Have the students create their own episode of CNN 10 (or something like it).
Assuming your students have watched CNN 10 on a regular basis, they should know the gist of the show. There are news reports of three stories, a trivia question, a viral video, and an excessive amount of puns. There might be some background historical or scientific information about one of the topics.
A great group project to do later in the year would be for students to work together as a news team to produce their own episode of CNN 10. You can assign roles to the students - anchor, writer, editor - or let the students go at it in a free for all. It depends on how much structure you think your students need.
This is the kind of project based learning that really brings civics education to life. Plus, these videos would be great to share with other classes or teachers to get feedback.
Analyze the Contents of CNN10 for Bias and Fairness
Here's a final suggestion and one that really increases the rigor of the assignment. Instead of just watching the news for content and summarizing it, have the kids analyze the coverage itself.
This is definitely a higher level of thinking and it requires some sophistication on your students' part. But with enough guidance and scaffolding, most high school students (and maybe some middle school students) ought to be able to handle it.
There are two general questions to look at to analyze bias - are the selection of stories balanced, and are the reporting in the stories balanced?
Either of these are forms of bias. For example, let's say that CNN 10 aired five stories that showed Democrats in a positive light (i.e. Phil Murphy promising to help New Jersey) and five stories that showed Republicans in a negative light (i.e. Michael Flynn resigning). Even if all ten of these stories were factually accurate, it would be a problem of bias if they had ignored stories that showed Democrats in a bad light or Republicans in a good light.
By necessity, a news team has to budget its time. It has to choose to highlight some stories and ignore others. And in doing so, you can create an opportunity for bias.
Second, there's the opportunity for the reporter to reveal a bias about a particular event. For example, the Republicans in Congress recently passed a tax bill. The Republicans made arguments in favor of it, while Democrats made arguments against it. If the reporter agrees with one side and favors that argument over the other, there's an element of bias.
I don't detect either of these biases in CNN 10. But it's still a question worth asking. And it's a great way to get your students thinking about these issues. Have them track the news stories that are shared over the course of a week. They can analyze both the selection of stories and the coverage of stories in a similar way to make an argument that CNN 10 is or is not biased.
It might be interesting to split the class up into four to six groups and have each group analyze one week and report out to the class afterwards. This way, the class can get a sense of a large slice of CNN 10's coverage instead of a single isolated week.