What’s Goin’ on Today? Resources for Teaching Current Events in Social Studies Classrooms

TeacherVision- https://www.teachervision.com/blog/morning-announcements/facilitating-productive-class-discussions-about-current-events

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Introduction
The year 2020 was certainly an eventful year. The year brought a global pandemic that has left millions dead, an impeached president who refused to admit that he lost the election, a sputtering economy and schools that have had to go completely online across the nation. On a more positive note, musicians gave us all free virtual concerts from the comfort of our living rooms via social media, drive-in theaters made a comeback and Zoom and drive by parties became a thing also in 2020. But not to be outdone, 2021 seems to have come in with a bang as well, the president was impeached once again, more chilling COVID deaths, an attempted insurrection at the nation’s capitol, and the election of the first woman and person of color as vice president of the United States of America. And all of these events have taken place in just the first few weeks of 2021. These news items are illustrative of human struggle and triumph and help us define who we are. They are what we call current events.  

Four Tips for Teaching Current Events
One of the most important jobs of social studies teachers is keeping students abreast on recent news and upcoming events. There are many resources available that help social studies teachers integrate current events into their teaching. Heather Wolpert-Gawron in a 2017 Edutopia article offered four tips that are helpful in teaching current events in the age of social media. Those four components that are outlined and discussed are below.

1. Utilize resources that differentiate informational reading levels. Look at resources like Newsela to filter news stories not by topic but by grade level, so that articles are suited to your students’ emotional stages. After all, just because a student is academically ready to read a higher level of text doesn’t mean they’re developmentally ready to do so. Newsela helps to adjust levels so stories are age-appropriate without shying away from particular topics.

2. Create an archive of resources that focus on more positive stories. Find sources that help students learn about human achievement and accomplishments. Start with Common Sense Media’s list of news sources for kids. Remember, however, that every site has articles that need to be vetted. Check out these sites for some possibilities for your students:

DailyGood: This is a great resource of straightforward pieces with an emphasis on the amazing and interesting. This site strives also to present news from diverse perspectives.

Yes! Magazine: The tagline for this magazine is “Powerful Ideas, Practical Actions.” It focuses on problems, yes, but also on how people are solving those problems.

Positive News: This site focuses on challenging stereotypes and sharing what people are doing to tackle the world’s challenges. It’s inspiring and easy to navigate. The menu breaks stories down by society, economics, science, environment, lifestyle, and perspective.

3. Help students read critically to tease apart the true from the questionable and the false. Every teacher should be taking this on, and hopefully your school or district has adopted a program to help teachers achieve this goal. However, there are resources out there to help individual teachers. From PBS to KQED, from Common Sense Media to The New York Times, there are many outlets out there to help teachers tackle this challenge.

4. Teach students the necessity of unplugging sometimes. And while we’re at it, teach students that unplugging is healthy for their hearts and heads. We all need to detach from the news feed sometimes. Unplug, recharge, and oxygenate your brain with exercise. Be transparent about what intelligent adults do (or try to do) to keep life in perspective.”

Using Newspaper Headlines to Teach Current Events
Another resource I recently accessed from the Freedom Forum was a website that allowed people to see the front page of newspaper headlines from across the US for free. The site includes the Anchorage Daily News, the Montgomery Advertiser, the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Posts, the New York Times and hundreds of others from across the nation. Please click the link here to go to the resource. 

Conclusion
In closing, often when educators present current events they portray a perspective of the world that is primarily negative. But Wolpert-Gawron points out that:

“We need our students to leave classrooms knowledgeable and critical but also hopeful. We have a responsibility to balance the horrors with the hopeful and the frightening with what is also festive. Help kids focus on the good that is immediately before them. Make your classroom one of positivity so that they have a place to go to feel that the state of the news is not necessarily the state of their own lives.”

In other words, it is of the utmost importance to make students aware of troubling things that are going on in our world, but at the same time teachers should highlight the many good things going on in the world as well. Students should be able to know and celebrate the positive things. In this way, social studies classrooms are the perfect space to learn and celebrate both tragedy and triumph in our world.   

8 Comments

  1. I think teaching current events is a crucial part of social studies. Many children think social studies is just learning about the past, but it is about the present too so we can have a better understanding of what is going on around us to make us better citizens. You give us ample resources in this article to use in our classrooms for us as teachers and for our students as well. Although most of the news we hear about is negative, there is always positive news to be known too! For younger students, it is important to focus on positive things happening around us. I also really like how you include at the bottom that it is okay to unplug sometimes from social media and the news. Even as adults we need to take a step back and recharge because life can be crazy at times. We need our students to leave our classroom more knowledgeable but also more hopeful.

  2. Over the weekend, I was talking to a family friend who is a current junior in high school. She was talking to me about her history class and was frustrated that they had not spent any time addressing the current events that have happened over the past year. Sure, they had brief discussions, but they did not go into in-depth discussions. With such an eventful year, I was shocked they had not spent much time discussing the events of the year. This made me realize that as a future teacher, one of my goals in regard to social studies is ensuring the students are aware of what is going on in the world. I believe the tips discussed in Dr. Childs’s article are helpful in ensuring I am taking the time to focus on current events. However, my favorite tip is the importance of highlighting the good going on in the world. As a future elementary teacher, if I constantly focus on the bad, the children, because they are so young, have the potential to be truly scared. Therefore, by highlighting positives in history, I can help create a positive, yet informative learning environment for my students.

  3. It’s no doubt that the past events of 2020 were a whirlwind for just about everyone. Unfortunately, teaching social studies in the classroom seems to be on the decline. However, with these strategies in hand, the next generation of teachers can include current events in our teaching. There are many benefits to integrating current events into effective social studies teaching. Some of these benefits include covering a wide range of subjects that can be connected to all content areas, building language, vocabulary, reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem solving, and listening skills, and helping students to develop into informed citizens by understanding the importance of people, events, and issues in the news.

    I personally really enjoyed the Positive News resource. Positive News focuses on reporting about events centered around progress, possibility, and solutions. I feel that with all of the negative news that we seem to repeatedly see, our students (as well as ourselves) may need a little boost of positivity about the good things that are still happening in the world. I also like the idea of encouraging students to “unplug”. Even as an adult, I value and appreciate the time I spend recharging my body and mind. Urging students to be able to take a break and unplug from news feeds can promote a better sense of self and sense of community within the classroom.

    I really enjoyed reading this article and I’m excited to be able to implement some of these resources within my social studies teaching.

  4. Carolyn Dee

    This article provides good resources for how to incorporate current events in the classroom. I think that it is imperative for students to know about what is going on in the world around them, and in some cases, it is hard for students to understand the news and common articles. In order to help students, know what is really happening in society, I think that it is up to the teachers to inform them. Furthermore, the article provides a lot of helpful information. First, I think that the first point made is extremely helpful for students. While some students are reading at higher levels it does not always mean that they are comprehending on the higher level, so I think that this source is helpful for reading some of the common articles that are typically written in ways that can even be confusing to adults. I also liked the way that the article points out the importance of reading newspapers. I think that the source that provides newspaper headlines from around the US is a great resource for teachers. Teachers can even use this website to create an assignment in which the students have to explore and compare headlines from different states. Overall, I feel that current events are an imperative part of student education, as students have the right and the need to know what is happening in the society that they live in.

  5. Teaching current events at any time can be difficult because you want to bring up to issues happening in the world we live in without getting into to many political views. I say that because it seems as though everything is political these days. To add to that, teaching current events in 2020 and 2021 seem impossible. How do you not bring political views that families or students have into the conversation? The objective is to inform our students, have a conversation but stay objective so that nobody feels hurt, pressured, alienated, etc. These resources are perfect for starters on how to bring current events into the classroom. I especially like resources 3 and 4. “Help students read critically to tease apart the true from the questionable and the false” is huge in creating a safe environment to discuss the facts of current events. “Teach students the necessity of unplugging” is also a number one resource because often times, especially recently, people can get so caught in up the current events and politics that they forget how to interact with humans. We are all on this world together so we need to be collaborative and united. Cutting out the false statements and sticking to the facts helps us be united against the true issues and problems that need to be talked about to being change in our world.

  6. This article gave insight on how teachers can incorporate teaching current events into the curriculum. The four tips are: utilize resources that differentiate informational reading levels, create an archive of resources that focus on more positive stories, help students read critically to tease apart the true from the questionable and the false, and teach students the necessity of unplugging sometimes. These four tips are doable for teachers in the classroom. I think this article hits a lot of good points about how to teach students about current events. Current events are often overlooked in the classroom because teachers are so focused on teaching the past. The current events around the world relate to past events. As a future educator, it is important that our students know what is happening in the world around them.

  7. This article offered so many resources for teachers to use in order to teach current events in the classroom. The news is constantly breaking and the world is always changing, so it is imperative that students learn not only the importance of keeping up with the news, but how to read it. This skill starts in the classroom, so I am excited to try out these resources in my own teaching. It is important to reflect on the past couple of years and to see that so much of what has happened in the United States and the world of journalism has reminded us just how important the news is. As social studies teachers, and educators in general, we must equip students with knowledge of what is happening in the world, but to also remind them that there is much good in the world. There were many resources for positive news sources that I intend to use in the future, and of course I intend to stress the importance of simply unplugging for a while.

  8. I think it is really important to teach current events to students of all ages. I think it is crucial for students to know what is happening in the world around them. I do think it would be hard to censor some of the current events for younger students, but it is still good information to give to the students. I really appreciated the resources provided in this article. I will definitely be using them in my future classroom to teach students current events. I have a lot of memories from middle school of doing current events weekly and I felt like I was so “in the loop” with what was happening in the world!

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