Thursday, December 5, 2013

Newsela: A Valuable Teaching Tool

At our middle school, like all others in the nation I'm sure, we are on an endless search for thought provoking, authentic texts to engage students. It is rare to find our search: non-fiction texts that could be used as mentors to teach nonfiction text structures within the relevant content focus. Oh, and we want it to be authentic and engaging, too.   It's even harder to find texts that support differentiated reading levels for all learners in the classroom while maintaining curriculum content standards. Our curriculum (and the CCSS) calls for students to engage with and analyze relevant, rigorous, complex texts that are authentic to students' lives.  It seems impossible.

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Then one of our social studies teachers found this amazing resource called Newsela.  Have you tried it?  The site claims, "Newsela is an innovative way for students to build reading comprehension with nonfiction that's always relevant: daily news. It's easy and amazing. And I actually agree!  It IS an innovative way to build comprehension, and it IS easy and amazing!  Oh, and it's free!  The site contains hundreds of current events in the form of news articles.  Authentic texts from newspapers across the country are adapted to read at a variety of Lexile levels.  Each article has at least four Lexile levels to make the same article more or less difficult based on vocabulary and text structure.  The evidence (quotes, statistics, etc) and bias stay the same, but the sentence patterns and vocabulary adapt to the differing levels.   I've viewed articles with levels ranging from 580 all the way up to 1200.  This allows for teachers to truly use the texts as mentors to teach skills (citations, multiple sources, bias, note taking, text structures, non-fiction text, perspective, etc, etc, etc.) at differentiated reading levels.  Brilliant.

The site contains a student and teacher portal to allow teachers to limit or provide as much or as little access to students as they wish.   Students log onto the site and can be assigned reading(s), or they can search for topics themselves.  The teacher can assign a Lexile or allow students to choose their own.  They can even annotate the text right there in the article.   I don't know about you, but we're always looking for ways to give students experience with a close reading and annotation of online text (instead of scanning) to prepare them for the "screen reading" of the upcoming SBAC assessment.

Of course the articles are one just piece to the complex puzzle.  Though the site bolsters the tagline, "Read closely, think critically, be worldly,"  we all know that the instruction is what matters.  Newsela is just another website claiming to align to the CCSS if teachers don't take advantage of its features in new, exciting ways to engage students.  That said,  Newsela's implementation and the benefits of its articles in a middle school content area classroom are limitless. Aside from the "cool" technology features, the instructional possibilities are endless, too.  Content area teachers can differentiate text levels using the same concept with an essential question, which allows all students to access current event articles.  This is where good, accountable talk can occur, leading to powerful argument writing later.  Teachers can spend their instructional effort enhancing skills and promoting conversations with relevant content.  I even envision genre study lessons where students are asked to level the texts easier or harder by studying different levels on the site to help them identify sentence structure patterns, vocabulary and text structure patterns.  If we add the site and good instruction together, it could lead to powerful, exciting student performance.

If nothing else, the articles are interesting and relevant for students (and adults!). They are fairly short
Photo credit to Cynthia Boris
and can be devoured in a single sitting. Or, they can be revisited for a close read.  In fact, I've found that kids want to read the articles more than once, or they click on the "you might like these articles" samples to continue reading about topics that they enjoy.  More non-fiction reading? Sign us up!

When students have difficulty reading a shared text, they seem much quicker to breakdown, become apathetic, and/or disengage.  Newsela, partnered with good teaching, breaks down those barriers and allows all readers to engage critical thinking with their peers through relevant, authentic sources. When a student struggles to read, it doesn't mean that they struggle to think.  This site provides the opportunity for students to access text that may develop with peers into deep, relevant conversations to prepare students to be educated, independent, critical thinkers.  And at the end of the day, isn't that's what it's all about?  Read closely, think critically, be worldy.

1 comment:

  1. We just posted a free Newsela common core graphic organizer on We love this excellent educational resource! You can access it at Have a great lesson. Tony at Instructomania