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Tammy Dunbar: Add New Spark to Your Class with Newspapers!


by Tammy Dunbar
Expert Educator Columnist, USA

teachergeekTeachers need fact-based, non-fiction content. We need lots of it. And we need it now.

The adoption of the new Common Core State Standards paired with the lack of approved curriculum and funds have pushed many educators to be creative in finding appropriate, timely reading material. That critical reading material also has to allow students to demonstrate independence, build strong content knowledge, comprehend as well as critique, understand other perspectives/cultures and use technology & digital media strategically and capably. (From the CCSS English Language Arts Standards.)

Thanks to the Newspapers in Education program, teachers and their students can “read all about it” in daily digital editions of their local newspaper. And the cost is a teacher’s favorite “F” word: Free!

modesto-beeMost large local daily newspapers participate in the NIE program. All a teacher has to do is contact their local newspaper and ask about it. We have been lucky to participate in The Modesto Bee’s NIE program for almost 12 years. My students have access to a daily digital newspaper that has amazing and engaging content (written at about a 10th – 11th grade reading level) covering most core subjects.

My students love reading sports stories about their favorite football and basketball teams, which can set us up for compare & contrast writing assignments including statistics to back up opinions. Math lessons are easily created using Classifieds, Stocks, the Weather Report and even Sports. Using the Comics section as an introduction to sequencing has also been a favorite in Room Nine. Best of all, if you ask, many reporters and editors will be happy to come to your classroom to talk to your students about good writing and how they go about researching a story before ever starting to write one.

The Newspapers in Education website also features a lot of great content that can be used at the beginning of class, for vocabulary development or to simply start a conversation about a current events topic. Though the NIE program will provide a teacher with a class set of licenses for use, if you are only a one-computer classroom, there are still many ways to use a digital newspaper with your projector.

  • An editorial cartoon can begin a discussion or current event lesson.
  • Sports statistics tie in with math lessons in finding the average/mean.
  • Grocery ads might set up a compare/contrast lesson.
  • News stories allow a study of pyramid writing (important items first).


NIE also puts out many special sections for students throughout the year, covering timely topics that appeal to most students. Plus, all newspapers give their readers choice: from current events and sports to culture and entertainment. With such a wide variety of topics, there will definitely be something to appeal to our students and absolutely be something we as educators can use.

My students know my axiom: Every Test is a Reading Test. The more you read, the better you get at it. And if an article interests a student, won’t he/she read even more?


techinjectionAfter a local reporter or editor comes to your classroom, why not use that opportunity as a springboard to an assignment? Here is a short “What is an Editorial” PPT presentation I use after my husband, Modesto Bee Editorial Page Editor Mike Dunbar, comes to my classroom to talk to my students about the craft of writing opinions. It recalls his main points and then leads the students to an assignment: to write their own opinion pieces! (Feel free to use it and modify it in any way you like when your local newspaper comes to chat with your students.) You might even challenge your students to send their final opinions to the “Letters to the Editor” section of your local newspaper. If it gets published, it should be an automatic “A!”


tammy2Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She will be presenting at ISTE 2015, CUE 2015 and CTA Good Teaching North 2015. Tammy has presented for CTA Good Teaching North (2014), Cap CUE (2014), all three California Subject Matters Project Conferences, Capitol Area Science Education Leaders, and several San Joaquin County Office of Education events as well as others. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She is on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee as the district embarks on their “Going Digital 2015” project. She is a 2015 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Master Trainer.

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