Teaching ESL Students How to Write Newspaper Articles

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

As ESL students develop English writing skills, it's important to give them the opportunity to explore specific types of writing. In this lesson, we'll discuss some examples, formats and strategies designed to teach newspaper article writing to ESL learners.

Extra! Extra!

While writing may not be a typical English as a second language (ESL) student's favorite English learning activity, it can be made significantly more interesting through the use of an engaging application of the writing skills you teach. One great way to utilize these skills is by teaching newspaper article writing to your students. Before you go over any specifics, it can be helpful to have a class discussion about newspaper writing.

To begin, bring in as many hard copies of a newspaper as you can, and distribute them among your students. You can also organize the students into small groups. As the students look through the newspaper, write some or all of the following questions on the blackboard and invite answers, comments and discussion from the class.

  1. What's on the cover of the newspaper? What type of story is it?
  2. As you look through the paper, what topics are covered in the different stories?
  3. How are pictures or images used throughout the newspaper?
  4. Are there any advertisements that look like news articles?
  5. What is the difference between a news article and an opinion article?
  6. Look carefully at the first paragraph of a few different articles. Do the first paragraphs have anything in common?
  7. How are the pages organized and formatted?
  8. What are some of the different sections in the newspaper?
  9. Do paper newspapers have any advantages over online news?
  10. What skills does a person need to be a newspaper article writer?

Conclude the discussion by asking students to summarize a recent story in the news.

Article Format and Strategy

Now that your students have discussed the different aspects of newspaper articles, it's time to talk about formatting. Newspaper articles, especially those about specific events, tend to follow a fairly standard format. At this point, it's helpful if each student has a copy of a newspaper, or if you can display a newspaper to the class. Point at the formatting and definition of each part from the top of the article to the bottom.

Headline

A headline is a short (10 words or less) description that tells the reader what the article is about. Many readers will skip an article if the headline is uninteresting. It's also important for the headline to be understandable, straightforward and grammatically correct.

  • Bad headline: Students Cook and Serve Teachers
  • Good headline: Students Prepare Meals for Teachers
  • Bad headline: Celebrated Police Dog Losses Site
  • Good headline: Celebrated Police Dog Loses Sight

Introduction

The first paragraph of a news article is vital. If readers lose interest in the first paragraph, chances are they'll skip the rest. The best way to avoid this is to put the most relevant details in the first few sentences. The most important details should be included in the introduction so that if the article is too long and needs to be cut, the relevant details will remain.

The first paragraph should include the five W's: who, what, where, when and why. For example:

'State senator Joanne Smith (D-District 14) announced yesterday that she would retire from the senate at the end of the year due to an undisclosed health condition. Smith, who was first elected to the state senate in 1982, was well known as a champion of animal rights and environmental issues.'

Body

The body of the article should include supporting details and quotes from individuals involved in the story. It's important to get a few different opinions or reactions. Using our example of retiring state senator Joanne Smith, the body of the article should include reactions and quotes from colleagues and voters from both sides of the political aisle about Smith's career and retirement.

Use of Quotes

There are a few things to remember when using quotes in a newspaper article.

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