Current Events Lesson for English Language Learners

For the last two years, I have taught English to children, teenagers, and adults in Germany. Teaching English language learners in a foreign country is much different than teaching English language learners in the US. Therefore, I have referenced several of the blogs and websites in my blog roll, which offer such wonderful ideas. My curriculum this year has incorporated several of these ideas. Therefore, I plan to share more about what works in my classes and where you can find these resources. Furthermore, I hope these lessons will help mainstream teachers adapt their curricula for English language learners in their classes or students with special learning needs.

The Challenge

In my courses, my students are given challenges versus homework and these are not required. However, I find most students will meet the challenge, especially if given choices. For this lesson, the students chose to share one of the thousands of articles at the Breaking News English website created by Sean Banville. In order to explain the task I used the Screenr video below which took me less than 5 minutes to do. This Screenr can easily be embedded in any wiki or website.

Breaking News English

Breaking News English is an excellent and free website with several tools for struggling readers and English language learners. The short articles are accompanied by podcasts. Students can easily subscribe to the podcasts to receive frequent updates about news they care about happening all over the world. Furthermore, the website has online quizzes for students, grammar lessons, vocabulary reviews, and so much more! Check out Russell Stannard‘s video of the features to find out more!

In Class

During the class, students shared why they had chosen their articles. Each article topic was quite different! We discussed diverse topics, such as Michael Jackson’s funeral, Anne Frank, water found on the moon, and more. I even showed the 20 second YouTube video of Anne Frank.

We listened to one article’s mp3 without reading the text, read another article without listening to the mp3, then read to ourselves while listening to the mp3 of the article. We took a poll to see which technique was easiest for the students. We took another poll where students picked the hardest and easiest article for them to understand. Then we discussed these poll results. I especially enjoyed the students’ reasons why they thought some articles were easy and some were hard, because these were the same reasons to consider when deciding which English materials to read. On their own they realized they should read materials they have an interest in and some previous knowledge about.


Furthermore, we discussed how to best practice learning English outside the class. All the students read or listened to news throughout the day in their native language. Most of the students read newspapers and some read the news online or watched the news on television. The students set learning goals to incorporate into their daily news routine. For example, one student committed to watching CNN English news at least once a week in addition to watching the German news. Another student committed to reading an English and German newspaper at least once a week. Another student said they would try reading Google English news online.


When I asked the students if they would use the Breaking News English site to practice their English, all replied yes. The students thought the articles were interesting, easy to understand, did not take too much time, and enjoyed the vocabulary exercises as well as the podcasts! My students’ English levels range from low-intermediate to high-intermediate. When I asked my students on feedback over the lesson, they all replied that they had learned a lot and were excited to try and reach their goals. The only negative feedback was they said I should force them to do the challenges. You can’t win them all!

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and on her blog,, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at


  1. Hi Shelly,

    What an inspirational experience!!! I believe this task fosters students’ indepedence. I’ve done a similar task with my upper intermediate students to help them gain fluency.
    Each class one of the students was supposed to present a topic, which they were free to choose. The presentation lasted 5 minutes. After the students’ speech, I encouraged the rest of the class to provide feedback (good and bad points). To use those 5 minutes at the beginning of each class was highly beneficial.
    Thanks for the link Breaking News English website, which proves a good source of material.

  2. Hi Shelly,

    Thank you very much for a very interesting post. You have given me some great ideas on how to use my own site.

    I’m so glad all of your students liked the site. I started it five years ago in response to student requests for news lessons. They much preferred the news lessons I made for them than their textbooks. I would ask my students which breaking news story they were most interested in and 24 hours later, they had their own graded lesson. Many times the lesson I had prepared actually broke the news to the students. I loved it when this happened – it provided a welcome and fairly original element of authenticity to the lesson.

    Your feedback is very instructive and confirms my own rationale behind my choice for each lesson topic. I try to choose stories students might well be currently talking about in their L1 and that are of global interest. My favourite piece of feedback was from a teacher in LA, who told me she had the “behaviourally-challenged” class. She took into class a lesson I made on hip-hop fashion and was shocked when one of her students did the homework at the end of my without her assigning any.

    Best wishes to you,


    • Sean,

      I used your website for at least a few years. I love how you’ve added more to it since then. I am amazed at all the resources. The majority of people in any culture look at the news, therefore, these activities motivate learners to add English to their daily routines. My students really enjoyed the website and were quite excited!

  3. I’ve managed to delete my comment twice now because I forgot to enter the anti-spam word – awk! It’s a reflection of my deep respect for Sean Banville and his pioneering work that I’m going back into the online ring a third time:

    His was the second online instant lesson site I started using, after One Stop English. It was particularly suited to my brand of hands-on teaching, as the MS-Word files allow you to copy out words onto cards, create mixers from the matching exercise, set up rotating work stations for large classes using a variety of worksheets and create question strips for free-wheeling discussion.

    His texts are perfect for dictogloss, as I recently discovered: You dictate the text by reading it out twice to the class at natural speed, and the students just take down as many notes as they can. No slowing down, no matter how much they moan and groan. Then the students reconstruct the whole text in groups. It doesn’t have to be verbatim, but it should make sense. When they’re done, the groups compare their versions. A fabulous exercise I learned from the great Rolf Tynan. I followed up with gapfill workstations and a vocab matching mixer.

    Sean has kept bringing his site up to date with those interactive exercises, a lower intermediate site and the famous people profiles and, incredibly, has managed to keep the whole thing 100% free. A big hip hip hurrah for Sean!

    • @Anne,
      Thank you so much for your comment Anne. I am so very happy you persisted. I spent the best part of an hour once typing a reply – only for it to vanish because of the anti-spam word.

      Feedback such as yours really gives me impetus to continue all my sites. It is incredibly heartening fantastic teachers like yourself and Shelly say such nice things.

      As you know, writing materials, blogging, Twittering… is quite addictive. I have another 18 domains to set up – all quite different materials sites. I hope they also find their way into your classrooms.

      Pre-Twitter (July this year for me), webmastering was a somewhat isolated pursuit. Now I’m writing to and learning from so many wonderfully talented professionals like yourself and Shelly. I have already learnt so much and can’t begin to imagine how much I’ll learn over the coming months and years.

      Thank you Anne and Shelly.

  4. Anne,

    I had never heard of dictogloss! I will have to try this with my classes. Isn’t it great to have him on Twitter now?!

    I often make the mistake of forgetting the spam word. I’ve started copying and pasting my comments because I’m so bad at this!

  5. Was that another 18 domains? I feel quite modest now with my plans for 4.

    You may well already be there before me, but have you come across Google News Timeline (

    It looks to me like a scintillating news lesson resource, particularly from the read then discuss angle which is one my more well-worn hobby horses. The fact that you get the same story from different angles and connected news stories opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities.

    I work largely in an IELTS context so I sell it to students as a way of directing their reading (and language learning) down the oh-so predictable IELTS paths. General news is good of course but motivation does rise when there is a clear focus.

    I haven’t explored this yet in practice but I feel sure that it wouldn’t take too much imagination/creativity to adapt it to student led jigsaw reading activities either.

    Definitely worth checking out.

  6. I am an English teacher working in India.I am sending this to get a valuable word of information from you.To egg up my speaking skill,I am in search of free on line speaking forums.I think you can help me suggesting some sites.If this bother you,leave it aside.It will be kind of you if you send details.

    By Sunil

    • Hi Sunil,

      Are you on Twitter? That’d help you a lot to interact with other educators, including Shelly, who’s so inspiring and encouraging.It has helped me a lot to grow professionally and to be able to introduce technology and variety in my classes. The Website is: If you need help, I’m @Mtranslator in Twitter.
      Good luck,

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