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NETHERLANDS 


Breaking the News: Using CNN in the Classroom
by Gerard Koster


Every teacher recognizes the advantages of topical, up-to-date material for classroom use, which is much more appealing to students than older, out-of-date material. Nothing is as old as yesterday's newspaper, let alone last year s. The main disadvantage of using up-to-date material is that teachers need a lot of time to prepare each new item; therefore, they will often not use this material, and will fall back on older material that has already been prepared. Nobody can blame them for this, as the stress and pressure on teachers is often intense, and they have neither the enthusiasm nor the extra preparation time needed to do this extra work.


CNN (Cable News Network) is considered the world's leading information channel and can be received in many countries all over the world. It is, therefore, an ideal source of information, and provides an enormous amount of educational material for the teacher of English. However, the problem of timely preparation applies here as well. My solution to this problem is to devise a standard form with assignments that can be used with CNN broadcasts. (See samples on the next page.) Through Turner Educational Services, Inc., CNN has also provided a solution to this problem: Their daily programme, CNN NEWSROOM, is produced specifically for teachers and students and is available free and copyright cleared once a school enrolls in the programme. To help teachers integrate the programmes into their curriculum, a daily classroom guide (written by teachers) is produced for each programme and delivered through various e-mail and online computer services. There are also plans to create an international version of these support materials in the near future.




CNN NEWSROOM


CNN NEWSROOM is a 15-minute news and features programme that focuses on the daily news and issues of particular interest to teens. It was initially developed for middle- and secondary-school students, but elementary teachers have also had much success using the programme in their classrooms. CNN NEWSROOM begins with a review of the day's top stories, followed by a special feature from a different desk each day. Monday's Future Desk focuses on current issues and trends unfolding in the news. Tuesday's International Desk explores selected events around the globe. The Business Desk on Wednesday examines business and commerce. Achievements in science and medicine are covered in Thursday's Science Desk. And on Friday, the Editor's Desk features communications in various forms art, drama, music, and literature. A daily feature, Our World, covers issues of interest to today's students.


For more information on how to enroll in CNN NEWSROOM and receive access to the classroom guide, in the US call (404) 827-2252 or write to Turner Educational Services, Inc., One CNN Center, P.O. Box 105366, Atlanta, GA 30348. Internationally, contact David Garland at 44-71-637- 6700 or at CNN House, 19-22 Rathbone Place, London W1X 1LB, England.




Other CNN programmes


Two other useful CNN programmes are THE WEEK IN REVIEW and WORLD REPORT. THE WEEK IN REVIEW is available for copyright-cleared use with support materials by subscription only. To use WORLD REPORT, you must write for permission. For more information on these programmes, contact Turner Educational Services, Inc. at the telephone number or address above.


I have chosen these two programmes for two reasons. In the first place, the items are more or less the right length. It is important that there be enough material for discussion; on the other hand, it should not be too long. Nobody should ask their pupils to keep fully concentrated for 30 minutes. A programme like THE BIG STORY could no doubt be used, but the teacher would have to cut the programme into pieces.


In the second place, the programmes I have chosen combine visual and oral material. (Discussion programmes like CNN & COMPANY do not have good visuals.) The choice of programme is of course a personal one for the teacher and will be determined largely by the level of his/her pupils. Longer news items are more difficult to deal with than shorter ones. Visual material can help weaker students to interpret and understand the spoken word.




Using THE WEEK IN REVIEW


One of the most suitable programmes for my purpose is THE WEEK IN REVIEW. It contains a number of short documentaries (about seven minutes long) about the most important stories of the week. Seven minutes is not too long for the pupils attention span, although teachers should realize that pupils will have to do several things at the same time, which will make it a difficult and taxing exercise. The object of the exercise is not only to improve your pupils listening abilities, but also to show them how news is presented and that they should learn to question its objectivity.

CNN: THE WEEK IN REVIEW

   What is the actual news event that led to this    documentary?
   _____________________________________________
   Is enough background material provided to enable you to
   understand the events? If so, indicate what kind of    material.
   _____________________________________________
   _____________________________________________
   _____________________________________________
   Try to follow the line of the documentary by writing down
   keywords that will help you retell the story.

   How would you describe the tone of the documentary?
   _____________________________________________
   Is this tone the same throughout the story?
   _____________________________________________
   If not, why do you think it changes?
   _____________________________________________
   Suppose you had to write an article about this event. What
   would your headline be, using the documentary as your    main source?
   _____________________________________________
   Do you feel that there are aspects of the event that are not
   shown to the viewers or that do not get enough attention?
   _____________________________________________




The combination of listening and writing will be especially difficult at first, although in my experience pupils quickly learn to do this. The first thing they will have to do is to decide what event led to the documentary. This is sometimes easy to do, and it helps to prevent the confusion that may otherwise arise when they hear the rest of the documentary. It helps them to see the difference between important and less important material.


The second question asks them about the amount of background provided. Pupils should differentiate between what is provided by CNN and the knowledge they already have. The third question is not a matter of interpretation, but of understanding the spoken word. Most pupils will be able to recapture the story line of the documentary as long as they have key words at their disposal. This item should be explained clearly before starting the tape.


The next few questions are about the tone of the documentary. It can be objective, gloomy, optimistic, etc. Often the tone at the end of the documentary changes, e.g., from objective to sentimental or optimistic. Of course, there is always a purpose behind this. The questions will help the students become aware of this. It is good to point out to your pupils that both the beginning and the end of a documentary are significant, since they contain the important news and the impression that stays in the viewer's mind. This is true not only for television documentaries, but for texts as well.


Having students write their own headline requires them to decide what is the most important news in the documentary; again, it teaches them to distinguish between more and less important news. The last question forces them to think about the objectivity of the documentary. Are all sides shown to the viewer, or are there aspects that are left out?




Using WORLD REPORT


For the second program, WORLD REPORT, the approach is similar. The length of the documentaries is different; they are much shorter than the ones in THE WEEK IN REVIEW. Teachers will also have to select the items beforehand. As all items are done by local reporters and not all these reporters have a very distinct pronunciation, some will be unsuitable. On the other hand, it can be interesting for pupils to have an international view of what is happening in their own part of the world. Most questions here focus on the interpretation of the documentary. How many angles are shown? Why is this item shown? etc. The last question teaches the pupils to make a short summary by way of key words.

CNN: WORLD REPORT

   What is the actual news event that led to this    documentary?
   _____________________________________________
   How would you describe the news item (happy, sad,    etc.)?
   _____________________________________________

   A good news item should always try to look at an event or    a problem from many sides or angles. Try to find all the    angles from which the issue is looked at. Give key words    to show the different sides of the argument.
   _____________________________________________
   _____________________________________________
   _____________________________________________
   Is there an angle that is missing?
   _____________________________________________
   _____________________________________________
   Do you think this issue is typical for the country in which    it has happened, or is it a worldwide thing? If possible,    give reasons.
   _____________________________________________
   _____________________________________________
   Do you occasionally hear the American point of view or    do you think the news is told in an objective way? If    possible,
   explain.
   _____________________________________________
   _____________________________________________
   Does the news item strengthen the idea that you already    had of the country? Would it have been chosen if it had    occurred somewhere else?
   _____________________________________________
   Write down key words that will help you retell the story.






Some suggestions for teaching


During my lessons I usually start by having the students look at the questions, so that they know what to look for when watching the program. While watching the documentary, pupils focus on one or two aspects (key words, angles, etc.). Afterwards they have about five minutes to try and answer the remaining questions. I find that most pupils are able to reproduce the story without too many problems. Interpreting the news is more difficult, but in some cases it leads to interesting discussions in groups that are normally not very talkative.


To keep the discussion lively and to prevent the lesson from getting boring, I think it is important to stop the discussion before it is completely exhausted. The whole process (explaining, viewing, answering, discussing) for one item takes about 20 to 25 minutes for THE WEEK IN REVIEW and between 15 and 20 minutes for WORLD REPORT and CNN NEWSROOM. In this way two or three subjects can be dealt with during one lesson.




Several advantages


I found CNN a useful source of information and an ideal starting point for a classroom discussion of topical events. Even shy pupils or pupils who are bad at English can participate fully and can, often to their own astonishment, recapture the gist of the documentary without too many problems. Thus, the approach has several advantages. Not only does it make pupils listen carefully; it can also serve to take away their fear of speaking a foreign language and to help them distinguish between important and less important news. And last but not least, it teaches them something about the world they live in.




Gerard Koster teaches at the Augustinus College, a secondary school in Amsterdam. He has written about 30 educational booklets on a large variety of subjects, and in 1992 he visited the University of Missouri on a Fulbright Grant.
 

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