writing of this paper, both the roles of the teacher and the learner in the
teaching-learning process are being taken into consideration: the teacher as an innovative
leader and action researcher; the teacher and
the learner as critical thinkers; and the learner as strategy-user. In this article,
therefore, we will concentrate on just one aspect of the constant technological
breakthroughs that we are now witnessing at the end of the 20th century. Teaching is a
transformational process in the sense that it modifies us continuously, and teacher
educators at university level must provide the leadership needed to revamp their own
In this process, they need to adhere to the changes being undergone with new,
challenging technology, in which the mass media play a crucial role. The use of news
processing in the classroom is just one aspect of the changes in technology that is
presently taking place. Undoubtedly, TV news and press, together with the impact of e-mail
communication and Internet availability influence both teachers and learners in deep and
The goal of this paper is, therefore, to show how these media can be profitably used
and to provide training that is not only site-based but also contextual, and specific to
the individual needs of the students.
Integrating two modes: the press and the T.V.
The classroom situation should be an extension of the learners world. In an every
day situation, the learner is surely exposed to both written and oral information coming
from the press and TV. So why not implement the same procedure in the classroom? Both
modes of presenting news and feature stories provide creative and original ideas for
making effective use of the wealth of readily authentic, accessible and up-to-date
English. The ultimate goal is to familiarize the learner with journalese language,
register and other stylistic devices that are at play when presenting a piece of news,
both on TV and in the press, along with printed material found on the Internet. The tasks
accompanying each text should give the learner confidence to read and view English
language news in print and on the television for themselves outside the classroom. They
should be challenged with increasingly demanding and thought-provoking tasks, which are
practical and oriented to helping them enhance their thinking powers and develop their
critical skills. In sum, the aim of this approach is to achieve autonomous learning by
developing their strategic competence.
Methodology: some points to be considered
Frequency of exposure
The most important point to bear in mind when using broadcast/print news is that the
materials are a "resource."
They are in no way intended to be the only activity used during the course. They should
be specifically designed to provide the learner with stimulating, topical, challenging and
real material to support the course syllabus. Therefore, the teacher should decide when it
is the most convenient moment to expose the students to mass media information. The news
or T.V. clip should not be dated when shown to the learners. In a more specific situation,
such as the case of students of Communication Studies (e.g., ESP course), the criteria may
be slightly different. Experience shows that they profit a lot from being exposed to
up-dated, daily material, which they have to process, that is, understand, retrieve and
reconstruct after viewing or reading the news item. This is precisely what they are
expected to do in their professional lives. Therefore, the frequency of exposure should
depend on the students needs, interests and time availability, as is the case with
any other teaching endeavour.
Analysis of material
Teachers should consider text structure, length, linguistic
difficulty (including vocabulary), and content of both the press and television news. All
of these are important to any task to be presented to the student, and each can be
manipulated as a variable in itself. Apart from dealing with the linguistic aspect,
attention should also be drawn to the discovery of the macro structure of the whole text,
since this constitutes a crucial criterion for the selection of the material.
A number of researchers (Carrell 1984, van Dijk 1990, among others)
contend that the language included in news items is organized in particular patterns.
Thus, teachers should set out to explore different texts so they can recognize the text
patterns in each text. Then, this strategy should be explicitly taught and fostered as a
skill in its own right. Passages should be analysed for differences which may predispose
writers of certain subjects to use some strategies over others.
The learner should be able to recognize different patterns, such as an
expository presentation with a problem-solution pattern, an argumentation or debate with a
hypotheses-confirmation format, or a sequencing of events presented in a narrative text.
Likewise, the analysis and retrieval of information based on the layout,
infograms, pictures, and personal responses to news stories should be
The lesson should also develop critical viewing by providing the
learner with problem-solving and research skills through the use of newsclips and
newspaper cuttings and fast-paced graphics which depict formats and features. In the case
of the broadcast news, the teacher should tape the program when it airs and show all or
part of it to the class. For example, a teacher may begin with a review of the days
or weeks top news stories. Discussion may focus on current issues and trends
unfolding in the news. International news should be brought to the class so students can
explore selected events around the globe. All sorts of topics may be discussed including
business and commerce, science and medical achievements, and special features such as art,
drama, music, and literature. As stated above, this choice should be based on course
requirements, objectives, and the learners interests.
The learning of English can actually be facilitated and optimized by
explicitly teaching the linguistic features, plus helping the learner become aware of the
strategy required to extract meaning when confronted with oral or written media texts.
Selection of appropriate reading and viewing material
Length is an important factor in text
selection. A news item should be long enough to allow the student to become involved in
reading and viewing, but not so long that the student becomes fatigued by the demands of
the task. A length of between five and ten minutes seems to be appropriate under most
conditions. Less proficient learners may be asked to read or view shorter passages so that
they will not feel the strain of an overload of information which may turn out to be
difficult to process.
Another important factor for consideration should be the level of difficulty. The
cognitive load imposed by reading and viewing the piece of news should not be so great as
to prevent the learner from being able to process what the learner has seen or read; nor
should the text be so far below the learners ability that it is only perceived at a
superficial level, thus encouraging little strategy use. Material with subject matter
entirely unfamiliar to the learner is to be avoided. Possible subject matter variables
include overall level of foreign language proficiency, conceptual competence, and
familiarity with the news item. Topics having to do with the human condition, such as
family relationships, education, environ- mental problems, or issues of everyday life,
provide interesting material as long as they are universal enough to be understood.
The same piece of news should be presented in the two modes, oral (television) and
written (printed reports from the Internet and newspapers) from different angles, as far
as possible. The learner should be conversant with the piece of news by first reading
about it and then watching it on television, or vice versa.
For advanced students, critical debate should be fostered. To help foster a critical
debate, it is suggested that information be obtained from several newspapers or their web
sites. The learner should be able to compare and contrast different treatments of the same
news item. They should be asked to identify different points of view and comment on the
subjectivity of the news item. For groups with higher levels of proficiency, another
aspect to be covered in class is the function of persuasion in the news, since no piece of
news or editorship is devoid of it. In doing so, the students can retrieve the most
important aspects of the news story, take the roles of the journalists, and reconstruct or
rewrite their own version of the story.
Toward a methodology
To achieve the goals of the lesson, we suggest that the teacher provide the students
with guidelines that may be applied to all kinds of texts. In our classes we use the
traditional five Ws (who/whom, what, when, where, and why/how) as the basic procedure. We
then use a set of more detailed elicitation tasks to go deeper into the essence of the
story. With respect to televised news (CNN, for example), we apply the
view-internalize-retrieve-reconstruct technique by which the learner is constantly
required to relate the new information with prior knowledge. In the case of print items,
the read-internalize-retrieve-reconstruct technique is applied in a similar fashion. The
view/read stage involves all the steps that gradually lead first to the general and then
to a more detailed comprehension or internalization of the text in question. When the
learner retrieves information, he/she is expected to select those chunks that are
essential for the understanding of the material. Finally, the learner should be able to
give one of the many possible versions of this interpretation: his/her own, based on the
material that has just been read or viewed.
In order to explore the methods delineated above, we will look next at the mechanics of
a lesson plan. For the purpose of this article, we will concentrate on the analysis and
learning tasks, using a CNN program as an example.
Using CNN in the classroom
As stated above, bringing the news into the classroom offers a whole range of
interesting possibilities to enhance the learners command of the English language.
When it comes to the oral and/or visual mode in particular, CNN offers a series of lively
programs of the kind we normally watch to become informed about what goes on in the world.
Our basic contention is that, because of the viewers familiarity with the mechanisms
implemented when watching these programs without the use of L1, the learner can be helped
to transfer the skills employed in L1 to comprehend, analyse, and interpret the news items
in the foreign language.
As with any recorded material, news on a videotape has many advantages: it can be
repeated, moved forward and backward, and stopped. We suggest that the lesson format be
organized for viewing as follows: 1. viewing the news item straight through, 2. breaking
it into snippets, and 3. assigning tasks. The added dimension of visual text may be
exploited so that, for example, the material may be looked at without turning on the
sound. This enables the viewer to concentrate exclusively on the context in which the
incident of the piece of news is taking place, that is, on all the nonlinguistic
information which is so important in helping us to interpret and reconstruct what is being
said in any news report.
Likewise, we can use the pause button on the videocassette recorder (VCR) and freeze
the picture on the screen, which enables us to think and talk about what happened up to a
certain point and to predict what is about to follow. A simple and versatile guide to
integrating CNN into the classroom should be carefully planned. A specially designed
worksheet should guide the student toward discovering the content and structure of the
piece of news brought into focus. Task variables should include such things as text
structure, familiarity of the content, comprehensibility of the oral input, and purpose of
viewing. It goes without saying that a great deal of careful planning should go into any
Of all the programs available on CNN, we generally choose newsclips from "World
News," which is reported three times a day. In this program, world events are
depicted both in brief and in detail, beginning with a short comment on the news item
followed by the presentation of different viewpoints by various reporters. This is
supported by visual texts. On the same day, the same news item can usually be found with
the written counterparts of the text in an English newspaper and/or on the Internet
Interactive CNN. Both the print and the visual can then be developed for use in the
Planning the sessions
Step 1: Preview
The preview session consists of tasks that are designed to provide an initial focus on
the context in which the event has taken place. Warm-up activities may be used to discuss
the news story the learner is about to see. If possible, the students should be required
to read, in advance, the corresponding news item from an English newspaper or on the web
Step 2: Gist viewing
Global listening is important as a second step, since we have a number of clues at our
disposal to anticipate and make assumptions about what the news presenter will talk about,
aided by the nonverbal signals that help us interpret the message. News items and feature
stories are good means to develop the skill of listening and other related skills, thanks
to the visual support they provide (e.g., people speaking, gestures, body language, eye
contact). The learner is actively involved in solving problems through hands-on tasks that
involve locating and extracting specific information, matching, sequencing, selecting
appropriate answers, agreeing/disagreeing with certain statements, taking notes,
summarizing, and so on. These activities are aimed at developing not only language but
also text organization.
At all times, it should be remembered that the learner is viewing for a purpose:
interacting and reacting to the text rather than passively absorbing the visual and oral
information transmitted to the viewer. After completing such tasks, the learner is given
the opportunity to practice and extend the language heard in the sequence and to analyze
the types of interaction by closely observing the linguistic input in various scenes.
Step 3: Focus on meaning
The overall objective of this stage is to train the learner to use the strategies
needed to cope with the discourse of news or a particular text genre. The strategies of
guessing, predicting, and inferring are fostered because they are of paramount importance
in text processing in general. Since the learner brings much background knowledge to the
listening and/or viewing task, the main objective should be to help the learner
reconstruct one possible version of the news item under consideration. We should make the
learner try to use the linguistic and strategic power that he/she has as an L1 user and
transfer these abilities to the tasks at hand.
As stated above, we implement the traditional five Ws (who/whom, what, when, where, and
why/how) as the starting point for the elicitation of most meaningful units of
information. Once the answers to these questions have been sorted out, the learner should
be required to engage in more challenging activities oriented towards the reconstruction
of the story. At a later stage, more demanding tasks can be provided to help the learner
unravel aspects related to the tone, subjectivity, and tendentiousness of the text under
discussion and analysis.
Step 4: Focus on forms
This step focuses on the identification of rhetorical aspects such as the general
pattern of text organization and macrostructure or scaffolding, as well as the use of the
use of cohesive signals, different syntactic patterns, particular lexical items, and
expressions that illustrate the idiomaticity of the language at play in this special
jargon. Likewise, the learners attention should be drawn to the stylistic devices
and the tone of the story. By guiding the learner to focus on these formal aspects of the
language, we will be training his/her receptive abilities and understanding of the
indicators of additional meanings.
Step 5: Follow-up
In order to integrate the activities found in steps 14, additional follow-up
tasks can be provided which will offer opportunities for the further consolidation of
language functions, forms, and vocabulary as well as enriching background knowledge and
culture. Special projects should be fostered to enrich and expand the learners
command of the language and knowledge of specific topics. In an increasingly competitive
and globalized market, we need to ensure that our learner benefits from studying English
by exposing the learner to authentic texts and practical approaches that can be enjoyed in
a natural and nonthreatening environment.
A working method that has yielded highly positive results with many different types of
recorded material is outlined in the Appendix.
Much remains to be done in order to determine what reading/viewing strategies learners
use when confronted with this authentic material, both in the written and oral mode. By
knowing what strategies language learners actually use when reading or listening/viewing,
we will not only improve our comprehension of these skills as communicative acts but also
our understanding of how they might be taught. Additional re-search is needed on how
reading/viewing strategies may vary depending on the background of the reader and the
reading/viewing task itself.
Planning viewing activities based on CNN news, in particular, may be intimidating at
first, but once the teacher begins to pilot some materials and gauge the students
interests and involvement, the possibilities begin to open up. It is our hope that this
article may be useful for our colleagues, not as a cut-and-dried recipe, but as a
framework to embark on tailor-made projects which respect your particular
By considering the alternatives suggested in this article and by trying them out, you
as a teacher will not only contribute to an understanding of how language works in a
specific genre but also how best to perform as viewers and readers in an everyday context.
Carrell, P. 1993. Some issues in studying the role of schemata, or background
knowledge, in second language comprehension. Reading in a Foreign Language, 1, 2, pp.
van Dijk, T. 1990. Discourse as news. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum.