Hopping on the Newsela Bandwagon

I have been using Newsela for about three years now with my students both in my reading groups and when I'm doing one-on-one tutoring. I think it's a great resource for current events and an opportunity to read engaging nonfiction texts with students. They tend to love the articles and HATE the quizzes (and I'll be honest with you, I sometimes hate the quizzes, too!).

Newsela takes an interesting article from the real world and adapts it to different Lexile levels, which is great for sharing information with a wide variety of students who may not be able to access texts at a higher reading level, but can easily access the content. That's awesome! I will caution users on something I've noticed ever since I read this post from Sunday Cummins (close reading guru). Sometimes when the lower the Lexile levels, they remove key information that makes the article vague and harder to understand instead of making it more accessible. Just make sure you've read ahead and know when those slip ups can happen!

Another issue that really bugs me is the pictures. Thank you for having beautiful pictures, Newsela, but your pictures don't always (in fact, almost never) match the story itself and only relate to a word or two from the title. This is very confusing for visual learners who look at a picture and determine what the story will be about. When students scroll through to find a story the picture is the first thing they see and then the title. Frustration Station! (I added a comment about that on Sunday's post, so when you see all caps at the bottom of her post, that's just me screaming to the internet.)

Recently, I've been going through a process when reading Newsela articles that I think has helped students really understand what they're reading before moving into the questions and responding to their reading. I'll go through the process I've used and then share a sheet I made for my students' reader's notebooks that follows it.

1. Look at the picture at talk about what you SEE (not what you THINK or how you FEEL or what you LIKE). For example, "I see a fish. I see a building. I see grass." On the sheet below, I have them record those observations. When we point out all the things they SEE then we discuss what we THINK about the picture. For example, "I think this is a picture from under the ocean as opposed to an aquarium because I can see far into the background," or, "I think this picture took place in L.A. because it looks like a movie premiere with posters and there are buildings and lots of people. I have been to L.A. and it looks familiar to me." This is the time to bring in background knowledge and connections to the text.

2. Read and record the title. We will discuss any words that are confusing or puns used (journalists LOVE puns and plays on words). This is when we're getting an idea about the topic of the article. At this point, we'll discuss whether the photo we just studied matches up with the title. MOST OF THE TIME IT DOESN'T. Miss Bolte makes an angry face and tells the students how frustrated she is about this and then we talk about what we might be reading in the article. This is when we're getting an idea about the topic of the article.

3. Students write a prediction in complete sentences. They have to use evidence from the title and their schema in order to make a reasonable prediction. It's important to read through these together to make sure they're making predictions based on the title and not necessarily the picture the Newsela staff pulled from a Google Image search haphazardly.

4. Read the article and annotate. Ahead of time, students have come up with annotation marks as a team and use those to mark up the text. I do this a million different ways depending on how comfortable the students are with Newsela, the process, and the Lexile level. Generally, we read slowly with students and myself contributing their thinking as we move through the text. I consider this the first reading. This is when we're getting an idea about the main idea of the article. While we're reading, we refer back to the predictions we made to determine how they match up and how they're different.

5. Students choose the five most important words - not the words they don't understand. Which words stand out as being the most important to understanding the gist. Anytime I do this, students have to give explanations about why they chose the words they did. They're going to have to use these words in the next step, so they really need to understand the words themselves AND how the words play a role in the article.

6. Students write a 25 word gist statement USING EACH OF THE FIVE IMPORTANT WORDS! 25 words. No more. No less. This is obviously how I determine whether or not students are really understanding the article, but it's also a great opportunity to fine tune writing skills and help students problem solve. Also it's hilarious to see how they go from pure confidence, to playful frustration, to exaltation when they get to their final summary.

7. The next step is the quiz. I use the quiz as some practice answering questions that aren't written by their teachers and can be a little confusing. It's not a grade. Here's the thing. I'm all for a challenging question, but there are times when I totally disagree with the "correct" answers. That works well for a discussion in our groups, but I think it's confusing for students and unfair to use as a grade. I'm more concerned that they made a valiant effort and took their time.

8. We're done with the article and it only took TWELVE HUNDRED HOURS! Just kidding! Kind of! It takes a while. That's at least the reality with my group of kids. But once we've done this a few times, they know what to expect and it goes a lot more smoothly. We might do a writing assignment or connect it with another text or do an extension activity depending on where it fits into the unit plan.


Click on the document to download the sheet FOR FREEEEEEEEE!

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