Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.4, 471-478
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 471
The Use of Newspapers for L2 Reading: Practical Activities
Gloria Luque-Agulló, Lucas González-Fernández
Department of English Filology, Faculty of Humanities and Education Sciences, University of Jaén, Jaén, Spain
Received January 27th, 2012; revised February 30th, 2012; accepted March 15th, 2012
Nowadays the acquisition of literacy skills in the foreign language is a highly demanding task cognitively
speaking. To improve this learning process, this paper presents a three-fold approach using print and vir-
tual newspapers: first, a brief theoretical revision of the issues involved in learning how to read in a for-
eign language or transfer L1 reading skills to the foreign language, second, a wide selection of activities
to be used when working with newspapers, and third, two sessions that exploit newspapers in the class-
room which can constitute part of a wider lesson plan for Students preparing the English test for the Uni-
versity Entrance Exam (2nd of Bachillerato in the Spanish Educative System).
Keywords: Literacy Skills; Newspapers; Second Language Learning; Spain
Reading Processes and Theories: Learning
to Read an L2
Like learning how to speak, the acquisition of reading is a
very complex process. Historically speaking, reading systems
have progressed from concrete and simple schemes to highly
abstract procedures, cognitively more demanding. The first
known reading system used pictograms in the form of small
drawings representing objects or concepts. Then, Chinese ideo-
grams, also in the form of pictures, symbolized ideas or objects,
but not concrete words. The following type of writing, logo-
grams, was more abstract, for instance, Egyptian hierograms,
which had an equivalence with words and sounds. Nowadays,
syllabic systems like the Japanese Kana represent syllables,
whereas alphabetic systems like English or Spanish represent
phonemes. As can be seen, there has been a progression to-
wards more abstract and cognitively demanding reading and
writing systems. The development of literacy skills is, in most
developed countries, universal, and it has been suggested (Wolf,
Vellutino, & Gleason, 1999) that this process is parallel to the
cognitive and cultural development of human beings: from
more simple ways of knowledge, thought—and literacy—to
more complex systems. Thus, nowadays, learning to read in-
volves highly challenging phonological, visual and memoriza-
tion skills.
Some of the tasks involved in acquiring the literacy skills in-
clude being able to discriminate between graphemes, (cat vs.
pat), their order (pat vs. tap), the size of words, types of print
and style. To carry out these tasks learners have to use a num-
ber of strategies:
Storing rules about the order of appearance of graphemes;
Storing rules to order graphemes within words;
Storing representations of redundant combinations of gra-
phemes with invariant orthography and pronunciation;
Discriminating between visually similar words;
Storing as units combinations of morphophonemic units
smaller than words, and
Identifying new words t hrough the re-combination of known
Besides these visual strategies, reading involves knowledge
of the phonological, semantic and syntactic codes, their rules,
and last but not least, abilities in the motor systems so that the
learner can articulate (produce) the concepts formulated. Part of
this knowledge is already established in the case of learning a
second/foreign language when learners are beyond 6 or 7 years
and, according to some theories, (Kong, 2006; Stevenson,
Schoonen, & de Glopper, 2007) it can be transferred and used
for L2 reading.
However, alphabetic systems can represent phonemes and
sounds in a direct way, as in Spanish or Italian, with shallow
orthographies, or the relationship might not be direct, as in
English, with a deep orthography. When this relationship be-
tween orthography and pronunciation is not transparent, cogni-
tive demands are higher, as there is a mismatch between the
oral representation and its written form. Thus, a Spanish learner
will be able to use his/her reading skills for learning English,
but he will have to learn to compensate for the lack of corre-
spondence between the two systems: orthography and phono-
logy (Wolf, Vellutino, & Gleason, 1999).
L2 Reading Models
A lot has been written about L1 learning literacy skills (i.e.
Arroyo, 1998). Much of that knowledge has been used to ex-
plain the same process for the L2. In general, there are two
groups of reading models depending on how the processes of
recognition and identification of written words are interpreted.
Learning to read can be considered as a top-down process or a
bottom-up one. Top-down reading is related to a global proce-
dure, easy for native speakers or advanced learners of a lan-
guage, whereas bottom-up reading is related to analytical de-
coding, and it is driven by a process that results in meaning and
proceeds from the units to the whole. Alderson (1984) states
that reading in a foreign language is possible even when the
knowledge of the language is lacking provided that the reader
makes usage of skills as guessing, anticipating information or
inferring. In contrast, bottom-up reading results much easier for
learners of a foreign language as it is a useful technique for
scanning tasks or intensive reading. Whereas top-down models
interpret reading as a process guided by the contextual informa-
tion, which helps the reader deduce the printed stimuli (textual
cues: grapho-phonic information, syntactic and semantic data),
bottom-up models assume that recognition is codified mainly
through using the text cues or printed words, but not the context.
This recognition is carried out in discrete stages, hierarchically
organized: first visual data are processed, then recognized and
finally interpreted (Wolf, Vellutino, & Berko, 1999).
Specifically in the case of L2, reading models also interpret
the reading process as a data-driven (bottom-up) and/or con-
ceptually driven (top-down) process. Bottom-up L2 reading
models (LaBerge & Sa muels, 197 4; Gough, 1985 ) consi der read-
ing as a part-to-whole processing of the text. Its advocates be-
lieve the readers need to identify letter features, then link these
features to recognize letters, combine letters to recognize spell-
ing patterns, link spelling patterns to recognize words, and then
proceed to sentence, paragraph and text-level processing. De-
chant (1991) claims that bottom-up models operate on texts
which are hierarchally organized—grapho-phonic, phonemic,
syllabic, morphemic, word, and sentence—and that readers first
process the smallest linguistic units to decipher the longest
units later.
The second group of models, top-down approaches, assume
that readers can understand a text selection without recognizing
some of the words by deducing the meaning through contextual
and grammatical cues, (Gove, 1983). More recent accounts
assume there is an interaction between top-down and bottom-up
models, and in fact teaching approaches focus on teaching us-
ing both data-driven and conceptually driven techniques (Mo-
hamad, 1999; Alderson, 2000).
Regardless of the approach, reading for meaning should be
the primary aim of reading, and the most important aspect of
reading is the amount of information obtained through reading,
particularly in the case of intermediate (A2-B11) and advanced
learners (B2 and beyond), such as those preparing for the Uni-
versity entrance exam in Spain 2.
Pedagogical Approaches to L2 Reading
In order to teach L2 reading two possibilities arise: one may
assume the learner is able to transfer his/her L1 literacy skills
(Goodman, Goodman, & Flores, 1979, in Kong, 2006). In that
case teaching should focus on data-driven processes, to notice
the differences in orthography, syntax, and so on, that is to say,
the learner main task is to decode units in order to acquire
meaning. On the other hand, if L1 literacy skills are only par-
tially transferred to the L2 (Kong, 2006), teaching should focus
on both bottom up and top down processes, to make learners
use the help of the context and their background knowledge.
Whatever the theory, learners read a language they may not
understand, so both processes have to be used.
Learning to read a second language in and outside the class-
room (Harmer, 1998) usually involves two types of reading,
intensive and extensive. On the one hand, extensive reading,
also referred to as “supplementary reading”, consists on reading
rapidly, this is what advanced learners of languages, teachers,
or native speakers use when reading a book, a magazine, or a
newspaper: attention is focused on the meaning of the text and
not on the language used. As background knowledge is used, it
is a conceptually-driven or top-down process. On the other
hand, intensive reading means that the readers take a text, read
it line by line, and examine it in depth using dictionaries or
grammar books, among others. They focus on the units to ex-
tract meaning, so this would be a bottom-up or data-driven
oriented process. To facilitate the development of reading skills,
both types of reading include a series of stages in which the
learner either focuses on the units or on the whole: pre-reading,
during-reading, and after-readin g (Arroyo, 1998; Harmer, 1998;
Mora, 2001; Wallace, 2001). These stages help learners and
readers reach a better understanding of the text, transfer L1
literacy skills and improve their L2 competence.
Pre-reading is good to activate schemas and background in-
formation, and it is closely related to top-down reading. The
main aim of the tasks before reading is to activate the topic and
world knowledge of the learner and promote reading strategies
like inference, hypothesis reformulation and use of context for
the global comprehension of the text.
After the pre-reading activities, while-reading exercises can
focus on the content and/or the use of language (Luque, 2011).
Tasks during reading, particularly language ones (see Section
4), are closely related to bottom-up strategies. The exploitation
of the text will depend on the abilities of the teacher. Several
readings of the text should be carried out to acquire the proper
skills. First reading in order to know what the topic is about,
second reading to look for details or specific information, and
third reading (in advanced levels) to analyze critically the text.
The main aim of these activities is to guide the reader through
the text. Different reading skills are implemented to automate
the reading process in the second or foreign language. In con-
clusion, the main goal of tasks before and during reading is to
develop the autonomous learning, so learners can pass from
intensive to extensive reading with longer and less graded texts
(see Hammer 1998 for more information about graded readers).
Finally, after-reading activities are aimed at developing the
meta-comprehension of the reading process, to improve the oral
and written production, and in general, the linguistic compe-
tence (Luque, 2011). Besides, Grabe and Stoller (2001) claim
tasks after reading mean understanding the main ideas of a text
(see Section 4).
Use of Newspapers for Second Language
Reading: A Typology of Activities
The use of the press for teaching an L2 is not new. However,
different teaching approaches have emphasized different as-
pects: the style, the language and its features, the communica-
tive possibilities of the genre… The relevance, interest, topic,
and varied information can turn newspapers into really moti-
vating aids for learners. Newspapers are valuable resources;
several editorials publish text books with comprehension texts,
either real or simulated, extracted from real newspapers. People
learn through reading, and reading about new things in one’s
interest subject, undoubtedly helps motivation (Sanderson,
2001). Their didactic use is wide and complex since the four
language skills, together with vocabulary and grammar, can be
developed and improved, aspects about the target society or
1Council of Europe (2006) Common European Framework of Reference for
Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR): http://www.coe. int/
2The University Entrance Exam in Spain includes a test for a second lan-
guage (English and French are the most frequent languages) which consists
of a text for reading with some comprehension questions, use of English/
French with vocabulary and grammar questions, and a written composition.
Its approximate level according to the CEFR is A2 or B1. This test is now
in the process of being adapted in order to measure oral competence, but
most Comm unit ies have not yet updated the exam.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
culture are learnt, and discussions may be motivated and trig-
The use of real newspapers as material for improving L2
reading has been so frequently used that it has become stereo-
typed and worn-out, overgeneralizing students’ interests, using
outdated pieces of news or texts which have not been adapted
to the students’ level of L2. After the extensive experience,
researchers (Allwright, 1981; Hill, 1990; Hobbs, 2001) have
determined some of the benefits and drawbacks of using the
press in the English as a foreign language (EFL) class. Many
teachers like the use of newspapers in the class because they are
very easy to access and are a great source of information for
lessons. Newspapers usually deal with more recent topics of
interest for learners than course-books. There are many kinds of
language in newspapers (stories, narrative, advertising, letters,
and reports, among others) and they help develop the aesthetic
competence, required by the Common European Framework of
Reference for Languages3, and which influences our perception
of the world.
Besides, most learners do not read just for developing their
reading fluency or incidental vocabulary acquisition, they are
more pragmatic in this sense: they tend to carry out extensive
reading. The use of authentic materials such as newspapers is
claimed to be a good resource for the design of activities related
to both types of reading process (top-down and bottom-up) at
different stages (Widdowson, 1990; Nuttall, 1996).
In addition to printed texts, which become obsolete rapidly,
nowadays we can also use a wide range of free online resources.
However, there are two possible drawbacks: first, some educa-
tion centres are not yet equipped as ICT centres, so teachers
will feel forced to adhere to their own traditional resources; and
secondly, some old professionals are not updated in the use of
new technologies so the introduction of Internet in their class-
room planning may constitute a hindrance. Besides, these vir-
tual materials are frequently transitory, which means that they
may suddenly disappear from the site where they were located.
Finally, one more disadvantage is how demanding and time-
consuming the use of printed or virtual newspapers could be for
the set curriculum and busy schedule of the mainstream class-
room education.
Following the pedagogical approach to L2 reading described
in Section 3, which includes top-down and bottom-up processes
and organizes the activities into pre, while, and after reading,
the following list can be implemented making use of pieces of
news as main learning resource.
A. Pre-reading activities (focus on top-down processes)
Activate prior knowledge about the topic of the piece of
Start a discussion about the topic to trigger interest and
Refresh vocabulary up in the mother and foreign language.
Use of the pictures appearing in the news to guess what
information will provide us.
Use of intuition answering true or false statements.
Answer according to your opinion a multiple choice answer
exercise and see if your expectations are fulfilled.
Use of the headline to predict the content of the news arti-
Write the sub-heading for the article using the main head-
line as referen ce.
Selection of a picture matching the headline of the piece of
news (if Internet connection is available) and discuss ex-
pectations and how information can vary depending on the
accompanying picture.
Compare two different pictures or drawings about the same
topic but dealing with different information to activate in-
formation and ease the comprehension of the text later.
Do a quiz game in pairs to activate the passive vocabulary
of the learner which will appear later in the text.
Use of the radio or video to introduce the topic with general
information and trigger a discussion in class.
B.1. While-reading activities for content (focus on top-down
and bottom-up processes)
Categorizing texts.
Check if your true or false statements of the pre reading
activities were correct or not.
Check if your expectations about the cont e nt were true.
Writing sentences using headline words cut from broad-
sheets or tabloids and jumbled.
Match different headlines with their correspondent piece of
Find factual information in introductory paragraphs to arti-
cles. Students should answer the wh-questions: who, what,
where, and when.
Match different parts of news times. Teac her should jumble
up all the headlines, photographs, captions and opening
paragraphs and give one item to each student. Each student
has to read or describe them aloud and find the other stu-
dents with matching photograph, headline or caption to
make a set.
Answer comprehension questions with restricted access to
the article. Making use of the overhead projector, the teach-
er will display a transparency of the news while the students
try to answer the questions they were passed before the be-
ginning of the exercise.
Insert missing paragraphs into the correct position.
Find common points shared by pairs of articles.
Find differences between two versions of the same story
using one tabloid and one broadsheet.
Reconstruct newspaper photographs captions. Students
should match photographs with their corresponding cap-
Illustrate a newspaper article with photographs after reading
through them. Photographs must follow the original order
of the story.
Find partners in the Meeting place section of the classifieds
ads in a newspaper. Read men and women ads carefully,
match them, and explain why.
Identify cultural differences in cartoons (objects, interior or
exterior scenes, people’s physical appearance, dress and
hairstyle, etc.).
Find one’s way around a newspaper. Each pair should write
one or two sentences indicating roughly where the story can
be found (Grundy, 1993; Sanderson, 2001).
B.2. While-reading activities for language (focus on bottom-
up processes)
Rewriting ambiguous headlines to make them clearer. Stu-
dents have to change some words in order to make head-
lines more understandable.
3Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning,
Teaching, Assessment (CEFR):
en.asp Predict missing words. Read an article chosen aloud but
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 473
stop in several places before a word. Make a clear gesture
to let the students call out their ideas.
Rank jobs from most popular to the least popular.
Rewrite strip cartoons as short narratives.
Identify linking features in text by a name in common, a
vocabulary item, or something thematic.
Identify “potted biography”—first or second paragraph
opening an article containing information about the person
in the article—in broadsheets and tabloids. Check what in-
formation learners receive about the people in the articles
and how the potted biographies could be expressed in a dif-
ferent way.
Reconstruct a short newspaper article manipulated where
grammatical words (e.g. a, the, in, to, is, was) are omitted,
grammatical changes to the ends of words (e.g.’s or s’ to
indicate possession, -r or -er to form the comparative of
certain adjectives) are omitted, and verb inflections (e.g. -s,
es-, -d, -ed, -ing) are deleted.
Rewrite negative articles about depressing, unhappy news
stories to make them positive.
Matching adjectives to large advertisements from newspa-
pers or magazines.
Learn vocabulary through personal association. Students
should take note of useful idioms, expressions or phrasal
verbs for them and should explain them in front of the class.
Reconstruct the ending of a newspaper article. After the
reading of the headline and the article, when reaching the
last sentence, try to make the students figure out the con-
clusion of the article. When ran out of ideas, write the con-
cluding sentence on the blackboard in jumbled order. Stu-
dents should put the words in order to discover how the ar-
ticle ends.
C.1. After-reading: Oral (focus on top-down processes)
Rewriting ambiguous headlines to make them clearer. Stu-
dents have to change some words in order to make head-
lines more understandable.
Predict missing words. Read an article chosen aloud but
stop in several places before a word. Make a clear gesture
to let the students call out their ideas.
Rank jobs from most popular to the least popular.
Rewrite strip cartoons as short narratives.
Identify linking features in text by a name in common, a
vocabulary item, or something thematic.
Identify “potted biogra phy”—first or second para graph open-
ing an article containing information about the person in the
article—in broadsheets and tabloids. Check what informa-
tion learners receive about the people in the articles and
how the potted biographies could be expressed in a dif-
ferent way.
Reconstruct a short newspaper article manipulated where
grammatical words (e.g. a, the, in, to, is, was) are omitted,
grammatical changes to the ends of words (e.g.’s or s’ to
indicate possession, -r or -er to form the comparative of
certain adjectives) are omitted, and verb inflections (e.g. -s,
es-, -d, -ed, -ing) are deleted.
Rewrite negative articles about depressing, unhappy news
stories to make them positive.
Matching adjectives to large advertisements from newspa-
pers or magazines.
Learn vocabulary through personal association. Students
should take note of useful idioms, expressions or phrasal
verbs for them and should explain them in front of the class.
Reconstruct the ending of a newspaper article. After the
reading of the headline and the article, when reaching the
last sentence, try to make the students figure out the con-
clusion of the article. When ran out of ideas, write the con-
cluding sentence on the blackboard in jumbled order. Stu-
dents should put the words in order to discover how the ar-
ticle ends.
C.2. After reading: Writing (focus on top-down and bottom
up processes)
Offer a brief resume of the article.
Invent stories and listening to them to decide which is true.
Each group should prepare a short oral summary of their
real article, previously given by the teacher. Once students
are ready, one group should tell the other their newspaper
headline and tell them three possible stories accompanying
them. The other group should decide which of them is true.
Understand information-packed sentences. Students should
make a list of all the facts an article contains in one long
Write suitable paragraph headings.
Shorten a long newspaper article to fifty words.
Write profiles of famous people. Spread out photographs
and each student should write two characteristics about the
character in the picture. Once all the students have written
something, they should read all the information provided
and write a short profile of the person.
Write the thoughts of people with unusual or interesting
expressions on their faces in photographs.
Dictate and miming horoscopes. In pairs, one student
should dictate his/her partner’s horoscope miming those
words underlined previously by the teacher.
Write a letter to a newspaper in small groups about a topic
of common interest.
Write different endings to dialogues in strip cartoons.
Exploitation of the Press in the Classroom: A
Brief Example
The press constitutes itself a magnificent resource of infor-
mation not just for the general acquisition of foreign cultural
notions but for the learning or improvement of a FL/L2, as it
was explained above. Taking into account the different reading
skills involved when reading complex texts, the main objective
of the following example is to show how one cross-curricular
topic as the environment can be exploited within a didactic unit
making use of the press and some of the activities recom-
mended in Section 4. These two sessions can be part of a whole
and more complex lesson plan designed for students with an
intermediate or upper-intermediate level of English (around B1).
According to the Spanish curriculum for non-compulsory Sec-
ondary Education, we could include this session, considering
the difficulty of the activities detailed below, within the first
course of Bachillerato. From a pedagogical point of view, the
next two sessions fulfil the nine basic competences established
by the Spanish Ministry of Education4.
Session 1
Warm up
Have a look at the pictures in Figure 1 and answer the fol-
4Spanish Royal Decree 1513/2006 for Primary Education and Royal Decree
1631/2006 for Secondary Education.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Figure 1.
Recycling containers.
lowing questions:
1) What can you see?
2) Are you familiar with their use?
3) What are they used for?
4) Are recycling containers in Spain as in England?
5) Do containers keep the same colours for paper, drink cans
and glass?
1) Before reading the passage, reflect on the following ques-
tions. Discuss them in groups of three or two.
a) Does your family recycle at home?
b) What type of products do you recycle?
c) If not, have you ever thought about recycling?
d) What containers can you find in your living area?
e) How would you feel if you had to pay every time you do
not recycle?
HOUSEHOLDERS who fail to separate rubbish for recy-
cling could face £50 fines.
They may also be given wheelie bins with LOCKS to stop
neighbours dumping trash to escape the levies.
But there will be cash incentives for those who abide by new
pay-as-you-throw schemes [...]
Some 27 per cent of household waste was recycled last year?
well up on 7.5 per cent in 2005-06.
Under a new Waste Strategy, Environment Secretary David
Miliband said he plans to boost the level with cash rewards.
But town halls must pay them, leading critics to believe they
will be offset by council tax rises. Mr Miliband said any au-
thority bringing in the scheme must offer effective ways to recy-
cle. Lockable wheelie bins and pre-paid sacks were among
options to stop waste being dumped in neighbours bins. Mr
Miliband also backed WEEKLY collections of food waste [... ]
He announced plans to cut plastic bag use by 25 per cent by the
end of 2008, and hopes to persuade supermarkets to scrap them.
He also revealed plans to help householders opt out of receiv-
ing junk mail. He said: We need not only to recycle and re-use
waste but to prevent it in the first place. Despite the progress
we have made, Englands waste performance still lags well
behind much of the rest of Europe. Other countries landfill far
less and recycle and recover energy from waste much more.
All countries face a challenge in reducing of waste? And it
is waste reduction which produces the greatest environmental
benefits.” [...] The Sun, 26/05/2007
2) Complete the information in Table 1. Please, underline
the answer in the t ext.
3) What do the following numbers refer to?
25, 50, 27, 7.5, 2008
4) Where would you find this passage? In…
a) An encyclopaedia b) a newspaper c) an advert
Complete Table 2:
Table 1.
Choose the right an swer and circle it.
Reducing h ousehold waste is one of the worst pra ctices
to benefit the environment. T F
Law-abiding cit izens will be required to pay for a fine. T F
Wheelie-bins and sacks may stop dumpi ng waste into
neighbours’ bins. T F
Town halls will have to compensate economically cash
rewards. T F
Supermark ets will be encouraged to r educe the amount
of waste. T F
England’s waste performance is going ahead the rest of
Europe. T F
Table 2.
Match these words and phrases to their defini t ions.
Sack Rubbish
Wheelie binGetting rid of large amounts of rubbish by bu r ying it,
or a place where rubbish is buried.
Junk mail A large ba g made of stro ng cloth, pap er or plastic, used
to store large amounts of something.
Landfill To throw away.
Dispose A container for rubbish which has wheels so that it can
be moved easily.
Trash To post, usually advertising products or services, which
is sent to people altho ugh they hav e not asked for it.
Speaking and writing
Write and discuss in pairs the reasons why people should or
not pay a fine for not recycling.
AGREEMENT POSITION: you will have to support recy-
cling and give all the necessary arguments for it. The main
argument is going to be the environmental problems. Your
composition has to prove that recycling really helps to preserve
our environment and the application of fines would be really
useful. DISAGREEMENT POSITION: there are a lot of people
who do not consider recycling to be so significant. Their main
arguments are the economical aspect of the process, there are
no resources close home for recycling like containers, and
having to pay for a fine would be an abuse. In your composition
on recycling you can exploit these arguments.
Note: a chart with useful language on agreeing and disagree-
ing should be available to students.
Session 2: WHA T IF…?
Warm up
Read the following headlines from different newspapers and
match them with the pictures in Figure 2:
What do you think the news is about in each headline? Why
such natural disasters happen? How would you react in such
situations? Does your country experience natural disasters? If
so, what kind and how often?
Tsunami strikes after Chile quake.
The Sun5
Haiti earthquake left 100,000 dead in 60 seconds
5Spanish after
+chile+ qu ake (Febr uary 27th, 2010)
C000+dead+in+60+seconds (January 14th, 2010)
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 475
Figure 2.
Natural disasters.
Houses damaged and power cut as tornado hits Stornoway
The Times7
Chile earthquake: Pacific nations brace for tsunami
Hurricane Katrina victims to sue oil companies over global
Spectacular sunsets, dirty cars... and a change in the weather:
Its all down to that volcano
1) Before reading reflect on the following questions and dis-
cuss them in class: Have you ever been a victim of a natural
disaster? What would you do in case of an earthquake in your
city? How would you feel after the catastrophe?
2) Read the declarations from some real victims of natural
disasters, can you identify the type of catastrophe?
I was lying in bed, I had been there for about an hour, and
the whole house shook, the whole house was moving,” Peter
The front of my chest of drawers fell out and my candles fell
on the floor and broke. I thought it was a ghost,” Mary de-
There was lots of lightning, and thunder, and rain. I can
remember one time, a big bolt of lightning hit nearby. There
was a huge flash, even bigger sound. The next morning, there
was a lot of branches, twigs, leaves, and puddles everywhere,”
Matthew stated.
I feel sick to my stomach and extremely worried and anx-
ious even when a storm hasnt reached my location yet. Just
knowing its out there scares me really bad. I feel physical ef-
fects as well as mental. I feel sick, I either cant eat, or am very
hungry, and I have a bit of trouble breathing,” little Liam ex-
The scene ashore was chaotic. All the hundreds of beach
umbrellas and chairs were gone. Everything on the beach was
being sucked out to sea,” Mao said.
1) How many types of natural disasters can you think of?
Rank them from the most frightening (1) to the least frightening
(4) in Table 3. You can add as many words as you already
know about natural disasters.
1) Have you ever watched a movie about natural disasters?
In this exercise, you are going to watch the trailer of the
Table 3.
Ranking of natura l disasters.
1 2 3 4
Volcanic Eruption
Other Phenomena: ...
American movie The day after tomorrow.11
2) Write a composition answering the following points:
a) What happens in this movie?
b) Where is this natural disaster happening?
c) What is the language used to communicate what it is oc-
curring to the rest of the world?
d) Can you describe the characters appearing in the scenes?
These two sessions are organized, (Kong, 2006), in the as-
sumption that L1 literacy skills have been already partially
transferred to the L2: students already know how to read and
write in the first language and have also transferred this
knowledge to the second language. In this way, students will be
able to concentrate on the differences between the two lan-
guages and cultures, as can be seen in questions such as “Are
recycling containers in Spain as in England?” (Session 1)
What do you think the news is about in each headline? Does
your country experience natural disasters?” (Session 2) and the
references to places in different parts of the world (Stornoway,
Chile, Haiti…) in the headline activity (Session 2). Pedagogi-
cally speaking this is an example of data-driven intensive read-
ing (Harmer, 1998) which aims at promoting reading skills
through the three steps mentioned in Section 3: pre-reading
activities, to activate background knowledge, during-reading
activities, focusing on the content, and after-reading, focusing
on written and oral production (Arroyo, 1998; Wallace, 2001;
Luque, 2011). Thus, we find photographs (Figure 1), personal
questions and pre-reading questions to activate knowledge in
Session 1. In Session 2 there is a set of headlines supported
with pictures (Figure 2) and several personal questions which
relate students’ knowledge to the topic of the reading. While
learners read, there are several questions students have to an-
swer. In Session 1 students will complete comprehension ques-
tions and true-false questions (Table 1) and then find specific
information concerning different numbers that appear in the
text (skimming and scanning skills). In Session 2, while reading,
students need to find a word that summarizes the general
meaning of each short paragraph. Both reading texts and com-
prehension questions (including true/false ones) will improve
7 m/sear ch?hl=en&q=Hou s es+damag ed +an d+p o wer+
cut+as+tornado+hits+ Stornoway (July 29th, 2009).
+Nations+brace+for+tsunami (February 27th, 2010).
9 m/search ? h l=en&q=Hu rr ican e+Katrin a+v ictims+to
+sue+oil+c ompanies+over+global +warming (March, 4th, 2010).
10 h l=en&q=S pectacu lar+su ns et%2C+d irty
o (April 16th, 2010). 11
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
students top-down, comprehension based skills (Alderson,
2000). After reading there are several activities that focus on
other skills and components, such as speaking (for and against:
Session 1), writing or listening (Session 2) and vocabulary
(Sessions 1 and 2: Tables 2 and 3). Besides learning and using
conceptually-driven processes, these follow-up activities will
help students improve their analytic, bottom-up skills while
getting familiarized with newspaper language and format (De-
chant, 1991).
These specific examples were created for Bachillerato stu-
dents in Spain in order to cater for two special educational aims
addressed in the Spanish official documents12: the first one
deals with transversal competences, that is to say, issues con-
cerning sexual and environmental education, equality, etc.
which have to be contemplated throughout Primary and Secon-
dary Education and which, according to these orientations, have
to be integrated in different subjects, such as language, mathe-
matics, history or sciences. The activities within these sessions
address environmental issues within the English classroom.
These Spanish official decrees have emphasized the acquisi-
tion of competences such as life-long learning or autonomous
learning. Both can be carried out by reading newspapers. Be-
sides, most virtual readings, essential for another competence,
the digital one, are in the second language. In addition, content
reading (such as the type found in magazines and newspapers),
in paper or virtual form, is essential for University students and
bilingual higher/secondary schools (Loranc-Paszylk, 2009), as
mentioned in such documents.
The second aim this type of newspaper-based sessions fulfil
relates to the University Entrance Exam for students finishing
Bachillerato, which includes an English (second language)
exam with four points out of a total of 10 devoted to reading
comprehension. Thus, promoting the reading ski ll is compl etely
justified. Again, this Entrance exam includes a vocabulary sec-
tion (one point) and a writing section (three points). Both issues,
vocabulary and writing, are considered in the two sessions
Going beyond Spain, a more general aim that supports the
use of newspapers in the classroom concerns the role of lan-
guage learning in Europe. According to the Common European
Framework for language (CEFR, for short), learners “... Can
scan quickly through long and complex texts, locating relevant
details. Can scan longer texts in order to locate desired infor-
mation, and gather information from different parts of a text, or
from different texts in order to fulfill a specific task (Council
of Europe13: 2006).
Concerning learning tasks, reading newspapers is mentioned
as a useful resource in the CEFR (Council of Europe, 2006:
“In general, how are learners expected to learn a second or
foreign language (L2)? Is it in one or more of the following
1) By direct exposure to authentic use of language in L2 in
one or more of the following ways:
Face to face with native speaker(s);
Listening to radio, recordings, etc.;
Watching and listening to TV , video, etc.;
Reading unmodified, ungraded, authentic written texts (news-
papers, magazines15, stories, novels, public signs and no-
tices, etc.)”.
In addition, for the B2 level, the CEFR asserts that learners
“… Can quickly identify the content and relevance of news
items, articles and reports16 on a wide range of professional
topics, deciding whether closer study is worthwhile…” (Coun-
cil of Europe17, 2006).
The CEFR summarizes very well the need to use authentic
materials in the form of newspapers and magazines, but there
are additional reasons for their use:
Reading improves subskills that promote further reading and
increase linguistic competence (Nuttall, 1996: p. 127). Further-
more, they are close to students’ interests and open up the pos-
sibility of learning about the culture of the second language
Reading increases implicit vocabulary knowledge (Pigada
and Schmitt, 2006) and recognition of grammatical patterns
(Chio, 2009) using a linguistic model which is up-to-date. Fur-
thermore, reading comprehension tasks constitute an average of
40% in university entrance exams, as mentioned in the discus-
sion (Bueno & Luque, 2011).
As a conclusion, the use of newspapers in the classroom
should not be forgotten or believed to be out-dated.
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