Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Digital Tools for Integrating Current Events and Non-fiction Reading

It wasn't so long ago that Time for Kids was the de-facto standard in delivering current events to students.  Times (pun intended) have changed! Time for Kids has expanded beyond the paper version to include multimedia content, but just as mainstream adult news has been revolutionized by technology, there are now many more options for bringing current events into classrooms. Two that stand out for the incredibly high quality of news content are Newsela and News-o-Matic. Both offer free versions and paid descriptions, and include teacher tools to support non-fiction reading instruction.

Newsela curates news stories from national news organizations such as the Associated Press and major city newspapers, and re-writes them for students, adapting the stories into five different forms, corresponding to five different Lexile reading levels. The articles are tagged by categories, and include related photos and a word count, Many of the articles are also translated into Spanish.  There is a premium version that offers more features, but even with the free version, the access to timely and appropriate news content, and the available teacher tools, is all pretty impressive. Teachers and students can search featured text sets by grade level and reading standards. Teachers can assign reading to students, who access the virtual classroom with a unique code.
Featured text sets can be searched by grade level and reading standard, and be marked as favorites. Each article even includes a brief comprehension quiz.  Wow!

Teachers can easily sign up for Newsela account and follow the basic steps to get started with a classroom account in the Quickstart Guide for Teachers.

Even more impressive is the awarding winning News-O-Matic.  Offered as an iOS app, and online at, News-O-Matic publishes five news stories every day covering US and international news, sports, arts, sciences, and more, all completely ad-free.  The "home" version of the app is free; the new education version is $9.99 ($4.99 through the volume purchase program).

Launched in June 2013 and geared for students in grades 2 up to early junior high school, the app interface is incredibly well designed, with high-quality graphics and easy navigation. Each news story includes a side bar with an interesting fact, author information, a highlight tool, videos, slideshows, and my favorite feature, "Go There," which launches a map highlighting the location of the news story, distance (measured in traditional and creative standards) and interesting facts.  Every story has an audio feature, read aloud by an actual human voice, and most are translated into Spanish, also with audio support.  According to the News-O-Matic folks I met at MassCUE, plans are underway to add French languages support.  The quality of the app and the paid subscription (which includes additional tools for classroom use) is so impressive, I had to ask them, "How do you do it?"  The answer: they haven't gotten much sleep.  No surprise...News-O-Matic is clearly the product of hard work and unbounded zeal for journalism.

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