BHP + Newsela = Love

Chris Scaturo, Big History Teacher
New Jersey, USA

“Hey, Mr. Scaturo, can I take some more quizzes?” I swear on my union-mandated, 28-minute, uninterrupted lunch break a student said that to me this morning. He wants to take more quizzes. He wants to read more articles. He likes using Newsela.

One of the beautiful things about the Big History Project is that the curriculum is only limited by your students’ imaginations as well as your own. Newsela allows your students’ worlds to be enriched and expanded. Together, the possibilities are endless.

What Is Newsela?

newsela-1
Newsela.com is a website that posts current newspaper articles in multiple reading levels. The articles cover a wide variety of topics (a typical day’s worth might cover the US presidential debate, coral reefs in Hawaii, hurricane Matthew, and elephants) from respected sources (Washington Post, The Guardian, and the Associated Press, to name a few).

Each article is available in four Lexile levels (much like the readings in Big History) that usually range in difficulty from third- to twelfth-grade reading levels. Each article also contains a quiz that (gasp!) my students enjoy taking. Seriously. There are other great features, including an option that allows students to annotate the article while they’re reading; articles in Spanish; a linking system with Google Classroom; and a wide variety of text sets for each unit of BHP.

The incredible resource, available to all, looks like this:

newsela-2

Why It’s Great!
I don’t know much about teaching (just ask the people I eat lunch with every day, they’ll tell you) but I do know if you give students options, let them choose a topic they care about, make the work challenging, meaningful, and set it at an appropriate level, they tend to be more engaged. I also know that designing 150-or-so lessons that does all that is hard. And, I know that Newsela does that stuff for me. They’re kind enough to:

…provide thousands of options:
Newsela adds at least three articles EVERY day to their library. The articles are organized by subtopic (science, law, money, sports, for example) and are easily searchable. A quick search for “turtles” produced this:

newsela-3

…make the quizzes useful:
We aren’t talking about the typical end-of-chapter textbook questions, here. These quizzes are thought-provoking and cover a wide range of Common Core State Standards for grades 3–12. My students enjoy the challenge of them. They’re hard, but they’re short and instantly scored.

…level the readings:
There is nothing worse than wanting to learn about something and not being able to understand it. Newsela takes reading material and moves it down the Lexile scale so that more readers can understand the information. Basically, the lower the Lexile number, the easier it is to read. Guess what—y students know that as well, and they use it!

…make it free:
Now, there is a pay-to-play version that adds additional assessment tools, but the basic (free) version provides a vast library of resources. It’s awesome. I promise.

Newsela + Big History = Love
This site is a perfect complement to BHP. Periodically, I ask students to find an article on Newsela somehow connected to the unit we’re currently studying. I suggest they read the article at least twice—once at a level where they feel comfortable and then again at a level higher or lower. I then ask them to claim-test it.

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One of my students who reads a few notches below grade level just completed an assignment on Proxima B, adapted from Scientific American. Another student who reads at a college freshman’s level read about the formation of Jupiter. They were then able—without help from me—to have a conversation about what planets would require to support life as we know it. Thanks, Newsela!

About the author: Chris has been teaching for 15 years; this is his fourth teaching Big History. He teaches the course as a semester-long elective to middle-schoolers in Allentown, New Jersey. Chris loves that Big History inspires his students to ask questions on a regular basis.

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