Teachers (and parents) have been using newspapers as a teaching tool for years. Even young children, just learning to recognizing letters, can circle all the A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. when they find them in an article or ad. And of course, all older children have learned about current events through newspapers.
But one of the most enjoyable activities for using newspapers (for me) has been to find pictures to use as writing prompts—for the students and for myself! The student does indeed learn what has happened in the photo (current events), but he also has a visual aid to spark some creativity!
Although my favorite college course was a creative writing class, my middle school education content classes came in quite handy as well. In one particular course, my classmates and I were instructed on how to teach language arts to students in grades four through eight. However, I learned a little something from a certain activity that has helped me as a teacher—and as a writer too.
The instructor asked us to look through a current newspaper and find an intriguing or thought-provoking photograph within an article. Before reading the article and finding out the story behind the picture, we had to write a paragraph describing what we saw in our chosen photo.
The photo I picked was a color image of a house fire with firefighters trying to extinguish the flames. This was the kind of paragraph I wrote:
A house is on fire and the firefighters work diligently to extinguish the flames. Yellow, red, and orange flames devour the walls and burst forth through the windows. The firefighters pull long hoses and direct powerful streams. People stand around to observe the action. The homeowners hold each other and they watch. Horror and disbelief etch their faces.
Next, our instructor told us to eliminate all of the following words:
a, the, and, to, with, on, onto, is
Then we had to mark out words ending with –ly and –ing, as well as adjectives.
Here was the result:
Firefighters work, extinguish flames.
Flames devour walls, burst forth through windows.
Firefighters pull hoses, direct streams.
People stand around, observe action.
Homeowners hold each other.
Horror and disbelief etch their faces.
Obviously this is abstract writing, but the words left over tell the ‘bare bones’ story. I have chosen to call this technique an ‘elimination poem’ and it really gets down to the main idea and will cause the student to think about what is actually the important information—minus extraneous adverbs and adjectives. It’s a wonderful writing exercise!
Of course, another great idea is to simply use a photograph or article as a starting point for a fictional story or even an opinion piece. Ideas are everywhere, and newspapers are treasure troves of content and inspiration for all kinds of fun projects and assignments.
To read another post about using the news (this time to inspire writing ideas), check out my article at the Working Writer's Club website.