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Newspapers Are Models for Composition

For the 28 years that I taught senior composition, the assigned textbooks rarely helped students learn. That's why I decided to use newspapers as models. The positive change I saw then is confirmed by other schools today ("Use the news to teach reading comprehension," District Administration, May 10).

The trouble with textbooks is that they contain dated material few students are able to relate to.  Newspapers, however, offer just the opposite.  The best models are editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor.  They reflect opinions on events that almost all students feel strongly about, one way or another.  As a result, they can be analyzed  using various criteria.

I learned that technique when I was working on my M.S. from the UCLA Graduate Department of Journalism.  There were no textbooks.  Instead, professors assigned topics in the news and non-fiction books on a variety of subjects.  We then discussed how the writers presented their ideas.  One of the books that I vividly remember was A Treasury Of Great Reporting (Simon and Schuster, 1949).  Although some of the early entries were dated, the more recent had relevance to timely events. 

I realize that composition classes in high school are designed to develop the ability of students to express themselves in more than expository forms.  But since the Common Core places heavy weight on non-fiction, I maintain that newspapers can be a valuable resource for teachers.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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