Media Literacy

Teaching Current Events in the Age of Social Media

Four tips for including the news in your curriculum while helping students cope with the abundance of negative stories.

November 29, 2017

With each click of the mouse or flip of the channel, our society is inundated with headlines focused on natural disasters, sexual harassment allegations, countries on the brink of war, and teen suicides. While none of this is anything new, the bombardment of these stories is unique to this generation of student. Social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and questionable media sources (or questionable reporting techniques) have become their own newsworthy headlines. As a result, life can appear dark, far darker than in pre–social media days.

As adults, we bring our prior knowledge of history and our optimism about humanity to help us process and filter this inundation. Our students, however, do not have hindsight to combat their feelings of helplessness. They are surrounded by unfiltered current events—a rapid fire of negativity that can leave them vulnerable and overly anxious. It’s no wonder that teen stress is on the rise.

Nevertheless, our students have to know about the world around them, and part of our job as educators is to prepare them for the realities of the world outside the classroom walls. It’s difficult, however, to walk this precarious high wire of responsibility knowing that we need to expose students to current events and yet still nurture them developmentally.

Teaching Current Events

So how can we create an honest counter story to the negativity out there without abandoning our responsibility to teach current events altogether? How can we help students see hope through the smog?

Some teachers decide not to tackle current events. But I argue that is a slippery slope toward an uneducated populace. Instead, I propose the following approach in the battle against an overabundance of negative news:

1. Utilize resources that differentiate informational reading levels. Look at resources like Newsela to filter news stories not by topic but by grade level, so that articles are suited to your students’ emotional stages. After all, just because a student is academically ready to read a higher level of text doesn’t mean they’re developmentally ready to do so. Newsela helps to adjust levels so stories are age-appropriate without shying away from particular topics.

2. Create an archive of resources that focus on more positive stories. Find sources that help students learn about human achievement and accomplishments. Start with Common Sense Media’s list of news sources for kids. Remember, however, that every site has articles that need to be vetted. Check out these sites for some possibilities for your students:

  • DailyGood: This is a great resource of straightforward pieces with an emphasis on the amazing and interesting. This site strives also to present news from diverse perspectives.
  • Yes! Magazine: The tagline for this magazine is “Powerful Ideas, Practical Actions.” It focuses on problems, yes, but also on how people are solving those problems.
  • Positive News: This site focuses on challenging stereotypes and sharing what people are doing to tackle the world’s challenges. It’s inspiring and easy to navigate. The menu breaks stories down by society, economics, science, environment, lifestyle, and perspective.

3. Help students read critically to tease apart the true from the questionable and the false. Every teacher should be taking this on, and hopefully your school or district has adopted a program to help teachers achieve this goal. However, there are resources out there to help individual teachers. From PBS to KQED, from Common Sense Media to The New York Times, there are many outlets out there to help teachers tackle this challenge.

4. Teach students the necessity of unplugging sometimes. And while we’re at it, teach students that unplugging is healthy for their hearts and heads. We all need to detach from the news feed sometimes. Unplug, recharge, and oxygenate your brain with exercise. Be transparent about what intelligent adults do (or try to do) to keep life in perspective.

We need our students to leave classrooms knowledgeable and critical but also hopeful. We have a responsibility to balance the horrors with the hopeful and the frightening with what is also festive. Help kids focus on the good that is immediately before them. Make your classroom one of positivity so that they have a place to go to feel that the state of the news is not necessarily the state of their own lives.

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  • Media Literacy
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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