Back to School with Current Events

Last Updated August 27, 2020

The summer of 2020 was full of momentous events, including the murder of George Floyd and widespread Black Lives Matter protests, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty, and the US presidential election campaigns. Right now, reading or watching the news might fill you and your students with emotions ranging from hope for change to deep anxiety about our future. Throughout this school year, we will be creating current events resources to help you explore key issues in the news with your students, but we recommend beginning the school year with activities that can help you build relationships with your students, learn about their interests, and foster class community. Students are more likely to engage, take risks, and support each other if they feel a sense of trust and belonging with their classmates and teacher.

This Teaching Idea will help you review the events of the summer with your students, learn more about how they are processing the news, and discuss what current issues resonate most with them. We recommend using this Teaching Idea alongside the resources in our collection Back to School 2020: Building Community for Connection and Learning. You can also use our Current Events Teacher Checklist to help plan your current events lessons for the school year.

Note: What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Get student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

  1. What News Happened Over the Summer?

    In order to review the events of the last few months, brainstorm the main news stories that happened over the summer with your students using the Big Paper discussion strategy. Ask students to work together in small groups. At the center of the paper, students should write the question: What local, national, and global news happened over the summer? Around the question, they can write down notes about key stories and build on group members’ ideas by adding comments and questions. To give students more ideas about what they can write about, you can share our blog post Looking Back and Forward This Fall.

    Remote Learning Note: If you are teaching remotely, you can use the Big Paper (Remote Learning) strategy for this activity.

    Once students have finished writing on their own Big Papers, ask them to read the comments and questions on the other groups’ papers. Then, discuss with your students:

    • Are there any ideas or topics you saw that you still have questions about?
    • What new information or ideas did you learn during this activity?
  2. How Do You Feel about the Summer’s News?

    The news has been full of stories that provoke strong emotions, and it is important to give your students an opportunity to process their emotional responses. Ask your students to write down the following sentences and fill in the blanks with one word or phrase:

    1. One news story from the summer that I find troubling is _____.
    2. One news story from the summer that gives me hope is _____.

    Students can share their responses to each sentence using the Wraparound strategy. Ask them to take turns reading their short response to the first sentence, without providing any additional explanation. After students finish sharing, discuss:

    • What stories were shared the most?
    • What do you find troubling about these stories?

    Then, ask your students to share their response to the second sentence. After students finish sharing, discuss:

    • What stories were shared the most?
    • Why do these stories give you hope?
    • Were there any stories that were shared during both rounds? Why might students feel both troubled and hopeful about the same story?

    Remote Learning Note: If you are teaching remotely, you can either use the Wraparound (Remote Learning) strategy, or ask your students to write their responses in a word cloud.

  3. What Story Do You Want to Follow This Fall?

    For this activity, students can either work together in small groups or work individually. Ask them to choose one issue that they want to follow in the news this fall. For example, students might be interested in the presidential election, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the pandemic. Students should then write a reflection on the issue using Project Zero’s What? So What? Now What? thinking routine:

    1. What? What information do you know about this issue already?
    2. So What? Why does this issue matter to you? To your community? To the country or world?
    3. Now What? How will you learn more about this topic? Do you plan to take any actions around this issue?

    Students can present their reflection to the class, or submit them directly to you.

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