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Aliens Invaded My School!

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A South American witch doctor cures cancer by administering his own teeth to his patients. A dog with amazing radar-detection skills can locate his master's plane within a 50-mile radius. A car-accident victim revives in a morgue.

These are a few of the tabloid stories a language-arts teacher in Pullman, Wash., has used to help teach his 7th-grade students the elements of literature.

They may not be classics, admits Mike Riggs, but the tabloid stories hook the students' interest in reading and make them more receptive to more traditional reading assignments.

On "Tabloid Tuesday" in his two classes at Lincoln Middle School, Mr. Riggs chooses half a dozen articles from a tabloid, first screening the paper for "bizarre sex, drugs, or religion kinds of stories."

After breaking the class into groups, "a typical assignment is to read through the story and find one of the three elements of literature we are studying [setting, character, and plot], and then use it in a story of your own," Mr. Riggs explains.

Mr. Riggs says the stories also give the students an opportunity to identify themes in writing, such as the "people-captured-by-aliens theme," which served as an introduction to a novel he assigned, Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

The class also casts a critical eye on the stories and discusses whether they are exaggerated, are missing facts, or are outright lies. The students were so upset with one story that they thought exploited a boy with aids that they wrote letters to the tabloid editors, Mr. Riggs says.

Mr. Riggs says parents have supported the idea, and notes that popular authors, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, borrowed elements of the tabloid stories of their time.--wm

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