When Margueya Poupko, an English teacher at Bruriah High School in Elizabeth, N.J., saw that her students lacked interest in their assigned novels, she started using New York Times human-interest stories to teach students to write critical analyses of issues and letters to the editor.
Students annotated the articles and used them as models for their own writing. Poupko, who wrote about the project on the Times’ Learning blog, also asked them to bring in their own articles and “teach” a class.
She says her students no longer gave her blank stares when she asked them to share their opinions. And when she returned to the assigned novels, they became livelier and more interested in participating.
I ignored the dusty tomes my students were refusing to read ... The same young people who wanted nothing to do with Hester Prynne or Nick Carraway suddenly had no end of thoughtful and intelligent things to say about the role that social media plays in our lives and how dependent we have become on technology. Suddenly looking at Thoreau made more sense."
For teachers interested in the approach, Poupko recommends articles from the Times that will inspire debate, such as Most Popular articles, Student Opinion, 6 Q’s About the News, or Teenagers in The Times.
Poupko says the project helped students gain a new sense of engagement in learning.
They felt proud to be reading such a prominent and sophisticated paper, and they loved coming to class because it became an opportunity to form and share their ideas and views, something teenagers can't get enough of—and something canonical works won't necessarily inspire in quite the same way."
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.