Do You Know Which News Media to Trust? The American Press Institute Teams up With Newsela to Promote News Literacy


Unreliable. Inaccurate. Biased.

During election season, many people will give these descriptions to news media they disagree with.

Similarly, these flaws are easy to overlook in the sources you like or tend to agree with. What’s worse, however, is not thinking about these issues at all. Whether in election news or any other topic, it’s important to be aware of how the news is produced and how you perceive it.

At the American Press Institute (API), we put energy into helping news readers of any age understand and evaluate the news they encounter. In our work with youth and media, we generally recommend six basic questions that can be asked about the news you encounter:

1. Type: What kind of content is this — news, opinion, advertising or something else?
2. Source: Who and what are the sources cited, and why should I believe them?
3. Evidence: What’s the evidence and how was it vetted?
4. Interpretation: Is the main point of the piece backed up by the evidence?
5. Completeness: What’s missing?

6. Knowledge: Is there an issue here that I want to learn more about, and where can I do that?

We are excited to partner with Newsela to offer a way for teachers to begin some of these thoughtful media literacy discussions with their students. Newsela has created an election Text Set that focuses squarely on media literacy. Every article in the set uses some of API’s six questions as Annotations to encourage critical thinking — and teachers can use some, or all, of the six questions to guide classroom discussion.


In this example, asking about the sourcing can help students think critically about who is conveying the information. It likewise can lead to meaningful classroom conversation on how a source came to his or her conclusions, and what motivations he or she might have that could influence what they say.

Teachers can also access other media literacy tips by viewing Newsela’s media literacy toolkit. We’ll be holding a joint-webinar with Newsela on Tuesday, October 25, at 6 pm EDT, two weeks before the presidential election, to show teachers how to introduce these concepts in the classroom.

In the meantime, these same questions are further explained in an API resource, “Six questions that will tell you what media to trust” — which may be a good printout for your students. The questions are derived from the book “Blur: How To Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload” by API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach.

We can’t think of a better time to emphasize media literacy than election season. These resources ensure that any student, no matter his or her reading level, is equipped with the necessary tools to analyze the media and its messages. And once students are better able to evaluate media based on reliability and accuracy, they’ll be able to apply these skills beyond the classroom for years to come.

Katie Kutsko is the American Press Institute’s primary coordinator of youth news literacy programs. She can be reached at

Hello, new school year. Goodbye, textbooks.

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To our valued educators,

I’ve never begun a school year this optimistic. Here’s why.

The Age of the Textbook—a medium that eats up budgets, weighs down backpacks and leaves students bored and lost—is coming to an end. As schools nationwide say goodbye, millions of educators are going online to find The Next Way of delivering information.

Almost a million of you, along with eight million students, have turned to Newsela for content that in many ways is the opposite of static, dry textbooks: news. Thousands of articles, at five levels, and loads of tools to help your students engage with the written word and help you understand their progress.

But it’s not enough.

This fall, we are launching The Library. We’re taking the nonfiction that teachers already use the most, and we’re putting them online the Newsela way: primary source documents, biographies, speeches, historical news, and other seminal texts. All at five levels, all with quizzes, annotations, and open-ended questions. You can find all of these great works paired with news, because the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and the biography of Rosa Parks take on new meaning when they’re connected to current issues that hit home.

What’s also disappearing with the era of the textbook? Teachers not knowing whether their kids understand what they’re reading, or if they read it at all. Dave Crumbine, a friend and master ELA teacher at KIPP Academy in Houston, told me one of his greatest challenges in teaching is this: “Kids start reading, they don’t understand what they’re reading, but they keep on going anyway.” So many kids—even when comprehension isn’t there—just keep plugging along, either denying or not knowing that something’s the matter. And it happens in silence, slipping by teachers without a trace.

That’s another problem that Newsela set out to solve. And along with hundreds of thousands of committed educators like you, we’re making progress.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in your PRO Binder. It tells you what your students read, whether they understood it and how they’re doing over time so you can adjust your instruction. Welcome to daily formative assessments that you can use immediately to ensure that no student falls through the cracks. And keep an eye out for a raft of new PRO Binder tools we’ll be releasing later this year to make your daily formative assessments even more powerful.

Better, but still not enough.

A laptop for every student and teacher. That’s the goal. Schools of all stripes—wealthy and Title I, primary and secondary—are adopting technology not to replace what teachers do, but to help them do it better. Still, too many districts aren’t keeping pace, and their students are falling behind. If your district or school leaders haven’t shared plans for going 1-to-1, I urge you to ask them why. Let them know that you’ve seen the future, you know what you need, and it’s not another textbook.

We’re on the brink of something amazing happening in American education. I can feel it. I look forward to continuing on the journey with you.

Your colleague,

Matthew Gross

Newsela Founder and CEO

Advisory: Nice Terror Attack Coverage

To our valued educators,

Please be advised that we will be covering last week’s attack in Nice in today’s edition of Newsela, with possible follow-up stories as more information becomes available. Although it is summer and you may not have a classroom full of students tomorrow morning, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The story will not appear in Newsela Elementary.
    Click here to find out more about setting up Newsela Elementary classes, or have your students navigate directly to
  2. If your students do not use Newsela Elementary but you would still prefer the article to be hidden, you can use the Hide function in the top-right corner of the article.
  3. Be ready to talk to your students about the news. While you may not hear your students talking about it, it’s still likely they’ve been exposed to the news already, especially if they’re in middle or high school. We’ve put together some resources to help you talk to students about difficult breaking news topics, including this blog post.

Last Thursday’s attack is the latest in a seemingly endless series of tragic events over the last few months, and was France’s second major attack in less than a year. This time, innocent people were gathering to celebrate Bastille Day with their fellow French citizens and visitors from around the world. What was meant to be a night of festivity quickly turned into chaos when the suspect drove a truck through a crowd, killing more than 80 people. The whole world mourns with these victims and their families.

Due to the nature of this event, the article we publish may be too upsetting for some students and some classes. As I mentioned after Orlando and after the previous attacks in France, Newsela levels articles on these tragic events so that, should you choose to discuss these events in class, your students have access to the information they need in a language they understand.

Only you know what is appropriate for your students and classes. We continue to be in awe of the wonderful work our teachers do to create future leaders who are informed, thoughtful and kind. There are days when the news can seem painfully dark, but when we at Newsela look at our students, we’re reminded that the future is bright. Thank you.

Your colleague,


Matt Gross

Advisory: Orlando Mass Shooting Coverage

To our valued educators,

Please be advised that we are covering the mass shooting in Orlando in today’s edition of Newsela, with possible follow-up stories as more information becomes available. As you decide if and how to address this tragedy in your classes, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The story will not appear in Newsela Elementary.
    Click here to find out more about setting up Newsela Elementary classes, or have your students navigate directly to
  2. If your students are not using Newsela Elementary but you would still prefer the article to be hidden, you can use the Hide function in the top-right corner of the article.
  3. Be ready to talk to your students about the news. While you may not hear your students talking about it, it’s still likely they’ve been exposed to the news already, especially if they’re in middle or high school. We’ve put together some resources to help you talk to students about breaking news, including this blog post.

The attack is the worst mass shooting in American history, and it painfully echoes last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Both took place in cities that attract visitors from all over the world. Both involved victims who were spending a night on the town enjoying some music and entertainment. Such violence could not have been further from their minds.

Below are a few words I shared with teachers as we prepared to run the story on the Paris attacks last fall. I hope you find them helpful as you return to your classrooms and families tomorrow.

When a tragedy like this strikes, I struggle to find the best way to explain it to my three school-age children. In the coming days and weeks, I know they will be exposed to a flood of information and opinions as the story unfolds. It’s important to me that my kids have all the facts they need, appropriate to each of their ages and temperaments.

Only you can decide which kinds of information and discussions make sense for your classes. We cover tragedies like this to ensure that you and your students have the information they need in a language they understand, should you choose to take on these challenging issues in the classroom.

I’m grateful for your readership and stand by your side as you help your students process these horrible events. Perhaps we can inspire the next generation to be informed, thoughtful leaders who will work toward a more peaceful and just world for all.

Your colleague,

Matthew Gross

7 Strategies to Keep Readers Motivated This Summer

Teachers and parents alike know all about the loss of reading skills and habits that typically occurs over the summer vacation. We have all seen the research, read the blogs, or witnessed it firsthand with our children and students. The key to preventing it is to make sure our readers practice during the summer months. But how do we keep our kids motivated when the schedules are looser, the pool is calling, and the sunshine beckons them outside? Here are seven strategies to keep our readers motivated and reading all summer long.

Set a summer reading goal before summer vacation begins

Teachers can help students make and reach their summer reading goals by helping them set realistic goals. Help students build a summer reading list. Guide students in finding a new book or series, even a blog or comic to get hooked on, to read over the summer. When students select their reading material and read for enjoyment, the outcome is more positive and fulfilling for the student. Summer is the perfect time to catch up on the reading they didn’t have time for during the school year. Get families involved by sending home book recommendations, suggestions for encouraging reading at home as a family, and various reading programs that are available. Encourage parents to create incentives that will motivate their children to read every day

Check out your local library and bookstore

Your local library and bookstores have summer reading programs available free of charge. These programs vary based on the age of your student but almost always include some type of incentive to keep kids reading. In addition to the incentives, many libraries and bookstores offer drop-in programs related to reading. You may find book clubs, reading times, crafts, as well as online adventures. Check out your local library branch or community bookstore to see what they offer. Take advantage of the incentives and accountability they provide.

Keep it light and let them pick

Students may have an assigned book for the summer but otherwise, let them select the book titles. Student choice when reading is key to engagement. If they select their own books (within their appropriate reading range) students are much more likely to want to read. In addition to choice, all reading counts! Summer reading can be “lighter” content; this is the time it is OK to read that Captain Underpants book. The comics online or in the newspaper, magazine articles, recipes, sports commentary, even the back of the cereal box in the morning … it all counts as reading!

Join Camp Newsela

Newsela is offering a unique summer reading club free to all students. Educators at Newsela will be hosting seven different reading clubs that students can join. The clubs are based on high interest topics and will allow kids to read two assigned articles per week. As they read, students will complete the quiz that accompanies the article. There is a little competition involved to keep the kids motivated. The club that has the highest percentage of students who both completed at least 80% of the assigned articles as well as achieved a score of at least 2 out of 4 on the quizzes will have a special opportunity to give back to the educational community. The winning club will be offered the chance to vote on a project for the Newsela team to help fund.

Make it a social media adventure

Kids love selfies and social media. Harness that power and make your summer reading an adventure that you chronicle as a family. Take reading selfies and photos in all the fun spots you read this summer. Choose a form of social media to share them and create a family summer reading hashtag. Make it a goal to take a picture of reading daily. By the end of the summer, you will have an awesome collection of family photos highlighting all of the reading you did together. If you aren’t comfortable with social media, students can collect the photos and make a slideshow using a presentation app they know from school.

Host an online book club

Students are connected to technology every day and love to share their ideas. Why not keep it going in the summer by setting up an online book club? Use sites such as Padlet and Edmodo for students to share what books they are reading over the summer. Students can share their thoughts as they journey through a book, as well as make recommendations to other students. Teachers can keep it simple by creating an open forum where students can share about their individual books or get a little more involved by setting up groups with the same book. Online book clubs can help maintain momentum and provide positive accountability for summer reading. Want to make it even easier to stay connected? Have students share what they are reading by creating a class summer reading hashtag. Students can tweet out what they are reading with a reading selfie.   

Have a summer book swap

What’s a great way for students to try out a new book? Have a book swap before summer begins to get new books into your students’ hands. Whether your class holds a book swap or a school or grade-level book swap is organized, students will begin summer eager to read something new. This is also a good opportunity to get books in the hands of students who may not have many books at home. Be ready with books to give away in case all of your students are not able to bring in books to swap.

Trying any (or all) of these tips to keep your students reading, and engaged, this summer? Let us know: Tweet us at @newsela.

This guest post was written by Victoria Ruane and Christina Barilka, educators in Edison Township schools. 

Students Answer: What Does Beautiful Really Look Like?

It was early in the fall. As I distributed student portraits from picture day, I heard several of my 10-year-old students whispering things like “Eww, look at how shiny my forehead is”; “I hate my smile”; and “Ugh, I don’t like seeing my picture.” I was struck with a sadness that invaded my thoughts for weeks. How did society get to the point where even fifth-graders thought their value was based on appearance? How could I help change this?

I immediately started planning an original literacy unit for my ELA class based on the theme “What does beautiful look like?” I wanted students to read, reflect, and possibly be transformed by new thinking. I also wanted to make sure that I was teaching skills and concepts aligned with CCSS.

Using the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I planned instruction for analyzing overall structure and character perspective (RL.5.5 and RL.5.6, respectively).  I wanted to teach students to look at how ideas and concepts relate within and among texts and to “Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably”  (RI.5.3 and RI.5.9). This is where Newsela came in. We know that rather than teaching literacy skills in isolation, they are best taught through larger concepts, or themes. It was easy to find plenty of articles about people who confronted challenges and overcame hardship, people who have tried to make the world a better place, and people who are changing perceptions about what beauty looks like.

For this particular unit, students read and discussed several Newsela articles. Some of the articles came from the Text Set “Redefining Beauty Standards”. Some articles that students analyzed were: “Beautiful art blooms on ugly Afghan walls”, “Art student tries to help the homeless by redesigning their signs”, and “Opinion: Ignore the bullies and dare to be different, Jeremy Lin says. Students also read self-selected biographies, searching for stories of hardship and perseverance.

At the close of the unit, each student wrote an essay about how their thinking changed during the unit, and which texts contributed to their new thinking. They started off as simple essays of the five-paragraph variety. The introduction was to explain what they used to think beautiful looked like, and the conclusion was supposed to explain how they perceive beauty now. This is where things really started to get beautiful. “Mrs. Hoffman, can I add a paragraph about another book we read in class? The Last Stop on Market Street really changed my thinking, too.” “Mrs. Hoffman, may I write about more than one article?” “Mrs. Hoffman, can I add a paragraph about someone I know who has a story of hardship and perseverance?”

When the time came for me to read the essays of my fifth-graders, I was amazed. Each individual student articulated changes in his or her thinking about beauty. As I read, I could hear their voices, and was inspired to do something to pull their voices together. I decided to create a video compilation of the essays, in which each student shares a part of his or her own writing. One student wanted to be seen, but not heard, and two students wanted to be heard, but not seen. They figured out how to address this on their own. Students recorded each other and I edited it all into iMovie. Using only their words, their sentences, and their voices, this turned out to be a beautiful story of how their thinking has transformed.

Julie Hoffman is an ELA educator from Somonauk, Illinois. Follow her on Twitter at readeologist.

Current Events Jump from the Mundane to the Mesmerizing

Step into my classroom during our weekly Current Events segment, and you might see students standing in opposite corners debating whether or not colleges should base acceptance on kindness. You may find students using Play-Doh to sculpt their own ideas for testing the speed of snakes.  There might be even students using their sweatshirts and a marble to mimic a “closed time-like curve.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.29.53 PMI first implemented Current Events five years ago. Back then, it was a pretty lackluster undertaking. Students would choose an article, often cutting it out of our local newspaper, which offered stories about road repair and sports victories – hardly fodder for meaningful conversation. They would summarize the article to the class and then ask two “discussion” questions. The entire process left the class withdrawn and bored.

So what has caused the huge shift from detached reading to relevant interaction?

First, I found Newsela. Here is a website that is a powerhouse of articles that students are interested in, written in ways that they can understand. They’re no longer limited to what they can find in the small supply of print newspapers or what they can decode from the wordy adult “news” sites. Second, I created a system that has students using Bloom’s Taxonomy to create activities for the articles they choose. The process is relatively easy once you explain it to the students, and they absolutely love being able to play teacher.    

Students begin by choosing an article of their choice from the current quarter. They fill out a brief organizer explaining why they chose this specific article and how it connects to our lives. Next, the students plan six activities to lead the class in. The six activities correlate to Bloom’s Taxonomy and they allow our class to become engaged with the text on a much deeper level. When I first explain this to my kids, I do my own Current Event presentation modeling the process, and provide a list of possible suggestions for each level. Students always impress me with their creativity as they get more familiar with the activity.

A typical Current Events presentation lasts 45 minutes to an hour.  Sometimes we get through all of the activities, and sometimes I let students pick and choose a few of their favorites. Not only do the kids look forward to it and remember what they read, they’ve also started referring to the articles in other classes and choosing follow-up articles for their next presentation. Students often try to “trade” for an earlier presentation day because they are so excited about their article. It’s wonderful to see how the Current Events segment has been transformed from a mundane obligation to a noteworthy classroom event.

Erin Vanek is a gifted intervention specialist for Brunswick City Schools in Ohio where she teaches fifth through eighth grades. She is also the author of the blog, Creative Teacher’s Classroom.  To purchase her graphic organizers for your own Current Event, click here. Follow her on Twitter at CreativelyTeach.


Students as Changemakers: A Letter From Fifth Grade


I want to thank you for another opportunity to enrich our classrooms with your online news source. Last year the robotic hand offered a unique experience! This year, it was a celebration of “GAGA!”

Gaga ball

Soon after we read this article, the fifth-graders at Western Salisbury Elementary School got started with their plan, a plan to get a Gaga Pit! The students began by writing letters to decision- makers within the school district and the community. While one group of students crafted their invitations, the others planned and developed keynote presentations to be shown at the event.

On Jan. 26, our fifth-grade class unveiled their plan to purchase and build a Gaga Pit. Approval was almost immediate from the individuals attending the event. Each attendee received an edible Gaga Pit!


Fundraising was our next challenge. Several students applied for a grant from the Salisbury Education Foundation, an organization that helps fund school projects. We were granted half of the money necessary to build the pit. Our Building and Grounds team designed and built the game. The students were charged with raising the other funds to cover the cost of the building materials.



We designated a week to collect donations to cover the rest of the money for the pit. The students made commercials to be shown after the morning announcements. Two videos were selected from each classroom and played during the collection week. We successfully raised the extra funds.

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This is just another example of NEWSELA and the wonderful extension opportunities it brings to students!

– Chris Adams and Kathy DeBona and the fifth-graders at Western Salisbury Elementary in Allentown, Pennsylvania



Emojis, Chickens, Dinosaurs, and (April) Fools: Unintended, but Welcome, Outcomes


I was hoping they wouldn’t notice it.

You see, on April Fools’ Day, Newsela added a little rectangular button under the lowest reading level bar. Overly showy? No. Enough to induce curiosity in 12-year-olds who know their Newsela screens by heart? Absolutely.

We made it until fourth hour.

And then, a click and an “Oooooooooooohhhhh!” The next thing I knew, heads were popping up all over the classroom like deer in a forest who just heard a twig break. Three quarters of my class ran to the rebel’s computer screen. The brave student who made the first click announced, “It floods the article with emojis!” In perfect synchronicity, there was a mad dash back to laptops like velociraptors on a hunt.

Among the squeals of joy, one conscientious doubter, ready for me to put a kibosh on the fun, looked up at me woefully and said, “But Mrs. Sheets, you love emojis!”

It’s true. I do. I have a behavior management system that consists entirely of emoji stickers. But my mind flashed through the lesson I had ready, and had already completed with my first two classes. Since getting our PRO membership set up in December, we had finally gotten to the point where almost all students had read eight articles (the students only have my class every other day for 45 minutes, so this was no small feat) and we were ready to sift through our data. After writing down their performance percentage on each standard and graphing their quiz data, my students were ready to form small groups. They formed small groups based on their personal least successful standard on Newsela (or Next Level, as we call it in my classroom) and were taking screenshots of and paraphrasing the two quiz questions (from an article of their group’s choosing) that corresponded to their “Next Level” skill. Then, we used Google Classroom and Google Docs to turn in their work.

So, all of this planning was swirling in my head, but what I said out loud was, “OK, I gotta see this!” and I perched next to the student, plastering my face next to his screen so he had to move over a bit. I saw the article I had used earlier in class to model paraphrasing. The article was about how scientists are able to give chickens dinosaur legs (I’m completely obsessed with dinosaurs, but that’s for a whole different blog post … or Text Set).

Then, he started reading to me. Out loud. Without being asked. But, before I dive into what he sounded like as he read aloud, let’s think about what reading, unfortunately, often becomes.

I’m sure all of us teachers have had the experience where you know students’ eyes are moving over the words, but that’s just about all that’s happening. Kelly Cartwright discusses this at length in Word Callers (2010). Some traits of “word callers” are: less sensitivity to meaningful relations among words, difficulty inferring the meaning of unknown words in context, difficulty arranging words into sentences that make sense due to less knowledge of syntax, less likely to monitor understanding, and difficulty making connections between prior knowledge and the text. Cartwright also tells us that word callers struggle with flexible thinking – the ability to hold more than one idea in mind at a time. Word Callers contains entire chapters about how to increase students’ flexible thinking with laughter and pictures. Check and check. Emojis bring both of those to the table.

Reading like a “word caller” is like driving while immersed in thought. You get from point A to point B and go, “Wow, I don’t remember that part of the drive at all,” and yet, there you are. Sometimes I fear that this phenomenon of glossing over the words with our eyes, but not really using our minds, happens more often when reading is on the computer versus on paper. There is such a barrage of information online that we can become numb, and reading becomes more of a scanning process than anything else, just in order to figure out what deserves our full attention, and what does not.

As the student read to me, something glorious was happening. Here’s what the article looked like:


“Dinosaurs lived on … what is that thing? It looks like Epcot … oh! Earth … when there were sad families? Wait, no. Sad people? No. Dinosaurs didn’t live with people … maybe that face means no? No people? … They lived on land and in the whale — what? Oh. I think they mean ocean.”

The emojis interrupted his reading in the best way possible. He was forced to pause and interrogate his own understanding. He knew that the article probably had nothing to do with Disney based on the title and first sentences, so Epcot wouldn’t work. He had to think of something else. Perhaps he has been to Epcot and knows that the park is themed around different countries of the world. Perhaps he just fixated on the shape of the emoji, and used the word on to figure out that they were using the emoji in place of the word Earth, since “on Earth” is a common phrase. So, he had to think through his background knowledge to come up with another possible meaning for an emoji when his original guess didn’t fit the structure and syntax of the sentence.

This was an unprecedented level of audible, capture-able thinking, and independent checking of understanding, in my classroom. In teacher training, we are often told that we need to make thinking visible for students, and it’s very difficult to think through and teach all of the steps that one needs to use in order to, for example, find the main idea, in order to explicitly teach the skill. What I love about the emoji articles is that it forced students to verbalize their thought process to me in a truly spontaneous way. Those things that word callers tend not to do – the familiarity and lightheartedness of the emojis encouraged and helped bridge the gap.

He read on to the sentence that says “one dinosaur looked …” and got stuck. “One dinosaur happy a chicken? That makes no sense …” He knew he was stuck. He didn’t fast forward automatically and ignore that he was stuck. The emojis made the article have a sort of secret code that the kids felt they just had to crack. Many times, students aren’t able, or willing, to acknowledge when they are stuck and they just keep trucking, hoping for the best, or worst of all, not caring.

Then he said, “Is there an emoji dictionary translator? I’m going to Google it.” He was going to do research. Without. Being. Asked. He was not going to go on in the article without figuring out what the sentence meant.

My original lesson plan was about paraphrasing. In decoding the emojis, my student was activating some of the same processes that are needed in order to paraphrase. Before you can ever paraphrase, you absolutely have to understand the original. Also, the emojis were Newsela’s own way of paraphrasing parts of the article. I’m even wondering if having students replace words with emojis might be a fun and useful paraphrasing technique we can use in my classroom in the future.

In the end, I’m so glad that one of my students wasn’t a Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 3.56.15 PM and that he dared to click. Just like students sometimes fast-forward their reading without really settling into the meaning, we teachers can be guilty of fast-forwarding to just get through our lesson plans at all costs. On a Friday, April Fools’ Day, I too was reminded not to be a Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 3.56.15 PM when it comes to stopping, relaxing, listening to, and following my students. I wouldn’t want them to think I’m an old Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 4.00.27 PM, and not stopping to listen to them would’ve made me the fool. Even though this experience was not an intended outcome of my lesson plan, and maybe not even an intended outcome of the April Fools’ emoji button for Newsela, I am overjoyed that it happened.


Cartwright, K. B. (2010). Word callers: Small-group and one-to-one interventions for children who “read” but don’t comprehend. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann.

Shelley Sheets is a middle school educator from Omaha, NE and a Newsela Certified Educator. Find her on Twitter at SheetsLegitLit.

Choose to go to the moon


For nearly three years we’ve offered students a staircase to access topics of national and world significance that are otherwise out of reach. It thrills us when we hear from you telling us how your class discussed the refugee crisis in Europe or debated the use of encryption. Knowing that we’re feeding young brains with meaty issues to ponder is what gets us revved for Mondays. But we’re hungry to do more. So we asked ourselves, what other complex nonfiction is out of students’ reach?

We recently leveled biographies of the presidents. In doing so, we came across many famous quotes: “Ask not what your country can do for you…,” “The only thing we have to fear…,” “Four score and seven years ago….” We all know these words, but realized, to our surprise, we couldn’t really recall the full context in which they were uttered. So we went back and read the complete speeches. Goosebumps and watery eyes soon followed. That’s because great speeches don’t just inform and persuade. They evoke a physical reaction from their audience. But struggling or young readers may not be able to experience that sensation, because the writing, often intricate and archaic, is beyond their reading ability.

That students might miss the opportunity to experience the power of these words pained us. One hundred history textbooks combined cannot convey the inhumanity of slavery better than the 1,800 words of fury Frederick Douglass unleashed on an audience in Rochester, New York.

Listen to the address following the Challenger disaster, and you’ll never forget or wonder why Ronald Reagan was dubbed “the Great Communicator.”

That is why we dared to adapt these words, which many would deem sacred. We expect some will charge that we’ve given students an easy out to avoid the hard work of grappling with a complex text. We don’t see it that way. For us, the greater risk is that students never feel the full drama of these important moments in history. We want them to hear the original speeches and to absorb their meaning and appreciate the craft. Our intent is to help them “level up” to the point where they don’t just understand the words, but feel the goosebumps, too.

Some of the speeches in the collection (and those that follow) may seem very complex, and perhaps seem too hard for students to comprehend. Indeed, we had some doubts, but we drew encouragement from the words of President John F. Kennedy:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

So choose to go to the moon. Assign your students something challenging and great. The past is rich in truly stirring words. Let’s make sure all our students know what it sounds like when they hear history in the making.

Jennifer Coogan is Chief Content Officer at Newsela.