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5 Tips for discussing current affairs in the classroom

Whether it’s climate change, Trump, and Brexit, the war in Syria, or one of the other current plot lines of today, there’s always something in the media that will spark interest and spur debate among students.

Especially as every one of them now has access to a diverse range of media platforms — from extreme right to extreme left and everything in between — from their pockets. So, whatever the topic may be, it’s likely that every student will have an opinion about it. This curiosity about the world is what makes teaching current affairs in the classroom so important.

We want students to engage with communities and the wider environment, particularly when the topics in question will significantly affect them in their adult lives.
But we have to be careful. Fake news is a problem and students need to be wary of from which sources they get their information.

Get a handle on fake news and approach affairs in the right way, and not only will such lessons help students develop a wider perspective and critical thinking skills, but lead them to a healthier and more balanced relationship with the world around them. And let’s not forget, if you pick the right debate, you’re almost guaranteed a fiery and eventful afternoon in the classroom.

Here are four tips for encouraging engagement with real-world news and current affairs with your
students:

Make your first topic fake news

It’s hard to talk about current affairs in an honest way without addressing ‘fake news’. As fake news tends to sensationalise the truth in order to attract attention and cause disruption, it can act as a magnet for students.

Explaining fake news as a matter in itself is important to develop a solid base for their critical thinking skills. Remind students the importance of the source and explain how they can distinguish imposters from reliable, well-informed information.

Presentation and communication is key

Before tackling a complex topic, think about how you can explain it and present the facts in clear and simple language. Providing some background information helps add context and increase understanding, and using a narrative as a vehicle can greatly enhance learning and engagement.
With difficult and upsetting matters, offer a balanced perspective and make sure to inform students of what’s also going on to counter or resolve the situation, such as in the case of a terrorist attack or earthquake.

Organise discussion groups and debates

There’s nothing better than a good argument. Not only are they fun and entertaining, a well-structured argument develops valuable skills for the future such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration and negotiation.

Encourage discussion and debate groups by raising questions and topics which are directly relevant to their lives now, such as the recent question posed on This Week Junior’s Big Debate page, ‘Should schools police packed lunches?’. Explore reasons why people might agree and disagree with the topic, support new and challenging ideas, and put a focus on teamwork.

Find the balance with good news

It’s easy to get caught up in all the doom and gloom that dominate big media headlines. But away from the tabloids and mass media, there’s a ton of amazing things happening every day — scientific breakthroughs, innovations, progress in human rights, sports achievements, etc. And if you’re truly stuck for a topic to talk about, students are probably the best source of inspiring news and feel good stories (might want to fact check them first though).


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