Learning English can be tough. This is especially more so for students in rural schools because of several factors - lack of exposure to the language being one of them.
English textbooks used by teachers in the classroom may also not be up to date and contain examples that do not reflect real life situations for the students.
Sekolah Menengah Sains Rembau (Samesra) English teacher and senior assistant (co-curriculum) Hasni Bakar said: “A textbook is an important guide for teachers and students, but it is only one tool, and several years outdated by the time it gets into a student’s hands.”
Using local English newspapers such as the New Straits Times (NST) to teach English may be the answer to this problem, then.
Samesra subscribed to a total of 5,760 copies of NST in 2018 and also 2019.
Hasni said that the newspaper is a teaching aid which has current content.
“The newspaper has the ability to increase a student’s vocabulary, reading skills and knowledge on various matters besides keeping the students up-to-date with the current happenings around them.
“They also offer the opportunity to link classroom activities to the real world, thus creating a meaningful learning process for students,” she added.
An example is when she used the NST in order to teach her students how to apply for jobs.
“Students were asked to look at jobs advertised in the NST and choose one that they would like to apply for. After that, they discussed the skills needed to apply for the job, either in pairs or in groups, and wrote down their findings,” Hasni explained.
She said that the lesson may be extended later with a follow-up activity on resume writing or a job interview roleplay.
An activity that focused on reading and writing that Hasni used with the newspaper is summarising news articles.
“This activity is done in pairs,” she explained.
“Students first read the newspaper and choose an article which is of interest to them. Then, they summarise the article and present their work in the classroom.
“Students also list down difficult vocabulary or phrases that they come across in the article, and discuss them with friends.”
“Another reading activity is matching headlines to its respective stories,” said Hasni.
She said that for this activity, she would usually write the headlines on the board or read them out loud. Her students had to then guess what the story was all about before she revealed the real content.
“It can be quite fun,” remarked Hasni, “especially when the students find out how different the actual article is compared to their earlier predictions.”
“This way, students develop good reading skills such as skimming and scanning important points from a newspaper article,” Hasni revealed.
“Using newspapers have also helped them improve in sentence construction. They can now form more complex sentences instead of using only simple and compound sentences in their writing assignments,” she added.
Samesra students also used the newspaper as a reliable source of information for their class presentation on various topics such as entertainment, pollution, health and sports.
“The beauty of the newspaper is that it contains different sections in each publication. This helps to cater to different interests and teachers’ needs depending on the task or activities planned,” Hasni continued.
“I also derived some ideas online on how to incorporate the use of newspapers in my lessons. The students love it because the activities are fun and interesting.
“Besides its availability, using newspapers is a cost-effective approach for schools,” she explained further.
According to Hasni, her students have shown tremendous improvement in their English language exams.
“In the 2017 SPM, 69 students scored A in English and the number rose to 95 in 2018.
Meanwhile, in the 2017 PT3 written examination, 44 students scored A, and the number increased to 75 in 2018,” she added.
Samesra principal Datin Zainah Ahmad Sisman said: We hope to increase the usage of newspapers in class or during lessons.”
Zainah added that this is a good way to vary the activities in the classroom. The school will continue doing so in the future in the PdPc (teaching and facilitating) approach in the classroom.