Current Events in the Elementary Classroom

During class discussion this past Tuesday, we talked about the negative and inaccurate portrayal of American Indians in children’s literature, both in writing and in illustration. It should be noted that Dr. Stohr provided us with an authentic connection between American Indian history and a current event occurring in Ukraine. Moreover, Dr. Stohr said (not in these exact words), regarding American Indians and colonists, “How would you feel or what would you do if someone tried taking something away that belonged to you? Then Dr. Stohr connected this question to the statement, “We’ve been seeing this happening to the people of Ukraine.”

Our class discussion regarding current events continued as Aiden mentioned the topic of immigration status in the media. Further, how do we address this with students who may be exposed to the images and videos of “migrant children in cages” at the United States southern border in an appropriate manner?

With the goal of creating a positive and welcoming classroom climate, teachers must provide a safe space for their students to ask questions about current events. How can we best support students who are might be affected or knows of a friend/family member that is directly affected by a current event? How can we effectively and appropriately connect current events to what we are teaching in the classroom? Which grade level, within the elementary school, do you believe teachers should start including current event topics into their teachings?

As I thought about these questions, I came across an article titled “Seven Ways to Bring Current Events into the Classroom” (link posted at the top of the post). This article provides examples of different ways to get students engaged in their learning, so they make connections between academics and what is happening in the world around them. Although most of the examples of learning opportunities involve secondary level students, there are links within the article that could be useful for primary school teachers. One resource mentioned is “Project Look Sharp,” which provides K-12 resources for building media literacy. Another resource, that focuses on positive human interactions, is the “Good News” page in the Huffington Post.

Did you find this article to be informative and helpful? Were there any Project-Based Learning experiences within this article that you might consider using in your classroom – and in which grade level would you provide these learning experiences? Are there other learning structures that you might use to introduce current events? Have you found any resources related to integrating current events into student learning within the elementary classroom? Have you come across resources that provided you with insightful information on what to avoid when introducing current events into the classroom?

I look forward to reading your comments!

5 thoughts on “Current Events in the Elementary Classroom

  1. What a timely post, Morgan! Thanks for the link you shared. I especially enjoyed the lesson plan tips for teaching Orwell and Harper Lee.

    I think it’s never too early to begin teaching current events in the classroom. Kindergarteners understand quite a bit about the news, and I often find myself fielding questions from my daughter about stories she’s overheard on the radio, dinner conversation she doesn’t quite understand, or campaign signs we drive past. There are tons of good children’s books that can help with these kinds of conversations both in and out of the classroom. I just ordered this one:

    The book is about human migration and why some families have to move from one place to another. A book like this might easily be tied into a very basic conversation about what’s happening in the Ukraine or our current policies about borders.

  2. Morgan,
    I often consider the challenges we as teachers may face, including how to create a safe and supportive space for ALL students. We as teachers should connect current events to the classroom, and I think context-dependent current events can be incorporated at all grades (described in a different manner depending on age).

    In this class, we have learned about the value of project-based learning, and project-based learning can certainly incorporate current events. Many of this article’s specific examples are for middle/high schoolers, but I plan to execute further research on current event related project-based learning.

    Regarding resources from this article that I find useful, a great example of relevant and appropriate current events for elementary schoolers is a discussion about modern archaeology when discussing ancient world history. Additionally, I plan to further explore Project Look Sharp, which has resources/lessons for teachers. Specifically, for elementary grades, they seem to focus on media literacy. As we explore our current events via media, this is certainly relevant for all students.

    As the article mentions, I also think it is important that we do not avoid controversial topics. I have mentioned this before, but Harvey’s Raising White Kids: Bringing Up children in a Racially Unjust America gives great tips for having difficult but important discussions with children of all ages.

    Newsela is certainly a resource children can use in the classroom although I personally have mixed feelings about the usefulness of their site generated quizzes. Newsela is nice because children can read articles directly, and students using Newsela can alter their passages based on reading level. Sometimes we as teachers are intimidated by time restraints, so I also like the idea of finding small periods of time to incorporate current events. We can discuss them without taking up an entire lesson period.

    Lastly, the article discusses the importance of multiple perspectives, which are essential for teaching history. Outside of class, I have not encountered many resources regarding classroom current events, and I certainly look forward to further exploration.

  3. Morgan, you bring up a really interesting topic for discussion. With teachers spending so much time with students on a daily basis, school really is such a unique place and space for exploration and growth. Educators have to be extra careful with what is being brought into the classroom for discussion with regard to current events. Separating fact from opinion (and bias) is also a major requirement and sometimes current events can challenge that expectation even for the best and most respectful teachers.

    What I have noticed subbing in the elementary classrooms is the desire for some of the kids to talk and share and repeat what they’ve heard from home and then talk some more!! The teacher has to be extremely skilled in curbing and curtailing the discussion, keeping the children on task or topic. I think introducing current events to the very young students is something that should be done with great care. As in all other aspects of education, we, as educators, don’t know what, if anything, is being discussed at home. What my childrens’ school has done on numerous occasions is two fold. They involve the counselor as well as send a letter home to the parents for bigger, more serious topics. When a horrific event takes place and is in the news (such as a school shooting), some kids are being exposed to the news at home while others are not. Involving the counselor and sending a note home to the parents are key moves in making sure the information shared in the classroom is communicated to the parents and is somewhat universal among classes.

    An idea of how to bring current events into the classroom while curtailing the discussion aspect could be the use of journals. In a local upper middle grade classroom, the World History teacher collaborated with the English teacher to incorporate current events into the classroom. The children were required to write on a weekly basis about one current event in the news. The facts needed to be highlighted for the World History teacher while the English teacher required an opinion to be expressed in writing in the journal on that same topic. Only the teachers would be privy to the information.

    On a daily basis, weaving current events into the classroom is a great idea as long as it’s done with care. Any time a teacher can make a connection from curricular content to daily life is really important in solidifying understanding. “As young children grow and develop, they learn to make connections in order to understand and master their worlds. We continue to make these connections all the way into adulthood, and these connections are what allow us to understand and be successful in the world we live in.” While the article this quote is taken from is discussing connections in general, children find comfort in making connections which leads to greater understanding and discussion. -Erika

  4. Morgan,

    Thank you for your post. It truly spoke to me and got me thinking because I actually had an experience with subbing this past week that relates to this. I was subbing in a kindergarten class (keep that in mind as you keep reading) and while we were outside for recess, an Army helicopter was flying over with very visible rockets on each side. One of my students started screaming that the bad guys were here now and they were going to kill us. “Russia is here! They’re coming to kill us now!” After he said that, a lot of my students knew exactly what he was talking about and how there was going to be world war 3 and they were scared. I had no idea how to handle the situation other than to tell the screaming student that everything was okay and that was our helicopter just flying over protecting us. These students are 5 and yet know so much about what is happening in the world which is why I think it is so important that we educate ourselves on world happenings and how we are going to have those talks when they come up. I do think that students should know about world happenings that are as important as what is happening in Ukraine right now. There are ways to effectively do that and I plan on it with my hopefully older students.


  5. Hey Morgan!

    Thank you for your blog post. One of the things that comes up every so often is the importance of relating content in the class to outside-of-the-classroom life, and what better way to do that than bringing current events into the curriculum. However, we are also challenged by the conundrum of what is appropriate to teach and, if appropriate to teach, to which grade certain material is appropriate to teach. So, when teaching material and making sure that it is appropriate, we try to filter the explicitly age-inappropriate content. But then that also means we need to be careful with our little friend named “bias.”

    I want to mention one thing that we also need to think about and that is the fact there may be families who are doing what we are trying to – teaching their kids at home about what is going on currently. Families will have all different types of attitudes in what news they teach their children and how they teach it. It would be important to generally and informally assess what students know and make sure that it aligns with the true story and its many perspectives.

    In addition to teaching the standard curriculum to our students, we, as educators, should also learn and inform ourselves in current events because they also have a big affect on students in a multiplicity of ways, mentally, socially, emotionally, etc. I have friends who are friends with or are related to someone deeply affected by what is going on in the Ukraine right now.

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