Newspapers offer rich examples of complex text, and they often have features to help readers understand and put it into context. They offer headlines to scan for main ideas, dates for context, descriptions of related events, often on adjacent columns, and visual clues such as drawings, political cartoons, or photographs. Comparing two newspapers’ accounts of an event can help students understand point of view and word choice.
Chronicling America offers digitized historical newspaper pages from 1836-1922, including a time-saving list of Recommended Topics. In this election season, I was drawn to the pages about presidential elections. Here are a few particulars that caught my attention, with teaching ideas that came to mind. Please add your own ideas in the comments.
This front page from the St. Paul Daily Globe features a deceptively simple political cartoon, with spare drawings, a brief caption, and many labels. Digging into exactly what it means is not a simple task, though. As with all political cartoons, interpreting it requires an understanding of events from the time. Fortunately, the newspaper page itself offers some clues to help interpret and understand the cartoon. Scanning the headlines and other cartoons on the page offers some clues, including terms and dates to use when searching more information. To extend their thinking, students might compare the issues presented on the newspaper page with issues in current or recent elections.
Help students understand point of view by comparing the visual representation of McKinley from the Houston Daily Post to the one from the San Francisco Call. Which newspaper supports him? Which opposes? What details in the images indicate the newspaper’s perspective? Read the “About” essay for each newspaper for more information.
Most students are familiar with the two main political parties, but fewer will have given much thought to other parties, let alone to other parties from past eras. This page from The Washington Times offers one perspective on Theodore Roosevelt and the creation of the Bull Moose Party. Compare headlines and articles from The Washington Herald and the Medford Mail Tribune for additional perspectives and details about the newly formed party.
What strategies do you suggest for using newspapers/teaching students how to read complex text using newspapers?