Some years ago I was asked to teach English to a senior business executive who told me he wanted to improve his listening ability. Although his spoken English was already excellent, he was having trouble understanding what was being said during meetings at his LA-based subsidiary. For a time I used a (not entirely useless) textbook, but after a while I switched to making my own materials. Essentially I choose a news article, created a vocabulary list and set of comprehension exercises, discussion questions, and recorded an mp3 that the exec could practice listening to in his spare time. We would read and listen to the article, discuss the topic and complete the exercises. Nothing revolutionary, and probably no different than countless classes taught by teachers around the globe.
But I’ve got to tell you… while producing those materials was a good experience overall, and the exec did seem to like the class, the whole thing was real time consuming (tens if not hundreds of hours) and I ended up never using those materials again.
Then a few weeks ago I discovered Breaking News English, a site which provides exactly what I had needed way back then, crafted to a much higher quality than I ever could, and it’s all FREE.
I wanted to kick myself.
Every other day a new lesson is uploaded featuring a news article covering anything from the new Samsung watch to…well… police arresting coconuts. Teachers can then download a PDF file with the article and pages and pages of exercises, discussion questions and writing assignments. Click here to check one out. There’s everything you really need, not to mention downloadable mp3s of the text being read out in both British and American accents, as well as several online activities worth a try.
The creator of Breaking News English is Sean Banville, a British national and permanent resident of Japan who has taught and studied in Thailand, Turkey, the UAE and Japan. Sean was kind of enough to answer many of my questions about his great site by email, many of which I have included here:
ESL Review: How do you go about choosing topics for your lessons?
Sean Banville: I search for topics I think will interest students and that I would like to use in class. I don’t look for specific topics – one usually jumps out as the obvious topic for a lesson. I keep an eye out for more controversial news that teachers might not be able to find materials for.
ESL Review: Do you test your material with students?
Sean Banville: I’ve tested all of the activity types with my students. They have given me ideas for other activities which have been incorporated on my site.
ESL Review: How did you develop the current lesson format?
Sean Banville: It just developed over time. My first lessons in 2004 were less than ten pages long. As the years went by I simply added activities I thought might be useful, leading to my present 26-page lesson and the 40+ online activities.
ESL Review: What tips would you give to those trying to use your materials in class?
Sean Banville: To teachers – Let students pick and choose the activities they want to do. All students are different. Some students love jumbles, others don’t. Some want to practise listening, others writing, etc. There is enough variety on the site to please most students (I think). To students – Try a variety of activities. The same vocabulary is recycled many times to give you lots of practice.
ESL Review: Do you have any suggestions for people who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Sean Banville: If you think you have a good idea, go for it. Be prepared for many knocks along the way. It takes a long, long time to get your site known (at least in my case).
Sean has also assured me that he is not considering a pay wall, which should come as a relief to teachers such as myself who are only now discovering his great work. For a more detailed breakdown of the worksheets, a look at the table of contents for a typical lesson will give you an idea of what exercises are available:
- The Article
- Before Reading / Listening
- While Reading / Listening
- Match The Sentences And Listen
- Listening Gap Fill
- Comprehension Questions
- Multiple Choice – Quiz
- Role Play
- After Reading / Listening
- Student Survey
- Discussion (20 Questions)
- The Article 2 Discussion (Student-Created Qs)
- Put The Text Back Together
- Put The Words In The Right Order
- Circle The Correct Word
- Insert The Vowels (a, e, i, o, u)
- Punctuate The Text And Add Capitals
- Where The Spaces Are
- Free Writing
- Academic Writing
There really is something for everyone.
In addition to his blog, Sean Banville has eight other great sites that I will be reviewing in the weeks ahead:
- Listen a Minute – Short Listenings and Online Quizzes
- ESL Discussions – 13,400 English Conversation Questions
- ESL Holiday Lessons
- Business English Materials
- Lessons on Movies
- Famous People English
- News English Lessons
- Lessons on American Presidents
So much great stuff, so many wasted years not using it.