3 Tips for Talking With Your Students About World Events

Jan 14, 2020 12:00:00 AM

by Andrew Pillow

The news has been quite sensational lately. As teachers, oftentimes, our first instinct is to hide the news under the guise of “protecting” our students from the real world. We may strategically avoid or even straight up ignore current events, but this isn’t the right approach.

  • It doesn’t work. Students are more connected to the world than ever. They will be exposed to world events whether you want them to or not. It could be via a news source, their parents—it might even be a meme. Either way, if the story is big enough, they will hear about it.
  • The way they are exposed to world events may not be the way they should learn about it. A WWIII meme is probably not the best way to learn about the ongoing conflict between Iran and the United States, yet that is the way a lot of students will hear about it. School should be a place where students can learn the truth about the events happening in the world—and what better time to teach them than when their antennas are already up.

Many teachers already feel they should be teaching about these kinds of topics, but they don’t know how. Many are afraid of offending parents. Some don’t believe they know enough. Others don’t know where to find the time. So, how do you go about teaching world events in class?

Start With the Facts, and Let Students Draw Conclusions

Nobody can get mad at you for stating facts (or, at the very least, they shouldn't). A good place to start is with the Five Ws: Who, What, When, Where and Why. This is a format students should be familiar with already, and it gives them enough context to jump off into a deeper dive if needed. Let students form their own opinions from the information and context you provide.

Don’t Pretend to be an Expert.

Current events can be complicated, so don’t pretend to know everything. For example, if you aren’t an expert in military strategy don’t make your lesson on the Iran crisis a military briefing. Stick to what you know and stick to the facts. This goes for other complicated topics, too. Acknowledging your ignorance on the subject is actually a good vehicle to use to explore a topic with your students and learn together.

Find Natural Times and Reasons to Incorporate Lessons.

Obviously finding time for these types of lessons would be easier for a social studies teacher, but other subjects can get in on the action too. When I taught literacy, if I wanted to teach a current event, I would just swap out one of my planned non-fiction articles for the news story I wanted to cover. Science teachers have taken advantage of the ongoing wildfires to teach about global warming. Other teachers have to be more creative and intentional, but time is there if you look for it. Homeroom time and extension activities are also a good time for these types of lessons.

Teaching students about current events doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require some thought and effort. It is, of course, easier to shy away from these topics, but that is not what a school should do. If they don’t learn about it at a school, they will learn about it somewhere else … and that’s probably not what you want.

A version of this post originally appeared on Indy K12 as "How to Talk to Your Students About World Events."

Andrew Pillow

Andrew Pillow is a fifth grade social studies teacher at KIPP Indianapolis, a charter school where he has taught since 2011. He is also a former Teach Plus Policy Fellow and he has taught technology and social issues.

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