Offering all the news that's fit for the classroom, two Toronto teachers have developed a new current affairs website for elementary school students that is attracting readers around the globe.
Young students are often aware of the news events parents and teachers are talking about, including the recent earthquake in Japan and uprisings in the Middle East, but age-appropriate materials are hard to come by.
In an effort to fill this need for material, Jonathan Ophek, a Grade 3 and 4 teacher at Hillcrest Public School, and his wife, Kathleen Tilly, a Grade 3 teacher at Eglinton Public School, launched their Teaching Kids the News website that explains events in a language their students can understand.
In just three months TeachKidsNews.com has attracted web traffic and thank-you e-mails from teachers in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the United States and Canada.
"I find that the kids really want to know what's going on in the world, but a lot of the time they can't access it, the language is just too difficult either on the television or in the newspaper," said Ms. Tilly. "[Since the site launched]we've been getting e-mails from all over the world, probably because there's nothing else like it."
The teachers collaborated with a freelance journalist, Joyce Grant, who has helped generate content for the site. Mr. Ophek and Ms. Tilly have tied the stories back to the curriculum by adding teaching prompts, including topics for discussion and grammar lessons. Their growing archive includes features about everything from the federal election to sacred turtles, and short stories tailored to ESL students.
A recent post, Death of the Whopper, explains a decision by Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children to close the Burger King outlet in its food court. A discussion prompt asks students to debate whether in light of growing childhood obesity rates, their school should ban pizza lunches and bake sales. A grammar feature instructs them to search the text for conjunctions.
The content is tailored toward children in Grades 2 through 6, and is meant to be a tool for both teachers and parents looking for reading material to use at home. The Toronto District School Board is promoting the site to its staff.
"It's really interesting and you learn a lot," said eight-year-old Mia Miric, one of Ms. Tilly's Grade 3 students. "I've been reading about what's happening in Libya, like the war that's started there, and there's lot of interesting things about polar bears and how they live and what they eat."
Mia said that her parents have been impressed by her knowledge of current events, and that she's even been able to teach them a few things.