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The press online

Had your fill of all of that end-of-year, end-of-millennium looking back business? Freebie facsimile editions of yesteryear's front pages were heaven-sent for resource fiends and history hounds, but the new term is the time to turn attention back to events unfolding in real time.

The availability of constantly updated news from around the world represents one of the richest resources now freely available to schools as a result of their connection to the Internet. Teachers who are new to the online experience may have difficulty at first in seeing how this plethora of free but adult-oriented information can be put to use. Here is a brief, practical guide to finding and using on-line newspapers. The resulting work will promote the electronic navigational skills students need to develop, and provide an ICT context for developing the more traditional skills of "compare and contrast".

One quick gateway into the world of on-line news is the Drudge Report www. As a scandal-mongering site famous for its coverage of the Monica Lewinsky affair, this is not one you would want to add to your class favorites list, but it is a useful teacher reference. Matt Drudge has unfussily listed the major news and magazine resources from the United Kingdom and the United States.

For an international range of sites go to Welcome to Newspapers Online! There is no need to wait for an international disaster before embarking on a comparison of on-line and printed media news. When no "major" news stories are breaking, it is fascinating to compare the stories that newspapers select for their front-page headlines. For this exercise, you need only to look at a selection of UK nationals, including broadsheets and tabloids. The Times, The Electronic Telegraph, The Daily Mirror and The Sun Online should provide an interesting range.

By copying and pasting a major story from each newspaper into Word, students can carry out readability tests on the papers. After spell-checking the reports, Word can be set to flash up statistics that include the average numbers of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence and characters per word. Each report will also be given a Flesch-Kincaid grade, not very informative in itself, but useful for comparison: this article has been identified as Grade 12. If this feature is turned off on your version of Word, go to Tools, select Options, then Spelling amp; Grammar and make sure that the "Show readability statistics" box is ticked.

As well as comparing on-line newspapers with one another, you will also want students to compare printed and on-line versions. Is the readability level of reports the same? Why is an on-line paper not a straightforward replica of the orthodox edition? Do they use the same headlines? (The online versions of the Washington Post and the New York Times http:www.nytimes. comyrmodayfront index.html include a scan of the current hard copy front page.) By looking at a mixed bag of international news sources - The Times of India, The Jerusalem Post, for example - students can learn an important lesson of cultural and global perspective - that there is no single hierarchy of importance when it comes to "the news".

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex, and edits the children's books website supplement free with this week's TES

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