Have I got news for you

24th October 1997 at 01:00
But two minutes during newstime on a Monday morning allows little more than a snatched soundbite. And if everyone wants a say, it can all too easily escalate into an endurance test. Kate Allott suggests an overhaul.

It's 9am on Monday. In thousands of primary classrooms it's news time. One after another, the children have their brief moment of glory, as they recount how at the weekend they went to Nana's house, or went shopping. The other children sit round them, perhaps listening, perhaps not, fidgeting if it goes on too long.

Occasionally something really important has happened - a new baby, a trip to the local hospital's accident and emergency department, a family fight - but for most children, most of the time, life seems to be fairly uneventful. Some parents may make sure that every weekend contains something of note - a day out, a visit to a museum, a trip to the local swimming pool or roller skating rink. But there's no guarantee that on Monday morning this will be remembered and reported.

And I suspect that some children don't want to share what has been going on in their lives, whether good or bad. A child in my class who went on a six-week trip to Hong Kong told us nothing about it when she got back. Others are desperate to talk but have nothing to say because they don't go anywhere.

So what is the purpose of news time? Of course children want to share the exciting and momentous events in their lives - but these usually burst out as they come through the door, and have probably already been shared with friends in the playground - and with younger children we do need to respond immediately, instead of waiting until it's their turn.

It is vital that we offer children opportunities for speaking and listening in the classroom - but the standard news time may not be a good way to do this. For a start, it's often too long. A news time where everyone gets their two-minute slot is an endurance test for the listeners. For the speakers, however, it's probably too short - how many adults could do justice to the story of their disastrousthrillingextraordinary day in such a short time? How can children learn in a few sentences to give a detailed, connected, effectively expressed account of their activities?

Second, it offers the children limited scope - reporting rather than explaining, describing, discussing, questioning; and, on the whole, reporting of a very limited range of experiences. It is often repetitive, boring, and lacking in challenge.

Very often, too, news time is a two-part experience; the oral reporting is followed by the writing of news. This is an activity which may not make much sense to children. Why write it when you've just said it? Who is the audience for the writing, and what is its purpose? There are no obvious answers to these questions.

Traditional news time is due for an overhaul. Here, then, are 10 ideas for how to revamp it in order to deal with some of the problems identified.

1 Choose a few children each week - those who have some real news to share - and give them time to tell their stories properly. Encourage other children to listen carefully and ask questions where things aren't clear or where they want to know more. Keep a record of who's had a turn; children who haven't had any news can have their five-minute slot to talk about anything they like.

2 Use some of the news stories to make an instant wall newspaper. Older children could produce this themselves.

3 Ask the children to listen to the news on radio or television or look at a newspaper over the weekend. Choose two or three news stories to discuss. Are they local, national or international? What sort of stories do newspapers cover? Many children have little or no awareness of current affairs, but as Mary Ann Sieghart's article on talking politics to her daughter showed (TES, June 13), they are capa ble of genuine interest and understanding with the right sort of support.

4 Ask the children to come in silently, and immediately write about their weekends. Read them and respond (to the content only) in writing. Some children enjoy the privacy this sort of correspondence offers. I once shared a day-by-day account of a blossoming romance between two six-year-olds, culminating in The Kiss. I think Mills and Boon would have jumped at the chance to publish that particular news book. Children also value the personal written response, time-consuming though it is.

5 Have an old news time: ask the children, a few each week, to talk about the best or the worst thing that ever happened to them, or tell a story about something funny they did when they were smaller.

6 Try the American Show and Tell time: children bring in something of their own and talk about it. It could be a favourite toy or treasured object, a photograph or postcard, their baby shoes or a musical instrument.

7 Make Friday afternoon an end-of-the- week news time, when children report the week's school events - accidents in the playground, special events, highlights of the week, sports news.

8 Have a role-play news time: give the children a role, such as a nursery rhyme character, and ask them to tell their news Jack's latest adventureup the beanstalk; Little Bo-Peep's most recent attempt to find her sheep; contrary Mary's gardening report.

9 Written news can become a diary. Look at a range of diaries and discuss why the writers kept them, what they wrote about, what's special about diaries. Give the children a regular time to make entries in theirs.

10Use news time to collect data about what the children do at the weekend. How many in the class went swimming? How many went to the supermarket? How many visited relations? Compare this with what children would like to do at weekends: offer a range of choices and see which are most popular.

Kate Allott is a primary education lecturer at University College, Scarborough

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