This lesson is about using newspapers to improve your English for IELTS. What you will find are some online resources and basic tips on using newspapers, an explanation of how reading newspapers can help you in IELTS and then suggest a few exercises to help you read better.
Why read newspapers? You need the same reading skills as the test
Many newspaper articles are very similar to IELTS texts. Generally, they are around the same length, they cover the same general interest topics and they are written for non-specialist readers. You normally read a newspaper article quickly to see if it is interesting or not? That’s the way they work. This is very much the same skill as you need in the exam when you skim the text first for general meaning.
Very frequently, you already know something about what you are reading, so you look to see if there is anything in the article about that. This is also very similar to the exam when you scan the text to find certain information.
Unless you are a native speaker, newspaper articles will contain plenty of unknown words. The idea is that you keep reading just as you would in the exam and try and understand meaning from context. If you look up every word in your dictionary, then you stop reading.
Why read newspapers? It’s the efficient way to learn vocabulary
A key idea is that we learn words by using them and that reading a word is a way of using it. This means that every time you see a word when you read, you are learning a bit about it. Very often you are learning the really tough things such as which other words it is used with. This can often be much more efficient than just keeping a vocabulary notebook or trying to learn lists of words. Where do we see most words? When we read.
Why read newspapers? It gives you a break from IELTS
Too much IELTS is not good for the soul – and may not be the best thing for your English. If you want to improve your English, it does help to do things that you find interesting and IELTS is not always that interesting. The more you are interested, the better your brain works and the better your brain works, the better you will learn. Newspapers can work here because they contain something for everyone from business, to arts and sport. One idea is just to read the things that interest you.
The difficulty with newspapers – and how to deal with it
They are written for native speakers. This means that they are hard. Here is what I suggest:
- find topics that genuinely interest you – that way you will be motivated to keep reading
- read for general meaning – every time you finish an article and understand what it was about, feel good about yourself. You have just completed a native speaker language task
- read regularly and for shortish periods of time – an exam reading takes 20 minutes
The best exercise of all – just read
Below I suggest some specific “learning” exercises. They all work I believe. But the very best thing you can do is just read – read as much as you can, as often as you can. Why? The people who read best, read most. I’d also add that this type of reading is good training for IELTS – long texts with unknown words won’t scare you.
Exercise one – what was it about?
This is the world’s simplest exercise. I also happen to think that it is a good one. The idea is that when you finish reading the article, you say what it is about. If you can’t do that, then you haven’t read well enough – it may have been time wasted. This is the one exercise I suggest you do every time.
Exercise two – make notes and write a summary
This is a similar exercise, but one you will probably do less often. The idea this time is that you make notes of the main points as you read. Then at the end you write a short summary. Here is why it can be a good idea:
- making notes helps you focus on words – that’s good for learning vocabulary
- writing the summary tests how well you understand how to use the words – can you put it into a sentence? If not, you haven’t really learned the word yet
- if you look at this reading lesson, you will see that I very strongly suggest that it helps to make notes as you read an IELTS passage. This is the same skill.
- IELTS writing task one is really just a summary writing exercise. People get confused by the pictures and numbers. The skills you use here in writing a summary – picking out the main points and summarising them – are exactly the same skills as task one.
Exercise three – find another similar article
This I think is a great exercise. Entirely natural, interesting and good for language learning. The idea is that once you have read one article, you try and find another similar article. As you probably do in life. This is normally just a case of Googling the headline: most newspapers carry very similar stories. What I suggest you do next is look for what is similar and what is different . This is really going to be an IELTS scanning activity. you are not necessarily looking for the same words, but the same meaning. To see how this can work, try looking at these articles:
I found these by looking for “The best place to live in Britain”. They all contain similar language and ideas, but are slightly different.
Exercise four – find 5 words
This is the least natural exercise here. The idea is to work on your vocabulary – and think about how dictionaries can help you. You read a text and choose 5 words from it that you want to learn. Here are some ideas about how you can make this work:
- don’t choose too many words – you’ll get them confused
- aim for common words or words you already half recognise. These are most important words as they are the ones you will wan to use. To find out how common they are, look in the Macmillan Online Dictionary – the red words are the ones you want most
- look for the words they are used with. Is there a preposition (by, with, to etc) following it? If it’s a noun is there an adjective with it?
- look in the dictionary again to see what other phrases are used with that word
- now try and re-tell the story you have just read, using those words. At some stage, you do want to try and use that word yourself
Which newspapers should you read? The ones you enjoy reading. This may mean that the best newspaper is an English language newspaper based in your country. It can be hard to read English/Australian/Canadian newspapers because they are about foreign cultures. Here are a few suggestions of where to start:
Mainstream English language papers and news sites
- The Guardian Weekly: this is a good place to start because it contains a lot of world news and is not just about Britain – it also includes articles from Le Monde and the Washington Post. You might also check out the English language learning section too.
- The Economist: don’t be put off by the name, it isn’t all about economics: there are plenty of articles about culture and the environment too.
- Intelligent Life: this is part of The Economist really. The articles you find here tend to be much longer, but are written very well and are typically very interesting.
- Time: not a newspaper but a major online site with news and opinion about the right sort of topics
- The Independent: another mainstream British newspaper with articles on a variety of topics
- Sydney Morning Herald: if you are going to Australia, it may make sense to read an Australian newspaper
- BBC: the BBC does everything really – it’s not just news. You if you look in the toolbar here, you will find pages devoted to topics such as travel, health and business. I also recommend the magazine section. One benefit of the BBC is that it really does cover the world and is not just about Britain.
- CNN: this is the US version of the BBC
As I mentioned above, it may make sense to read about your own country in English. So if, for example, you are from China you may want to try China Daily. How can you find one for your country? This might be a place to start:
Reading by topic
Another approach is to read by topic. Newspapers tend to cover the core topics you need to read, write and speak about in IELTS. So it can make sense to vary your reading routine to cover these topics. Here is a list of general topics and one or two more links. You should find, however, that most newspapers have their own sections on all these topics. I suggest you browse until you find a site/newspaper that you like:
Arts and Entertainment
Life and style
Science and technology