(reviewed in Winter 2010; see below for second review in Winter 2011)
Reviewer: Yukie Takahashi
Breaking News English is aimed at ESL teachers who teach high beginner to intermediate level learners. The purpose of this website is to provide recent world news (such as the disastrous earthquake in Haiti and world tallest building opened in Dubai) in a simple language and reading/listening lesson plans based on the news. This website is created and updated by Sean Banville, who has master’s degree in TEFL/TESL from the University of Birmingham and published a book about language teaching activities manages a few more Web sites.
I recommend this website because the information of current events is very meaningful for language learners. All the news is rewritten in a simple language so that intermediate students have fewer than ten words that they do not know and are more likely to be able to guess their meaning from the context. In addition, the news story is followed by several reading/listening activities. The activities could be used to construct a lesson all by themselves since the set of activities includes pre-reading/listening, during reading/listening and follow-up activities.
One thing that I do not like is that the website is full of advertisements, but this is understandable considering that the news and activities are updated very often (usually three times a week) and everything is offered for free.
Subject Headings: ESL teachers, current events, integrated skills, activities
Reviewer: Kerstin Painter
Recommendation: Recommended with reservation
Breaking News English is an ESL/EFL site with lesson plans for teaching current events. All stories are based on topics currently in the news. The latest topics dated February 6 are about the obesity of children of working mothers and the unrest in Egypt. The lesson plans are very thorough and extensive, with some 20 exercises for each, and include not only an article to read, but also a listening exercise as well. They can be copied and pasted and used as the teacher chooses. There is a new lesson added every three days. The founder of the website is Sean Banville of the UK. He has a Master’s (of distinction) in ESL/EFL from Birmingham University. Through his studies he got interested in figuring out what would be of most interest to the students in the classroom. He thought of the daily news over a cup of tea. An Apple iMac lover, he started his Web site a few months later. His years of producing news materials for his language school in Japan, the support of teachers who had asked him to write a textbook, and his experience as a teacher trainer all led up to this project.
I recommend this site, but with some reservation. There are over 1,390 lesson plans which I think are very good, but some of the articles are a little “hokey.” One dated February 4 was titled, “Malawi to Punish Breaking Wind in Public.” I guess you need a little British humor. Another was, “Did Justin Bieber & Selena Gomez Kiss?” I’m not sure doing the tabloids in class is my thing. Other topics are international events and topics of more general interest and which I think are more appropriate. As far as the actual lesson plans go, I think they are well-written. They have a wide variety of activities: from chats to role plays, pre-reading exercises (prediction), matching synonyms and other vocabulary exercises, listening cloze exercises, dictionary work, surveys, writing exercises, and even homework. Although there are many activities to each lesson plan, too many to do all of them, the exercises can be selected and matched up to make a good, concise, and interesting class.
The Web site is very distracting. The titles of the articles for classroom use are in such small font they are hardly readable and take up less than a quarter of the home page. All the rest of the page has links to other sites: Master’s degree programs and other schools, discounts to travel in San Francisco, and other advertisements. In the middle of the lesson plan articles, there are links to sell products related to the articles. It is so busy and not focused on the main content of the website. Also I feel that the founder is really trying to sell himself. It is not difficult to get information about him and his teaching ideas. He has links to his dissertation, a textbook he is selling, articles he has written for ESL journals (The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XI No. 9, Sept. 2005) and talks that he has given at conferences (TESOL Arabia, March 2008). He also has links to six other Web sites he runs with 2,928 more lesson plans which he advertises. He has a blog and tweets. I think it is all too much. It would be better and cleaner just to focus on his news articles. Although the website is free, he has advertisement links to products, is selling a book, and asks for donations to run his site.
In summary, I think this website has some very good aspects to it, but the site itself needs simplifying and cleaning up, and more focus on the articles themselves.