Newsela.com and the death of Justice Scalia

It’s in the news. It’s a great issue to discuss in class with LL.M. students. Supreme Court. Constitutional issues, checks and balances, strict constructionists, and more. But so much background knowledge is involved in discussing any aspect of Justice Scalia’s recent passing and all of its implications. Especially for students not fully familiar with U.S. law, politics, and culture.

One source I like to turn to in situations like this is Newsela.com which just published an article on Scalia’s passing. Newsela is a news site with articles from The Washington Post and Associated Press. However, Newsela takes each article and creates five graded versions of the article, i.e., at levels that are easier to read. This is a fantastic tool for differentiating instruction in the classroom. The students with stronger reading ability can read the highest or a higher version. And the students with weaker reading ability can read an easier version.

Or, if you really want to help them build background knowledge, vocabulary, and language awareness, have them read the easiest version first. Then a more difficult version. Once they have a basic comprehension from the easier version, they will have a better chance at inferring the meaning of more complex sentences and more sophisticated vocabulary that they encounter.  Additionally, the two versions can be used to notice the language used to make sentences more complex, such as dependent clauses, compound predicates, noun phrases, and relative clauses.

I’ve tried this now a couple times with other articles from Newsela and among other things I found the students really appreciated having a sense of control over the topic and a chance to examine the language.

Plus, once you feel confident that all the students understand a topic such as Scalia’s death and the Constitutional implications, the rest of the class discussion tends to flow much better.

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