Need a place to connect past with present? Need writing prompts? Need hundreds of articles about current events in an easy to access place? Need articles with leveled reading? Need a searchable database that filters by keyword, grade level, Common Core reading anchors, and articles with machine scored quizzes?

If your answer to even one of those questions is yes, then I’ve got just the tool for you. Newsela is a free (so far) site that provides all sorts of things perfect for social studies teachers looking to integrate literacy and contemporary issues into their classrooms.

I’m spending a lot of time this week working with small groups of social studies teachers, leading conversations about our new state standards and what that can look like in the classroom. One of the things I enjoy most about those kinds of conversations is the sharing that we all do – strategies, ideas, suggestions, web sites, just about anything that’s going to help us do our jobs better.

And Stephenie came through. A fifth grade teacher in a small parochial school, Stephenie has been using Newsela since last spring and loves it. She shared how she was using the tool and we ended spending the next hour or so exploring, talking, suggesting, and generally falling in love with the possibilities of Newsela.

At its most basic level, Newsela is a simple list of news stories from around in the world in eight categories:

Which for some of the folks in the group was enough. Just having a handy place to go to find useful, student-friendly articles about current events is sometimes all we need. Especially those looking to incorporate more non-fiction social studies content into their instruction. I’m looking at you elementary teachers. But for middle and high school teachers, this is also a great place to start having kids use a variety of evidence and resources, including more non-fiction.

I know all of you could come up with some very powerful writing prompts just from the articles themselves.

But Newsela can do more.

One of the powerful pieces we all liked was the ability of both the teacher and students to adjust the reading with the click of a button. Each article has different ranges but all of them have the ability to be adjusted to four different Lexile levels. So every one of your kids can access the article at the level that best fits them.

Highest Lexile level

Highest Lexile level

Lowest Lexile level

Lowest Lexile level

You can have kids access the article online or using the Print feature, download a clean PDF copy to print and share as a hard copy.

You can also create multiple classes for different groups of students. They join by creating an account by using a specific class code that you share with them. They are automatically added to the create class and you can begin tracking their progress.

You assign articles to specific classes using the handy Assign To button at the top of each article. Students then have a link to the article in their student Newsela online binder. Many articles have quizzes attached to them that measure comprehension and thinking skills. A student takes the quiz after reading with the scores and answers showing up in your teacher account. You can track all sorts of data once kids begin taking quizzes.

You and your students also have the ability to create annotations attached to articles. So you might make an annotation asking students to look specifically for evidence that supports a particular idea or thesis. Students would then create responses while reading. For example, you might ask kids to create a one sentence summary stating the central idea of the article. They must highlight three pieces in the article to support their thinking.

newsela annotate

You could also ask students to make predictions using the photos included in the article. Provide different articles to different students that support different opinions. Students must use evidence from their article during a Structured Academic Conversation.

I think just about any social studies teacher in any content area can find relevant stuff here. But even if you can’t find any specific stuff that ties to directly to your class, I think you can use Newsela to help train kids to think critically and to analyze evidence using engaging content.

And if you’re using my C4 Framework, this fits perfectly into the Collect element.

The site allows you to access five articles without creating an account. So you’ll want to sign up. The free version provides pretty much everything the Pro version does except annotations and some detailed data reports. But as of right now, you automatically get the Pro version when you sign up. Pretty sweet.

Stephenie has had the Pro version since she signed up. So that could end at any time but for now it looks like Pro version for everyone. (I did try looking around for the actual cost of the Pro version and couldn’t find anything except a contact Newsela for more info.)

Current events, connections to contemporary issues, and literacy. What more could you ask for?