An 8th grade history teacher brings newspaper into his class. Sometimes, he read it to students. Sometimes, he ask student to read aloud by themself. Then, the teacher ask student to RETELL the story to the whole class. What are the benifits students are getting from this activity.
Students are learning current events. They are also experiencing the wonder of the newspaper. Newspapers are becoming a lost art. The teacher is also trying to get students to comprehend and find the important points in the article. There are both listening and reading skills at work here.
I agree that the literacy benefits are valid from the newspaper activity as well as teaching students to make real-world connections to their readings. My sister's students are 6th graders, and they love working with newspaper/magazine articles. One of their standards is to be able to make text-to-text, self-to-text, and world-to-text connections. Newspaper reading certainly helps students practice this.
Similarly, teaching our students about bias is something that we should be doing and that is being stressed in my state. If students retell a newspaper article, they need to be able to discern if others are adding their personal bias (through word choice, tone, etc.) into their retelling. This is certainly a skill that every human should hone.
These students are also learning to rely on each other to aid their own understanding.
Few classes get to a level of comfort with each other that they realize answers do not always have to be fully complete, and others should be always building on previous answers. This is even a practical skill for the business and professional world. The idea of coming together as a "team" to assess and analyze a situation, where each member is looking at the same set of facts but potentially analyzing them differently.
Another benefit not yet listed is students develop voice and confidence. First of all, voice is shaped by a students choice of language, the points they choose to empasize, and the descriptor of how they retell the story. Some student might read about the oil spill of BP and think it funny because it took so many days for the most powerful country in the world to come up with a solution. Another student entirely concerned with the environment would pick up on other factors and report in an alarmist mode.
All the while, each student retelling gets the opportunity to develop a public speaking voice that will improve in the future as they choose their own topics to discuss.
Your getting reading, fluency (practicing reading without stuttering and the stop and start that some poor readers have), vocabulary, and current events right off the bat. With the activity you are describing, you are also getting comprehension, summarizing, paraphrasing exercise...the ability to read, understand, process, and re-tell in your own words is huge. If this is for a class whose first language is not English, it is appropriate at every level...even college. By doing this exercise, you are also practicing oral discussion and communication in addition to the other practice mentioned. It is not a waste of your time.
For a history class, I think this is an informative assignment for today's students, many of whom rarely pick up a newspaper and know next to nothing about current events outside their teen world. It also helps students to dissect the article and select the most important facts. As the third post notes, it helps the student to summarize and identify key points. I might question the need for this activity in a college classroom, but it is an excellent one for the middle and high school setting.
I think just bringing in a newspaper is a great ideas. I always aske my students if they read the paper and very few do. They get most of theirn news somewhere off the internet. Letting them know there are sources for news besides TV and the computer is a good thing.
The benefits might also depend on which particular class is given the assignment. From a history teacher's perspective, he/she might be looking for specific national/world events that students may be studying or focusing on; for example, when I teach world literature to my 11th grade English class, I expect them to study current events from the particular culture that we are studying.
I also periodically assign newspaper articles to my speech classes in order to study effective opening statements, presentation of main ideas, etc. We also learn how they use persuasive techniques. These can be used in just about any English class as well.
Other teachers may focus on the business, arts/entertainment, or automotive section. We once had an art teacher that showed comic strips to demonstrate how to create images that are visually humorous, serious, etc.
It is always important to be able to read, synthesise and then re-tell the information to somebody else in your own words. It helps you develop the key skills of summarising, identifying the most important points, and then being able to communicate them to others in a way that can be easily understood. It also helps you to think through your own position on a topic and then to support and defend that position. Sounds like a good strategy to me!
With the information is given, I think that the primary benefits from the activity is primarily reading based. The action of bringing reading material (newspaper) from home helps to broaden the idea that reading is something that happens outside and inside the classroom. The idea of recounting the stories from the newspaper helps to raise understanding of textual meaning and reading comprehension. The oral fluency skills are increased with the reading aloud and the listening skills in decoding information are increased with the students hearing the newspapers. If it was broadened into a discussion, I think that more benefits can be gained in terms of assessing text, identifying point of view or bias, as well as primary motivation.