Newspaper Headlines lesson (50 minutes to 1 hour)

Level: intermediate.
Ages: older teens; adults.
Type: introducing and uncovering the grammar of newspaper headlines; summarising information.
Skills: reading (gist and detail), speaking, listening.
Language focus: grammar – newspaper headlines; all vocab as arises from the lesson.

3 overlong newspaper headlines of your own creation – one about a past event, one in the passive voice about a current event, and one about an expected future event – you will be boarding these, so there is no need to make photocopies for your students; enough copies for all your students of the first paragraphs of 3 interesting news stories, and the stories’ headlines, in a different order, on a second page.

Materials: Whiteboard and pens; paper.


  1. Board the overlong headlines (e.g., “A lot of Republicans are annoyed by Vice-President Nominee Palin following her recent television debate;” “A man has found a cockroach in the school canteen“; “A new survey says that Gordon Brown will lose the next election“) and divide the students into pairs or groups of three. Ask them to read these headlines silently, and help them with any unknown vocabulary.
  2. Ask the students to get rid of as many unnecessary words as they can – allow between five and eight minutes for this.
  3. Elicit their answers and board the results if possible. Congratulate any pairs or groups who managed to get the headlines down to four or five words each.
  4. Board your own suggestions, which will also serve as example forms in the next stage of the lesson (e.g., “Republicans annoyed by Palin,” “Man finds cockroach in canteen” and “Poll says Brown to lose”.) Elicit that newspaper headlines are often very short, to save space and reading time.
  5. Ask the students which headline is about the past and which about the future. Elicit that we often use the present simple to talk about the past in newspaper headlines (e.g., “Man finds cockroach…”), and the “to” infinitive to talk about future events in headlines (e.g., “Poll says…”) and board the names of the verb forms next to these examples.
  6. Explain that the last headline is about something in the present. Elicit that it’s in the passive, rather than the active voice, and ask what verb is omitted: elicit that the verb “to be” is often omitted from passive headlines (e.g., “Republicans annoyed by…” instead of “Republicans are annoyed by…”). Ask why and elicit that this is to save space and reading time.
  7. Explain that you are going to give the students some interesting news stories; put them into new small groups of three or four; and ask them to write down these two questions, which you will dictate: “what is this story about?” and “what headline could it have?” When you have finished your dictation, ask them to check in pairs, then board the questions (to check everyone has writen the same).
  8. Remind the students to discuss what they think each story is about, and to think of a headline for each one. Hand out the three interesting news stories, without their accompanying headlines, to each group.
  9. Allow about eight minutes for this task, circulating and monitoring with vocabulary help, etc.
  10. Stop the students, elicit the main subjects of the stories and ask them to board their headlines (if there is time) or board their suggestions (if there is not). Invite any feedback in terms of grammar correction, etc – eliciting whether the story talks about the past, the present, or the future – and hold a class vote on which headlines are their favourites.
  11. Finally, distribute the actual headlines, in jumbled order, and ask each group to match them with the story. This will probably take 30 seconds or so maximum.

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