Update: We are offering two free webinars for teachers on Wednesday, March 18, to help teachers learn more about how to get started using The Learning Network.
Schools around the country have closed their doors and switched to remote learning in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. If you are a teacher or parent looking for ways to keep your students reading, writing and thinking critically during these uncertain times, The Learning Network offers a dozen new writing prompts each week, all based on Times articles, photographs, illustrations, videos and graphs, about a wide array of issues, including internet memes, climate change, the #MeToo movement, racism, the 2020 election and healthy habits. All of these activities are completely free for everyone.
Here is how to get started.
Students can create a free account by pressing the “Log In” button on the top right-hand corner of the screen. They will be taken to a sign-in page that looks like this:
Please note: Students must be 13 years or older to use any part of nytimes.com in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 years or older anywhere else. If students are less than 18 years of age and would like to create an account, they must ask a parent or legal guardian to review and agree to the Times Terms of Service before registering.
Students can click on the link “Create one.” Then they can click on “Continue without subscribing.” When students make their first comment, they will be asked to enter a name and a location.
Examples of names include: Amy, Emilia AOSE, Payton L and Mrs. Miller’s 3rd period class.
Examples of locations include: Ohio, Milbank, SD, and Hoggard High School in Wilmington, N.C.
While students don’t need to have a New York Times account to access the Learning Network’s many activities, they will need one if they want to submit a comment.
Students can comment via desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. To submit a comment, they should click on the comment bubble at the top of the article or the comment button at the bottom. Either way will bring them to a box where they can share their thoughts, as well as reply to other student commenters from across their school or around the world.
Here is an example of what the comment box — with a student comment below it — looks like for our recent prompt, “Should Parents Track Their Children?”
We encourage young people to have a civil dialogue about all sorts of topics, but if students cross a line — for example, if they use offensive language or are disrespectful to other commenters — we will reject those comments.
We follow Times commenting standards as we moderate, but we also allow for the reality that many students don’t have perfect spelling or grammar or are still learning English. Our comment section is intended to be a rehearsal space — a safe place for students to practice writing and to share their ideas.
We moderate comments regularly during weekday work hours, but during other times, like nights and weekends, approval can sometimes take several hours.
We invite students to share their opinions and analysis about all sorts of issues and types of media on The Learning Network. In our Student Opinion feature, we ask questions like: “Should Blowouts Be Allowed in Youth Sports?” and “Should the Adults in Your Life Be Worried by How Much You Use Your Phone?” About half of our questions help students develop their argument skills, and the other half invite them to share experiences and observations from their own lives. All of these prompts are inspired by Times articles.
We also invite students to respond to the many photographs and illustrations in The Times. In our Picture Prompt feature, we use a daily image to inspire four types of student writing: storytelling, argument writing, personal writing and analysis. Similarly, our What’s Going On in This Picture? feature asks students to look closely at an intriguing photo and share what they see and what details support their interpretation. On Mondays, our partner organization Visual Thinking Strategies provides live moderation for this activity to strengthen students’ visual literacy skills. Both of these features can be great for any student, but they’re especially accessible for younger students and students who struggle with reading.
We also use other types of Times multimedia to encourage student writing and thinking. Our Film Club showcases a short documentary film from The Times — often under 10 minutes — and asks students to think about themes like race and gender identity, technology and society, and artistic and scientific exploration. And, What’s Going On in This Graph? asks students to notice and wonder about a Times graph, map or chart. On Wednesdays, our partners at the American Statistical Association facilitate a live conversation for this activity to strengthen students’ data literacy skills.
Finally, we also offer contests for students all year long. Right now students can submit 450-word editorials. Next month they can submit five-minute podcasts. During the summer they can participate in our 10-week-long Summer Reading Contest.
All of these activities and contests are free. They’ve always been.
Learning Network prompts can be used in any number of ways as a teaching tool at school or from home. Teachers often let students choose the prompts they want to respond to based on the topics they find most interesting. Other times they assign a specific prompt: for example, if they are studying a theme, like friendship, or a topic, like slavery.
Many teachers use our prompts as a standing homework assignment every night or each week. Other teachers use the prompts as a class activity to complete together. For example, in the tweet below, Adriana Diaz shares images of her class doing a What’s Going On in This Picture? activity.
Since we offer so many ways for students to read, write and think, teachers can differentiate as they see fit. They might ask some students to get started with our image-based prompts, while suggesting others comment on our Student Opinion questions.
And, while we appreciate when teachers assign students to comment directly on The Learning Network, we also understand that many teachers prefer to have their students respond to our prompts in a classroom space like Google Classroom or Schoology. We want teachers to have the freedom to use our resources in the way that works best for them.
Not only do we moderate comments, but we also select comments to spotlight in a weekly roundup from our two daily writing prompts: Student Opinion questions and Picture Prompts. Teachers tell us they and their students get excited when they see their classmates’ names published in The New York Times.
Here is an example of a weekly roundup: “What Students Are Saying About Fact-Checking Facebook, Making Small Talk and Being Alone.”
Teachers naturally want to know what their students are saying in our online forums. The easiest way to hold students accountable is to instruct them to forward the confirmation emails they automatically receive. To do this, students need to make sure that the box “Email me when my comment is published” is checked underneath the comment box. (The check appears when students begin typing.)
For our contests, students also receive confirmation emails, which they can easily forward to teachers. And, since we celebrate many winners, runners-up and honorable mentions with each of our contests, teachers get to send out their own emails, tweets and messages when one or more of their students are selected as finalists.
At The Learning Network, we want students to have a civil discussion about the issues of our day. We want them to have an authentic audience for their writing and ideas. We believe student voice matters. Our comment section and regular contests are our way to make this happen. We hope you’ll invite your students to join our community of learners.
If you have any questions about how to get your class started using The Learning Network, please use the comment section or email us at LNFeedback@nytimes.com.