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, vegetarianism, the #MeToo movement, racism, slumber parties and good habits. All of these activities are completely free for everyone.
Here is how to get started.
First, Have Your Students Create an Account
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:
We request that students list their school, city and state as their location.
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. For students who do not meet the minimum age criteria, parents can create their own account and supervise student use of the site.
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.
Now Your Students Are Ready to Comment on Any of Our Many Prompts
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?”
All Comments Are Moderated Before We Publish Them
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 Offer a Variety of Daily and Weekly Prompts Based on Times Content
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.
Teachers Use These Prompts in Different Ways
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.
Each Week We Celebrate the Best Student Responses
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.
Students Can Forward Confirmation Emails to Teachers
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.