How to Make Sense of News Headlines

I note requests from viewers for future YouTube lessons, and I have a running list of topics I’d like to cover. In a recent poll on my Community Tab, “news headlines” didn’t receive the most votes, but some viewers commented that they’d very much like to understand the grammar used in the titles of online news articles. I hope to make a lesson on this topic in the near future.

Years back, I suggested the idea of having students write full sentences based on news headlines. (See post from 2009.) Doing this together for several headlines would begin to reveal the grammatical patterns. A few online resources, like the Cambridge Dictionary, shed light on those patterns for ELLs. However, the process of building complete sentences would show rules put into action. That process would also reinforce students’ understanding of sentence structure.

One option is to use real headlines from current news sources. A second option is to prepare news headlines for major events in ancient and modern history. Have students guess what event is being referred to, and then together you can build a full sentence. Suggestions:

1. Titanic Sinks, Over 1,000 Missing
Model: The Titanic sank. Over one thousand people are missing.
2. Seward Signs Treaty with Russia — Land Gained in North
3. Thousands Rush to California to Find Gold
4. Russians Reach Space First
5. Work on Sphinx Complete
6. Shakespeare to Build Own Theater
7. Country at War! North vs. South
8. Brothers in Kitty Hawk Claim “We flew!”
9. Wright Brothers to Sell Airplanes in Europe
10. First Man on Moon!

Whether you use history-based headlines like those above or a set of current headlines from news sites, prompt students to discover the patterns. Ask them:

a. What parts of speech do you see? (Key content words: nouns, verbs, adjectives along with prepositions)
b. What kinds of words are missing? (articles, helping verbs)
c. What tense are the verbs in? How do headlines express the present? The past? The future? (The simple present refers to the present or the past. Infinitives refer to future events or intentions.)
d. Do verbs tend to be active or passive? (Active verbs are preferred. Use of the past participle alone expresses a passive meaning.)
e. Which punctuation marks are used? (commas, dashes, colons, limited use of quotation marks and exclamation points)
f. How are numbers represented? (Usually in figures.)
g. Which words are capitalized? (Usually key words as well as the first and last words. Style preferences vary. Some news sources today write headlines like a sentence with only the first letter of the first word capitalized.)

Do you have a good activity for news headlines? Feel free to share.

Photo credit: Reading, Paper, Data, Business, Man  by rawpixel Retrieved from the Public Domain at

7 Comments Add yours

  1. vietnamtravelandculture says:

    Reblogged this on Vietnam Travel & Trade Portal.

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