Vol. 6. No. 2 M-2 September 2002
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Western/Pacific Literacy Network/CNN SF Learning Resources

Title:Western/Pacific Literacy Network/CNN SF Learning Resources
Contact:Paul Heavenridge
Western/Pacific Literacy Network
1086 Eighth Street
Oakland, CA 94607-2697
PHONE: (510) 834-0735 & 834-7835
FAX: (510) 832-5021
Email: pheaven@literacynet.org
Type of product:Online reading, listening/viewing materials based on CNN stories
Minimum hardware requirements:Sound card necessary to take advantage of the site's audio aspect


The Western/Pacific Literacy Network/CNN SF Learning Resources website is a gold mine. The author states the objectives prominently on the homepage: ". . . to develop an online literacy site that benefits all English learners and instructors. This material is intended for adult literacy and educational purposes. Though the intended audience is adults, instructors and learners (of all ages) are encouraged to use the material to promote better literacy." To this end the website offers modules which provide interactive reading and listening/viewing comprehension activities, based on current and past CNN San Francisco bureau news stories.

Although journalism is usually regarded as a discipline separate from the English curriculum, it has much to offer English teachers. Dvorak (1985) provides rationales for journalism's role in the English curriculum. He notes that journalism fulfills several crucial elements in English programs when he sums up:

It has relevance; it has built-in objectives; it is transactional; it applies various liberal arts theories learned in other disciplines; it invites high level decision-making; it brings to life the need for the study of English grammar, usage, spelling, style, syntax; and it can be one of the most rewarding language arts experiences a student can have at school.

The website presents a rationale and techniques not so much for studying journalism in the English classroom, but for using journalism as a means to teach or learn English on the web. [-1-]

The Website's Domain

  1. Different Text Versions of the Same Material
  2. The material provided for teaching/learning is comprised of independent news stories which cover a wide range of topics, such as adventure, environment, business and economy, health, crime, politics, culture and society, religion, science and technology, and education. All the materials are adapted from news stories by CNN San Francisco reporters. Each story is thoughtfully and usefully dealt with in three versions--the original story, an abridged version of the story, and an outline of the story. The original versions of the stories are intended for adults with moderate reading and speaking comprehension skills, including advanced ESL or non-native English speakers. The abridged stories are modifications of the original story made by simplifying complex ideas, vocabulary and sentences. These are intended for adults with low reading comprehension skills including beginning ESL or non-native English speakers. The story outline is a summary of the basic elements of the story.

    The different versions described above allow users flexibility in determining the cognitive load and time required. Allowing teachers and learners to control the level of difficulty and presentation of the readings helps to arouse interest and improve intrinsic motivation.

  3. Comprehension Activities & Interactive Feedback
  4. The site is designed to interactively test learners' comprehension of the stories using activities divided into sections: Word Selection, Multiple Choice, Vocabulary, Sequencing, Conclusions, and Your Turn.

    There are clear directions and methods for measuring comprehension on the basis of the above activities. After answering a question, learners can get instant feedback by clicking the choice button for each question. The positive and negative feedback visuals are so loveably attractive that learners will not be discouraged when they make many mistakes. At the bottom, there are convenient navigation buttons for viewing content, the next question, and the previous questions. These activities emphasize developing literacy and problem solving rather than dealing with any profound issues raised in the stories, in keeping with the needs and objectives stated in the site's rationale.

    The "Your Turn!" activities were one of my favorite features. These activities allow learners to respond to a question concerning the story they have just read. Learners' comments are collected and posted on the "Your Turn!" page. Learners are encouraged to respond to other learners' comments. The activity is certainly productive in encouraging creative writing and in using writing as a learning tool.[-2-]

  5. Multimedia Integration
  6. Along with the texts, most story modules contain one or more of the following multimedia formats:

    These features definitely enhance the website's content. The learner can not only read and write but also listen to and view the material. This is very important for ESL/EFL students who are practicing listening comprehension. The author has made best use of modern technology to perfect the site in accordance with its objectives.

  1. Useful External Links
  2. From a domain point of view, the external links embedded in the pages are quite appropriate and of high quality. They expanded the scope of learning from language to other topics in related fields. The expanded topics are of course in English and enrich the learner's knowledge. For example, on the site there is a story entitled "Ringling Brothers Trainer on Trial for Animal Abuse." Not only is a definition of "abuse" provided at the bottom, but other resources in hypertext also add further references related to the word. Moreover, learners can keep track of new developments in the story by clicking linked titles such as "Mark Gebel was found innocent of the charges." Even further, the author provides links to items related to the general topic, such as Asian elephant conservation and the World Wildlife Fund, to allow learners to acquire more knowledge.

Use of Technology

  1. Connectivity
  2. As there are few graphics or logos embedded in the pages of the website, access to all elements in the page is quick and easy. There are no special browser or software requirements to use the site's elements. Of course a sound card is necessary to listen to the multimedia clips--which are also easily and quickly downloaded by clicking the corresponding icons. [-3-]

  3. Interface-related Aspects
  4. The layout and design of the website is excellent. As soon as it is accessed, the site structure and contents are clearly shown. The non-intrusive background color aesthetically matches the size and color of fonts and pictures. The pages are not overloaded and there is a nice balance between text and graphics. It is very easy to navigate through the website as there is a navigation bar on the left. Well-placed navigation buttons allow the user to view and switch conveniently and quickly in all pages. The information flows very logically from one page to another, and since the related links are all in one page, the user is tempted to go further after browsing the story. There is a word search function always available at the bottom of the navigating frame. This makes it very convenient to look up a word at any time. Links on the site work well and no orphan pages were found. The site does not employ distracting animation or other audio, video, or javascript effects except for the learning materials. It does not include any advertising banners or sponsor windows. This makes the site user-friendly and highly intuitive in its design and methodology. It embodies the style and features of an educational site.

  5. Interactivity
  6. The site is good but could be better in the realm of interactivity. In addition to the points where the comprehension activities are produced interactively, the "Feedback" section welcomes comments. The learner may use the form to send the author his/her ideas, views, corrections, and critiques. The "My Comment" field in the page is a drop down menu for category selection. Besides the "Your Turn!" section, the site could have provided a customized forum, message board, mailing list, or chat room to facilitate in-depth discussion so that users would have more opportunities to interact with each other.

  7. Detailed and Clear Help Documentation and Instruction
  8. The help documentation and instructions provided are comprehensive and complete. They are clearly laid out with visual aids and text. A brief note on how to perform the comprehension activity allows users to start the program quickly. The detailed and clear information on accessing various screens is orderly arranged so that learners can locate them in no time. The author offers clear instructions on how, where and why to download plug-ins which can extend the capabilities of web browsers and make the most of the learning program. Furthermore, all of the suggested software can be downloaded for free from famous companies.

Overall, the website contains original content in a wide range of areas. Each topic is useful, rich, and complete. The website offers educational value and certainly is an adaptable and motivating language program. It is also pedagogically sound and could be merged smoothly into ESL/EFL teaching plans, or could be used as a learning supplement.


The CNN San Francisco bureau and the Western/Pacific Literacy Network (Western/Pacific LINCS) have partnered to develop an excellent website for English language learners and teachers. The site is regularly updated to add more topics and categories. The design and interface are simple but excellent. The content is given more attention than design. In a word, it is of high educational value. Considering the notion that an educational site should be easy to use so as to facilitate students' learning through technology rather than learning the technology itself, this site, due to its ease of use and excellent content, is a great choice for teachers to incorporate into an ESL/EFL curriculum, or for students to use as a valuable supplement in the lab or at home.


Dvorak, Jack. (1985). Journalism's Role in the Secondary School Language Arts Curriculum in the Context of the Educational Reform Movement. Paper presented at the Mid-Winter meeting of the Secondary Education Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Indianapolis, IN, USA.

Guo Shesen
Luoyang University, P.R. China

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