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In the latest edition

Waiting for news

A man uses a mobile phone while looking at a billboard in support of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370© InfoFamilies of passengers on missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 have been waiting for weeks for news of their relatives. Many of the Chinese families have stayed together in the same hotel and are helping and supporting each other

Complete the sentence, "I think people feel comfortable talking to those who share the same experience because...." Have students ever felt better because they felt understood, even if nothing practical changed?

Why does it matter so much to relatives to find out what happened to the plane? Talk about the reality that uncertainty is very hard to cope with. Can students think of any examples from their own lives?

Why is it irritating when people say "I know how you feel" when they can't possible know? How could students show concern for, and support, someone who is experiencing a dreadful event?

Relocating vulnerable people

Syrian refugees at the sprawling desert Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan March 2014© InfoThe UK government's Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme began at the end of March. Can students say what it means and what it does?

Explain that the VPR is a way of protecting particularly vulnerable refugees from the conflict in Syria. They will be able to live and work in the UK for five years. Can students identify three big changes to the lives of refugees coming to the UK?

What might someone fleeing the conflict in Syria value on arrival to the UK? How could students welcome a refugee? What part of everyday life in the UK might students help a refugee become familiar with? Imagine you were showing a refugee around your neighbourhood. Which three things would you visit first? What do you think they would be most interested in - and why?

Those on the VPR scheme may include survivors of torture and those at risk of sexual violence. Would students treat such vulnerable people differently, or exactly the same as everyone else?

Drop, duck and hold on

Third grade students in California take cover under desks as they participate in an earthquake drill© InfoWhy were the rides at Hollywood's Disney World halted over the weekend? Pose the question as a quiz, suggesting optional answers: 

a) bad weather 

b) there were a series of earthquakes 

c) too many people were taking selfies.

Reveal the answer as the earthquakes. People on rides were asked to remain seated. If students had been there, how would they have reacted? How would they stay calm?

Southern California is situated on a known fault line and is used to regular tremors. Students can be prompted to investigate what a fault line is and explore the science behind earthquakes. 
Primary school children in the area learn and practise the drill: "drop, duck and hold on". Research and discuss what this means. Talk about how regular practice can reduce the chance of uncertainty and panic when a tremor starts. 

No one was reported injured by the latest earthquake, which was followed by up to a hundred aftershocks. Can students identify possible safety hazards caused by a quake - such as damaged gas or water pipes?


Surveyors are looking into it 

A view of the home of Phil and Liz Conran in Main Road Walter's Ash High Wycombe Buckinghamshire after a 30ft-deep sinkhole opened up in the driveway yesterday and swallowed their car© InfoNineteen-year-old Zoe Smith screamed when she looked out of her window one morning last month. Her car had disappeared into a sinkhole. Ask what students know about sinkholes. Who can describe them succinctly and accurately?

The family from High Wycombe wondered what to do. It wasn't a crime or a medical emergency. What would students have done?

The family called the police on the non-emergency number. Do students know what that is in their area? Suggest they find it and put it into their phones. The police said that it was a matter for the insurance and the council.

The police did visit the scene. So did the fire service. They cordoned it off and gave advice. What might that have been?

Explore the science of UK sinkholes and discuss how rare they are. Invite students to say how they would improvise a temporary cordon to keep curious sightseers out of danger.


Respect for humanitarian workers

Staff and Volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) provide emergency aid to people in the city of Homs at the end of February 2012© InfoThere were two separate news reports in February of humanitarian staff and health workers coming under attack. Can students identify where in the world those incidents were?

A Red Cross volunteer was wounded in Ukraine's capital Kiev. Humanitarian aid vehicles came under rifle fire in the Syrian town of Homs. Devise a memorable slogan that stresses the importance of respecting the neutrality of medical workers.

Discuss the risks and how to reduce them. Set up a debate with the motion, "Humanitarian workers should be withdrawn from any area where there is a risk to their life and safety".

In Homs humanitarian workers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society are marked with a large red crescent, in Kiev, Ukrainian Red Cross Society workers wear a large red cross. These emblems are legally protected. In many countries, including the UK, it is an offence for a pharmacy, for example, to use a red cross as a logo. Ask students to explain in their own words why this law is necessary.


Unhealthy levels of anger

Two young people have a violent confrontation© InfoOutbursts of anger may trigger heart attacks and strokes. According to a new review, a person's risk of cardiovascular problems rises dramatically in the two hours after an angry outburst.

Researchers say the risk of an acute heart problem following any single outburst of anger is low. However, the risk increases for people who have frequent episodes of anger or a history of heart problems.

Discuss the difference between a heart attack and a stroke. 

A heart attack, a blockage of blood to the heart muscle, can cause persistent, vice-like chest pain, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach.

Strokes are caused by a blockage of the blood supply to the brain. The advice is to think FAST. Ask students what the letters stand for. Access our resources on heart attacks and strokes for more information.

Discuss other negative consequences of anger. Talk about ways to manage and reduce extreme emotion. List students' personal techniques for calming down - themselves or someone else. For activities around defusing conflict, see our teacher briefing. 


Holocaust Memorial Day Candle© Info Remembering victims

A new memorial to a group of people persecuted by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s has been unveiled in the Israeli capital Tel Aviv. Who does it commemorate?

The new memorial is inscribed, “In memory of those persecuted by the Nazi regime for their sexual orientation and gender identity.” Discuss with students. How can remembering past atrocities challenge hatred today?

Around six million Jewish men, women and children died in camps or ghettos. Hundreds of thousands of others were persecuted too, many in concentration camps. Ask students to research which other groups, as well as gay people, were targeted.

The theme for this year's Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January is journeys. Many journeys are everyday, some are life-changing. Think of words to describe what it might be like to travel somewhere not knowing what you might find when you arrive. What would help make a journey into the unknown easier?

See our full lesson plan on Holocaust Memorial Day

You can also visit the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for more information. 


Haiti three years on© Info Haiti: 4 years on

Can students remember the Haiti earthquake? It struck on 12 January 2010, causing devastation and massive loss of life in one of the world's poorest countries.

Encourage students to recall what they can. How do they think the people of Haiti have recovered and rebuilt? When did they last hear anything in the news?

Haitian people have suffered an outbreak of cholera and been struck by storms, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012. An estimated 150,000 people are still living in makeshift camps. List reasons why this helps the spread of infectious diseases. How does it increase vulnerability to storms?

Information becomes crucial in emergencies. Can students give examples of that from their own experience?

The weekly radio show Radyo KwaWouj is one source of information (say it aloud and guess the meaning of the French Creole). If students were doing a radio information programme in Haiti what might they broadcast?

Find out more about what information is being provided.

For more lesson ideas see the Haiti earthquake activities.

An elderly man looks out of his door onto a snow drift© Info Cold weather coming

What is a polar vortex? Why was it in the news earlier this month? Explore the science of the large areas of low pressure near the poles. What does/could it mean for the UK?

A dramatic shift of the jet stream brought arctic air and record low temperatures to parts of Canada and the USA. How cold was it, and why was it life-threatening?

Winters in the UK are milder, but can still be dangerously cold, especially for elderly people. The NHS is encouraging people to sign up to be a winter friend. What is that? Discuss ways to make a difference to a vulnerable neighbour. List some do's and don'ts, then compare with the NHS advice.

Which of these might be suitable for a teenager? What anxieties would you have about "popping in" to see a neighbour? What is hypothermia? Is it dangerous? Learn the symptoms of hypothermia and how to respond to them.

Looking for some fun wintry activities to brighten up your classroom? Download your free primary or secondary winter resource pack and check out our winter weather page for more great ideas.


Previous editions of newsthink


2013 Photo quiz

In case you missed it, here's another chance to see the quiz and discussion trigger for 2013. A great way to review last year, it uses high-quality press photographs of the year's news stories. Multiple choice, not entirely serious, questions are provided for a fast-moving and, sometimes, funny quiz. The pictures and stories can also be used to encourage open discussion, before moving to the next question.

Respect and protect 

Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers speak to a family in the street© InfoHumanitarian aid workers do not take sides in a conflict. Health workers, for instance, help the injured, whoever they are, according to need. Warring parties agree to let them do their work.

That is the theory. It is also the law. Like military medics, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement uses a protective emblem to mark its workers, vehicles and clinics to show that they offer neutral and impartial assistance. Attacking them is a war crime.

What do students know about the red cross red crescent emblem? Have they seen news coverage of the 150 year anniversary of the Movement? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to know more about?

Mostly, the red cross emblem is respected. But there are concerns that humanitarian workers in Syria are not being protected. Ask students to devise a poster, radio advert or rap on the theme of respect and protect.


MP buoyed up

Stephen Gilbert MP© InfoYou are standing on a terrace by a river, watching the fast flowing water. You see what seems to be a body floating past. Then she moves. She is alive. What do you do?

This happened to Stephen Gilbert MP as he stood on the House of Commons terrace. He found a lifebuoy and threw it to the woman. She grabbed it and was rescued further down the river.

How do students think Stephen Gilbert felt? He said the shock had left him “barely able to string a sentence together”. Talk about this reaction. Can students explain in their own words why he felt so disturbed?

Commentators on the online news reports suggested he should have jumped in and tried to save her. Why is this bad advice?

Investigate lifebuoys near water. How confident are students about how to use one? If there wasn't one, what might you use instead?


Hospital and home

An older woman at the door to her house© InfoMany patients stay in hospital longer than is necessary. Some emergency hospital admissions could be avoided. So says a report from the National Audit Office.

List reasons why being in hospital unnecessarily is bad for patients. Discuss why people who receive the support they need in their own homes tend to stay more independent and recover faster.

Experts say that dignity and self-determination help recovery. Which do you think someone recovering at home would prefer: to have shopping brought, or a meal cooked by a volunteer, or to be helped to go shopping or cook themselves? Explain your answer.

Imagine there's a 70 year old in your street recovering at home from a hip operation. You wonder how they are managing, since they used to be very active. You let someone know you’re going to pay a visit and then knock on their door. You say hello. What do you say next? What do you think they might say?


War crimes and video games

Two young people play a video game© InfoShould realistic battlefield video games take account of the laws of war? Players could be penalised for using torture, or rewarded for not targeting civilians. Invite students' reactions.

Ask someone who thinks games would be spoilt to debate with someone who thinks the games will become more authentic. Has anyone in the group changed their view?

International lawyers are advising some developers on creating game scenarios that do not reward players for actions that could be war crimes in real life. Did students realise that includes torture during interrogation, deliberate attacks on civilians, killing prisoners or the wounded, and attacks on medical personnel?

Realistic games are played by children and by off-duty soldiers for entertainment. The military also use similar games for training purposes. For which group will learning about the laws of war be most useful? International lawyers are less concerned about medieval fantasy or sci-fi war games. Why might this be?


Emergency texting

Teenage boy using mobile phone© InfoTeenagers aged 12 to 15 send on average 255 text messages a week. That's up from 193 last year. What do students think caused this rise? Is it good that people are communicating more?

Twenty years ago no one was texting. How did today's teenagers' parents communicate without texts? Think of three advantages and three disadvantages to a teenager of texting.

Talk about the emergency SMS system for people with hearing loss or speech difficulties. What information would need to go in a 999 text? Check: Who? Police, ambulance, fire and rescue or coastguard? What? Briefly, what is the problem? Where? Give the name of the road, house number, postcode or nearby landmark, if possible

Practise writing emergency texts for made-up scenarios. (Don't text them to 999.) Critique them for missing information. Do students know someone who might value this service? Show them how to register. See


Fancy dress apologies

A five year old poses for a picture with large pumpkins stocked for the upcoming Halloween in California, USA© InfoHalloween fancy dress costumes branded as "mental patient" or "psycho ward" were withdrawn from sale by two well-known supermarkets last month. The stores apologised and offered to make donations to a mental health charity.

Ask students to explain in their own words why people who have experienced mental illness were hurt and disappointed by such costumes.

Invite students to imagine that they are living with an illness. How would it help their recovery to have sympathy, acceptance and support from others? Now imagine an illness that brought rejection, incomprehension and fear. Describe how that might make it harder to get well.

The costumes were widely criticised for encouraging ignorant and hurtful attitudes towards people living with mental illness. Devise an antidote – a publicity campaign designed to promote humanity, compassion and kindness towards anyone who is ill for any reason. What messages work best?


Blues and twos

Emergency response vehicle© InfoAre emergency vehicles exempt from speed limits and other rules of the road, such as passing red traffic lights? What about volunteer first responders? Solicit opinions then research the answers.

Police, fire and ambulance vehicles attending an emergency are exempt, provided the driver is trained to drive at speed. The government has plans to extend exemptions to other emergency-type drivers – but not volunteer first aiders. Can students guess which?

Confirm that among those under consideration for exemption are bomb disposal teams, blood transfusion, mountain rescue, vehicles transporting human tissue and the forestry commission. Debate and vote.
One potential hazard of speeding is other road users' reactions. Carry out a survey of how people respond to hearing an emergency vehicle. Who knows the advice in the highway code (Rule 219)? Why should drivers not just stop regardless? How might drivers be encouraged to assume that an unmarked vehicle speeding is on a genuine emergency?


Growing old with HIV

Boy leaning over red ribbon made of candles on white sheet© InfoSome serious medical conditions are invisible. People only know about them if they are told or find out. Give two positive and two negative aspects of this invisibility. Evaluate them. Do the negatives outweigh the positives?

People with HIV may find it particularly hard to reveal their status. Discuss the emotional impact of this. People often talk about stigma and HIV. Can students define stigma in their own words?

Researchers are looking into what happens when people living with HIV get older. Talk about how older people might depend on others for hospital appointments, taking medication or personal care. Will that affect who they tell about their status?

Imagine someone in their 60s worrying about the reaction of children, grandchildren and neighbours to the news that they are HIV positive. What would students say to them?


Schools shut

A hand-written notice on a school saying the school is closed© InfoAutumn term didn't start on time for some school students in west coast USA. What was the unusual reason for the school closures? Invite guesses then reveal the answer – poor air quality caused by smoke pollution.

Invite students to say what they know about the cause of the smoke – one of California's worst-ever wildfires. Who can describe the impact most powerfully in a single sentence?

With a time limit such as a minute, list as many reasons as possible why schools sometimes close. How many are weather related? How many are the actions of humans – such as arson or war?

Reflect, briefly, on the positive side of closed schools. Then concentrate on the downside: you miss your friends, you miss chances to learn. Working in groups agree the three worst disadvantages of a closed school. Then for each one, identify something you could do to make it not so bad.


Chemical weapons

World War I soldiers blinded by tear gas wait in line with bandaged eyes© InfoLeave aside the political arguments and invite students to list the questions they would like to ask about chemical weapons. Who would they trust to provide impartial and accurate answers?

Chemical weapons are poisons. They have toxins that cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans. Mustard gas, nerve agents and other chemicals can asphyxiate or irritate and blister skin. Why is there such revulsion over their use?

Show the photograph of World War I soldiers affected by gas awaiting treatment. Does it have more emotional power than a photograph of injuries from bullets and bombs? If so, why? Write a caption for the picture.

Do students know Wilfred Owen's poem Dulce et Decorum Est? He invites readers to imagine hearing "the blood/ Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,/ Obscene as cancer..." Does focusing on physical realities affect how people think of warfare?


Everyday first aid

A child had a burn treated© InfoPut it under cold running water for at least ten minutes. Give them a non-diet sweet drink or something sweet to eat. Put pressure on it with whatever's available.

Those are recommended responses to three first aid scenarios. Can students identify what situations they are responses to?

These simple everyday messages have been devised because they aren’t too complicated to remember. Are they more straightforward than the first aid that students have learnt in the past? Will students remember these three messages tomorrow? Experts say first aid givers need to be caring and compassionate. Give an example of what that means.

World First Aid Day is on 14 September. Ask students to devise a plan to increase awareness of basic first aid skills on that day.

Answers: cold water for a burn, something sweet for a diabetic emergency and pressure on a wound that's bleeding.


Dangers in Syria

Rubbish continues to pile up, causing a health hazard in University City, Aleppo, Syria© InfoHazards in war go beyond the direct impact of bombs, missiles and bullets. Household waste piling up in the streets is a danger to health. Ask students to explain. Discuss how disease and parasites thrive on refuse.

Hazards in war go beyond the direct impact of bombs, missiles and bullets. Household waste piling up in the streets is a danger to health. Ask students to explain. Discuss how .
Working in pairs, invite students to imagine what will happen in a hot country over several weeks if electricity and water supplies are cut off and no one collects rubbish.

In areas of Syria such as Rural Damascus and eastern parts of Aleppo, essential services including rubbish collection and electricity and water supplies have failed. Write a text message or status update describing life as if from someone living alongside dozens of other families - in a damaged building, without electricity or water and with flies and the stench from rubbish outside.

In what way is a humanitarian aid worker repairing damaged water supplies in a war zone comparable to an emergency medical worker? Ask students to explain in their own words why they should be protected from attack.

After an earthquake

A sign reading 'Please help us!' is displayed while children play outside their makeshift tents in rice fields in the Philippines

Children play, hours after a destructive earthquake. What do students want to know?

Read the activities >

Build resilience

School students taking part in a workshop

Students and teachers together reflect, explore and experiment with responses to some form of crisis.

Try the quick activities >


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