I am teaching a class on current events at a homeschool co-op. The articles and lesson plans are free from a website: Izzit.org. I like to teach homeschool co-op classes that benefit from group class environments that are just not the same to teach at home with just mom and one child (or mom and siblings).
The Izzit.org lesson plans have a vocabulary word list. Most of these are jargon relating to the topic i.e. business world jargon, educational-ese, government terms, or phrases that preteens or young teens may not yet know as they are not a part of their world yet, such as "ivory tower" or "tenure".
There is a list of discussion questions.
My format for the 90 minute class is this. I email the students and post to the co-op website, two articles, the vocabulary words and discussion questions. As homework they are to read the article, define the vocabulary words, formulate their opinions and reactions, and come to class ready to discuss. I have been choosing one serious news topic such as the BP oil spill issue or immigration and I choose one about the lives of children, teens, or about school. I do this as frankly some of the topics are so heavy I don't want to give them two depressing articles to talk about in one day.
We start the class by going over the vocabulary words. Some students write the wrong definition, so this is a good exercise, they come to realize that one word can have two or more very different meanings, only one of which relates to this article.
Next we discuss the questions, going right down the list. We cover two articles in 90 minutes.
The opinions of the students, aged 12-15 surprises me. Sometimes they have so much common sense I am so happy. Other times they are thoroughly unimpressed by the issue. For example, the three girls in the class told me they do not care at all that the number of doctoral degrees has just tipped to more women earning them than men. No students thought that having a doctoral degree is a sign of status (a term used in the article and in the questions). In a discussion of the percentages of men vs. women holding engineering, math and physical science degrees (male-heavy) and health, education, and behavioral sciences (women-heavy) none of them thought gender had any role in pre-determining the people's choices. None had heard of the nature versus nurture issue, and all said that everything is mutable and by choice or else due to the environment the person grew up in (all nurture).
I'm really enjoying teaching this class. It's fantastic to see kids actually thinking. They all seem to be independent thinkers generally, although I do see signs of having been swayed by media bias in big news stories they already were aware of (i.e. recent deep water oil spill). They show their ability to think critically the most when they have read one news story on a topic they knew nothing about prior to this. In any event, it's great to see kids expressing their opinion. We talk a lot and sometimes laugh a lot too.
You can sign up for a free email from Izzit.org to receive the lesson plans by email. They have an archive of the lesson plans at present but their policy on archiving lesson plans has shifted back and forth in the last year, so if you see a lesson plan you think you want to use in the future perhaps you should save a hard copy. Also in 2010 they didn't publish articles in the summer months.
Disclosure: I was not paid to mention Izzit.org.