First of all, I have used USA TODAY in the classroom with success with an exercise I made up called “phrasing.” Small groups of ninth-grade students sit down with the newspaper, and we decide on an article to read.
The students take turns reading a paragraph, and I then ask the reader to pick one phrase from the paragraph that he or she read. An example of a phrase might be, “on the other side.” Each of the students selects a phrase, and when we have about five phrases, they must be used by the group to write a paragraph that has nothing to do with the topic of the article that they read. It is enjoyable to watch the hard thinking that goes into making up a paragraph that must be coherent and make sense from those phrases. Some of the resulting work is quite good, and very rarely do I have to intervene to be sure that it is coherent.
All of this also includes a peripheral discussion of the article itself and how it is topical for the days news in the context of what is going on in the world.