How to Understand Newspaper Headlines

This Lesson Helps ESL Students Understand Newspaper Headings

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Take a look at any newspaper or magazine headline and you are likely to find incomplete sentences full of action-packed verbs. Headlines live in a linguistic bubble all by themselves because they ignore grammar conventions such as the use of helping verbs and so on. Of course, this means that newspaper headlines can be confusing to English language students. This is because newspaper headlines are often incomplete. For example:

Difficult Times Ahead
Under Pressure from Boss
Mustang Referral Customer Complaint

This lesson focuses on helping make sense of the strange forms used in newspaper headlines. You may want to review some of the most common grammar exceptions found in newspaper headlines before you take this lesson into class.

Lesson Breakdown and Outline

Aim: Understanding newspaper headlines
Activity: "Translating" newspaper headlines into more understandable English
Level: Intermediate to higher levels


  • Find some headlines in old newspapers or on the internet and cut them out. There should be at least two headlines per student.
  • Pass out one of the headlines to each student. Give them a few minutes to think about the meaning of each headline.
  • Ask students to read their headlines aloud and give an explanation of what they think the article in question concerns.
  • As a class, brainstorm on possible structural meanings behind the "strange" grammar found in headlines (refer to grammar exceptions found in newspaper headlines).
  • Ask students to fit the following headlines into the correct categories on the worksheet. You may want to have students pair up to do this.
  • Correct the exercise as a class.
  • Pass out the headlines you have left to the students. Ask each student to "translate" each headline into "proper" English and give an explanation of what they think the article in question concerns.
  • As a homework option, you may want to ask students to find some headlines on their own and repeat this exercise. A further challenge might be to ask students to find headlines, read the articles, and then ask other students to interpret their headlines in small groups.

Newspaper Headlines Exercises for Students of English

1. Match these newspaper headlines with the following categories (some headlines fit two categories):

Newspaper Headlines

Difficult Times Ahead
Forgotten Brother Appears
James Wood to Visit Portland
Landscaping Company Disturbance Regulations
Man Killed in Accident
Mayor to Open Shopping Mall
Mustang Referral Customer Complaint
Overwhelming Response of Voters
Passerby Sees Woman Jump
President Declares Celebration
Professors Protest Pay Cuts
Tommy the Dog Named Hero
Under Pressure from Boss
Unexpected Visit
Widow Pension Pay Committee


2. Try to "translate" the meaning of each of the headlines.

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "How to Understand Newspaper Headlines." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 27). How to Understand Newspaper Headlines. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "How to Understand Newspaper Headlines." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 28, 2023).