Hands-on English current events activityfor ESL

February 2003

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Reading and discussion activity:
The Columbia Spaceshuttle Tragedy

Dear Instructors:
When there is an event of great national concern, your ESL students are just as interested as everybody else, but it can be difficult for them to understand the news reports. That is why Jill Kramer, an instructor in Columbus, Ohio, wrote this story for her intermediate-level students. We are very grateful to her for sharing it with us, and we hope you will find it useful with your students.
--Anna Silliman, Editor.

Study these words:
break up

The Columbia Spaceshuttle Tragedy.

On Saturday February 1, 2003 the space shuttle Columbia was descending to Earth. It was returning from a 16-day space flight. At 9am, just 16 minutes before landing, something went terribly wrong. The shuttle broke up and all seven astronauts perished. The seven crew members included two women, one African American and an Israeli.

The Columbia was 39 miles above Texas and was going 12,500 miles per hour. It had just re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. It was gliding in to land in Florida. Suddenly there was no contact with the shuttle. NASA doesn't know what happened. Pieces of the shuttle fell to the ground. Debris was found from Dallas to Louisiana.

The Columbia was built in 1981 and cost $1 billion. It went into space 28 times. NASA has cancelled all space flights in the future. This is a national tragedy for the U.S.A.


1. What happened to the space shuttle?

2. Where did it happen?

3. When did it happen?

4. Who was on the shuttle?

5. When was the Columbia built?

6. Do you think the shuttle program should continue?

As always I am interested to hear what you and your students are doing in the classroom, and I welcome comments and teaching suggestions.--Anna Silliman,

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