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Finding a Voice in Editorial and Opinion Writing

Lee Ann Barnhardt of Ray High School in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Lee Ann Barnhardt
W.B. Ray High School
Corpus Christi, Texas

Title: Finding A Voice in Editorial & Opinion Writing

Description of School and Students

This unit will be taught to a ninth and tenth grade journalism class in an urban high school of approximately 2,400 students. The class size is approximately 25 English-speaking students. The class cultural mix is 70 percent Hispanic, 27 percent Anglo and 3 percent other.

Generative Topic

  • Why do editorial pages matter?

Generative Objects

  • Copies of editorial pages of several daily and weekly newspapers
  • Complete editions of several daily newspapers
  • Examples of editorial cartoons
  • Notes, discussion about research, reporting and editorial writing
  • Internet for background research

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • What is an editorial?
    • What are the basic parts of an editorial?
    • What are columns and reviews?
    • What is the role of an editorial board?
    • What does it mean to verify sources?
    • What are logical arguments and fallacies?
    • What is an editorial cartoon?
    • What is an editorial policy?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • Why do newspapers publish editorials and other opinion pieces?
    • What are the functions of an editorial?
    • Why do people read editorials, reviews or columns?
    • What is the role of the reader in the editorial process?
    • What are possible reactions to an editorial or other opinion writing?
    • What is the purpose of editorial writing in a high school newspaper?

Performance of Understanding, Rationale and Time Line

This lesson is about recognizing opinion writing in the media, understanding the process of gathering and verifying facts before forming an opinion and actually writing an editorial and review. The lesson is part of an overall unit on journalistic writing. The previous units will have covered basic news reporting and writing and feature writing. Students will have discussed and explored the basic similarities and differences between the three forms of writing. The lesson should take approximately one week on the accelerated block schedule (90 minutes per class that meets daily).

Activity 1

  • Look at the editorials and columns in an issue of a daily newspaper. Then examine the news content of the same issue or the day before. Answer the following questions:
    • Are there background stories to provide information on some or all of the topics covered?
    • What evidence do you find that the writers of the editorials or columns did their homework before writing? Write a paragraph to explain your evidence. Give examples.

Activity 2

  • Select an editorial or column and rewrite it, taking a different approach and an opposite position. Be prepared to research your position before writing.

Activity 3

  • Do a comparison of the editorial pages of your local newspaper, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
    • What are the differences in elements used?
    • Is more than one page used?
    • What types of columns appear?
    • Make a chart showing the contents of each paper’s editorial page(s) write a brief analysis of the differences you find. Clip the editorial pages to your chart and analysis. Be prepared to discuss your findings with the class.

Activity 4

  • Select and read three editorials. Make sure they all serve a different function (explain, persuade, answer, warn, criticize, entertain, praise, lead). Write the function on the top of the editorial and turn it in. Be prepared to share with the class.

Activity 5

  • Make a list of topics you would like to write about. Present your ideas to the class in a mock editorial board meeting. As a group, discuss and pros and cons of several topics or issues. Select one of the topics presented and write an editorial. Mark each key editorial section on your copy (introduction, reaction or stance, discussion and details and conclusion). At the top of the page, identify the function of the editorial you have written.

Activity 6

  • Write a review of a current movie, book or television show. Then find one or more reviews of the same film, show or book in another newspaper or magazine.
    • How does your review compare with the professional ones?
    • Are there points either you or the professional writers should have covered but didn’t? Make copies of the reviews and discuss them with the class.

Activity 7

  • Find several examples of editorial cartoons. Determine what makes them effective:
    • Is it drawing ability, message or both?
    • Can a cartoon be subtle and still effective?
  • Try to have a variety — serious, lighthearted, political or general commentary. Make a display of the cartoons with your explanation of why they work. Present to the class.

Assessment

Students will be assessed on their successful completion of the above activities. Emphasis will be placed on the original writing assignment for editorials and reviews. A participation grade will be given on class presentation and editorial board discussion.

Resources Recommended

  • Ferguson, D., Patten, J., Wilson, B., "Journalism Today 6th Edition" (Chicago: National Textbook Company) 2001.
  • Hawthorne, Bobby, "The Radical Write" (Taylor Publishing Company) 1994.
  • Copies of the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal
  • Computer access for research — bookmark daily newspaper sites


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