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Lesson Plans

Margaret Ligner
Journalism teacher
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Lesson Plans

Basic writing and reporting

Basic writing and reporting

Margaret Ligner of Coronado High School in El Paso, Texas.

Margaret "Peggy" Ligner
Coronado High School
El Paso, Texas

Title of unit: Basic writing and reporting

Description of school and students

Coronado High School, population about 2,600, is a 5A school located in west Texas. The school is located in a multicultural community. Coronado’s population is approximately 65 percent Hispanic or Latino, 5 percent African American, 4 percent Asian, with the remaining 26 percent being white or Anglo. Although a majority of the student body comes from Catholic backgrounds, Coronado also has a large Jewish community. There are representatives of just about every religion, ethnic and economic background at Coronado. Most students seem to practice tolerance of those different than they are. Another strange twist in the population of Coronado is the three country clubs, two low-income housing projects and a large variety of housing that falls in between the higher and lower economic boundaries that feed into the school. This also gives the school an interesting mix. Some drive a Lexus or Ferrari to school while others catch a ride in the family’s van or a school or city bus to get to school.


As the newspaper adviser, I have a policy of encouraging students of color to join the staff. Often due to graduation requirements, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs the students cannot be in the class but are allowed to freelance for the newspaper. Our staff generally reflects all the ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds at the school. Because of the limitations placed by the state, AP and IB classes many students do not take beginning journalism and go straight the publication class.

The purpose of this first unit of lesson plans is to teach those students ways to write in the journalistic style. Many students who enter the program do not have sufficient background in ethics or journalistic writing skills. In addition there are students who are still mastering English as a second language. These lessons should assist students to write in journalistic style, to understand the importance of editing, and to understand and formulate specific ethics and diversity policies. In addition, these plans should help students in their quest to produce the best possible newspaper for the students and staff at the school as well as those in the community. The following lesson plans are for 10th- to 12th-grade students. Classes are usually between 22 and 30 students.

Curriculum Unit One

Theme: Reporting tips and covering the community

Overview: This unit is to teach basics or writing and reporting. By teaching this unit before the first issue it is hoped that writing and reporting will be improved. In addition, there will be an introduction to the beat system, and a chance for students to have a hand in determining coverage the monthly paper.

Goals for understanding

  • TEKS 1. The student understands individual and staff responsibilities of coverage appropriate for publications audience. The student is expected to:
    • A. understand the role and responsibilities of each staff member and the purpose of the publication;
    • D. conduct research using a variety of sources such as firsthand interviews and other means available, including the Internet.
  • 2. The student understands journalistic ethics and standard and the responsibility to cover subjects of interest and importance to the audience. The student is expected to:
    • Compose the story accurately keeping his/her own opinion out of non-editorial coverage
    • Determine which events and issues are newsworthy for a readership.
    • Use skills in reporting and writing to produce publications.
    • Select the most appropriate journalistic format to present content.
    • Evaluate stories/coverage for balance and readability.
    • The student demonstrates leadership and teamwork abilities.
    • Submit work for editing and critiquing and make appropriate revisions.
    • Work cooperatively and collaboratively through a variety of staff assignments.


Lesson One

Title: Styles of Writing and Reporting Specifics (time frame-four days)


Activity 1

  • Have random students read "How to Write and/or How Not to Write" handout aloud. Each student reads one part after the teacher introduces the paper by reading the first two paragraphs.
  • After students read handout, open a discussion about why students think reporting is important. They can refer to things brought up during the course of the lesson.

Activity 2

  • Have students work up 10 questions to ask the principal regarding new school rules or dress code changes for the year. They will turn in the questions at the beginning of class tomorrow.

Activity 3

  • Teacher will review the questions and make suggestions to students. The students will redo their questions and be prepared for a visit from the principal during the next class. The principal will give a 10 to 15 minute speech to the class. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a press conference with the principal after the prepared speech.

Activity 4

  • Students will use notes taken during the principal’s visit and write stories


Questions will be reviewed by the teacher then returned, in addition students actions during the press conference with the principal will be assessed. Final assessment will be the story written about the principal’s press conference.

Recommended Readings & Sources

  • "How to Write and/or How Not to Write"
  • "The Radical Write" by Bobby Hawthorne
  • Bio of principal
  • Principal’s letter to parents about the new school year

Lesson Two

Title: The Beat System


Begin by discussing the beat system. Explain how the system helps reporters to do a better job at reporting.


  • Break students into groups of four or five and have them brainstorm ideas for beats to cover. The groups should explain why they believe each beat is important. Make sure that each group has a scribe who is writing down the ideas and reasons for assigning each beat.
  • After 10 to 15 minutes have each group present their suggested beats. The teacher or a student editor can write beats on the board as groups present.
  • Now pass out copies which list all sports, departments, clubs on campus, ask the students to go over those for a few minutes and see if they need to add any beats to the list. Often a school business agent or student activity director has such a list already prepared.
  • Next, students need to sign up to cover beats. If a teacher has beginning journalism and/or other publication staffs, students in each of the classes can cover beats. This should lower the number of beats each student must cover, giving the student more time to dedicate to their beat. Once the group has decided on beats assign students regular beats to cover.

Assessment: Students will turn in beat checks weekly or every other week, they are also responsible for placing upcoming events on the calendar and arranging for coverage and photos. Base final assessment on beat checks and coverage over the course of the year.

Recommended Reading

Lesson Three

Title: How to determine coverage and minimum standards.


  • Go over the concepts in the papers and then break students into study to work on a content mission statement for the paper and a minimum standards list for staffers.
  • Groups will turn in their suggested mission statements and minimum standards. The last 20 minutes of class will end with the presentation of Wanda Cash’s "Math for reporters and copy editors." Staffers will also get instruction about the importance of credibility and correct facts and quotes.


The adviser and editors will go over the papers at lunch or after school. The next day the editor(s) and adviser will present the newspaper mission statement and minimum standards statement compiled from the group lists to the class.

Recommended Reading

Lesson Four

Title: The Importance of Editing


  • Go over the handout aloud in class, covering the seven different rules of diplomacy listed in the handout. Discuss the importance of editing referring to the credibility and factual error discussion from lesson three.
  • Go on to handout on "Tips on Writing about Other Cultures and Life-Styles." Again go over the handout in class and encourage discussion and questions. Ask students if they can see how this might be important to them as student reporters.
  • Break students into groups and have them come up with a way to edit stories for the school newspaper and yearbook. The students must discuss methods for checking information, grammar and spelling errors.


Each group turns in a sequence of how to edit stories for the publication that will help to ensure that there will be few errors of any kind in the publications.

Recommended Reading Other Sources

  • "Covering the Community: A Diversity Handbook for Media" by Leigh Stephens Aldrich
  • "White News: Why Local News Programs Don’t Cover People of Color" by Don Heider
  • "Race and Reporting" by Valerie Hyman, The Poynter Institute.

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