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Nancie Stone
Journalism teacher
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Lesson Plans

Developing Ideas for In-Depth Newspaper Stories




Developing Ideas for In-Depth Newspaper Stories

Nancie Stone of Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H.

Nancie Stone
Pinkerton Academy
Derry, N.H.,

Title: Developing Ideas for In-Depth Newspaper Stories

Description of School and Students:

Pinkerton Academy, Derry, N.H., serves 3,300 public school students in southern New Hampshire, in a largely Caucasian population. Most students come from one of two population centers: Derry, a small city, and Hampstead, a rural town. The student newspaper, The Kaleidoscope, has been published since 1996 in print version only and reaches the school population through distribution in English classes.

Description of Journalism Course/Class:

The Kaleidoscope is produced monthly by students enrolled in the yearlong journalism course. Class size is 16-20 students, all juniors or seniors. The class produces its newspaper using PageMaker and PhotoShop.

Key Theme:

To develop one in-depth/investigative article for each student as a way to add substance and topical issues to the school newspaper.

Overview/Rational:

Students find it much easier to cover the usual school events – the pep rally, the play, an art show – than to delve into controversial subjects. This is a natural reaction for students who do not want to be in the spotlight over a touchy issue and who may not feel confident about their ability to research a topic with enough depth to become an authority.

Goals for Understanding:

Essential Questions:

  • What issues are important to students at Pinkerton Academy?
  • How can The Kaleidoscope cover such topics?

Critical Engagement Questions:

  • What challenges face teenagers?
    • What are students worrying about?
    • What are students enjoying?
    • Are these valid subjects for a school newspapers? Why or why not?
  • Are all investigative articles negative?
    • What questions are student journalists comfortable asking?
    • What is the difference between what we can do and what we ought to do?

Activities:

Activity 1: (one class period)

  • Hand out “Special Education in the Balance” by Michael Hardy (from Tops in Texas) (another student-produced in-depth piece that you have access to would also work).
  • After students have read the article discuss its strengths and weaknesses as an in-depth article.
  • Students will probably note that this article is much longer than those we usually print, so they should also discuss how this topic might be pared down, while still being informative.
  • Have students deconstruct this article to discover what question the author began with, what other questions developed from his research and interviews. What did he need to know before he began interviewing?

Activity 2: (one class period)

  • Read “America Will Never Forget” by Angela Crabtree et. al. (from Tops in Texas) (another student-produced in-depth piece that you have access to would also work).
  • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this article and discuss how the author(s) used sidebars to manage information.
  • Discuss how the author focused each segment of the feature package.
  • Have students deconstruct this article to discover what question the author began with, what other questions developed from her research and interviews.
    • What did she need to know before she began her interviews?

Activity 3: (one-two class periods)

  • Have students write out the following:
    • Five things that make them angry.
    • Five things that make them happy.
    • Five topics they overheard people discussing in the hallway this week.
    • Five things their parents/family discussed at home this week.
    • Five things they don’t understand.
  • Divide the class into four groups and make a list for each category. Eliminate all duplication. Put the final list on the board.
  • Discuss which of these topics is relevant and appropriate for a high school newspaper and why. Eliminate any ideas that the class does not want to see in The Kaleidoscope.

Activity 4: (two class periods)

  • Return to small groups with the following instructions: Each group member must pick one topic from their group’s list and develop a broad question that focuses an in-depth article. (Example: If the topic is divorce, the question might be how teens are coping with divorce in their family.)
  • Each student must prepare a rationale (two or three sentences) for including the topic in the high school newspaper. During this exercise, students may use the Internet to obtain statistics/facts that support the need for such story.
  • Each student must come up with three sub-topics that fit under their broad question. One of these topics will turn into their main story; the other two will be sidebars.
  • Students must list at least three possible sources, by name.
  • Group members will help each other flesh out these story ideas and sources.
  • Each student must prepare to present his/her idea to the class.

Activity 5: (one class period)

  • Student presentation of ideas. Other classmates will offer further suggestions for subtopics/sources.

Activity 6: (homework)

  • Students will prepare at least 10 questions for each of their sources and read those questions to their group for critique.
  • Students will present a typed proposal for their in-depth (including all the information prepared during these classes) for a grade.

Assessment:

Proposals will earn a test grade based on the following:

  • All required information is included (statement of need, focus question, questions for two possible sidebars, list of questions for sources).
  • Proposal is focused enough to produce an in-depth story suitable for the newspaper.
  • Rationale for investigating this story is supported with data.

Recommended readings/sources:

  • Osborn, Patricia, "School Newspaper Adviser’s Survival Kit," pp. 215-226.
  • "Tops in Texas," Interscholastic League Press Conference, pp. 8-17.


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