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Wade Crowder
English and journalism teacher
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Understanding and Covering Diversity in Your Own School

Feature story hallmarks

Feature story hallmarks

Wade Crowder of Skyline High School in Dallas.

Wade Crowder
Skyline High School

Title: Feature story hallmarks

Description of School and Students

This unit on feature writing will be taught to freshmen and sophomore Journalism I students in a public urban high school of approximately 4,500 students. The class size will range from 20 to 25 students who are predominately Hispanic and African-American. (Student snapshot: Hispanic 58 percent, African-American 48 percent, Asian 3 percent, white 1 percent; Skyline Center in the Dallas Independent School District is a Title I school with 56 percent of students on free or reduced lunch.)

Generative Topic

  • How do student journalists write news/features in a style that is relevant and timely for a school newspaper published every 4 to 6 weeks?

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • Why write features and news/features instead of straight or hard news articles?
    • How do students structure a feature story?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • What are the most effective feature leads?
    • What is a nut graph?
    • What does “narrative” mean and what makes for a good narrative lead, story?
    • How do students use a quote transition model and allow sources to tell the story?
    • What is human interest and how do student journalists determine what is popular?
    • Where do students find good examples of feature writing?
    • How does a feature story end?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

Teaching high school journalism students the skills, techniques, and nature of straight and news/feature writing is imperative because most high school newspapers are published on a periodical basis (every 4-6 weeks). From early childhood through high school, most students have an instinct for what makes a good story. Students new to journalism have read and some have even written fictional stories, but developing and teaching them to apply their story telling ability to a non-fictional, reportorial style of writing requires specific delineation of an outline, lead, nut graph, and quote transition model.

In conjunction with teaching students the required set of “tools” for building and demonstrating a strong understanding of feature writing, they must also be exposed to professional feature stories published in daily newspapers and magazines. The New York Times Magazine offers some of the best examples of feature writing today.


Activity 1

  • Students will be assigned to groups of three or four. Each group will be given a feature story and a hard news story from a local large metro newspaper.
  • Within their groups, they will be asked to read each story and discuss and list the differences and similarities. Then they will be asked to explain which story is a feature and contains a strong narrative lead and thread. They may use the dictionary to look-up and define narrative.
  • Their primary objective within their groups is to begin to recognize that news stories may be told in different styles. Each group will choose a spokesperson to explain to the class which story was a feature and what makes a strong narrative.
  • What were elements in the feature story that compelled them to continue reading? (Students should be able to determine that a strong narrative is about the ability to tell a story in a compelling manner that uses basic, powerful language within a limited space.)

Activity 2

  • Discuss the structure of a feature outline and explain the basic components and steps in drafting and writing a feature story according to Randy Vonderheid’s outline and the Journalism Contest Manual.
  • Give students a copy of the FEATURE OUTLINE from Randy Vonderheid’s package:
    • Lead: Needs to grab the reader and set the scene.
    • Startling statement, descriptive, etc. Must be SPECIFIC TO THE PERSON, EVENT, OR SITUATION!!
    • Nut Graph: This is a short paragraph that gives the main idea of the story, in case the lead did not quite explain it.
    • Body: Should utilize the quote transition formula. (Refer to Texas UIL “Journalism Contest Manual” by Bobby Hawthorne, pages 44-55.)
    • Use a variety of relevant sources. Example: if the feature is on a specific person, interview their family, friends, etc.
    • Conclusion: Always completely tell the story—have depth. Story should end with a strong quote that draws the story to a satisfying conclusion. (Students should not attempt to write their own conclusion or draw a conclusion. Allow a primary source quotation to bring the feature to closure.)

Activity 3

  • Writing the lead: Explain that the lead is, perhaps, the most important part of the story because it will determine if the reader finishes the first paragraph or skips to another story.
  • Explain that the narrative lead is one of the most effective styles for hooking or drawing the reader into the story. Read several narrative leads from The New York Times Magazine. Ask students to explain which leads caught their attention and why. (Refer to “The Associated Press Guide to News Writing” Chapter 3, pages 23-35.)
  • Include a brief description of what follows the lead: the nut graph. Explain that nut graphs must tell the essential or basic information relative to the story and should include complete attribution of the primary source. It should also establish a timeline and basic setting.
  • Assignment for assessing comprehension of Lead and Nut Graph: pair students up and explain that they are going to interview their classmate about their first day in high school. Allow students time to complete interviews and assign homework for them to write a lead and nut graph from notes of interview.

Activity 4

  • Explain transition/quote model:
  • Transitions should be one or two sentences long and lead the reader to the information regarding the quote. Transitions should not tell or recap what the direct or indirect quote tells. Transitions may be written from reporting facts or summary of information gained from quotes and the interview.
  • Quotes may be up to two sentences long and be written as direct quotes, indirect quotes or as a paraphrase of what the source said.
  • Allow students time to complete a 4 paragraph model demonstrating transition/quote model from notes of interview of “First Day in High School.”

Activity 5

  • Allow students time to revisit their interview subject and ask follow-up questions.
  • Explain that students are required to complete the transition/quote model with a minimum of 10 paragraphs with 5 transitions and 5 quotes. The final quote should draw the reader back to the lead and bring closer to the story.
  • Explain the concept of Human Interest to students. Ask them to make certain they have attempted to discover the most interesting aspect of their subject’s first day in high school. Explain that they may have to ask even more questions.
  • Encourage students to exchange e-mail or phone numbers with their subject.
  • Assign completed rough draft of feature story for the following class period.


Final assessment should include the following:

  • Lead: Maximum of 25 points for capturing tone of story and reader’s attention
  • Nut Graph: Maximum of 15 points for effective summary of primary facts
  • Body: Maximum of 25 points for use of transition/quote model
  • Structure: Maximum of 35 points for spelling, grammar, attribution, overall structure

Resources Recommended

  • Capon, Rene J. “The Associated Press Guide to News Writing,” Chapter 3: Leads: The
    Agony of Square One. (Lawrenceville, NJ: Arco Books) 2000.
  • Hawthorne, Bobby. “Journalism Contest Manual,” 5th Edition. (University Interscholastic League, The University of Texas at Austin) 1999.
  • www.uil.utexas.org

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