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Kate Fehringer
English and journalism teacher
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Lesson Plans

Creative Nonfiction: An alternative to the feature story




Creative Nonfiction: An alternative to the feature story

Kate Fehringer of Shields Valley High School in Clyde Park, Mont.

Kate Fehringer
Shields Valley High School
Wilsall, Mont.

Title: Creative Nonfiction: An alternative to the feature story

“An ordinary life examined closely reveals itself to be exquisite and complicated and exceptional, somehow managing to be both heroic and plain.” — Susan Orlean in The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup

Objectives:

  • Students will define the term creative nonfiction.
  • Students will identify the elements of creative nonfiction in a published magazine article.
  • Students will write a personality profile feature using the techniques of creative nonfiction.

Materials:

  • Copies of Susan Orlean’s article, "The American Man, Age Ten" in Esquire, December 1992 (also reprinted in her book, "The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup")
  • "The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup" by Susan Orlean. Random House, 2002.
  • Posterboard or large paper
  • Slips of paper with all the names of all students in your school, or another method to randomly select a student
  • Handout: Characteristics of Creative Nonfiction (Note: A good resource for creating a handout on creative nonfiction is the book "Writing Creative Nonfiction" by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. Ten Speed Press, 2001.)

Sequence of Instruction:

This lesson would fit nicely into a feature writing unit, after the basics of news writing have been covered. In preparation, students should read "The American Man, Age 10" as homework beforethis lesson.

Procedure:

  • Have students split into small groups. Each group gets a piece of poster board, which they should divide into three columns. Tell them to label the first column fiction. In this column, they should list the characteristics of fiction writing.
    • What makes this genre unique?
    • Examples include dialogue, elements of plot and character development.
  • In the same group, tell students to make another list in the second column of their paper about the characteristics of news writing.
  • In the third column, have students list what makes a feature story.
  • Once students have completed their charts, direct their attention to you again. Read an excerpt from Susan Orlean’s introduction to "The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup," pgs. x-xii, about why she likes to write about ordinary people and discover the interesting from the mundane. It explains the background to her story, “American Man, Age 10.”
  • In their same groups, give students 5-10 minutes to discuss how Orlean’s story (which they read for homework) fits the characteristics of the three different genres on their chart. Circle the characteristics that apply, and decide in which category her writing best fits.
  • Have groups share what they came up with, and discuss.
  • Explain that Orlean’s writing is often categorized in its own category, that of “creative nonfiction.” Based on the term itself, and what they know of her writing, have each student write his or her own definition of the term
  • Share definitions with the class and write a collective definition based on students’ responses.
  • Distribute handout about creative nonfiction, and discuss the definition it gives, as well as the characteristics. Compare to what students generated.
  • Discuss the practical application of type of writing for journalism. When would this approach be appropriate, and when not? Why?
  • Explain assignment. Each class member must randomly choose a student from your student body (how this is done is up to you) and write a personality profile on that person. Their mission is to discover something interesting, unique, or quirky about that person, and write about them in a way so that others care to read it. Adhere to Orlean’s theory that every person has a story to tell. Mention that some newspapers have a weekly profile on someone whose name was picked out of the phone book. Briefly discuss with students what kind of questions they should ask to reveal their angle. The questions they plan to ask are due next class (at least 10), and a rough draft of the profile itself is due in one week.

Assessment:

  • Questions will be assessed according to the following criteria: at least 10 questions, none answerable by yes or no, and should lead respondent to reveal information about himself.
  • Article will be assessed according to how well it reflects the style of creative nonfiction, and whether or not it effectively engages the reader’s interest.


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