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Identifying and Writing Different Types of Leads

Sharon Nolan
North Canyon High School
Phoenix, Ariz.

Title: Identifying and Writing Different Types of Leads

Overview and Rationale

This lesson is intended for 9th-12th grade journalism students.  Most journalism students spend a great deal of time learning the inverted pyramid writing style as well as the 5 Ws and H.  However, it is difficult for students to find ways to include all this information in an informative and interesting lead.  Reviewing different types of leads and providing examples will model the different ways to approach the all important lead.

Goals for Understanding

  • Purpose: Students will learn the different types of leads – including summary, anecdotal, contrast, staccato, direct address, and question.
  • Students will recognize appropriate leads depending on the type of story.

Essential Questions

  • How does a story catch the reader’s attention while providing necessary information?
  • When do readers lose interest in a story? 
  • What information are they looking for?

Critical Engagement Questions

  • When picking up a newspaper, what catches your attention?
  • What makes you want to read a story? 
  • What makes a story interesting?
  • What are you looking for in the first few paragraphs of a story?
  • What different types of leads have you noticed while reading the paper?

Overviews and Timeline


Activity 1 (One 50-minute class)
  • Ask students, “What makes a good lead?”  Lead a class discussion.  Many students will bring up the 5W’s and H.  Others will bring up the idea of interest.
  • Further discussion by altering the question to be, “What makes an interesting lead?”
  • Distribute two versions of the same story.  You may cater this to your class by choosing any two versions of a story.  Many journalism textbooks also contain an article comparison.  You may use those same articles and just focus on the lead.  Here is an example of two stories with different leads, both regarding Al Franken being sworn in as a U.S. Senator:

http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/07/frankens_gain_wydens_loss.html  (question lead)

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitol-briefing/2009/07/franken_finally_sworn-in_and_h.html?hpid=news-col-blog  (anecdotal lead)

  • Have students read both stories and lead a class discussion on how the stores are similar and different.  Which article did the students like better?  Which lead was more interesting?  How would they categorize this story (news, feature, opinions, etc)? 
  • Students should recognize that summary leads are by far the most common for hard news stories.  Feature stories tend to explore alternative lead types.
  • Introduce the different types of leads: summary, anecdotal, contrast, staccato, direct address, and question.  Show examples of each lead and discuss the advantages and disadvantages.
  • Optional homework portion: have students look in newspapers or online papers to find two versions of the same story using different leads.  Have students bring in articles the next day.

    Activity 2 (One 50-minute classes)

  • Start the class with a quick overview of the types of leads discussed yesterday.
  • Have students share the two versions they found for homework.  Only take the time to share and discuss leads (not the entire story).  This activity should take no more than 15 minutes.
  • Students will now write two leads of their own based off popular fairy tales.  They may choose any fairy tale of their liking (Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Snow White, etc).  The teacher may want to have fairy tale books available.  Students may choose which two types of leads on which they would like to focus.  Give students time to review the fairy tales and write their two leads.
  • Have students share their leads during the last 10 minutes of class.  Recognize the most creative/fun/original leads.


  • Homework can be graded by individual teacher classroom rules.  In my classroom, this is assessed as complete or incomplete. 
  • The two news leads may be graded on any of the following components:
    1. Two clearly different leads with the type of lead indicated
    2. Free of grammatical and mechanical errors
    3. Concise (preferably fewer than 30 words)
    4. Non-summary leads still include the main idea of the story
    5. Will grab the readers’ interest


Pope, Charles.  “Franken’s Gain, Wyden’s Loss.” Oregon Live. 07 July 2009. <http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/07/frankens_gain_wydens_loss.html>.
Bacon, Perry, Jr., “Franken Finally Sworn In, and Hugs Ensue.” Weblog Entry. Capital Briefing. 07 July 2009. The Washington Post. 08 July 2009 <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitol-briefing/2009/07/franken_finally_sworn-in_and_h.html?hpid=news-col-blog>.

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