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Kellie Wagner
English teacher
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Lesson Plans

Forming the Beat



Forming the Beat

Kellie Wagner at Hartford (Conn.) Journalism and Media Academy.

Title: Forming the Beat


Students should understand what constitutes a beat in journalism as well as why having and covering a beat is important in the media process. The ability to develop and groom sources for information is an essential part of developing contacts that lead to story ideas and students should feel comfortable and confident in their ability to question and respond to those in authority as beat sources.

Goals for Understanding

The students will be able to define what a beat is and why it is important to the function of a school newspaper.

Students will explore how to cover a beat and develop a timeline for regular beat coverage.

Students will practice questioning skills through brainstorming and mock interviewing.

Students will be able to speak and respond effectively to their sources in order to build relationships, be seen as professionals, and to gain the information they seek in order to produce stories.

Essential Questions

  • What is a beat?
  • Why is a beat essential to the role of a journalist?
  • What is a source?
  • Who can be a source?
  • How do you cover a beat?
  • What questions do I ask my source?
  • How do students develop confidence in speak to their sources?
  • How do students know if they have a story?
  • Activity I (one 75-minute class or two 40-minute classes)
    • Review the section on “School Coverage” in the School Newspaper Advisers Survival Guide to help the student define what a beat is in journalism.
    • Group the students in threes and have them pick the following words out of a hat or box – School News, Sports, Community, Cops/Security, Business, Environment, Politics/Government/School Board, Entertainment and Social Media
    • Students should come up with a list using the Internet, school directory, phone book,etc. of people and places they could cover for a beat under their given category. By the end of the class students should have a list of at least 10-15 names (including addresses/ phone numbers/email addresses) to be handed in.
    • Develop a master list for the class and students can keep these references handy in a common area or their folders.
    • Remember to save 15 minutes at the end of class to review with the entire class what the groups found and whether it should be included on the master list.
  • Activity II
    • The same groups used in Activity I will gather together to develop five reader questions that people might ask about their subject/topic. For example- if a personwrites down that a cafeteria worker should be a source under School News then five questions that could be asked include: Who makes up the school lunch menu? Do students have a say in what is chosen? How many cafeteria workers are there? What is the average cost per student to make lunch for each student each day? Are there options for students with food allergies?
    • Once the groups have their questions one person will act as the “source” and the others as reporters. They will take turns asking their questions to the “source.” The source will respond as best as they can with the knowledge they have.
    • Groups will reconvene to share what they thought about the experience. Using the Human Sources guide, the teacher and students will discuss what makes a good source.
    • Finally, students will choose which beat they would like to cover and will then come up with a timeline for the semester on when and how they will groom their sources and cover their beats
  • Activity III
    • Students will be allowed to call or visit their beat sources to ask their reader questions. This should be done in school using as many staff as needed for each beat area or as a walking tour in and around school.
    • Using the 12 Factors of Newsworthiness rubric, students will individually decide whether the information they gathered would be a story for them and their school publication.


Students will come up in front of the class and report on where they went, whom they found as a source and whether they have a story to write based on the information they recorded.



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