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news story: A story that emphasizes the facts, often written in inverted pyramid style. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Finding Compelling Stories in your Community

Josh Davis
Beachwood High School
Beachwood, Ohio


Feature Writing: Finding Significance in the Lives Around You

Rationale

The goal of this project is to expose students to nonfiction that reports emotional experience and transcends the conventions of newswriting. While these writers show discipline in their reporting and their fidelity to the truth, they are often willing to take risks in their use of language and narrative structure. Ultimately, students will be asked to take a risk by reporting and writing their own features.

Objectives:

  • Students will learn to find a significant story in the lives of people around them.
  • Students will see how contemporary feature writing can reach beyond the bounds of traditional news writing through use of literary techniques.
  • Students will analyze the storytelling tools used by contemporary feature writers.
  • Students will understand the influence of New Journalism on contemporary feature writing.
  • Students will apply their knowledge by writing their own feature story, utilizing in-depth reporting methods. 
  • Students will show understanding of newswriting conventions as well as employing literary techniques.

Anticipatory Set:

The class will make a list of challenging issues faced by teens today.  Next, students will anonymously count how many of those issues they themselves have faced. They will make marks on a piece of paper and turn the paper in.  We will then add up all the numbers.  50?  If the number is 50, that means that there are 50 potential feature stories IN THIS ROOM.

But you will not be reading and writing about people in this room. You will be reading compelling stories found by professional feature writers; you will be finding compelling stories on your beat and in our community.

Lesson Content:

  • Students will read two or more of the feature stories listed below.  This can be approached in several different ways, depending on number of students in the class, range of ability and time available.
  • One option is to read the Orlean story together as a class with students answering study questions invidually.  Then put the class in groups, with each group reading one and reporting back to the class.  This would allow differentiation by ability level, since some stories are much more challenging than others. 
  • A second option is to pick those features that will be of highest interest to students and focus on those as a class.  Of course, features can be switched out and changed from year to year.  The Nieman Narrative Archive at Harvard is a great resource for finding powerful feature stories.

Background:

The American Man at Age Ten by Susan Orlean   (http://www.courses.vcu.edu/ENG200-dwc/orlean.htm)

Mrs. Kelly’s Monster by Jon Franklin    (http://www.jonfranklin.com/Stories/Mrs_Kellys_Monster.html)

Sheltering Sky by Joanna Connors (http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2009/12/kent_state_professor_trudy_ste.html)

Megacity by George Packer   (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/11/13/061113fa_fact_packer)
 

Discussion Questions:

For each story, students will answer the following questions:

1.  What is the significance of the story?  How does the writer show that the subject’s story is bigger and more important than the experience of one person (or place)?

2.  To what extent does the writer insert him / herself into the narrative?  How does that affect the article’s objectivity?  How does it affect the articles transparency?

3.  How does the writer veer away from traditional newswriting?  Find examples of literary devices (metaphors, similes, imagery, symbolism)

4.  How did the writer report this story?  How many sources were used?  How much time seems to have spent in the reporting process?

5.  Find three particularly powerful quotes.  Infer:  What questions did the reporter ask in order to get these responses? 

Project:

  • Students will find someone in the school or community with a significant story to tell. After an extensive reporting process, students will tell the story in a 750-word feature story, emphasizing the larger significance of the individual’s experience. Students are required to include narrative, sensory details and other literary devices in their features.
     
  • Students will be given two weeks from the beginning of the unit to find a feature story, report it thoroughly, and turn in a first draft.  Once the first draft is submitted, students will resubmit until drafts have reached publication quality.


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