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Category ArchiveGreat Lessons

Interviewing/Feature Leads

Shared by: Evelyn Lauer

Who are you: Second-year adviser of Niles West News (www.nileswestnews.org), the student-run website at Niles West High School in Skokie, IL. 2012 JEA Rising Star.

Briefly describe the lesson you are sharing: Before we talk about feature writing, we spend a lot of time reading great feature writing–focusing on details, observation, story-telling, and adding color. One essay that I have my students read is “The American Male at Age Ten” by Susan Orlean. (This is a long piece; we read an excerpt) Reading this piece leads into discussions about “everyone has a story.” I tell them: “You could literally walk in the halls right now and interview someone and tell his or her story. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’ve done.”

To drive this point home, I have them interview a classmate. (We do this at the beginning of the semester, too, during our interview unit, but now their skills have developed and they are asking questions to write a feature, not a news story.) Based on a 10-minute interview, their task is to then write a feature lead, pretending they are writing a profile on their classmate.

Their goal: DON’T BORE ME! Your job, as a reporter/writer, is to make this person interesting. It’s all about asking the right questions, listening, and then telling a good story.

Download: Evelyn has shared the feature lead sample.

Photography, Observations, News/Feature gathering

Shared by:  Megan Ortiz

Who are you: A third-year adviser at Summer Creek High School in Houston. I advise the Odyssey newspaper and the Signature yearbook. (editor’s note full disclosure: she is also my sister and a former professional journalist who covered the NFL and NBA among other things)

Briefly describe the lesson you are sharing: Each year, students in my photojournalism classes are sent in pairs to various classrooms. They go with a partner and one camera. While one students shoots, the other sits, observes and takes notes. Partway through their allotted time, they switch so that both of them have time to shoot the photos. They help gather names and information they could utilize in captions and/or a story down the road. The accompanying handout is a guide to help get them thinking like a reporter – and a lot of times it sparks ideas for feature or news stories. They have to shoot photos of the teachers and the students, and they spend about 45 minutes in the classroom. The students are then able to download their photos, batch rename them in Bridge and caption the five they like the best. Yearbook is always looking at these photos to see what they can use, and sometimes they pop up in newspaper as well.

On a side note: Toward the end of the year, the best teacher photos are made into poster-sized color prints. The students in all of my classes write a personal essay about a teacher/principal/counselor who has impacted them. The photos are then put in the main hallway – along with the essay – during Teacher Appreciation Week. It ends up being a way for the students to thank their teachers for putting up with all their interruptions and requests during newspaper and yearbook production. The students love seeing their work up in the hall, and the teachers/principals read every word that is posted.

Download: Megan has shared the handout she uses with her class to track their work. Download it here.

Brainstorming, Story Ideas, Newsgathering

Shared by:  Jesse McLean

Who are you: I’m a second-year adviser at Waterford Kettering High School in Waterford, Michigan. I advise WKHS-TV, a new broadcast news program at my school. I also student taught under Brian Wilson, where I co-advised the newspaper and yearbook during that time.

Briefly describe the lesson you are sharing: Sometimes the best story ideas come from places you don’t necessarily expect. For this lesson, I have my students fill out short responses for each square on this brainstorming sheet. My students are expected to fill out at least 16 of the 18 squares on the sheet in order to get full credit. They’ll come in with the sheet filled out and then they’ll sit in a circle and my executive producer will lead their discussion about all of their ideas for the majority of the hour. This lesson was inspired by former newspaper adviser at H.H. Dow High School, Betsy Pollard Rau.

Download: Jesse has shared the two pages of her double-sided handout she uses here.

Social Media

Shared by:  Marina Hendricks

Who are you: I am senior manager of communications for the Newspaper Association of America in Arlington, Va. In a previous life, I ran a program for teen journalists sponsored by The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia and taught an introductory journalism course at a local university.

Briefly describe the lesson you are sharing: The “Social Media Toolbox,” available at hendricksproject.wordpress.com, features 16 lessons on social media plus related resources. The lessons can be used as a unit or individually, depending on the needs of students, advisers and school publication programs.

Download: You can find an overview for the lesson unit here or download it as a PDF.

Photo Feature Hunting

Shared by:  Dow Tate

Who are you: I’m the adviser for Harbinger Online, Harbinger and Hauberk, the news website, newspaper and yearbook at Shawnee Mission East High Scho0ol in Prairie Village.

Briefly describe the lesson you are sharing: We assigned photographers for spreads and stories for both newspaper and yearbook. But we always needed the other photos in different sections and now for web galleries and wild art photos.  So out of necessity was born this feature hunting exercise for photographers.

Download: You can find a deeper description of what he does with his photographers here and some ideas of weekly challenges and rules here.

Headline Writing/Tweet Composition

Shared by:  Starr Sackstein

Who are you: High school newspaper and journalism teacher (English too) at World Journalism Prep School in Flushing, NY

Briefly describe the lesson you are sharing: What can you say in 140 characters that would seduce an unlikely reader to slow down long enough to get engaged? Tweet your headlines to make them click your link or read your page.

Download: You can see the exercise Starr uses with her class here.