Shouting out the window
retired journalism teacher
Title: Shouting out the window
Teachers shouldn't have to tell beginning reporters more than once not to begin a news story with the date or the place, unless it's the most significant piece of information, which it rarely is.
I have replaced the voice of reason, a tone which inadvertently conveys that leading with the date or place is a reasonable error, by shouting out the window. That generally does the trick.
If you have a window in the classroom, be sure the blinds are closed. Don't divulge your plan to students. Count on the element of surprise as a teaching technique. Go to the window and look out the blinds. Look and gasp. Say as loudly as possible, "Oh my goodness!" Say it with conviction. When students rush to join you at the window, wave them back to their seats, saying, "I'll tell you everything. Just ash the questions."
It's not a bad idea to keep shaking your head back and forth, as if stunned by the enormity of what you're witnessing.
The first question students should ask is "What's happening?" That question may be followed by who's involved, depending on the answer you give. When they have questioned you sufficiently, ask one of them to come to the board and write the questions in the order students asked them to obtain information.
Point out to them after reviewing the order of the questions, if and when anyone asked when the event happened and where it took place? Explain that readers think the same way when they want their news. They don't want to be told first when and where; they want to know what and who and maybe how or why. Of course, readers need the where and when. Each has a place in a lead but not within the first few words.
Demonstrate a shout based on WHEN. They'll laugh when you shriek out the date. "Oh my goodness. On Tuesday, July 6..." Use any date that's appropriate. Show them a shout based on WHERE. "Oh my goodness. Next to the flower bed across from the art building behind the print shop..."
Now, allow students some time to write a lead based on the information they pulled from you. You want a lead of fewer than 35 words. No one should begin with the date or place. Arrange for instant peer editing.
Have them decide which leads meet the criteria of order and length. Ask them to read the leads aloud.
The following is a situation you might view from your window: an elephant turning the pages of a textbook with its trunk. This may be farfetched, but it's better than a shooting, an arrest or any act of violence being perpetrated against a member of the administration or faculty.
If you decide to go on with the scene, hoping to teach more about news writing, think of assuming a persona and allowing students to flesh out the story by questioning you.
This lesson plan is taken from "Ideas: Practical Ideas for Teaching Journalism" from the Southern California Journalism Education Association.To learn more about this book and its 138 lessons, please click here.