The Advanced Obit
Canton South High School
Title: The Advanced Obit
Three 42-minute class periods and an out-of-class assignment due in two weeks
Overview and Rationale
Many newspapers across the country, including the New York Times and Washington Post, have entire departments dedicated to writing, filing, and updating celebrity advanced obituaries so they are prepared for even the most unexpected death. Many local newspapers write advanced obituaries for local public officials, especially if the person is older than 60. This project helps students to understand another aspect of professional newsrooms,while improving their researching skills.
To research a variety of sources and organize information in a way that makes the most sense to readers.
Students will be able to:
- Compose open-ended questions about their celebrity or public figure’s life and modify questions as necessary during inquiry and investigation to narrow the focus or extend the investigation.
- Identify appropriate sources and gather relevant information from multiple sources (e.g., personal interviews, Who’s Who, almanacs, online databases, biographies, autobiographies, newspaper articles and Internet-based resources).
- Organize information in a way that makes sense, but that is not necessarily sequential.
- Select information that is the most important to keep in the obituary and decide what information can be left out.
- Recent obituaries of celebrities or public figures, overhead projector
- Pass out recent celebrity obituaries (e.g. Ronald Reagan, Ray Charles, John Ritter).
- Ask students to identify all sources of information in the story. How many were most likely contacted prior to death? How many were family members?
- Discuss the organization of the obituary.
- Was it arranged sequentially?
- Was the most notable / memorable information about the person’s life at the beginning?
- Did the story include any negative information about the person’s life? If so, how was it handled? Where did it appear?
- Was anything excluded from the obituary?
- Ask students if there is a way they may have organized the obituary differently.
- Ask students if there is anyone else they would have interviewed.
- Develop a list of living celebrities or public figures. Put each name into a hat and have students draw. (You may want to develop a theme for your celebrities. For example, all of the names could be those of professional journalists or they could be politicians who are always in the media).
- Students will brainstorm open-ended questions that they may want toresearch. Record questions on overhead projector. Examples of questionsinclude:
- How did the celebrity get his/her start?
- What was the celebrity’s childhood like?
- Where did the celebrity grow up?
- What types of family relationships does the celebrity have?
- What type of school or training has the celebrity had?
- For what is the celebrity most recognized?
- What specific awards has the celebrity won?
- What has the celebrity told others in past interviews?
- Assignment: Students will write a four to five page double-spaced advanced obituary including at least five sources, which will most likely be paper sources. (Due in two weeks).
- Take students to the school library and introduce some sources that may be of help such as Who’s Who, Almanac of Famous People and World Almanac, biographies, autobiographies and online databases. Make sure to remind students to be very cautious of Internet sources and explain the importance of knowing the publisher and credibility of a Web site before using.
In two weeks:
- Students will share their advanced obituaries with classmates in a formal presentation, which will include at least one picture and one infographic.
Helpful Hints for advanced obits:
- Age and cause of death should be in lead.
- Attribute paper sources with “according to” or “(name of author) wrote in (publication title).”
- Include locations of all events, including schools attended, jobs held, etc.
- Look for telling “sound bites” from colleagues, critics and friends.
- Reference who celebrity is survived by.
- You may have students write an advanced obit for a local public figure or celebrity. They would be able to interview human sources.