From Theory to Practice
At the heart of all feature stories is human interest. This lesson asks students to write a profile of a classmate, with a particular focus on a talent, interest, or passion of that classmate. As an introduction to the feature article, students compare the characteristics of a hard news story to those of a feature story. They then practice writing about the same event in the two different styles. Next, they list and freewrite about their own talents and interests. These topics then become the focus of a feature story as students randomly select topics noted by classmates and write interview questions based on them. Finally, students interview a classmate, write a feature story, and share it with the class. This lesson enables students to practice interviewing techniques, develop voice, learn to write for an audience, and perhaps most importantly, celebrate their individual strengths.
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Qualities of a Feature Story: This handout lists the main characteristics of a feature story.
Printing Press: Students can use this online tool to publish their writing as a newspaper, flyer, brochure, or booklet.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
This lesson plan taps two pedagogical beliefs-students work best in collaborative and supportive environments, and moving beyond the typical essay formats can help students grow as writers. In Go Public! Encouraging Student Writers to Publish, Susanne Rubenstein explains that the writing teacher: "must create a classroom environment that allows her students to see themselves and each other as writers, not students. In this classroom-turned-writing-community, the writers support and encourage each other, and, through their efforts, not only as fellow writers but also as readers and as editors, they work to strengthen both the quality of each other's work and the confidence of the writer. . . within this classroom-turned-writing-community, writers are engaged in work that has meaning outside of the classroom." (15)
This notion of collaborative growth in the writing classroom fits naturally with writing feature stories, which move beyond the typical personal essay format and give students the chance to share significant personal information with one another. Rubenstein explains, "Certainly there is nothing wrong with teaching students to write personal essays . . . . But as a form it is perhaps overused in middle and high school classrooms, and when students begin to see it as the way one writes in school,' they adopt a writing voice that is academic and artificial and calculated to please the teacher alone" (43). To avoid this situation, Rubenstein invites students to "experiment with different genres to find their strong suit" (43). Feature stories provide just the right solution: "Through the writing and reading of each [feature] story, students come to learn a lot about each other in a very short time, and we are well on our way to becoming a community of writers" (44).
Rubenstein, Susanne. 1988. Go Public! Encouraging Student Writers to Publish. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
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INSTRUCTIONS: Here are 15 ideas for feature stories that you can write on your campus. Develop a central point for each story and a list of sources. Then interview students affected by the issues as well as authoritative sources.
- Interview at least five faulty members who have written textbooks. Describe their experiences in writing the books as well as their work, problems and attitudes.
- Write about your favorite teacher, a successful coach or another interesting personality on your campus. Interview other students, friends, relatives and colleagues so you have enough information for a well-rounded portrait of the person.
- Find a campus club whose mission is to help people, such as Habitat for Humanity or Alcoholics anonymous. Interview club members about their reasons for being involved with the club and how it affects their lives.
- What are the best part-time jobs for students on your campus? What might be the most unusual or dirtiest job? Who earns the most money and enjoys the best hours and benefits?
- What are the best excuses faculty members hear most often from students who miss classes, assignments and tests?
- What are students' primary health problemsâphysical (swine flu) or mental (stress). Or financial problems? Or housing problems? How do the students handle the problems?
- To obtain more practical and professional experience, many students complete internships, and some students are required to do so by their major. Typically, many interns are not paid because they are getting experience they could not get elsewhere, but some times, this "free" labor can be abused by employers. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of internships and any abuses the students may have experienced during their internship.
- What problems do international or non-traditional students (or handicapped students) face on your campus?
- Write a historical feature that describes your college or university's founding and early years.
- If some buildings on your campus are named after individuals, write about several of those individuals, explaining who they were and why they were honored.
- Easy is it for the students on your campus to obtain credit cards, how many overspend and where do they find help?
- Talk to employers who come to your campus to interview and hire graduating seniors. What do they look for in a potential employee? What common mistakes should job seekers avoid? What advice would they give students interviewing for jobs?
- Interview and write a story about the oldest student on campus.
- Find and write a story about a campus club that involves an element of danger, such as scuba diving, skydiving, mountain climbing, hang gliding or spelunking.
- Write a story regarding how many students flunk out of your college or university each year. Why do they fail? Is the problem more common in some majors than others? Interview administrators and students about the issue.