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Lesson: Becoming a Columnist

Title

Becoming a Columnist

Description

A lesson on taking the idea of column writing to the next step — becoming a columnist in for student media

Summary

The teacher will explain what allows someone to be a columnist, followed by students reading examples of work by student columnists that have established their own voice. Then students will determine their strengths as possible columnists and consider topics for future columns.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze the work of other columnists.
  • Students will consider the role of voice and credibility in writing as a columnist.
  • Students will explore their own potential to develop as a columnist.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills — Student Outcomes

Skills P21 outcomes
Information Literacy Access and evaluate information 
Media Literacy Analyze media

Length

50 minutes

Materials

Columns (see Examples)

Worksheet: Columnist Assignment

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 5 minutes

Columnists write columns regularly for the media organization they represent. They tend to find a niche — they may focus on sports or politics or pop culture. In many ways, columnists are similar to bloggers. They also tend to have an established voice — for example, they may be known for their humor, large vocabulary or down-to-earth writing style. In general, they become known by personality they let people see in a column. That doesn’t mean columnists can’t sometimes branch out, but if readers expect a column about their favorite college sports team and get one over health care reform instead, they may be angry or at least disappointed. This is because readers get to know columnists over time, and columnists tend to gain credibility by showing their knowledge over the topics they write about. Readers see over and over again the knowledge that a writer has about college sports and begins to trust her, but when she switches to politics, readers don’t have that trust (or that interest). On the other hand, if the writer has a special Super Bowl column, or tones down her typically snarky attitude for an article about a sad event, readers will likely continue to trust her.

2. Reading columns — 25 minutes

Divide students into groups of 4-5 and give each group examples of work by student columnists. Distribute the worksheet and have groups read the column aloud, discussing what they liked and disliked, as well as what type of voice columnists wrote in. Then have groups present their findings to the class, reading an excerpt from the columnist and sharing the the areas they write about, their voice and how they gain credibility. Address the questions of whether and why the audience believes in them.

3. You be the columnist — 10 minutes

Ask students to use the back side of the worksheet to consider and record their own personas as potential columnists. Have them decide on how they want their names to read on their bylines (they must use the real names they go by in everyday life, but they can decide if they want to use a full first name, middle initial, and so forth). Also have them take and print a picture of themselves (if that is easy to do) or draw a picture of themselves as their mugshot will appear near their byline. If your student media allows writers to use a standing name for their columns, ask students come up with a name for theirs. Finally students can consider serious column questions, their voice and potential topics.

4. Sharing — 10 minutes

Ask for volunteers and have students share an excerpt from their column, then the name of their column and what else they’d like to write about. When students are done sharing, collect the assignment and their columns.