Finding The Theme
A lesson on how to develop a workable feature theme
Students will review the differences between news and feature stories. Then, they will learn how to construct a theme/thread/spine of a story to connect separate elements into a cohesive feature. This is the third of several lessons on extended feature writing.
- Students will be able to explain, orally or in writing, how to organize a story thematically or chronologically to weave a cohesive theme through a feature.
- Students will be able to analyze a story and explain, orally or in writing, how it is organized and what connects the theme at various points in the story.
- Students will demonstrate their understanding of these concepts by applying the concepts to the organization of their own story.
Common Core State Standards
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1||Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a||Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1b||Work with peers to set rules for collegial discussions and decision-making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c||Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1d||Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4||Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6||Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 9–10 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2||Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2a||Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2d||Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2e||Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4||Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5||Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10 here.)|
Partnership for 21st Century Skills — Student Outcomes
|Critical thinking & problem solving||Developing story idea and refining it to a pitchable statement|
|Communication & collaboration||Pitch story ideas to class|
|Critical thinking & problem solving||Listening critically, evaluating ideas and providing constructive criticism to peers|
Materials / resources
Student work from previous lesson – topic selected and possible sources
1. Connection — 5 minutes
Ask students to recall the differences between news stories and feature stories. Elicit responses and review.
News reports what happened; timely and public; straight to the point
Features focus more on the personal, less timely; trends, relationships, entertainment; advice, ideas, emotions. Features delay information to keep the reader curious and engaged.
Hard news versus soft news describes both the topic and treatment of a story. News is typically a serious, somber topic in inverted pyramid format while features are lighter, friendlier and more casual. Features are written to hook the reader into the story.
2. Direct instruction — 15 minutes
Just like a good story has a theme, a good feature should also have a strong theme. Call it a theme or a thread or a spine, but it is what runs throughout the feature to support it. A story can’t be all reporting of facts and information (that’s hard news), but it can’t just be all disconnected anecdotes and observations either.
A reporter must be able to narrow the focus enough that he/she can express the concept in a clear, concise theme or story statement (this later becomes the nut graf).
When considering a feature idea, reporters must ask themselves the following questions:
- Is the focus too broad?
- Can I realistically do this? (Consider time to report and write something)
- Am I getting to the personal level and making it real to the reader?
- Can I create suspense at the beginning to keep the reader going until the end? Remember this is a story, not hard news in inverted pyramid format. You want to hook your reader and keep him/her reading by revealing bits of information throughout the story, all the way to the end, which is usually surprising.
- Does the story have conflict and momentum? Does something happen or change?
- Is the story interesting? Your reader will ask, “Why does this matter to me? Why should I care? So what?” Does your story answer the “So what?”
3. Assignment — 15 minutes
Direct students to return to their small groups from the last lesson and redistribute their work on feature ideas based on news. Direct students to each choose one story idea, develop the theme and condense it to a clear, concise theme or story statement. Each student in the class should have a different feature idea. Each member of a group should develop his/her story idea from the work done in the previous lesson, but each student will write his/her own unique feature. They should write and revise their work until it is 35 words or less and answers the “so what?” of the story.
4. Discussion — 15 minutes
Have each student pitch his/her idea. Teacher and students should help focus and revise the statements so they are narrow, manageable, clear, concise and answer the “so what.”
Direct students to keep their topic statements, as these will be a key piece of their feature, and they will need this for upcoming lessons. (At this point, you may have students begin a folder for this feature piece, either in hard copy or digital format.)
5. Extension — homework
Direct students to begin a 1000-word feature that will be due in 1 ½ – 2 weeks. They should begin their reporting and do a bit of work on this every day.
Students can be expected to work on this feature during portions of class over the next several lessons (i.e. develop the lead, ending, middle, revisions). This will allow for teacher to evaluate progress and correct/redirect as necessary.