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Building background: Starting the reporting process


This is a lesson on how to begin research for a feature story. .Students will review origins of features (from the previous lesson), then they will learn about source types and how to gather information to move a story from a concept to an actual thesis that sets direction and starts writing. They will choose their topics for an extended feature and develop a list of possible sources. This is the second of several lessons on extended feature writing.

If you haven’t already covered interviewing in a previous unit, see this lesson for an in-depth study.


  • Students will be able to explain, orally or in writing, different ways to gather information for a feature story.
  • Students will be able to explain, orally or in writing, the four types of sources needed for a feature story.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate this understanding by developing a list of possible sources for his/her feature story idea.

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.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.


50 minutes


Feature ideas materials from group work in the previous lesson, Types of feature stories.

Lesson step-by-step

1. Connection — 5 minutes

Review origins of feature stories from previous lesson. What are some ways to find feature story ideas?

  • Keep an idea file.
  • Read a lot about things you know little.
  • What does your publication cover? What is undercovered?
  • Be a tourist in your own town.
  • Look for the “why” of a news story (extrapolation).
  • Look for ways to broaden a news story’s impact (synthesis by looking at common threads within a news story or series of stories).
  • Localize.
  • Consider how one story can affect a person or group.
  • Reporters must dig deep to report and write well.

All of these ideas require research. Today we’re going to learn to do backgrounding – starting the reporting process.

2. Direct instruction — 25 minutes

Teach backgrounding – getting information that moves the story from a concept to an actual thesis that sets the direction and starts the writing process. Students should take notes. Teacher should elicit responses.

  • What’s already been written about this? Find usable information and also figure out what hasn’t been covered. How do we do this? How do you figure out what has already been written? Where do you look?
  • Identify and locate sources to establish questions and also lend authority. How do we identify potential sources and narrow our focus? How do we look for authoritative sources? How do you determine reliability of your sources (both documents and people)?
  • You need different kinds of sources:
    • Those who provide information but aren’t quoted
    • Those who can offer a big picture/overview
    • Authorities for an official version
    • People who live the story (find a central character to give the story a face)

How do we distinguish among the four types of sources?

How do we use what we learned to develop questions?

3. Assignment & exit ticket — 20 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. This is the feature students will develop and hand in as a finished product. 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.

At the end of class, each student should hand in the following:

  • Feature story idea (topic and format)
  • Possible sources (must include at least two of each of the four kinds)

Teacher should evaluate these and approve or redirect student ideas and sources for the next lesson as needed.