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Establishing a beat system


In this lesson focused on understanding beats and their role in news gathering, students will define what a beat is and determine what beats their media should cover in their school. This is intended as an advanced assignment for students who already know news basics. They must decide what beats to cover and choose their own beats.


  • Students will define what a beat is and why it matters for student news coverage.
  • Students will decide what beats to cover.
  • Students will evaluate how to cover each beat and determine how and how often to make beat checks.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.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.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.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.


Two 50-minute class periods


Five large sheets of poster paper or bulletin board paper

Sticky notes in different colors

A timer or other device to sound when time is up

Small candies or other prizes

Handout: Suggested beat list for teachers

List of school clubs and sponsors

List of school sports and coaches

List of administrators, department heads

Handout: Beat check form

Slideshow: Beat reporting 

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 5 minutes

Ask: “How do professional news organizations decide who covers what on a day-to-day basis? How can they be sure they aren’t missing major news somewhere? How you know you are covering everything you should be covering in the school and not missing something?” The answer? Beats. Explain that news organizations use a beat structure to assign reporters to different areas of expertise so they know where to go to look for news each day. Sample beats include police, government (divided by different branches and agencies, depending on the news organization), courts, education, sports (with sub-beats for each sport), social services, certain neighborhoods, health care, religion, science and so forth.

2. Present — 10 minutes

Use the first four slides in the beat reporting presentation to explain what beats are and to introduce the activity.

3. Activity — 25 minutes

On walls around the room, post large sheets of paper labeled as follows: Clubs/Activities, Academics/Administration, Sports, Entertainment and Teen Issues. Divide the class into five groups, with four to six people per group. Give each group a different-colored packet of sticky notes (each group has its own color). Tell students to look around the classroom and begin thinking of as many beats as they can in each category. They will compete in groups to see which group can come up with the most ideas for beats in their school.

This is how the game works:

1. Students write one beat per sticky note as fast as they can for two minutes. Use a timer to ring or buzz when the time is up.

2. They have three minutes to organize as a group the fastest way to get all of their group’s sticky notes to the correct paper. Let them know that after the next three minutes is up, they will have just two minutes to get their sticky notes to the correct poster. Give them three minutes to organize, then stop.

3. Then give them a ready-set-go command and let them run to get their notes onto the correct paper. Stop in two minutes.

4. Count the number of sticky notes from each group on each poster. Award a prize to the group (candy works well).

Now, assign one poster to each group. Assign students to organize the beats in each category and make sure nothing is missing. Provide club lists, sports lists and other supplemental material you have to help them be sure they are not missing anything. (If you used the four corners activity in the Finding the news lesson, you might want to bring out the lists generated from that activity as a resource). Each group must create a complete list of possible beats for each category and turn in a typed list of beats.

4. Decision and closure — 10 minutes

Inform students that next class, they will be allowed to sign up for the beat they want, following these rules:

1. No reporter may cover a club, activity or sport in which he or she is an officer, leader or player. (Reporters may be members of clubs they cover, but not leaders in that club. They cannot cover any sport they play.)

2. Any student choosing a sports beat must choose one sport per season.

3. Editors will be given first choice. Other students will be given their choice in this order: Fourth year in the class, non-editors. Third-year in the class, non-editors. Second year in the class, non editors. Any beats not taken by veterans will be assigned to Journalism 1 students. (Teachers, if you have a different system for making assignments, substitute it here. The point is to make someone responsible for checking each beat.)


1. Beat assignments — 10-15 minutes

Before class, check and consolidate the beat lists created by students. Make sure to provide space next to each beat name for a student to sign up for it. Using the process described above or your own system for assigning beats, issue assignments.

2. Present — 10 minutes

Present slides 7-11 in the beat reporting slideshow and answer any questions students have about covering beats in general or specific beats.

3. Assignment — 10 minutes

Two different forms are provided as beat check forms. The first is an initial form (beat planning worksheet) to be used by a reporter new to the beat. The second is a form that can be used for routine, regular checks. Distribute the beat planning worksheet and go over it. Emphasize the importance of getting the background and meeting the sources on each beat. Give students a due date of no more than one week to return with an initial report from their beat. Explain that they will each be responsible for coming back with at least one story idea from their beat.

4. Follow up

When the first beat checks are due, make story assignments based on the beat check results. Have students keep the beat planning worksheets in their binders for future reference. Distribute the beat check form and give a due date for the next beat check.  Emphasize the importance of getting all 5W’s and H during each check, and continuing reporting with additional sources until all information is known.


Evaluate beat check forms based on completion and timeliness. Over time, assess students’ story ideas, story prep worksheets and the number of stories they generate from their beat.