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Finding and focusing for fast turnaround


In this lesson on how to find and develop features quickly from start to finish, students will brainstorm feature ideas from the news, pitch those ideas for publication, then research, write, revise and publish in a three-day cycle.


  • Students will be able to explain, orally or in writing, where to find story ideas for quick turnaround.
  • Students will develop and pitch story ideas based on current events in the news.
  • Students will write and revise a feature story in a shortened time frame.

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.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. (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.)
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.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Three 50-minute class periods

Notes: If teaching this unit at its full length, teacher should ideally do three fast turnaround workshops, each three days with one day between each to discuss and critique students’ process. For each of the three writing assignments, students should choose a different type of feature to write to gain practice writing something other than vignettes and personality profiles (e.g. human interest, analysis, behind-the-scenes, trend, flashback/historical, how-to, consumer guide).

If time allows, teacher should also use optional case study activity provided at the end of this lesson. It should be done before students begin their work and may be done as homework.


Extras of previous unit materials for review

Resource: Feature writing examples

Lesson step-by-step

1. Connection — 2 minutes
Feature writers must be fast. Feature writers don’t have the time or freedom to do in-depth stories that take a week or more to write. They have a day (maybe two) to find, report and write a story. They must meet the challenge of coming up with an interesting story and narrowing it so it’s manageable and fresh. Reporters must often interview, observe, write and revise all in one day while maintaining patience and a professional demeanor on deadline.

This lesson will require writers to pitch and write features off the news in three days. The first part of this lesson will help them learn to identify story ideas. Once students have developed story ideas and had one assigned to them by the teacher, students should use class time to write their feature story. Teacher should provide guidance and continue peer feedback and discussions as in previous lessons (constructing ledes and endings, organizing the middle of the feature around a theme, inserting literary devices, using a rubric to work against so students understand criteria and expectations).

2. Direct instruction — 5 minutes
Writers should read, watch and listen to the news and ask the following questions:

  • Whose story is not being told – what point of view is being omitted?
  • Who is affected and how?
  • What unique stories are being overshadowed by bigger ones?
  • What does the past have to do with it? (Historical anniversaries, unusual anniversaries)
  • What was the timeline? What led this to be news?
  • What is the reaction to the news?
  • Who is the person behind the scenes (not the newsmaker, but someone behind that person)?
  • How can a national or global event be localized for your readers?
  • Are similar actions in different locations constituting a trend?
  • Can the writer get readers closer to the news by taking them to a place?

3. Assignment — 40 minutes
Students should work in teams of three to four. Teams read the day’s news online or in a newspaper and make a list of five possible features they could write about. The team should rank their ideas in terms of what can be done quickly and what would interest readers. Teacher should guide students towards ideas they can reasonably do in two to three days.

Each team shares their ideas with the class. The class critiques and responds to each team’s pitches for ideas.

Students should use remaining class time to begin background research and develop their theme and plan statements:

Each student should background and write brief theme and plan statements for two story ideas. Each plan statement should includes what the story’s scope/focus would be, how it would connect to readers and plan for how the writer will research and finish the story in a two-day period. Teacher should assign one of the stories to the writer and explain his/her logic for doing so (i.e.most manageable for given time frame).

4. Homework
Students should begin their research and interviews. Their feature is due in two days (with two days in class to work).

Optional case study — 50 minutes
1. Read “Where I was when the tornado hit.” This can be done aloud as a class with discussion following or could be assigned for homework.

2.  After reading, direct students to brainstorm what they think the timeline was for the reporters who did the story in two days. Have students write down what they believe staff did during the 48 hours, then discuss as a class.

3. Finally, share these comments from Levi Kipke, one of the staff reporters who worked on the piece:

“I would say that the most important part about writing the article was gathering the information, and gathering it quickly. I had to immediately decide who I needed to talk to in order to formulate a well-rounded story about the tornado, something that I discussed with Mr. Satt and the editors-in-chief at the time. I had to contact a lot of people so that I would still have a well-rounded story even if I wasn’t able to get all of my potential sources interviewed in time. Then, I had to go out and interview. The important thing about interviewing with such a strict deadline is that I had to be persistent. I couldn’t just send out an email and wait a week for the person to respond. I knew I had to be pro-active, and often interviews over the phone work well in situations like this. For my most important sources, I was extremely persistent–bordering on annoying them, I’m sure–but in a crunch, that’s what it comes down to.

Once all of my information was gathered, it was relatively simple to write the story. I would say I started contacting people in the morning of the first day, and managed to get most of my interviews done by the next morning. I typed up the first draft of my article, had [Adviser Rod Satterthwaite] and the editors edit it, made some revisions, and was done by the end of the second day.”