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Laundry lists and magical second interviews

This lesson asks students to edit a sample beginning of a feature profile story. This task should draw attention to the biggest challenge students experience when writing profiles–they don’t develop an angle. Instead they create a laundry list of details that encompasses everything discussed in the interview. After editing and discussing the story, students will conduct follow-up interviews with their profile partners and write their own story-driven profile beginnings.


  • Students will offer revision feedback on a poorly written feature lead.
  • Students will write questions for a follow-up interview.
  • Students will conduct a follow-up interview and take notes during it.
  • Students will write the first 100 words of a feature personality profile.
  • Students will critique their classmates’ beginnings.
  • Students will revise their beginnings.

Common Core State Standards



Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.


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.)


Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.


120 minutes


Lesson step-by-step

1. Review agenda and assign letter — 5 minutes

As homework, students should have reviewed their notes on yesterday’s interview and written a follow-up questions for their second interview. These questions should have been designed to flesh out a possible angle for the first 100 words of a profile on their classmate.

Let students know that later today they will have a chance to ask those questions, but first they’re going to fast forward and imagine that everyone has finished their drafts. A classmate, Sam, has asked for their help. Read Sam’s first 100 words and offer feedback, according to the directions.

2. Individual work: Write a letter to Sam — 10 minutes

Students will write a letter to Sam. As they work, circulate the classroom and make note of the kinds of advice students offer in the letter. Students will most likely fall into two categories of editors: those who focus on line edits and word choice while ignoring the larger issue regarding the lack of angle, and those who do notice the bigger problem and grow frustrated because they’re not sure how to fix the lack of content. There may only be a couple of students who tell Sam to ask better questions (especially focusing on the hinted story regarding lifeguarding). That’s okay. It’s a skill that takes a while to develop. Asking students to edit a story at this stage in the process (before they’ve written their own drafts) should lead to better drafts, but there will still probably be plenty of students who write their own laundry-list style beginnings. Don’t be discouraged. They will get a lot better through practice.

3. Large class discussion: Letters to Sam— 10 minutes

Students should share their advice to Sam. Draw out those students who identified the lack of angle and discuss strategies for solving it. Namely, that it’s a research issue, no amount of revising will solve it. Sam needs to conduct another interview and really listen this time. Transition into their own assignment: conducting the second interview. Even though they wrote their follow-up questions as homework they’ll probably want a few minutes to revise them now that they’ve thought more deeply about their task.

4. Conduct second interviews— 30 minutes

Students will spread out and find a quiet place to interview their partner. Students often say this is when the magic happens. It’s when they hear all the great stories. Hopefully they’ll remember this in the future and leave themselves time to conduct second in-person interviews.


Students complete their 100-word beginnings. They should type them and submit them digitally so that the teacher can project all beginnings on the screen for class critique.

Day 2

Class critiques classmates’ writing–35-90 minutes

The duration of the critiques will depend on the size of the class. Plan on spending approximately 3 minutes per critique. Critiques can be spread over a number of class periods if it makes it more manageable.

Display each beginning on the screen and read it aloud. Before you read each beginning, assign two students who will give feedback. (Switch students with each beginning.) Write the following questions on the board as comment prompts:

  1. What is the angle of this beginning?
  2. Does it leave you interested, intrigued, wanting more?
  3. What advice do you have for this writer?

Keep the critiques fast, upbeat and focused on the core goals. (This isn’t the time to remark on every grammatical/style error, but if there is an error that repeats, it’s easy to casually say, “This is something I’ve seen a few times. We’ll work on this.”) The activity has the dual purpose of acting as a get-to-know-you activity and by the end of this the journalism students should know a little more about these classmates who they will come to know so well.

Homework: Students will revise their beginnings based on student and teacher feedback.


Some students new to publications may be reticent to have their assignment critiqued by the class, at first. It’s important to remind students that journalism is about publishing work for an often critical audience and to remember that writing is a process and we all benefit from feedback, but also consider offering students the opportunity to meet with you to get some feedback before the assignment is officially due. That can calm fears. Also spend some time reviewing classroom behavioral norms before starting the critique session.


One of the philosophies at the core of personality profiles is the idea that everyone has a story worth telling. Consider putting this into practice. Ask data processing for a list of all the students attending your school. Assign each person in the class a random student to profile. This will have the added benefit of diversifying your publication’s coverage of the student body.