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Resources: News gathering activities

Activity 1: Get up, stand up, stand out

This activity provides students with a chance to perform a quick survey with their classmates using a spontaneous approach. The objective of this lesson is to allow students practice in questioning. This also serves as a nice ice-breaker that allows students to get to know each other.

The interviewer gets up, has students stand up with the question that applies to them, and the interviewer picks a student to stand out for a brief interview. The length of this lesson should be one class period.

1) Students are given five minutes to prepare a list of closed-ended questions associated with a topic or theme. Questions should establish a process of elimination by going from general to specific.


a) Who traveled this summer?

b) Who traveled outside of the state?

c) Who traveled outside of the country?

2) Students take turns taking the role of interviewer (get up). Using their list of closed-ended questions, each student asks the class their questions; students stand up if the first question applies to them. Then, if the following questions do not apply, they sit down. As the questions should go from general to specific, the number of students standing should decrease as other students are “eliminated.”

3) After the last closed-ended question is asked, the interviewer picks a student still standing (stand out). If no one is standing, the interviewer resorts back to the second question to find a student to stand out. This student becomes the source.

4) Now comes the spontaneous part of the activity. The interviewer performs a one-minute interview that creates open-ended responses. Others in the class will observe the interview. The goal of the interviewer is to probe its source for a potential story.

5) Allow one-minute for other class members to critique the interviewer before moving on to another student to serve as interviewer.

Extension activities

1) Have students record interviews to practice writing quotes.

2) Have students use this approach outside of class to find a source to write a Q&A or a brief personality profile.

Activity 2: Observation notes

This activity provides students practice in gathering information via observation of an event. The objective of this activity is to incorporate what they witness into a story and to recognize the importance of observation as a news gathering technique. With their observations, they must witness human activity.

Students are to select an event to observe continuously for ten minutes. As they observe, they are to write notes of their observation. Following the observation and note taking, students are to transcribe their observations by creating five statements that could be included in a story. Of these five statements, two should be written in the form of a lede paragraph (one summary lede and one feature lede).

It is suggested that students share their two lede paragraphs on a Google Doc by the due date to allow for peer and adviser critique.

This activity may be varied. Below are three examples:

1) Have students observe a television show or movie for ten minutes.

2) Students may be required to observe a sporting event.

3) Students may be required to make an in-school observation before, during, or after school.

Activity 3: Snap poll (straw poll)

Here is a quick, informal method of collecting data. Students are assigned a question that allows either a yes or no response or a selection of several answer options. Each student is required to secure at least 25 responses.

When creating a snap poll, consider the audience and method of collecting data. Sometimes, a question may be fielded to all students; other questions may limit the number of potential responses.

Another way to perform this activity is to have students create their own snap poll, often in relation to an assigned story.

Emphasize that this is an informal approach to polling. Students should explain the pros and cons of this polling style.

Activity 4: Breaking down stories

Students are given a current events story. As they read the story, they highlight all quotes. Following this, students write a list of questions that most likely were asked in order to get the quotes. Do this activity several times during the year with stories from different sections of the newspaper.

Another way to perform this activity is to take two different stories, such as a news and a feature story, and allow students to compare and contrast the questions.

Activity 5: The prominent one

Show a picture of a prominent figure or celebrity. Give students one minute to create questions they would ask the person. Afterward, have students share their questions with the class. The purpose, other than to have fun, is to see if students are up to speed on current events and to provide practice in developing questions.

Change up the assignment by showing three pictures at once — pretend that this is a potential panel discussion.

Activity 6: The school tour

This is a simple but effective activity to introduce the idea of news gathering and developing story leads. Take students on a SILENT tour of the school, during which they are only allowed to take notes but not to talk or ask questions. Ask them to keep a running list of story ideas or observations that could lead to a story after more research is conducted.

For beginning students, an initial tour of the school provides a chance to know the exact location of all potential sources within the building. From the principal’s executive secretary’s office to the auto-tech garage, students should have a mental layout of each location of the school.

Activity 7: Q-bank

This assignment should be given at the beginning of the year and shared at the end of the year. Students should simply log each question they used during their interviews and place the quotes elicited.

At the end of the year, students should evaluate their questions on a scale of 1-3.

3- Awesome question and response

2- Good question and/or response

1- Wish I wouldn’t have asked the question/poor response

Question Quote Score

Encourage students to maintain this Q-bank throughout the year. This works well with Google Docs.

Activity 8: Formulating interview questions

Here is a quick activity that can be used to give students practice in formulating effective questions to use for a selected story topic. Simply create a table with a scenario, then have students collectively develop questions. As they watch their peers simultaneously do the same, encourage them to avoid repeating similar questions.

This can be used as practice or can be used with fellow staffers develop a bank of questions to consider before covering a story.

Here are examples of practice topics:

1) Have students pretend that they plan to interview a well-known character in a story, such as Prince Escalus from Romeo and Juliet or the Big Bad Wolf from “The Three Little Pigs.”

2) Maybe a staff is preparing to cover a special topic such as concussions in high school or school security issues. Here, questions can be developed along with identifying potential sources.

3) Prior to a press conference or panel discussion that will be held in a class, have the students prepare a list of questions they would like answers to during the event.

4) This can be done with smaller groups, with each group coming up with questions for an assigned topic, thus allowing various topics to be addressed simultaneously.

5) For online sites, create a scientific poll question each week; use this to allow student teams to suggest a question, then let the staff vote to determine which will be used for the week.

6) Use this to teach students how to ask paired interview questions.

Just create a table with the assignment, and have students respond. The assignment takes less than 15 minutes. It is a powerful tool for learning, collaboration, and story development.


Create a paired interview question to ask a subject for your upcoming story.
How did you feel when you threw the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the game and how did your coach react?
What is the most important goal you want to achieve this year with Key Club and how will you go about trying to reach that goal?

As a rule, I have students type in black, I respond in blue, and other students respond to each other in green. I use red to address any needed edits.

Activity 9: Identifying sources and news value

A good warm up to do occasionally is to provide students with a current events article. Have students read the article, then highlight all quotes and annotate portions of the story where researched material is used. Following this, have students discuss how the reporter used sources to develop the story.

Have students determine what news value dominates and least dominates the story and how that impacts the sourcing and researching of the story.