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The basic news lead: The 5W’s and H


This is a multi-part lesson introducing students to the basic information required for news with a four-step process for writing basic news leads.

In the first lesson, students will learn how to identify the elements of a basic news lead (the 5W’s and H) and learn a basic structure for the news lead. They will use news tweets from Twitter to identify the elements. In the second lesson, they will learn types of news leads based on the 5W’s and H and a four-step process for writing an effective news lead. They will create a concept map from the assigned reading to define and explain how to write the summary lead.


  • Students will be able to define a basic news lead.
  • Students will classify leads based on key facts: the 5W’s and H. Who, what, when, where, why and how and apply each type appropriately.
  • Students will apply their knowledge to short news items on Twitter.
  • Students will summarize how to write a basic lead.
  • Students will design a concept map outlining a basic news lead and how to write it.
  • Students will practice writing basic news leads.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
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.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.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.


Four class periods (with additional warm-up or bell-ringer activities up to two weeks)


Slideshow: The 5W’s and H

Slideshow: Basic lead writing

Slideshow: Lead writing exercises

Handout: News leads concept map PDF for teacher reference (students create this)

Handout: Concept map blank

Handout: Tips for good leads

One major daily news story of interest to students (teacher selected)

Access to Twitter news sites (via student cell phones, tablets, laptops or computer lab)

Chart paper or blank printer paper

Lesson step-by-step

DAY ONE – Lesson 3A – 5W’s Introduction

1. Build background — 10 minutes

Show students the front pages of several newspaper sections. Have them identify where the lead is in several stories on the page. Ask students to share the 5W’s and H (taps prior knowledge). Show the presentation slide of colored who, what, when, where, why with color-coded summary lead (Slide No. 2). Explain that today students will learn how to recognize this most basic type of news lead – the first building block of a news story.

2. Present 5W’s — 15 minutes

Continue with the 5W’s slideshow, showing how the 5W’s and H show up in news stories. This presentation also introduces the concept of inverted pyramid, which will be revisited in future lessons.

3. Activity with technology — 20 minutes

Ask students to choose three tweets from news organizations about today’s news that they think use the 5W’s effectively. Have them write the tweets, then list the 5W’s and H for each one. (This is explained on Slide 12 of the presentation.)

4. Follow-up — 5 minutes

For closure, ask students to share: How many of the 5W’s and H did the tweets contain? Which of the 5W’s did they usually start with? Who had a tweet that contained all six?


Students should turn in their tweets and 5W’s analysis. Issue full credit to students who found three news tweets from acceptable news sources (see current event presentation in Analyze the pros for a list of appropriate news sources) and listed at least three of the 5W’s and H for each.

DAY TWO – Lesson 3B – Types of Leads

1. Build background — 5 minutes

Before class, choose one major daily news story, local or national, of interest to students. To begin class, read the lead of the story aloud. This is especially effective if you read from an actual printed copy of the daily paper. Ask: “Why is this news?” Students should answer that it is writing about something new, something interesting, something informational (taps prior knowledge).

2. Present — 30 minutes

Deliver material from the basic lead writing slideshow, slides 2-19. Ask engaging questions as prompted.

3. Practice activity — 15 minutes

Students will write six one-sentence leads, one for each W and H, from the information provided on slide 21. (Slide 20 provides instructions.)

4. Closure — 5 minutes

Ask students to share their best leads to the class. Praise whatever is good about the leads that are shared. Or, if time permits, conduct a brief pair-share activity by having students read their leads aloud to a partner and provide feedback to each other.


Collect the leads. Issue full credit to students who wrote all six leads, regardless of quality. Make notes on areas of strength/weakness.

DAY THREE – Lesson 3B – How to write effective news leads/ concept map

1. Build skill — 15 minutes

Use slide 2 from the lead writing exercises slideshow to review skills from the previous lesson. Ask students to write a one- or two-sentence lead of no more than 30 words from slide 3.

2. Present — 10 minutes

Deliver material from slides 22-30 of the basic news leads slideshow presentation.

3. Review activity — 15 minutes

A. Explain the strategy of concept mapping (slide 30):  Students will create a concept map that defines lead, each of the 5W’s and H and describes how to write a summary lead, based on the leads (Lesson 3B) presentation. This concept map will be used later to help them write their own leads.

B. Demonstrate: On a white board or equivalent, demonstrate using one of the terms and provide one example and definition. (Use the PDF concept map for reference.)

C. Guided reading and practice: If you have textbooks available, direct students to the chapter on basic news leads. They can read and use this information in their concept maps as well as the presentation. As students read and work on their concept maps, float through the classroom and continue to model how to create the concept map.

4. Take-home exercise

Allow students to take home their concept maps to complete them. 

DAY FOUR – Review

1. Build skill — 15 minutes

Present slide 2 of lead writing exercises slideshow to review skills from Day 2. Ask students to write a one- or two-sentence lead of no more than 30 words from slide 4.

2. Pair-share – 10 minutes

Ask students to take out their concept maps when they have completed their warm-up. Students will swap concept maps with each other and add or correct their maps based on their partner’s work. Explain that this concept map should be used to help them write leads throughout their careers as student journalists.

3. Rethink, revise, rewrite — 20 minutes

Using the lead they wrote today or any previous practice leads, have students share and give feedback based on the questions in Step 4 – Rethink, revise, rewrite. (Is this clear? Is it active? Is it wordy? Does it hook readers? Did it begin with who, what, why or how, not when or where?) On the same paper where they wrote the first draft, students should rewrite to make their leads better.

4. Closure — 5 minutes

Ask students for examples of their best leads. Or ask review questions from any of the 5W’s presentations. If you choose to have your classes continue to practice writing basic news leads, explain that this will be a daily warm-up activity (bell-ringer) for the next several class periods. Use the exercises provided in lead writing exercises slideshow. Students should come in and write a high-quality lead based on what they have learned from the facts presented in the slide each day.


Competed concept maps should include a definition of lead, an explanation of each of the 5W’s and H and when to use them and an accurate list of the four-step lead writing process. This should be mastery learning, so any concept maps that are missing information should be returned as many times as necessary until they are complete.

Assessment on Lead Writing exercises

Using lead writing exercises slideshow, assign students lead-writing practice daily (or as needed). After students have written at least five leads, have them submit their two best examples. Students will write effective summary leads of no more than 35 words that include all of the 5W’s and H, starting with the most interesting element (what, why or who).