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The return of the inverted pyramid


A refresher on the inverted pyramid structure, an explanation of why it is often used in online journalism, and an opportunity to write an online breaking news story using the inverted pyramid structure

Since publishing to the web is immediate, visit Finding and Focusing For Fast Turnaround on how to quickly develop ideas and turnaround a story for the web.


  • Students will understand the goal and strengths of the inverted pyramid structure and the value of using the structure for online stories.
  • Students will be able to write a story using the inverted pyramid structure.
  • Students will understand the relationship between timeliness, audience needs, story structure, and medium.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.D Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
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.9-10.2.B Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
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.


80 minutes


  • Access to a song that tells a story (Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” and Woody Guthrie’s “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” both work, as do many others)
  • Copies of the song’s lyrics
  • The Return of the Inverted Pyramid (slideshow)

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction — 15 minutes

Have students create a 2×3 table in their notebooks, labeling each square at the top: who, what, when, where, why, how. Tell them that you will be playing a song (hand out the lyrics) and they should take information from the lyrics and place it in the appropriate boxes.

For example, if using the Carrie Underwood song “Before He Cheats,” you can expect the following:

  • WHO: the singer/narrator, her boyfriend, the girl her boyfriend is cheating on her with
  • WHAT: cheating boyfriend is on a date with another girl, girlfriend vandalizes his car
  • WHEN: right now (breaking news!)
  • WHERE: at a bar and in the bar’s parking lot
  • WHY: vengeful girlfriend wants to get back at cheating boyfriend and teach him a lesson that will (hopefully) prevent him from cheating again in the future
  • HOW: girl vandalizes boyfriend’s car using her keys, a baseball bat and presumably a knife (to slash the tires)

After listening to the song, give students a few minutes to fill in their boxes with an elbow partner. Ask for volunteers to quickly share out.

2. Instruction — 20 minutes

Use the slideshow to walk students through the background of the inverted pyramid and explain why it has made a comeback of sorts (at least, for high school media staffs) in online journalism. Ask students to discuss the following question with an elbow partner:

  • Why might the online pyramid story structure be well-suited to online readers and their needs?

Ask students to share out their theories, then move on in the slideshow to explain the reasons.

3. Activity — 30 minutes

Now students will practice writing an online story using the inverted pyramid structure. You can have them do this individually or with partners, and this can be done by hand in their notebooks or on the computer.

Tell students to take a look back at their 5W+H for the song. Their task is to take that information and write an online story, adding invented details only as needed. You may need to create some details the song does not provide but that they will need (e.g. the narrator’s name).

4. Assessment — 15 minutes

Ask a few volunteers to share their version of the story, noting how they ordered the details and what they chose to include or omit.

The teacher may want to collect and evaluate the stories as a formative assessment. If grading the stories, the teacher should evaluate the following:

  • Does the story include the essential information and key details?
  • Is the story written using the inverted pyramid structure?
  • Does the story pass the cutoff test, meaning if I stop reading part of the way through, have I missed any essential information?


The teacher may want to provide a printed copy of the 5W+H table.

In a 1:1 setting, students could produce their chart and story in a Google Document.

As an extension activity, students could swap stories and use different colored pencils or in text annotations to mark the 5W+H in their partner’s story. They could do this digitally using the comments function in Google Docs.