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Writing a vignette


This is a lesson in which students will learn about feature style and begin crafting their first vignette. Students will share and discuss the observations they made for their assignment in the previous lesson. Students will analyze their notes and select sections appropriate for a vignette. Students will then learn about feature style and begin writing their first vignette. This is the second lesson on writing vignettes.


  • Students will be able to explain, orally or in writing, the purpose of a vignette.
  • Students will be able to analyze their own notes and select pieces appropriate for the purpose of writing a vignette.
  • Students will be able to explain the differences between news and feature style.

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.SL.9-10.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6 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.)
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.9-10.2a Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2b 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.9-10.2c Use appropriate and varied transitions to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2e 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.9-10.2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3a Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3e Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
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.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
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.9-10.10 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.


Two 50-minute class periods


Class set: Feature writing vignette rubric

Observation notes (from Introduction to vignettes)

Lesson step-by-step

1. Connection — 15 minutes

Ask students to take out their notes from their observations and, at the bottom of their notes or on the back, take a minute to write down a “PMI” of their observation. They should write down one “plus” of the experience (something that went well or they particularly enjoyed), one “minus” of their experience (something they struggled with, didn’t like or didn’t go well) and one “interesting” detail they found interesting. After a few minutes, ask students to choose and share one of their responses (unless time allows each of them to share all three).

2. Teach and discuss what good reporters do — 25 minutes

Direct students to go back through their notes and choose the most essential elements/moments. Ask the following questions:

What details give a sense of place that can take your reader there?

What details take your reader to that particular moment?

Have a few students share their selections and discuss, asking them to clarify and get to a specific moment instead of focusing on the general experience.

As we’ve seen in the feature examples we explored, feature writing allows for a different style than news writing. Discuss the differences between news story style and feature style:


News stories are: facts-only, no-frills, often somber, serious

Features may be: looser in terms of phrasing and rules, stylistic

Remember to: vary sentence structure, consider effect and match tone to topic, stay objective and realistic


News stories are: third-person, past-tense

Features may be: second-person, present-tense (insert reader into the experience; use sparingly)

Remember to: be true to your own voice and to your reader, but don’t overdo it by using too much color; avoid clichés


News stories are: drier, facts-and-figures

Features should be: detail-driven, description-packed, include actions, appearances, anecdotes, quotes, dialogue

Remember to: paint a picture for your reader but keep it tightly written – include only the best quotes and storytelling details; integrate details that are observed, not just spoken, throughout the story; write in active voice

3. Assignment — 10 minutes

Distribute and review the feature writing vignette rubric with students. Have them note the emphasis on sensory details (sights, sounds, smells/tastes, feelings/tactile sense) and dialogue. What role do each of these play in a vignette?

Direct students to begin drafting their vignettes. Allow the remainder of this class period and one more class period to complete the drafts (or have students complete for homework). They should be prepared to share their vignette aloud in the next lesson.

  • Should be 150-175 words.
  • Avoid all opinion (no first person, no implied opinion).
  • Every word counts. Show rather than tell, and avoid clutter.
  • Use imagery to convey sensory details.
  • Get a tight focus. Write, for instance, not about a musical rehearsal but about the exchange between two girls practicing dance steps off stage. Clarify any misconception that this is a narrative or descriptive essay. A vignette is simply a slice of life. It is very precise.