Introductory Lesson 2: How to Read a News Story

Time for lesson: 20 to 25 minutes

-Copy of newspaper.
-A prepared Who What When Where Why and How chart for each student, or paper and pencils for them to prepare their own charts.
-The beginning of the Rudyard Kipling poem from “Elephant’s Child,” preferably written on board or chart/easel.

Purpose: To understand how news stories are written, to be able to identify the Who What When Where Why and How, to identify different types of newspaper writing.

Introduction (8 to 10 minutes):

“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

That’s the beginning of the poem after the story, “Elephant’s Child” by Rudyard Kipling in “Just So Stories.”
I wanted to refer to it today because we’re going to be talking about those six honest serving-men in our work today about newspapers.

We learned yesterday about the different parts of a newspaper. Today, we’re going to be talking just about the stories, or articles, in the news section of the newspaper.

Newspaper stories are written differently from stories that we’re used to reading. But it’s not a hard style to learn or understand. It just takes practice.

Newspaper stories are written to convey information to readers. And the most important questions are the ones in the poem I just read you: “Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.”

Newspaper reporters call these questions: the 5 Ws and a H.
And it’s easier to remember them in this order: Who, what, when, where, why and how.
(Repeat, “Who, what, when, where, why and how.” Write on board, if available. If possible, if your class is engaged and willing, have them repeat the questions with you: “Who, what, when, where, why and how.”)

Let’s look at today’s newspaper to learn more about this. The newspaper can seem confusing or overwhelming at first because there are so many stories. Where do I start? Do I have to read them all? No! You can choose what stories to read. You can use almost the same strategies we’ve already learned when we choose a book, the ways we figure out what the book is going to be about, how we decide whether we think it’s going to be a book worth reading.

We can apply these same strategies to the newspaper, in just a slightly different way. Remember, we talked yesterday about where the most important stories of the newspaper will be: on the front page, above the fold, usually in the upper left hand corner. So that’s a good place to start.

We learned yesterday that this is the headline (pointing out headline and reading it aloud). You know how sometimes, the title of a book can tell us a little bit about it. And there’s usually a blurb on the back cover we can read to give us a summary. The headline is a little bit like that. It gives us an idea of what the article is going to be about. And just like there’s usually a picture on the cover of a book, there’s often a picture to go with a news story. We can also look at this to learn a little bit more. And the photo will have a caption, giving us information about what’s going on.

The first paragraph of a news story is called the lead (pronounced LEED). I want to talk about that today, because that’s how you’re going to get a lot of information to tell you if you want to read the rest of the story. But it’s such a different way of writing than what we’re used to that it can be hard to understand at first.

New stories usually are written in one of two ways: hard-news or feature- or story- style.

A hard news story is one where the reporter is giving you all of the most important information right away. The reporter wants you to know as many of the 5 Ws and a H as soon as possible. There’s a name for this type of news writing and it’s called “inverted pyramid.”

Can you imagine a pyramid or triangle turned upside down? It starts really wide and then gets narrower and narrower as it goes down.

In a news story that uses this style, the reporter gives all the most important information right at the top. Then it gives more details and information as you go down, with the least important information given at the end.

They’re written this way partly so a reader knows they can read the start of the story and get most of the information they need.

But they’re also written this way because, in the olden days, editors never knew when they might have to cut parts of a story to make it shorter, so they could make room in the newspaper for something more important that just happened. This way, the editor knew they could cut parts of the story at the bottom, and they’d be the least important. It saved a lot of time to write stories this way, because the most important information would still be there, and you wouldn’t have to rewrite the whole thing.

Now, not all news stories are written in this inverted pyramid style. Some are written more just like a story, and the reporter works the 5 Ws and H in along the way. These are feature-style or story-style leads.”

Activity (10 to 12 minutes): Hand out prepared 5 Ws and H chart or have students maek their own, using questions/example written on board.

“Let’s look at some examples. Remember, news stories can be hard to read at first. Just listen as best you can and tell me what you hear. Did I give you a lot of information, or did it just sound like the beginning of a story? That will help you figure out if it’s inverted pyramid or story-style.”

(If you’re comfortable, you can pick examples from that day’s newspaper to read. Or you can use these examples. Or you can use a mix of these examples and ones from your daily newspaper.)
(These examples are from the August 29, 2017 edition of the New York Times)

EXAMPLE ONE: from Houston – “As one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history pummeled southeast Texas for a fourth day, forecasters on Monday said to expect still more rain, making clear that catastrophic flooding that had turned neighborhoods into lakes was just the start of a disaster that would take years to overcome.”

Wow. That was a lot. We’ll talk more about it in a second. But first, listen to this one, also from Houston — “The rescued are almost always wet when they arrive – slick, shuffling and staggering after hours in the rain.”

Can you hear the difference between those two types of leads? The first one was a lot of information — a fourth day of rain, catastrophic flooding, a disaster that will take years to overcome. The second sounded more like the beginning of a story we’d read in a book. Both of them eventually will answer the 5 Ws and the H.

Let’s try another one and you tell me what you think it is:

This one is from Seoul, South Korea. “North Korea carried out one of its most provocative missile tests in recent years early on Tuesday morning, hurling a ballistic missile directly over Japan that prompted the government in Tokyo to warn residents in its path to take cover.”

Does that sound like story-style or inverted pyramid? (Inverted pyramid.)

One more, and then we’ll use your 5 Ws and H chart to see what we can learn.

This story is from Albany: “A German couple walked into their apartment building in Harlem one warm evening in 1973. There were shouts, screams and two strangers ran out.”

What style is that, story or inverted pyramid? (Story-style, or feature-style)

Now, let’s use your chart to see if you can answer the Who What Why Where and How questions as I go. Remember, you might not get all of the answers. Just see what ones you can hear.
(Together, use the same stories to fill out the 5 Ws and H chart as completely as possible.)

WHO: Forecasters
WHAT: said expect more rain
WHEN: on Monday
WHERE: in Houston
HOW: as destructive storms pummeled southeast Texas

WHO: North Korea
WHAT: hurled a missile
WHEN: on Tuesday morning
WHERE: over Japan
WHY: carrying our provocative missile test

(or for that same story could respond:
WHO: Tokyo government
WHAT: warned residents to take cover
WHEN: Tuesday morning
WHERE: Japan
WHY: North Korea hurled missile over Japan

Feature style stories
WHO: The rescued
WHAT: arrive wet
WHEN: during storms?
WHERE: Houston
WHY: hours in rain
HOW: shuffling and staggering

EXTENSION: Have the students practice in small groups identifying inverted pyramid and feature-style stories, finding as many of the 5 Ws and H as they can.


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