Tough day to be an elementary teacher using the New York Times to talk about the news. Front page: two graphic stories detailing sexual assault allegations, one about the graphic raw video footage of the Texas church shooting, two boring stories about tax reform and a story about President Trump in China (only front-page story appropriate for class discussion today). Turn the page inside for the “quote of the day” in large font and it is pulled, of course, from the sex assault story and is inappropriate for an elementary classroom. I ended up leaving the entire front page section out of the classroom today for the first time in years.
Barely one month after the Las Vegas shootings, and here we were again today, talking as a class about another mass shooting: 26 people dead at a Texas church.
Last month, when 58 people were shot to death at the Las Vegas music festival, I thought about my oldest daughter. She started her freshman year in college this fall. You know those lists they do every year, about the mindset of college freshmen? This year’s noted that her class, the class of 2021, has always known Bill Clinton as the aging husband of Hillary Clinton, has always been able to order shoes online from Zappos, has always known ketchup could come in the color green.
It didn’t note something I remember starkly.
My daughter was exactly one week old when I held her soft and tiny body in my arms and watched on the news as teen-aged students ran, hands over their heads, out of Columbine High School. Inside, two seniors had just fatally shot a dozen classmates and their teacher.
That means this year’s class of college freshmen has never known a time without mass shootings inside schools.
When they were in kindergarten, a Minnesota teenager shot and killed seven students at his high school. In second grade, a man barricaded himself inside an Amish schoolhouse where he tied up young girls and began shooting, killing five. Three days after my daughter’s eighth birthday, a gunman chained and locked the doors of a classroom building at Virginia Tech before fatally shooting down 32 students and teachers. She had not yet graduated elementary school when 20 first-graders and six teachers were shot and killed in Newtown.
So today, as I looked out at my class of fourth, fifth and sixth-graders, who were asking me questions like whether anyone inside that church escaped unwounded, I tried for a moment to imagine what their world looks like. They’re all between 9 and 12 years old. That means the oldest of them were, yes, in first grade when first-graders were huddled behind doors with their teachers in Newtown, then gunned down in their classroom.
Today, I heard that Columbine is no longer among the top 10 deadliest mass shootings in the United States.
What does this mean for how we talk to our students? I don’t know.
But I do know, as we have these difficult conversations in our classrooms, that it’s important for us to recognize something. Our elementary school students have never known a time when students their age weren’t shot and killed in classrooms very much like theirs. They’ve never known a time when people weren’t gunned down in movie theaters, in nightclubs, at music festivals and in church. This is their world.
Our job, impossible as it might seem, is to answer their questions, honestly and fearlessly. I know it’s not much. But hopefully, it’s one step toward helping them make sense of it, of this, their world.
Arts section today, true story of 10-year-old reporter Hilde Lysiak, now featured in Scholastic book series. She broke a local crime story near her home hours before the pros and now had a subscription/based news website. Best quote/discussion point: “I think a lot of adults tell their kids they can do anything, but at the end of the day don’t actually let them do anything,” she said.
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.)
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
WHY: North Korea hurled missile over Japan
Feature style stories
WHO: The rescued
WHAT: arrive wet
WHEN: during storms?
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.
I mentioned in my last post about the Las Vegas shooting that I would follow Mr. Rogers’ advice and look for the helpers. We’ve done that in our class news meetings this week, and I wanted to share the results.
To start, the exact quote, according to the Fred Rogers company website goes like this: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
With my class of fourth- through sixth-graders, I realized I should back up and start by giving them a bit of background about Mr. Rogers. Something like: “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a television show back in the days before YouTube and even before cable television, when there were only three or four channels to watch and you had to see them on an actual t.v. in your house. One of the channels is known as Public Broadcasting Service, and its goal is not just to make the shows that will get the most viewers, but instead to serve the needs of the public. It gets funding from tax dollars and donations to do this. And people decided that one of those needs was the needs of children, for children to be able to watch shows made for them, shows that would help them learn and understand their world. One of those shows was ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ and it was basically a show where a really nice, comforting guy would walk into his house and change into his sneakers and his cardigan sweater and then introduce some puppet shows and other segments, but part of it also was that he just talked to children. And he was very gentle and soft-spoken and he would talk to kids like they were real, intelligent people. The show was for children younger than you, pre-school age. And I think one of the most important things about the show was that the kids watching it could really tell that Mr. Rogers cared about them.
“One of the things he said, not on his show but in real life, is this: ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ I want to talk about that today.
“We’ve heard about the mass shooting in Las Vegas and know some details of how horrible it was, how many hundreds of lives were affected. And when you think about it: every one of those people had other people who know and care about them and their lives now have been changed forever, too. It’s a hard thing to talk about. It’s hard to even think about, to imagine. So I thought maybe now, we would find the helpers, we could find the people who tried to help the other people around them, sometimes even though they knew they were putting themselves in danger.”
And here are some of the stories we discussed:
- Rob Ledbetter, a 42-year-old U.S. Army veteran, who was at the concert with his wife and brother. When the shooting broke out, his brother was shot and injured, but together they managed to find cover. Once they were safe, he started helping injured people. Another man gave him the flannel shirt he was wearing to use as a tourniquet. He helped several injured people before the barrage of gunfire prevented him from helping any more.
- Travis Haldeman, an off-duty firefighter who was at the concert with his wife when they heard the shooting start. They made it to safety, and he then returned to help the injured, also helping people fleeing make it out safely. “I looked around and saw a lot of people that could benefit greatly from my experience and calmness,” he said. “It was just a split-second gut decision that I had to make.”
- This next story, for me, was a particularly hard one. I warned everyone ahead of time that I wished it had a happy ending. Instead, it was heartbreaking. It’s about Kody Robertson and Michelle Vo, both 32, who met at the festival and were becoming friends when the first shots were fired. She was hit by a bullet and fell to the ground; he threw his body over hers. When the shots stopped, he and another man carried her to a truck to get her to a hospital. He ran back to help more of the injured. Meantime, he also found her purse and tracked down her cell phone. Then he started going to hospitals to try to find her, but many were under lock-down and it was hard to get information. Her family was calling her phone, frantic; he promised them he would keep looking and tell them what he learns.
- Johnathon Smith, who is credited with saving at least 30 people at the scene. “Everyone’s been using that word — ‘hero.’ I’ve been saying it since the whole time I got home — I’m not a hero, I’m far from a hero. I think I just did what anybody would do,” he said. While saving others, he was shot in the arm and in the neck. An off-duty police officer, Thomas McGrath, then dragged Smith to safety, putting his own fingers in the wounds to stop the bleeding. “Through this tragedy I remember, nobody suffered alone. When people were dying there was somebody there who was holding their hands or holding them in their arms, comforting them,” McGrath said. “When people had injuries, no matter how severe it was, (people were) trying to get them to safety, nobody suffered alone.”
It was a hard week, in terms of news meetings, and I had difficulty gauging when we should move on and whether the discussions were too difficult. Toward the end of the week, the mother of one of my students stopped by to talk, Her son is an anxious sort, and she’d worried about whether talking about the news would be too much for him. Instead, she wanted to let me know, it’s had the opposite effect: he’s coming home talking about what’s going on in the world and is able to go to sleep easily and without his usual anxiety at night.
He’d tried to explain to her some of what we’d been talking about in terms of Las Vegas, how we were focusing on the good.
“We’re not saying it’s good that it happened,” he emphasized. “But just that there’s good everywhere, even where bad things happen. There are always good people.”