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Introduction to Paragraph Development in News Journalism

Sandra M. Reese
Dixon High School
Dixon, California

Overview
Students have a difficult time adjusting to the differences between journalistic paragraphs and general essay paragraphs. They have been taught that a “good” paragraph is of a certain length (usually 7 – 10 sentences) with a topic sentence, support and transition. The newspaper paragraph, however, is much shorter and “breaks” all the rules they’ve been taught. This lesson is designed to give students an introduction to appropriate paragraph development in news journalism using professional models as a guide.

Objective:

  • Students will identify the qualities of a new paragraph.
  • Students will be able to develop news paragraphs.

Necessary Supplies:

  • One medium-length New York Times news story; cut and pasted so that there are NO PARAGRAPHS. Note: You will need two class sets.
    • One way to approach this is to go to the Times Web site, (http://www.nytimes.com) and choose a current story –perhaps an entertainment story.
      • Copy and paste it from your browser into Word and save it.
      • Do a search and replace — replacing all the “^p”‘s with spaces.
      • Save that file under a different name.
      • You now can print the files at your convenience.
  • One class set of newspapers.
  • Handout entitled “Paragraph Worksheet.” It is in the related files with this lesson plan.
  • Copy of the New York Times article WITH appropriate paragraph breaks placed.

Lesson Length: 1 – 2 Class Periods

Activities:

  • Without prior instruction, give students a copy of the New York Times article without paragraph markings.
  • Ask students to work alone and mark on the story where they think paragraphs ought to go. Set those aside.
  • Have students read the front page of the newspaper set you have. Have them fill out worksheet “Paragraph Worksheet.”
  • As a class, discuss what students have found by looking at the newspaper. Questions to ask:
    • How many sentences are in the average paragraph?
    • How many sentences are in the shortest paragraph?
    • How many sentences are in the longest paragraph?
    • What is the difference in content between the first paragraph and the last paragraph?
    • Where is the most important paragraph located?
    • What do you find happens in paragraph significance as the story progresses?
  • Give students a fresh copy of The New York Times’ un-paragraphed story. Have them re-mark using new information they have gleaned from activities 3 and 4.
  • Have a quick discussion on the differences between their first effort at marking the paragraphs and the second attempt.
  • Give students a copy of the New York Times WITH paragraph markings. Have student compare with the first and second attempts.
  • Final class discussion on how they did as opposed to the actual markings as made by professionals.

Follow-up Activities:

This lesson is designed as an introductory lesson. Students will need follow-up work to refine the skill of paragraph development. Some suggested activities:

  • Have students re-do paragraph breaks using old copies of your school paper.
  • Have students keep track of the average sentences in each of their paragraphs after they finish a story. If they have gone over the agreed upon maximum, have students re-break the paragraphs.
  • Have students look at a local newspaper. How good a job does the local paper do of paragraph breaking?
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