Thinking Like a Reporter

Datha Hopkins
Young Journalists Mentoring Program
Shreveport, Louisiana

This unit seeks to academically enhance the critical thinking skills of reporters and writers.

Generative topic
Picking your brain for feature ideas and fresh angles for routine topics

Generative objects

  • A variety of well written examples of feature stories (see Bibliography for texts from which to choose samples.)
  • THE CUBE: a six-sided cube labeled on each side with one of the following topics: History; People; Numbers (money/statistics); Comparisons; The Future; Trends
  • Portfolio of Photos (taken from teen magazines: objects and clothing reflecting trends)
  • Fifty Feature Ideas, p. 71 in the ER workbook of “Journalism Today” or create your own list

Understanding goals

  • Essential questions
    • What genres of features exist?
    • What is the angle of a feature?
    • How do students find stories that are relevant to their reading audience?
  • Critical engagement questions
    • How can story ideas be generated?
    • How can a given topic be developed into a variety of angles?
    • What topics are students in the school setting and people in the community concerned about that could become story ideas?


Activity One

  • Give students a samples of feature writing:
    • Reviews/Columns
    • Personal Experience/First Person Account
    • Profile
    • Trends
    • Informational Service Features
    • Travel
    • Seasonal
    • Anniversary
    • List
    • “A Day in the Life of”
    • News Features
    • Investigative stories
    • Science or Technical Features

    …with example headline and themes.

  • Have the students read each story and label the type of feature it exemplifies. Have students verbally summarize the story and discuss interesting elements of favorites. Pick five of their favorites and list those topics on the board. Have students identify the angle, then come up with a different angle that could be used.

Activity Two

  • Hang a large poster of a bright red car in the front of the room. Ask various students to describe what they see. Introduce THE CUBE. (See Generative Objects above). Generate story angles about the red car from the topics on the cube. Hang a photo of a “suburban” house in the front of the room. Then toss the cube at the students. The student must quickly come up with a story idea about the house using an angle derived from the side on which the cube lands.
  • Tell students to make a chart on their paper with six columns labeled with each of the topics on the cube. In a timed exercise, show the students a portfolio of photos (see Generative Objects above). In the given amount of time students are to list as many story ideas as possible under each column heading. When time is up, each student shares his/her list. The student with the most stories wins a prize.

Activity Three

  • Ask students to consider a typical school year. They are to discuss routine stories covered throughout the year, such as
    • Back to School: What Changes Have Taken Place
    • Homecoming
    • Special Seasons
    • Sports Coverage
    • Special Events Celebrated by their school every year
    • Annual Awards stories
    • and others.
  • Make a list of the topics on the board. Using The Cube, students list two new angles for each topic. Share the story ideas and how they would be developed with what range of sources with the rest of the class.

Activity Four

  • In a 20-minute session, air their ideas to the class and teacher, who will approve and make assignments.
  • Discuss with the class and teacher how the story will be developed and what angle will be taken.
  • Teacher and student will decide on one assignment for the upcoming publication issue or for a grade.
  • To continue adding to their list, they have an overnight assignment: At lunch and after school, they are to listen to conversations and make a list of topics from what people are saying about:
    • Life Issues
    • Relationships
    • Sports
    • Money
    • Hangouts/Hobbies
    • School/Work.
  • Report the findings to the class and look for more story ideas.

Activity Five

  • Students are to create a Story-Idea Notebook with folders, pockets for handouts, and lined paper. Each week they are to take 10 minutes to review their story ideas and add 20 more. To get into practice, they are to do an exercise entitled “Find the story that’s in everybody’s conversation” and write a profile story.
  • On pieces of paper, the teacher numbers from 1-15, placing two pieces of paper with 1, 2, 3, etc. into a hat. The students must draw out of the hat and find the person with their matching number. Students are to take 10 minutes to formulate interview questions revolving around the following list (on the board):
    • Life Issues
    • Relationships
    • History
    • Sports
    • Money
    • Hangouts
    • Hobbies/Interests
    • Summer Regrets
    • Most Interesting Memory
    • Most Interesting Place.
  • They are to pick an angle from the information they’ve gathered and write a profile feature from their interview.


  • Story notebooks will be monitored weekly for the “20” ideas. The profile story will be checked as the product of the exercise “Find the story in everybody’s conversation”.


  • Ferguson, Donald L, Patten, Jim, and Wilson, Bradley. “Journalism Today 5th ed.,” (Chicago: National Textbook Company, 1998)
  • Ruehlmann, William. “Stalking the Feature Story.” (New York: Random House, 1977)
  • Clark, Roy Peter, Scanlan, Christopher, and The Poynter Institute. “America’s Best Newspaper Writing.” (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. annual.)
  • Garlock, David, ed. “Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories.” (Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1998.)
  • Books, Brian S., Kennedy, Goerge, Moen, Daryl R., and Ranly, Don, ed. “News Reporting and Writing” (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins: 1999), pp. 170-188.