Standard Lesson

Imagine That! Playing with Genre through Newspapers and Short Stories

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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Middle school students typically understand narration because of their exposure to the structure in their day-to-day lives. Television and movies draw on visual narrative structures; video games rely on background narrative; stories about friends, relatives, or daily experiences are narrated to them; novels and short stories depend on narration. However, students are not as familiar with the expository structures that will dominate the rest of their educational career. This lesson uses narrative structures to introduce students to one form of expository writing—news briefs and articles. By condensing a short story into a newspaper article and expanding an article into a short story, students will explore the ways that exposition differs from narration.

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From Theory to Practice

Students learn best when the curriculum is connected to previous knowledge and experiences. Brainstorming what is already known about a topic through a graphic organizer such as a KWL (Know-Want to Know-Learned) chart is therefore beneficial because students see that they already know something about the subject. The same applies to tying instruction to events within the community. This lesson allows students to demonstrate what they already know about news writing through a graphic organizer, using articles related to local current events as models of the genre.

There is, research demonstrates, a direct link between reading and writing. As students actively read a variety of texts in different genres, their ability to write in these genres improves. This lesson not only asks students read and analyze a variety of news articles, but it also allows students to use a familiar genre (fiction) as a starting point to writing their own articles. Students gain exposure to reading and writing a new genre while connecting to a more familiar one.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Newspaper articles. Ideally, choose articles from your local newspaper focusing on city-level articles. You can use the Associated Press Website if you prefer using online articles.

  • Copies of 3-5 short stories. If you choose to use textbook stories, make sure there are enough textbooks for each student. Choose something short enough to read in 20 minutes or less. Suggested short stories include the following:

    • “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
      (Set on Venus where the sun comes out for two hours, once every seven years. Conflict between the student who recently came from earth and the others who have never experienced the sun).

    • “War Games” by Nancy Werlin
      (Neighborhood kids in New York create an elaborate water gun war game over the summer. Themes of peer pressure and friendship. This is also an excellent story to use as a basis for persuasive writing by having students express their opinions about Jo and whether she is “the best friend” Elijah ever had.)

    • “The Scribe” by Kristin Hunter
      (Boy attempts to help his neighbors who are being swindled because of their illiteracy.)

    • “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes
      (A young boy tries to snatch a lady’s purse, but he ends up falling on his face. The lady takes him home and teaches him through kindness.)

    • “The Dinner Party” by Mona Gardner
      (A group of people eating dinner and reacting to a poisonous snake under the table.)

    • Anthologies might provide additional options. The two I like best are Baseball in April and Other Stories by Gary Soto (Harcourt, 2000), a collection of stories about growing up; and Twelve Shots edited by Harry Mazer (Delacorte, 1997), a collection of stories about guns by contemporary young adult authors including Chris Lynch and Walter Dean Myers. The short story “War Games” comes from this anthology.




  • Students should have had considerable exposure to fiction and narrative writing, including lessons on characterization, conflict, and resolution. ReadWriteThink lessons to help teach narrative writing include the following:

  • Choose the stories you will use with your students. I recommend three to five different short stories so that students are not creating the same news article. Suggestions are listed above.

  • Select a few newspaper articles that can be used as guides to provide scaffolding and structure for students. It is easy for students to get lost in their search for articles because of the variety of types of writing in newspapers (expository-informative, persuasive, etc.). Ideally, choose short articles (less than ten news paragraphs long) that convey facts with minimal authorial opinion. Since this lesson is an introduction to genres other than narrative, students should not use editorials or human-interest articles. Save those for another lesson, after students have been exposed to more straight-forward journalistic writing.

  • Make copies of the handouts for each student.

  • Test the Interactive Interactive Venn Diagram and, if desired, the ReadWriteThink Printing Press and Story Map interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • compare narrative writing (short stories) to expository writing (news articles)

  • gain a basic understanding of expository writing.

  • sketch story elements for a short story based on a news article.

  • compose a news article based on a short story.

Session One: Gathering Knowledge about Newspaper Articles

  1. Ask students to list everything they know about newspaper writing as a starter activity. I have students keep a separate Daily Activity notebook. Other teachers use journals or have students complete similar activities on notebook paper.

  2. Using the board or a blank overhead transparency, write the qualities students offer when asked to share.

  3. Explain that because they are familiar with newspaper writing, they already have some knowledge of expository writing. Stress that while they will write narratives occasionally, the majority of their writing throughout middle and high school in all their classes will be expository. Tell students that the objective of this lesson is to determine some of the characteristics of the genre of expository writing by examining newspaper articles and to compare these characteristics to those in the genre of fiction (narrative writing).

  4. Review the elements of narrative writing learned in previous lessons, including plot, setting, and characterization.

  5. Arrange students into groups of no more than three. This allows students who are more comfortable working alone to do so.

  6. Share articles and the Venn diagram with students:

    • If you have computer access, direct students to Websites for local newspapers or the Associated Press, which will link to the local newspaper. If you choose, students may also use the online version of the Interactive Venn Diagram. If students will work on it at home you can substitute hand-drawn Venn Diagrams for the online tool.

    • If you do not have computer access, pass out copies of the Venn Diagram for each student and copies of preselected articles.
  7. Pass out copies of the article questionnaire to all students.

  8. Students will have the rest of the period to read articles that will help them fill out the questionnaire. If students finish the questionnaire before the end of the period, allow them to begin their homework. Circulate among the groups to answer questions and monitor on-task behavior.

Students should come to class the next session prepared to share their genre comparisons with their peers. Have students complete a Venn diagram with their individual observations that can be used in the next lesson.

Session Two: From Newspaper to Short Story

  1. As an opening activity, students respond to the following question: summarize the difference between journalistic and fiction writing in no more than three sentences. This is a way for students to revisit the work completed the previous session and as homework. They may use their Venn diagrams to help them prepare a succinct comparison.

  2. Using the board, an overhead copy of a Venn Diagram, or a computer projection of the diagram, ask students to help you fill in the diagram. Even though students have already made individual comparisons, this activity is useful because it combines the perspectives of many students. Not all students will have the same observations, so this sharing allows you to let students teach each other by pointing out aspects missed by others.

  3. If no one has mentioned the journalist’s questions (5Ws and how) or pyramid structure, be sure to ask questions that help students notice these common characteristics of journalistic writing.

  4. You may also want to discuss the use of facts in expository writing, comparing the tone of an article to a short story. Whereas short stories are marked by characters’ and narrators’ opinions, experiences and beliefs, news articles try to maintain an even, unbiased tone.

  5. Explain that students are going to apply their comparisons by sketching out story elements for a short story based on a news article. The rest of the period will be used to model the activity. Modeling the activity benefits all students because it sets boundaries for those who tend to lose focus on the activity in an effort to impress the teacher. It also demonstrates to students who are afraid to ask questions exactly what is expected from them.

  6. Pass out copies of a short news article chosen from a recent newspaper, preferably a local newspaper. If you have Internet access for all students, you may direct students to an online story.

  7. Choose a student volunteer to read the article to the class. Depending on the length of the article, you may have multiple volunteers read aloud.

  8. After reading the article, arrange students into groups of three to five students and have them sketch out the story elements for a short story based on the article. Pass out the Short Story Prewriting handout to guide student work. Alternatively, students can use the Story Map interactive or Scholastic’s printable Story Map.

  9. Come together as a whole class and share the story sketches. This may be done orally, via computer projector (if available), on overhead transparencies, or using the board.

  10. Discuss the various options students have in basing a short story on a news article, and answer any questions students may have about this activity.

  11. Pass out copies of the news articles to be used for homework along with the Story Outline Rubric, which shows the criteria for the story map that will be due the next class. An example story from a Wisconsin paper can be used if desired. Instruct students to return to the Short Story Prewriting handout as they complete the task. Remind students that they do not have to write in complete sentences, but that their answers should contain many details.

Students should read their assigned article and complete a sketch of story elements similar to the one completed in class, using their notes and the rubric to help them compose.

Note that a story outline is easier for students to complete in one evening than an entire story. If you choose to have students bring their stories to a final draft, the sketches they write serve as a prewriting activity. If you choose to use this activity as a shift of focus from narrative to expository writing, an outline allows students to use their understanding of narrative writing as a bridge to understanding exposition without immersing themselves further into the “old” narrative structure.

Session Three: From Short Story to Newspaper Article

  1. As an opening activity, have students respond to the following: On a scale of 1–10—1 being extremely easy and 10 being extremely difficult—rate the difficulty of the homework you’ve completed for this session. Explain your rating.

  2. Allow students time to share their responses to the opener and/or their story sketches.

  3. Use the prior discussion to lead into another question: Do you think it would be more or less difficult to create a news article from a short story? Such a discussion makes a good lead in to the day’s activities.

  4. Explain to students that today they will practice condensing a short story into a news article.

  5. Pass out copies of the short story you wish to use as a model. If it’s in a textbook, make sure all students have access to a textbook.

  6. Read the story. I prefer reading aloud to the students so that any students with reading difficulties aren’t pressured to read so quickly that comprehension is sacrificed. Students can also read the story silently. Students who are better readers may finish the story ahead of you; so let them know that they should begin writing ideas to use for the class article.

  7. After everyone has read the story, use suggestions from the class to create a short news article (about three to five paragraphs, so it resembles an AP brief). Return to the information gathered in the first session to review the characteristics of basic news articles.

  8. Be sure to return to the journalist’s questions and the pyramid structure to reinforce their role in this genre of writing.

  9. Pass out copies of the stories to be used for homework (if they are in the textbook, give page numbers). Ideally, provide three to five different stories and assign them randomly so that there is variety in the stories that students write in response.

  10. Explain the assignment and answer any questions. Remind students that the writing due the next session is a draft, not a final copy.

Students read their assigned short stories and create 3- to 5-paragraph news briefs based on the stories.


  • Have students turn one or both of the above assignments into a final draft.

  • Use the understanding of journalistic writing to create a newspaper for the next class novel read or as an independent reading project, publishing the pages with the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.

  • Analyze the editorial sections of various newspapers to determine how editorials differ from regular reporting. Use a similar process as above as an introduction to persuasive writing.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Assess participation through teacher observation during discussion, group work, and reading activities.

  • Check students’ Venn Diagrams and Questionnaires as you would minor assignments, simply noting whether the work was completed, partially completed, or left undone. Focus your assessment on participation and the discussion.

  • The rubric for the story sketches can also be used to provide feedback to individual students.

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