Middle school journalism students can unravel the mysteries of their school while also paying more attention to the world and rapidly changing technology. They'll gain social, research, English and organizational skills too, along with potential career choices.
Do the Groundwork
To help students understand gathering the news, have them find online, television and print stories, such as news of a crime, a feature on a local food pantry or an editorial critical of the mayor, and have them decide what’s information, opinion or even untrue. A historical example, such as news coverage of the Watergate scandal, or recent news like coverage of a local trial will teach them that reporting informs people and helps keep government honest. Have them target their local audience -- a report about changes in the school dress code will find readers, because it’s relevant to classmates.
Embrace the Times
Good middle school journalism activities help students become better consumers of news, especially important today as young people spend much of their time online. Producing news and feature stories will teach them to decide what information they should trust and believe, rather than taking everything at face value. Help them take news photos, record and edit footage for stories and post their work online or in print so they see the process from start to end. Cutting-edge mass media instruction teaches students the basics of news gathering, along with use of online sources, blogging, social media and other changes in the technological world.
Get The Facts
Kids become reporters by interviewing their peers, maybe uncovering a feature story about a classmate who competes in elite gymnastics or differing opinions on the school’s detention policy. Whether for digital, broadcast or print -- driven by interest and the school budget -- student reporters should ask the key questions of who, what, when, where, why and how. They can then move on to interviewing a principal, coach, teacher or other school official, and begin building the facts and gathering quotes for a story.
Search Out Stories
Send the students on a mission to compile a list of possible news or feature stories. They should know that a news story is happening now -- such as a recent change in the grading scale, plans for a pep rally or even a school board meeting. Schools contain endless and timeless feature ideas: Try finding out what students keep in their lockers, film the dance team preparing for a competition or investigate why the meatloaf at lunch tastes better this semester, perhaps running an online poll to confirm what students think about the lunches.
Make It Happen
Armed with information and new skills, students can start writing stories for an online publication, newspaper, webcast or school broadcast, with the adviser or teacher helping them see their surroundings in a new way and better appreciate the day’s news. Some may later choose to work in online or television news, or at one of the thousands of community newspapers that produce online and printed news.
- Scholastic: Journalism 101; Jeff Young
- Columbus Middle School: It’s News To Me–Teaching Students To Create A School Newspaper; Michelle Sumlin-Long
- ThreeSixty: Journalism in Junior High--From Reacting to Reporting; Laura Lee
- The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University: Teaching Journalism in the Digital Age
Since 1988, Mary Thomsen has been working on the "Valders Journal," a Wisconsin weekly newspaper. Thomsen has won several awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. She studied print journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.