Six Tips for Teaching Journalism

Tips for teaching journalism

Teaching journalism is so important in today's climate, yet so many teachers are thrown into it without preparation or guidance. Even though teaching journalism was the reason I wanted to teach (I was actually a journalist before I became a teacher), I still found it to be incredibly challenging. Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned veteran, I hope my tips will help make your job easier.

While I was in college, I was fortunate enough to have one of the best writers in our area as my professor. Professor Julie Jensen McDonald was one of the toughest writing teachers I ever had. The first thing she asked our Newswriting class was, "What are the three most important words in journalism?" After answering numerous wrong answers, she replied loudly, "ACCURACY, ACCURACY, ACCURACY!" Without accuracy, she explained, there is no story. This was back in the early 90s, before the age of "fake news." It's just as--and even more--important now to teach this to students. I always hung a sign in our writing lab with those three words on it to remind students to always strive for 100% accuracy.

Some of the ways you can instill this in students include:
• Provide a list of all students and staff and require students to triple-check the spellings of all names.
• Require students to use primary sources for information.
• Require students to triple-check facts and figures.
• Require students to verify quotes from their sources.

The best textbook you can provide your students is the newspaper. It always amazes me how many students begin journalism class without ever reading a newspaper. Through the wonderful Newspapers in Education program, schools can get online access to digital editions and some newspapers will still offer print editions of their paper to schools, free of charge. Ask your librarian if your school has an online or print subscription.

When you have access to the paper, read stories together with your class. I would read aloud the lead of the big news stories and ask students to name the who, what, when, where, why, and how of each story (we had to go deeper into the story, normally, to answer the last two). The more your students practice identifying these essential elements of a news story, the more proficient they will become when writing their own. 

To practice news writing, I offer a step-by-step presentation and tutorial with handouts and activities for students. It's a great way to train students for this writing style.

I would argue that a customized handbook is quite possibly the most valuable tool in any journalism class. It will save you time (and your sanity), will promote consistency in writing, and will teach students to find answers to their questions themselves. 

Handbooks should include things such as the proper way to write the date, time, and titles as well as whether the publication should use "says" or "said" in attributions. It will also give instructions on which fonts (and sizes) to use and where and how to save work.  

If it seems like a daunting task to come up with your own handbook from scratch, I can help you out! You can download a ready-made handbook that is completely editable using InDesign (and it also includes a PDF version).

Get into the habit of having regular staff meetings. If you produce a school newspaper every-other-week, have a staff meeting the day after publication. If you have writing assignments due every month, have a staff meeting at the very least once a month. It's important to address any problems before they become bad habits and equally important to praise students' efforts. Staff meetings are also a great time to get organized and assign duties for each deadline period. 

Begin your staff meetings with positive reinforcement by having students share what they liked about the last issue of the paper or the last batch of stories the class wrote. (If you don't have an outlet for sharing student work, start now! Even if it's just on a private or school website, it's important for students to read one another's work.) Have a student write all the positives on the board so students can see what worked well and repeat the formula for the next issue or round of writing.

When discussing what needs improvement, try to remain positive and not get nit-picky with individuals. Don't single anyone out or allow the staff to attack or single out others. Instead, ask each individual to share what they would improve from their own story/assignment. How could they make it even better?

Staff meetings can be an effective tool for team-building and morale. Bring treats or allow students to bring in treats to share. Food and drinks are effective motivation tools with teens and can change the atmosphere immediately.  

Organization is key when producing a school newspaper or yearbook. You must have everything planned out in advance. Staff meetings are a great time to plan your publication and assign duties to students. A yearbook will require a ladder that should be displayed at all times in the classroom or office. The ladder should include the contents of every single page in the yearbook.

When you are planning a newspaper, you should have some areas designated for regular features. For example, the first page will always have the latest late-breaking or headlining news, the second page often has the staff box (listing the staff members, positions, contact names/numbers or emails, and a brief staff policy or objective). It will also usually have continued stories from the first page. On the remaining pages, designate a page or area for features, opinions (which would include movie and restaurant reviews), and sports. You could also designate an area for photos from around school (this is always easy to include on the last page). By having a designated spot for everything, it makes it so much easier for the designers to lay out the paper. 

Students should also have a clear idea about their story when they are preparing to write it. They can download this FREE Reporter's Checklist to organize the essentials of their story. It includes an example so students can see how it is used.

Finally, you want your students to have ownership in their work--to feel connected and an integral part of the overall product. There is a thin line between being an advisor and being a micro-managing editor. It can be hard to allow students to make mistakes, but it is essential for them to learn and take ownership over their work.* Your job is to provide the tools; their job is to use them and create with them. 

Ways to encourage ownership include:
• Allow students to generate story ideas.
• Allow students to pick their own yearbook theme.
• Allow students to decide which fonts to use (within reason).
• Allow students to choose their own assignments.
• Require students to peer edit: choose student editors (take volunteers and select the most competent) and make them responsible for editing all stories, photo captions, and the layout of the publication.
• Don't edit or rewrite student work yourself; allow students to make mistakes.* It's OK to let students know that their story has some errors that they should correct, but if they fail to make the changes, don't do it for them. 

*I do have one exception: when producing a yearbook that parents, students, and staff have purchased, it is important to strive for perfection. If a student accidentally misspells a name, by all means, correct it if you catch it before it goes to print. In this case, being a last-minute editor is OK. I'd rather have happy buyers than students upset because their name was misspelled in something as permanent as the yearbook.

I hope these tips will help you as you navigate teaching journalism. It's helpful to seek out other teachers who are in the same boat, but so often you may be the only journalism teacher in your school or even district. Look for others on social media (Twitter is an excellent tool; search #journalismteacher) or connect on sites such as

My fellow bloggers here on the Secondary English Coffee Shop have shared some of their great resources, as well. Check them out here: 
Newspaper Unit Bundle by Stacey Llyod
Journalism Teaching Bundle by The Daring English Teacher

10 Techniques to Motivate Student Progress

The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have a secret that more teachers need to steal. (Stay with me on this one...)

If you want to be an Eagle Scout, then you need to earn certain merit badges. If you want to earn a merit badge, then you have to view the list of requirements for that merit badge (a checklist of action steps). If you've completed a requirement, then the Scoutmaster initials and dates each checklist item in your personal book to confirm that you did finish it.

In my personal experiences with Scouting, I've seen how motivating those lists of requirements can be. Yes, there are external motivators (with the reward being the merit badge and the respective ranks it can help you acquire), but there's also something very compelling about a to-do list with that blank spot next to it, waiting to be checked off.

I've been thinking a lot about this setup in the last five years, especially as a teacher, watching the students in my classrooms change. In a world filled with instant gratification and frequent feedback (i.e. social media comments/likes), many of my students are responding well to short-term goals, faster teacher affirmation, and small rewards on a longer trail of learning.

I've been gradually experimenting with ways I can do the following:

  • Give students feedback faster (instead of waiting on me to return a grade)
  • Motivate all students to take more action steps (even those who hate "work")
  • Praise students for doing the right thing
  • Promote positive, proactive behaviors

While I realize that most teachers are wary of overdoing rewards, stickers, prizes, or the "everyone gets a trophy" philosophy, that's not what I'm going for, either. Many older students just want recognition or feedback, and most of the ideas shown below don't have a carrot at the end. 

Below is a list of some of the tools and techniques I've been using in my middle school ELA classroom. These ideas are easily adaptable so that you can make them work best for you!

1. Stamp Sheets and Checklists
Stamps are my NEW BEST FRIEND. My favorite tool is a simple Bingo dauber to stamp students' reading passports (see below). The stamp sheet you see here is a non-graded tool that I use alongside the Accelerated Reader program that my district requires; in other words, it's a motivational tool for independent reading so that I can reward students for positive reading behaviors, like meeting a goal or pacing their reading wisely.

My second favorite tool is Crayola's emoji stamp markers, especially if the circles being stamped are smaller (see photo). What you see here is this year's (new) way that I'm tracking student points that are earned in our Grammar House Cup game. (See this blog post to learn more about that game.) Stamping these sheets has been the most effective way I've found to track student action steps. 

Get BOTH stamp sheets you see above FOR FREE at this link! (The templates also come with descriptors for what the grammar circles mean.)

2. Smaller reading deadlines
Some students aren't ready to just "read to page 100 by Monday" and need to learn how to read a little every night. These pacing bookmarks have been epic for teaching students better reading habits! 

3. Certificates and Superlatives
In addition to whatever comments you may write on a rubric or assignment, you might want students to feel more pride in their work. One option is to use these certificates for public speaking, essays, or creative writing, which could be quietly stapled to student work or even celebrated more publicly in class. 

4. Units in a Game Board format
This is a super-customizable route that isn't as hard as it may seem. If your unit has a linear list of action steps, you might like framing it more visually in a game board! (Learn more in this blog post, OR download my game board templates here.)

5. Setting a Timer
This could just be me and my students, but lately I've found that setting an actual timer works better than just telling students to get started, or even telling them that they only have a certain number of minutes. If you want increased focus, use a timer that they can see or hear. 

6. Short Term Challenges
If you want to try a 24-hour challenge, 1-week challenge, or even a 30-Day challenge, the pressure of a deadline can motivate some students to not procrastinate and to get started sooner. One example is this editable 30-Day Challenge for ELA.

7. Authentic Audiences for Writing
Bringing in external "judges" from the community was one of the best things I did during my student teaching in high school. Get more ideas in this blog post, co-written with Nouvelle ELA, 6 Guest Speakers to Invite to Your English Class

8. Positive Peer Pressure
There's a specific literature unit I do each year in which we complete Chapter Study Guides and let students verbally quiz each other. It's a great way to find out who did (or didn't) read while still controlling the situation to prevent shaming. If students know this is coming, needing to be "on the ball" in front of their peers is a huge motivator!

9. Being in the Here and Now
I suspect that most English teachers are already making strong real-world connections in their classrooms, but some students may still be too deep in the "here and now" to be motivated by grades, a future grade level, or college. Little ways to connect the topic to their present selves can sometimes help. One example is this FREE "Which Punctuation Mark Are You?" quiz

10. Using Videos
Whether you use a quick video to hook students into a lesson, employ the Flipped Classroom model, or let students make videos themselves, I've found that anything involving a video is more likely to get completed than other tasks or forms of homework. 

You might also like...

Do you have ideas or questions? 
Tell me in the comments!

Tips for Faster Grading

Put up your hand if you love nothing more than spending your Sunday afternoon grading a pile of student papers. 

What? No takers?

Of course not. As much as we know the importance of assessment in the learning process, we all want to spend less time doing it, right? So, in the hopes of helping you all out with that grading beast, we thought we'd compile some of our best tips.

As a first-year teacher, I spent tons of time writing meticulous notes on each student’s paper. I didn’t mark all of the grammar errors - I’d definitely learned not to waste my time on that! - but I did make tons of suggestions for improvement. Then, when I handed the papers back to students, they immediately stuffed them in their backpacks without a second glance. Sigh.

You can make your comments digestible by sticking to two positive notes and one focus for improvement. (That good ol’ “compliment sandwich”!) Write these notes directly on the rubric. You’ll have to focus your commentary, which means less time writing for you and fewer notes to overwhelm your students. And, since all of your students will receive three comments, there’s no dreading tons of ‘red ink’ all over the paper! Read more about how I use rubrics to make grading more efficient. -
My greatest tools for faster grading are checklists and highlighters. First, I do not grade everything. I decide on my focus areas and then I create a checklist that has all of the comments I would usually make on that type of assignment. That way, I can just put a checkmark beside what I want to say, rather than writing or typing it all out. Then, I will choose a couple of places to highlight to show students what they did well and what they could improve upon.

Another thing I've added to my grading toolkit is that I ask the students to highlight where they have met certain criteria. So, if we were working on embedding and citing quotes, they will highlight where they did it well. If I wanted them to use multiple techniques to develop an idea, they would highlight each technique in a different colour. That way, I can quickly find what I'm looking for, plus it puts more responsibility in the students' hands. You can read more about how I use highlighters for grading on this post and get more tips for grading faster on this one.
When I first started teaching, I would leave school with a bag full of papers to grade that haunted my weekends. I spent entirely too much time outside of school hours grading papers, and the grading often wasn’t efficient because it felt like such an imposition on my free time. My tip is to set up the systems in place to do as much of the marking at school as you can. When you are marking “on the clock,” it’s often far more efficient as you are in work mode. Although bringing marking home may not be something you can avoid altogether, you can make it far less by doing the following:
1.  Plan out your major assessments strategically so that due dates line up with a less busy times in your schedule (if you run the drama club, for example, don’t make major assessments due when the school play is happening).
2. Make major assessments for your classes due at different times.  It’s far easier to mark 25 papers than it is 90.
3. Avoid the interruptions from chatty co-workers. You are more likely to be interrupted before school or after school, so use your prep period (or part of it) to grade instead, but find a place where you can hide so no one will interrupt.
4. If you have your students read silently each day for a few minutes, consider changing that up and giving them a good chunk of time each week to do it and use that time to grade.
~Presto Plans
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that not everything needs to be graded. Yes, I admit, it’s easier to motivate students if they know they are getting graded for an assignment. However, there’s no reason not to give completion grades for assignments that are practicing skills. I do not “grade” journal entries, bell ringers/exit slips, silent reading, rough drafts, or even homework assignments. For those, students get a completion grade: as long as they completed it, they earn the maximum number of points. It’s much easier to skim those assignments to make sure they are grasping the concepts. Then I have much more time to put into grading their assessments: quizzes, tests, and final drafts of essays. Students learn quickly that if they put little effort into the completion assignments, it will show in their assessment score. I make the assessments worth a lot more points, so they learn this early in the year. That helps with motivating them to put forth effort in the daily work.
~Tracee Orman

Whenever I grade larger writing assignments, I don’t spend excessive time copyediting my students’ work. Instead, I only focus on a few writing elements to assess. Further-more, when I grade, I keep a notebook handy. Over the several days that it takes me to comb through dozens of essays, I keep notes about common writing mistakes and weaknesses that I found. When I pass back their work, we review these in a quick reflection mini-unit. When it’s time to grade the next major writing assignment, I’ll use the elements from our writing reflection as my areas of focus. This not only helps cut down my grading time by eliminating excessive marks on student papers, but it also helps drive my instruction.
~The Daring English Teacher

As English teachers, it is easy to get buried under endless piles of marking. One strategy I use is to have students work with a portfolio (I use folders in my classroom). They can work on several pieces of writing, edit, do peer editing, and then submit the work that they feel best represents their skills or learning. This way, I am not marking everything they are working on, and students appreciate that they have some choice in the work that I assess.
~Addie Williams

Yes! There is such a thing. I discovered this grading stamp a little over a year ago and it has saved my life in so many ways. While I personally use a rubric for the final assessment piece, the stamp is perfect when making quick edits to papers and I also use this for peer editing. Just type in "essay grading stamp" on eBay and you will see a bunch of different options come up! 
 ~The Classroom Sparrow
So there you have it. All of us have found ways to lessen our load and to make the process more efficient. Hopefully you've found something to make your grading process more manageable.

Using Nonfiction to Engage Reluctant Readers

Using Nonfiction to Engage Reluctant Readers cover

Using Nonfiction to Engage Reluctant Readers

As English teachers, we often face a huge obstacle between our goal (encouraging lifelong readers!) and our accountability to standardized testing. This obstacle? Student reading levels. With our high-performing students, we can almost imagine leaving them to face the test alone and we know they’d be fine. With the rest? Well, it’s unimaginable. Therefore, we’re tempted to sacrifice student interest in the name of test preparation. This is the way to get our reluctant readers on track, we tell ourselves.

How can we balance rigorous learning with engaging nonfiction? We’d want that, right?


It’s Danielle from Nouvelle ELA, and today, I want to tackle nonfiction. Some of you love it; some of you dread it. Here are three ways to use nonfiction to engage reluctant readers. None of these are “drill and kill,” but each meets the reader where they are and supports them as they work toward grade-level skills.

1.       Use nonfiction to develop background knowledge.

We know that our students can have varying background knowledge when we begin a new novel. This could be a matter of culture and exposure, vocabulary level, or understanding of genre. One way we can scaffold the reading experience for reluctant readers is to strengthen their background knowledge.

Consider, for example, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. What did Fitzgerald’s contemporary audience know and understand that our students might not? His audience exemplified the American zeitgeist and Post-War sentiments of the era, and both inform the novel. Our students don’t have easy access to this knowledge. Our reluctant readers will just write it off as “too difficult.”

Once you generate a list of topics (as I’ve done here for The Great Gatsby), you can find nonfiction and primary sources to support students. For example, I use this Close Reading to introduce students to the quality of life in the Post-War United States. This is also a good opportunity to provide key content vocabulary that students will later see in the novel.

2.       Strengthen connections through literature.

In the last section, I discussed providing access to literature through nonfiction. You can also approach it from the other direction. Often, age-appropriate and engaging literature is a key to understanding denser nonfiction. Literature can also go a long way to make content in nonfiction texts more relatable for students.

Let’s look at Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay. In this novel, the main character travels to the Philippines and learns about the impact of Duterte’s war on drugs first-hand. This book is accessible to many reluctant readers and easy to pair with a closer look at current events.

You can also use shorter stories to connect to informational text targets. I created a series of reading intervention escape games with just this in mind. In Burnbridge Breakouts, each game follows a different protagonist. Students collaborate to solve puzzles and riddles to reveal clues to the bigger mystery of the series. Even though the reading level of the stories is below grade level, each game comes with related informational tasks at grade level. They explore topics broached in the games, conduct research, and write procedural texts. However, their perseverance is sustained by the interest in the topic sparked by the game. Literature becomes the bridge to more difficult nonfiction.

Interested in Burnbridge Breakouts? Try the first game here!

3.       Inspire creative writing.

You can also use nonfiction to inspire creative writing. Students are less constrained with creative writing and more easily accept that there’s “more than one right answer.” Because of this, they’re using their understanding of nonfiction to support their imagination. This is effective because it puts the onus on them: they’ll look back and make sure they’ve understood for the sake of their story rather than the sake of a test question.

An example of this is my resource, Abandoned Places. Students read an article about ten abandoned places from around the world. Each section is short and attainable for reluctant readers, developing a sense of achievement along the way. Then, students choose one place as the setting for a piece of “Flash Fiction.” This quick writing decreases students’ ability to be self-critical, since the writing time flies by in a “flash”. They don’t have time to make it perfect! (You could have them revise a draft later, though.)

Moving Forward with Reluctant Readers

You want to instill a love of reading in your students, and you will! The key is providing accessible, age-appropriate texts and doing different activities with each one. Students can read for enjoyment, read for test preparation, and read to inspire writing! With some resources and inspiration, you can meet students where they are and help them on their journey to mastery.

How does nonfiction inspire you? Let me know in the comments!

Using Nonfiction to Engage Reluctant Readers pin

Resources from other Coffee Shop teachers: 

Nonfiction Assignments for Any Text by Presto Plans
Analyzing Informational Texts by Stacey Lloyd
Exploring Issues and Informational Texts by Room 213
Nonfiction Reading Practice by Tracee Orman
Nonfiction Test Prep Escape Room by The Daring English Teacher
Informational Text Bundle: Inspiring Women, Men, and Non-Binary Figures by The SuperHERO Teacher

Teaching Active Listening Skills

In today’s world, teaching students to be effective, active listeners, is a vital task. In an environment of quick click, constant scrolling, pithy soundbites, the ability to be fully present to the people speaking around us is a significant skill to develop. But that is just it: it is a skill to be mastered and constantly worked on; it requires plenty of practice to fully develop the effective habits of a good listener. As teachers, we need to provide students with opportunities to discuss, exchange ideas, and listen meaningfully; we also need to give them the tools to do so effectively. 

Why Teach Listening Skills? 
There are countless reasons why learning to become a good listener is important: not just in terms of developing critical thinking abilities, but also learning to be an empathetic human being. Some such reasons include (but are not limited to) the following: 
  • When we listen effectively, we open ourselves up to opportunities for learning and personal growth
  • As good listeners, we improve our ability to think critically, by being able to fully engage in a more informed way.
  • Displaying the attributes of a good listener makes space for others to be able to express themselves openly, helping to build relationships and exchange ideas.
  • True listening helps avoid misunderstandings, and limits the potential for just talking past one another. 
  • When really listening to the thoughts and ideas of others, we can develop empathy and compassion.
If the above goals are reached, we set students up to be more active learners, effective communicators, and attuned critical thinkers.  But how do we practically do so in the classroom?

1. Provide Opportunities for Listening
(Almost) every lesson should provide students with ample opportunities to exercise their listening skills. Whether it is through listening to instructions and lectures, paired conversations, class discussions, or media experiences: students should be encouraged to actively listen to others, over and over again. Yet, more importantly, they should be regularly reminded, when doing so, that they need to be exercising the skills of a good listener, and they should be reflecting on their own skill development in this area. 

2. But what are the Attributes of an Effective Listener?
Click to purchase these LISTENING SKILLS POSTERS
You certainly know it when you encounter a good listener, and this can be a great place to start: ask students who comes to mind when they think of somebody they know personally, who really listens when one talks to them. Discuss what makes them such a good example, and mindmap these attributes on a piece of chart paper. Students will, most likely, describe someone who listens with their whole body, leans into conversations, makes eye contact, gives visual cues such as nodding or smiling; somebody who asks thoughtful follow up questions, who doesn’t interject with their opinions when you are speaking to them; somebody who isn’t clearly distracted while listening, who isn’t merely thinking about what they want to say next; someone who gives positive reinforcement during a conversation and remembers what you say; somebody who picks up on the emotions and feelings of a speaker as they are fully present to the moment of listening; somebody who remembers what was said in a speech or lecture, and can summarize it effectively. If students aren’t forthcoming with these attributes, ask scaffolded questions to draw them out. Then, leave this mindmap up on the classroom wall to regularly reference and remind students. 
3. Give Students the Tools to Practice 
We cannot just tell students: “be good listeners”. We need to give them tangible tools to help them develop these skills. The activity mentioned above can be a great starting point, but there are other ways to reinforce the concepts. For example: 
  • When holding a class discussion, pause halfway and ask students: “How is your body language right now indicating whether or not you are listening?” 
  • When watching a TEDtalk or video clip, teach students to sketchnote as a way of listening to the ideas presented, and engaging with them, rather than daydreaming and drifting off. 
  • Engage in paired discussion time where one person remains completely silent for a set time (usually a minute or two) and simply listens, then echoes back to the speaker what they have heard them say.
  • During group discussions, split the class into two and have an outer circle observe and play the role of “listeners.” During the discussion they could try and visually represent what is said through drawings or diagrams. At the end, they can be asked to summarize common threads or conflicting arguments. 

4. Model Good Listening Skills
This one cannot be emphasized enough: students are highly observant of the behaviors we exhibit in the classroom. We cannot expect them to be effective listeners if they see us not valuing the skill. While it can be difficult to be fully present to what a student is saying when we have a million and one thoughts rushing around our brain during a lesson, we need to make sure that when a student is expressing thoughts and ideas, we - as the teacher - are engaging fully with eye contact, giving visual cues to listening, echoing back what has been said, validating contributions, etc. The more we do this, the more opportunities we give students to learn from our demonstrations.

5. Encourage Students to Reflect on their Listening Abilities 
Self-reflection is a vital aspect of any meaningful learning opportunity (see here for more on teaching students to be self-reflective), and equally so for the acquisition of good listening skills. All too often, students think that if they are hearing others, they are listening. But we need to make them more aware of their actual proficiency in this area, and instill a mindset of growth and improvement. As a regular bell-ringer exercise ask students: How well did you listen in class today? How could you have been a more active listener today? Download this FREE reflection page to help students reflect on their listening skills

Earnest Hemmingway said: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Let’s take his advice and teach our students to listen completely

Looking for other resources for LISTENING SKILLS? Check these out: 
by Room 213
by Tracee Orman
by The Daring English Teacher
by Nouvelle ELA

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