In the past, I used to gather a group of eager fifth graders together for an after school club in order to produce articles for a school newspaper. In time, I realized that I could save myself a lot of after school time by having children write articles for the newspaper during the day during writer’s workshop. I basically do this by making a sign-up sheet with four spots for each month. The children fill in their names once or twice on the schedule, depending on how many children are in the group, Then, over the course of the year they all have a chance to produce an article for the newspaper. Above and beyond this, children that have more of an interest can write articles for the newspaper whenever they wish, and they’ll be edited and submitted the same way.
The first thing you try to establish with the school newspaper is the name. This can be a simple brainstorming lesson, but in the end I always make it sound like a professional publication by tacking one of the standard words to it. “Times.” “Chronicle.” “Journal.” As it is, my school paper is called the SHS Times. I also provide the students samples of other school newspapers to give them an idea about which they can write. I settled on a consistent format from month to month in order to give the process a nice structure. Each month I encourage the creation of two school news pieces, a book or movie review, and a profile of someone in the school or local community. Most of these articles will give children a chance to research and interview, the heart of journalism.
I model each of these types of articles in a whole class lesson. Typically I’ll let them help me write book reviews for a book they have heard in class. I also provide more student book reviews for them to review. Spaghettibookclub.com is a great site with student book reviews and children can even join the club and have their articles published with them. For profiles, the student-student interviews I wrote about in an earlier publication lends itself greatly to interviewing someone. There is no doubt, a teacher must build a child’s confidence in writing various article types by modeling and providing good samples of other children’s work.
Each month I discuss the articles that each child in the group will be doing and tell them they have a month to put their article together, no exceptions. All writers work under deadlines and this is a good notion to highlight for them. Imagine, they can be writers working under deadlines.
Teachers should talk to their school’s webmaster about having the newspaper posted online and updated monthly or quarterly. Having hard copies printed and distributed can end up being a lot more work and also involve money. However, some newspaper companies publish student newspapers for a fee. Check around if you would like the children to have their articles highlighted in “real” newspaper format.