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Using journalism-style projects

New York Teacher
An example of a student newscast project on Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”

Many educators fear the technology-infused classroom can become a passive environment because of the limitless amount of online information at our fingertips. Because it’s so easy to click a button, find a video or make a slide show, students are sometimes reduced to mere viewers rather than creators. But designing a project-based activity in which students create content can put a child directly in the director’s chair.

Technology has made it possible for anyone to become a producer, filmmaker or journalist. The equipment at school may be more basic than what professionals use, but the skills practiced are the same. I’ve had my students create their own newscasts, documentaries, public service announcements (PSAs), and blogs using skills such as reporting, doing research, conducting interviews, script-writing and persuasive writing. Journalism simulations can be used across the curriculum to expand literacy skills, delve deep into content and empower our students.

Written work is key to any journalism project. Professionals working with sound and images write and plan extensively before the record button is pressed, and so should students (“If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage,” a journalism professor of mine used to say). I require a written piece for any project, sometimes a full script, usually based on research, but work is always well-planned before equipment is given.

Simulating a newscast allows students to role-play, examine content and hone their interview skills. Any video creation tool can be used, but I like iMovie on the iPad because it has themes that replicate the style of a newscast. In my English class, for example, we create newscasts based on events in literature. When “witchcraft” is discovered at the end of Act 1 of “The Crucible,” students interview characters from the play about this incident. They imagine broadcasts existed in 1692, but otherwise remain authentic to the play. The economics teacher at my school had students create newscasts about ways to pay for college. For a career project, students interviewed their future selves about professions they wanted to pursue.

Popular across all subject areas at my high school is the public service announcement. I prefer audio-only PSAs, like a radio ad, which are faster and easier to produce. You could use Audacity (Mac or PC, free download), GarageBand on iPads/Macs, or even the basic sound recorders on PCs. An ESL teacher at my school used a PSA as a culminating activity after a research/argument project. Students chose from a list of controversial topics, then researched and wrote an argument essay. Based on their topics, they formed groups to create PSAs for other teens, using their best persuasive tactics. Some sample topics were smoking, Internet addiction, recycling, teen curfews, marriage equality and pollution. When the PSAs in each class are completed, they are shared on our school website for other students to hear.

It is always a good idea to keep student information to a minimum online; I identify student work on a first-name basis only.

In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, journalism-style projects can also include investigative reporting, advertisements, brochures, publications and talk shows. I like to use these projects because they give students the chance to be highly creative, they teach real-world skills and they make my classroom a place of active learning and inspiration.