When it comes to writing great yearbook articles, two things have to happen before you and your team put pen to paper: You need to come up with great story ideas and you need to do the reporting to write your article.
Finding article ideas can be a time-sucking balance of looking through lists and brainstorming, reporting is more of a learned skill. Scratch that, it’s actually a number of skills all rolled up into one. And that can be extremely hard to teach in the pressure-packed time crunch that yearbook classes and clubs often become.
Luckily, there are ways to help students with the reporting skills that will ultimately shape their yearbook articles. And, even better, there are ways to do it in low-stakes environments.
Letting kids get over the anxiousness associated with “reporterly” work—interviewing, finding a story, removing personal biases, etc.—before they head out into the wild can alleviate stress and lead to some truly fantastic work.
In addition to sharing confidence boosting techniques, we’ve put together some tips on how you can teach students to sniff out a great story and hone their reporting skills.
“Reporterly” Work Doesn’t Have to Make Students Self-Conscious
Conducting an interview can be a nerve wracking experience for seasoned journalists.
Imagine how it feels when you’re 16 and the person you’re interviewing grades your geometry homework. (It’s probably even worse if it’s that person who sits in front of you in geometry class and asked to use your pencil sharpener that one time.)
The pressure to do good work compounds with the desire to avoid making a peer look foolish (and the overwhelming desire to avoid making themselves look dweeby). Without a confident foundation, good reporting for the yearbook, school paper, or any publication can be daunting if not impossible.
Before you send your staff journalists out to find and write stories, spend some time discussing anything that might make them apprehensive. Don’t simply brush their concerns aside: use them to start a dialogue, and turn potential fears into positives.
While talking through personal bugaboos can be helpful, there’s really only one way to build your staff’s confidence: put them to work.
How to Shape Reporting Lesson Plans for Yearbook Articles
The best way to learn reporting skills is, well, by reporting.
Of course, you aren’t going to send your staff out to find and report on stories without a fundamental understanding of what it is they’re actually supposed to be doing. Start with low-stakes assignments to build these foundational skills:
- Critical reading/listening
- Asking questions
- Note taking
- Identifying a story
- Removing personal biases
Of course, it takes writing chops, too, but we’ll cover that in other posts at other times.
After reviewing what these skills look like in action, it’s time to put your crack team of journalists through boot camp. Use these assignments to give your staff the confidence necessary to to report on stories for your yearbook:
- Dead people are less intimidating. Begin with an assignment based on a historic event. It’s important to make sure you provide students with an angle here (they can develop their own slant during subsequent assignments). The main focus here is to expose students to background research, note taking, and developing a series of questions for an interview. Using an event from tens or hundreds of years ago creates detachment, which removes a good chunk of pressure. (They likely won’t be able to complete this interview, but learning how to prepare for one is the first step.)
- Reporting with others builds confidence. From here, have your team of reporters interview you about a set subject. Choose something that’ll peak their interest of something to which they have a connection. But tell them about it ahead of time. That way, before they jump in, they’ll have to do the same prep work they did for the first assignment we listed, but now they get to practice the actual interview. Use a class to run a press-conference-style interview, where everyone gets to ask their questions. Run through the whole thing, then break down where students did a good job and where they could improve. Here, you’re helping your reporters learn how to weave a single narrative (while they’re getting help from each other), and dipping their toes in the interview-water.
- One-on-one: the final test. Finally, have your reporters pair off. Have them conduct an extensive interviews of each other and write practice yearbook articles on their partners. Be sure they use the techniques honed in the previous assignments to create a more compelling story. Regardless of the activity, be sure to strive towards a comfortable environment without judgement. Share all of the pieces. Talk through what’s working and what needs work. By making this part of the editorial process now, receiving and implementing constructive feedback will be second nature to students by the time they start reporting their own stories.
5 Yearbook Article Ideas for Your Young Reporters
If learning to develop yearbook story ideas and becoming better reporters looks like it’ll take too much time, consider focusing on the reporting aspect and using some ready-made article ideas for your team.
We’ve put together a list of 90, but here are five that work well for any young yearbook team member:
- Profile of the star athlete (conduct interviews with coaches and teammates to support narrative)
- Interview principal on academic performance, where things are headed.
- If school has guest speaker(s), go in-depth on their area of expertise
- A new teacher, on how your school compares to others they’ve worked at.
- Interview a handful of graduating seniors from different peer groups on life after high school.
Once your students have been bitten by the reporting bug, they’ll undoubtedly want to continue improving. To help them along, encourage your fledgling reporters to ditch Justin Bieber blaring in their headphones in favor of Terry Gross.
Interview-driven podcasts are great for entertainment and general learning, but they also teach us how to make an interview sound and feel more like a conversation than an interrogation. This can be super helpful for those who don’t have much experience and want to alleviate the “reporterly” self-consciousness we touched on before.
(Also, bonus idea here: use some professional interviews as a teaching tool.)
Now that you’ve got lesson ideas in your bag of tricks, you’re ready to turn your nervous young staff into a bullpen of seasoned vets.