10 — How do I write an effective feature article?
In this learning sequence, the students will participate in some ‘mini-lessons’ that will assist them in writing their feature articles. Writing a feature article will constitute a substantive assessment task for this unit. The students will be presented with a Feature article assessment guide and rubric. They will begin to experiment with text structures and language features as they clarify ideas when planning their own feature articles. ACELY1810
It is intended that these activities be used at opportune moments during the writing process. The time spent on each mini-lesson will be determined by student background knowledge and the level of assistance deemed necessary to support the writing process. It is also intended that students be given research time if needed, or there be an expectation that research be conducted outside of the classroom. This sequence draws on the following General Capabilities: Literacy and Critical and Creative Thinking.
Provide the students with the Feature article assessment guide and rubric for their articles and talk through the guide with them. Explain that they will participate in a number of mini writing lessons over the next few lessons to assist them in the writing process.
Lead sentences and opening paragraphs
Revisit the deconstruction activity from Sequence 7 using the article ‘Why I lived with my garbage for a year’ by Brennan Bird. This article will be used as a starting point for some writers workshop mini-lesson activities. Draw attention to the opening lines in the article:
From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2010, I saved every piece of my garbage. No, I'm not homeless, and I didn't lose my mind. I decided to save my trash ...
Ask the students to describe what makes the opening lines to this piece interesting. Students should bring up or draw attention to:
- the stating of a timeframe to set a context for the piece
- the line, ‘I’m not homeless and I didn’t lose my mind’
- the use of the personal pronoun and the personal connection made by the author.
Compare Brennan’s lead with the lead by author Paul Hawken in his article ‘The idyllic and the unforgivable’ (see Resources):
A wasteful society is a relatively new phenomenon. I spent part of my childhood on a farm belonging to my Swedish grandmother and Scottish grandfather, and very little was thrown away.
From a bold opening statement that introduces the author’s angle for the story (he goes on to write about the growing prevalence of waste), he turns to his personal story and engages us with a connection to family.
Explain to the students that making a personal connection is one way to create a strong lead and a technique that both authors have used. Further explain that this technique is quite appropriate when writing a feature article, as these articles are often written for a more general audience whose attention you want to attract. This technique may not be as appropriate for a more academic essay for example, or where the audience may be more specific (different mode and medium). ACELA1543
Author Barry Lane, in his book Reviser’s Toolbox, suggests some ways that you can begin a feature article:
- Start with a snapshot: Paint a picture with your words to draw the reader in.
- Start with one important observation: Put your most surprising or important observation into the lead.
- Start with a strongly-stated question: A strong question that your readers will want to know the answer to.
- Start with a personal connection with the topic/issue: Why are you attracted to this topic/issue? What is your personal reason for writing about this subject?
- Start with your favourite bit of research in the lead: The facts that make you smile, laugh, go ‘aha’ or just gross you out!
Further examples can be used to share with students from a selection of articles that you may have collected. Ask the students to draft the opening paragraph to their feature articles or share the opening lines that they have written already.
Powerful quotes and the use of statistics
Explain to the students that when used selectively, statistics and quotes can be very powerful and can strengthen the structure and intention of paragraphs. ACELA1766
Share the example in Brennan Bird’s article ‘Why I lived with my garbage for a year’ where statistics are mentioned. Following this, return the students’ attention to the statistics that artist Chris Jordan used to accompany his artworks that were first explored in Sequence 1. Using one of Jordan’s statistics to workshop with, or a statistic that the students have gathered themselves, model the process of connecting referenced material as seamlessly as possible to the idea in a paragraph. The students can then practise writing their own paragraphs and share their progress with others in the class.
General paragraphing skills
In workshopping paragraph structure with the students, it’s a good opportunity to remind them of general skills, such as:
- the use of topic sentences, to link back to and elaborate on the theme introduced in the opening paragraph and to foreshadow how the paragraph will develop
- the use of varying sentence beginnings and choosing precisely how to begin a sentence in order to guide the reader through the text
- using text connectives and connecting phrases to make links between sentences, stretches of text, or paragraphs and to add information, provide examples, clarify or order
- setting the tone for the reading of the sentence and paragraph (for example, beginning with: Unfortunately ... or Thankfully ...)
- managing the flow of information (for example, foreshadowing development of the paragraph in the topic sentence and then picking up the themes in the sentence beginnings)
- the readabilty of the text (for example, ensuring that their work can be read with expression and that it makes sense). ACELA1766
Note: These skills can be once again revisited at the editing stages.