Writing to Focus Reading and to Imagine Researching
Overview: This lesson was designed to help us think about how to introduce others, unfamiliar with our program, to KCAC. We used a particular article from a local newspaper as a springboard for introducing program concepts, research approaches, and writing strategies. Click here for extended version of this lesson with student artifact and teacher reflection.
Time: 1-2 hours
Materials: An article with multiple entry points—graphic or photo, headline, caption, etc.
Note: While copies of the article originally used for this exercise can be secured through the AJC’s online “stacks” service, newspapers in every community regularly run similar pieces on area spaces that were rural but are becoming suburban/urban.
1. I asked everybody to scan the “apparatus” of the article—to begin “reading” it without reading any of the main copy of the feature—by looking instead at the photo (of Mr. Vaughters leaning against a bale of hay near an old tree), the headline (“Senior couple to sell last farm in Dekalb”), the headnote for the picture (“56 Years of Memories”), the maps (showing the location of the farm in relation to the city of Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs), the “pull-quote” (“If Mr. Vaughters had not been willing to do this, it would have become a subdivision, no question about it,” from the president of a “green space” community group), the continuation headline (“Dekalb County’s last farm selling for $2.8 million”), and the caption/cutline for the photo (“Why is this man smiling? S. B. Vaughters, 90, has just agreed to sell his 141 acres for $2.8 million. His farm is slated to become green space that may connect Arabia Mountain Park with Panola Mountain State Park.”)
2. Using the handout, workshop participants wrote about their responses to the newspaper story’s support apparatus. The questions participants could consider when responding included prompts that I hoped would encourage a “close reading” of the photograph’s and maps’ details. I also hoped that the initial response writing would capture ways in which the elements printed around a newspaper article (e.g., headlines, pull-quotes) can guide our interpretation before we begin reading—e.g., can introduce themes and establish a point of view.
3. In whole-group discussion, we shared some of our responses to the start-up reading prompts. We discussed ways in which some of our responses were shaped by our belonging to the KCAC team (e.g., our familiarity with issues like zoning and the role of community groups in preserving local heritage). We brainstormed ways that, if we were using this article with students just being introduced to KCAC concepts, we could frame discussion questions to get them interested and to promote careful reading for detail in “texts” (e.g., photos, maps) they might not study often in other classes.
4. Everybody skimmed the article, using the second prompt’s questions on the response-writing guide to help us generate individual “jot notes” for discussion.
5. We discussed our reading notes. First we identified elements in the article that could have been written only after doing some type of research, and we also speculated on how the reporter would have done that research (e.g., interviewing the Vaughters couple to learn about the history of the farm, interviewing some grandchildren to get a different perspective on that history, interviewing area “green space” supporters and state officials, visiting the farm in person to gather details for the article’s vivid descriptions, reading a book about the Vaughters’ farm that is referenced in the article). Then we discussed ways that students (or we ourselves) could extend the article’s range (or deepen it) in a variety of ways, based on additional research and writing.
Response-Writing to Focus Reading and Imagine Researching
Pre-reading around a newspaper article: BEFORE you read any of the body copy of the article, carefully examine two or more of the elements on the list below and jot down some thoughts about details there that cue you into the article’s content, theme(s), point of view, and/or tone.
Headline and/or continuation headline
Headnote/title above the photograph
Cutline/caption for the photograph
“pull-quote” underneath the maps
Reflecting during your reading: As you skim the article the first time, try to read like a writer. Ask yourself what different types of research the reporter has done in order to write the article, and how s/he might have carried out that research. Remember that authentic research often involves activities far from the library stacks! Make another jot list, as you read, with your “teacher” or “I am a researcher” glasses on. What additional research could you (or your students) do to extend and/or deepen this story? What creative and interesting kinds of writing/reporting/presenting could you do to share the results of that research, and how?
Research the Reporter Did and Some Steps Probably Required to Do That Research
More/Different Research I (with my students?) Could Do and How I (We?) Could Share What I Learned Creatively with Other Audiences
Reflecting after reading and discussion: How could you adapt or extend something from the article itself and/or from this instructional activity to introduce one or more of the KCAC components below? What would you hope to accomplish, and how could you draw on your KCAC-based learning to do so?
Evaluation: This activity did not require formal evaluation.
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