Lesson: News 6: Basics of Newswriting: The Lead

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We need to pause significantly here to address journalistic newswriting, which will be the form our press conference reports will take.  The essence of newswriting is found in the lead (also known as the “lede”) — the first sentence of a straight news story. 


  • Understand the basic values of newswriting
  • Develop skills in writing straight leads — and practice various types
  • Differentiate between passive and active voice
  • Distinguish between fact and opinion
  • Practice writing more concisely



1.     Appendix 5: “Requirements of the Straight News Lead”

2.     Appendix 6:  “Rubric for Evaluating Straight News Leads”

3.     Worksheet 5A (or 5B, depending on teacher’s preference): “Defining the Modern News Story (by looking at an old one)?”

4.     Worksheet 5A/5B Teacher's Manual

5.     Worksheet 6A: Lead-Writing Exercise: Fact vs. Fiction

6.     Worksheet 6B: Lead-Writing Exercise: Writing in Active Voice

7.     Worksheet 6B: Lead-Writing Exercise: Writing in Active Voice: Teacher's Manual

8.     Worksheet 6C: Lead-Writing Exercise: Promoting Conciseness

9.     Worksheet 7: Identifying 5 Ws and the H in Leads

10.  Worksheet 8A:  Writing a lead for a fire story

11.  Worksheet 8B:  Writing a lead for a crime story

12.  Worksheet 8B:  Writing a lead for a crime story — Teacher's manual

13.  Worksheet 8C:  Writing a lead for a politics story

14.  Worksheet 8C:  Writing a lead for a politics story — Teacher's manual




Day 1

  1. Introduce Worksheet 5A, which asks students to compare a news lead from 1870  to a modern news story lead.  Ask students to list the differences they notice between the two.
  2. Congratulate students on helping define what a modern news story.  Indeed, hand out Appendix 5: “Requirements of the Straight News Lead” and show students how the characteristics they defined for the modern news story align with the requirements of the straight news lead.
  3. Ask students to complete Worksheet 7: Identifying 5 Ws and the H in Leads as a way to help them see the different parts of a lead and how some modern leads are organized.


Day 2

  1. Teachers may choose to bolster students' skills in eliminating opinion, passive voice and wordiness by pausing here (perhaps has a homework assignment?) to have students complete worksheets 6A6B, or 6C.  
  2. Ask students to write a modern news lead based on facts presented in the scenario in Worksheet 5A, insisting that the leads they write conform with the from Appendix 5: “Requirements of the Straight News Lead.”  This assignment may be repeated with Worksheet 5B, depending on teacher preference. 


Day 3 

  1. Peer evaluation in groups of three or four using the Appendix 6:  “Rubric for Evaluating Straight News Leads.” can be useful as a precursor to teacher evaluation.
  2. Have students select the best of lead from each group and put it on the board for evaluation by the class as a whole under teacher guidance.


Day 4

  1. In preparation for moving from dealing with 18th century facts to the facts that they'll gather in their press conference, ask students to try the lead-writing exercises in the Worksheet 8 series (A=fire story, B=crime story, C=politics story).  Note the Teacher's Manual worksheets for each.



The worksheets in this unit are all suitable to assign as homework.

Assessment Questions:

  1. Do students understand the requirements for writing a news lead
  2. Can write a lead that meets all of the requirements?
  3. Which requirements seem to give them the most trouble?


Connections to Standards:

Teacher Notes:

  1. Understanding the requirements for news leads is fundamental for moving forward in journalism assignments, but we also recognize that this lesson represents the biggest conceptual leap for English teachers, so don’t be surprised if it feels uncomfortable at first. Our hope is that you and your students will also find the approach invigorating and will spur you to an interest in exploring more how journalistic assignments can enliven the English class.
  2. We suggest a mastery learning approach for students at this point, insisting that students rewrite these leads until they score well on the rubric.  For teachers, this is relatively easy, because even though we’re talking about multiple revisions, we’re also talking about single-sentence assignments.  If you’re going to demand perfection, much more reasonable for teacher and for student to be doing it on single-sentence assignments than longer work.
  3. This module deals exclusively with the "straight" news lead -- the most formulaic.  Clearly, news publications are filled with leads that vary dramatically from this formula — there are many other formulas.  As this is merely an entry point into newswriting (and is daunting enough as it is) we will leave it to the teachers and students to explore other formulas on their own, depending on their interest.
  4. Also, students will find professional news leads that violate many of the guidelines presented here as rules (for instance, the one about avoiding passive voice).  We're making the rules more firm than in the professional world because this is an opportunity to present new skills to students.  Teachers should be prepared to hear challenges from students who have found variants in the professional press.


Time needed to teach:

1 Session


Evaluating credibility, bias
Reading Activity
Writing Activity


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