Summing Up the Disaster
Students draft, edit, and publish a newspaper article on the Titantic after researching the "who," "what," "when," "where," and "why."
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
In this lesson, students will learn that news writing is concise, factual, and informative by writing and publishing an article in a newspaper style using a word processing program.
- Research and identify relevant events and details
- Answer the questions "Who? What? When? Where? and Why?" in their news articles
- Sequence events in a logical order
- Several resource books with information on the Titanic. See my booklist for my favorites.
- Photo of a newsboy selling an "Extra" edition about the Titanic
- One or more very short pieces of expository articles to share on Day 1. Find material in a newspaper, textbook, encyclopedia, or other nonfiction resource.
- Multiple copies of a short informative article from a periodical of your choice. Scholastic News works very well.
- Transparency and overhead projector
- River Flow Chart (PDF) from the The Big Book of Reproducible Graphic Organizers
Note: The river rocks pass nicely for icebergs on this one!
- Student Publishing Checklist (PDF) from 40 Reproducible Forms for the Writing Traits Classroom
- Five-Point Scoring Rubric (PDF) from 40 Reproducible Forms for the Writing Traits Classroom
Set Up and Prepare
- Gather a collection of Titanic books to teach about the disaster for students' research. Choose from those on my booklist or select your own titles.
- Print and make enough copies of the River Flow Chart (PDF) and the Student Publishing Checklist (PDF) for your students. Also make transparencies if you plan to model the reproducibles on an overhead projector.
- Find a photo of a newsboy selling an "Extra" edition in one of your resource books or on the Internet. I found several by typing the words "Titanic newsboy image" into a search engine. The most famous photo and easiest to find has a "TITANIC SINKS GREAT LOSS OF LIFE" headline. Print or bookmark any Internet images you plan to use.
- Find a concise expository article in the newspaper or another periodical that you can model for your students. Make enough copies for each student. Try Scholastic News or another children's periodical in your classroom.
- Develop a word bank you want students to use in their articles and place on a bulletin or chalk board for Day 2. Suggestions include: iceberg, watertight compartments, lifeboats, wireless operator, crow's nest, Atlantic Ocean, Carpathia, Californian, Captain Edward Smith, steerage, crew, passenger, ocean liner, vessel, Millionaire's Special.
- Print the Five-Point Scoring Rubric (PDF) reproducible for assessment.
- Create a list of peer groups for Day 3's Peer Editing process.
Prior to teaching this unit, spend 1-2 weeks building background by sharing and discussing Titanic expository material.
Step 1: Distribute copies of your expository article to each student. Read the article together. As you read, ask your students to identify and highlight the main idea, important figures, when and where events took place, and why the news is important.
Step 2: Write these words on the board: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? Explain how all articles inform their readers by answering the questions.
Step 3: Review the Titanic information they've learned. Show your class the image of the Titanic newsboy. Tell your class that when that disaster happened, people all over the world wanted to know the answers to those five questions on the board. "Extra" editions were offered three times a day to keep the public up to date. Say something like the following:
"Imagine you're the editor of a big city newspaper. You have people desperate for information lined up outside your offices. But you've heard many different reports. Some say everyone survived and some say few survived. Some wired messages say the ship broke into two and sunk, while others say she's still afloat and being towed to Newfoundland. As the best editor in the city, you want to be responsible and you want your news to be accurate. You decide you're going to have to write the story yourself! Your job, boys and girls, is to become that editor. You are going to write a story that informs the world about what really happened that cold April night."
Step 4: Begin the writing process. Hand out copies of the River Flow Chart (PDF). Ask students to write "What?" at the top of the first "iceberg". Have students label the tops of the remaining icebergs: 2) Where? 3) Who? 4) When? and 5) Why?
Step 5: Guide students with the following ideas to help them complete their graphic organizers:
- What? This should include main idea information. I teach my students to answer to at least three of the "W" questions in their very first sentence. For example: The Wondership Titanic sunk off the coast of Newfoundland after striking an iceberg late Sunday night.
- When? How long had the ship been traveling? When did it hit the iceberg? When did it sink? When did Carpathia come? When is the ship due to land in New York?
- Where? Where did the ship launch from? Where was it headed? Where did it sink?
- Who? Who was on board? Who died? Who survived?
- Why? Why did the unsinkable ship sink? Why didn't the crew sail around the iceberg? Why didn't more people survive? Why weren't their enough lifeboats? Why didn't more ships come to the rescue?
Day 2: Rough Draft
Step 6: Students should begin writing the rough drafts of their news article. Make your Titanic resources available for the students to use to gather details and extra facts. Using the Word Bank, share the vocabulary with your students and give them a minimum number of bank words to use. Include different ways to say "Titanic," such as: ocean liner, Wondership, Millionaire's Special, Floating Palace, The Unsinkable Ship, and vessel. Encourage students to vary their word choice in their writing.
If students have not finished their rough drafts at the end of class time, you may choose to assign them for homework.
Day 3: Revise and Edit
Step 7: Use peer groups you have predetermined for peer editing. You may need to guide peer-editing sessions depending upon your students' age and experience. I have my students use the Student Publishing Checklist (PDF).
Day 4: Publishing the Articles
Step 8: Have students type their articles in the computer lab or on classroom computers using a word processing program. These articles fit nicely into the newspapers from Lesson 3 if they're created in single or double columns. I model the page setup on my computer first before students begin. In keeping with the look of 1912, my students will normally choose a size 12 or 14 traditional style font, like Times New Roman, in italics. Monitor the students as they type their articles, helping as necessary. When the interviews are complete, print them in black and white.
Supporting All Learners
I've had great success teaching this lesson with students at all ability levels. As always, adapt it to your classroom by varying the length and depth of the article you would expect from students who may not write proficiently. For example, I may work with a student just becoming familiar with English to produce five sentences instead of five paragraphs.
There are many extras that your "editors" can use to inform their audience. Some ideas to extend the learning include:
Editorial: Write a persuasive paper taking a stand on whether the Titanic should have been left alone at the bottom of the Atlantic as Robert Ballard requested. Should it be a final resting place for the many who died there or should salvage crews have brought up artifacts to share with the world?
Mapping: Map every leg of Titanic's journey including the:
1) Departure from the shipyard in Belfast, Ireland
2) Launch from Southampton
3) Two stops in Ireland and France
4) Its way across the Atlantic
5) Its final resting place
Weather Forecast: Research average temperatures during the middle of April in your region or in New York.
Obituaries: Write a brief paragraph remembering the illustrious career of Captain Edward J. Smith or one of the Titanic's other notable passengers, such as J.J. Astor or Isadore Strauss.
Students may need to complete rough drafts at home. Parents can be an extremely useful resource in this lesson if your students are not proficient word processors. Ask parent volunteers to come in to help type the articles.
- Complete a graphic organizer answering What? Who? When? Where? and Why?
- Publish a final draft of the news article using a word processing program.
- Did students use the graphic organizer correctly?
- Did students use reference materials effectively?
- Were students hesitant to criticize others during peer editing or able to give constructive tips?
- Was the Student Checklist filled out accurately?
- Was enough time provided for the lesson?
- What was the class average on the five-point rubric?
- Which area of the six traits from the rubric seems to need the most reinforcement?
- Are word processing skills adequate to complete publishing in a timely manner?
- You may formally assess the students' final product by scoring their papers with the Five Point Scoring Rubric.
- Were students able to use the graphic organizer effectively? Did they include accurate information for Who, What, When, Where and Why?
- Was the article written in a logical sequence?
- Did students work well during peer editing?
- Did they use the Student Checklist accurately?