Before students sit down to write their stories, it's important they have a basic understanding of how to properly structure and organize their work. Creating an outline prior to beginning the actual writing process will allow students to resolve their ideas. It also allows teachers to assist students in areas they may have trouble with.

Caption Writing

Captions are the copy underneath a photograph that explains what is going on in the picture. They should also make clear how that picture relates to the story. Captions should be no more than about 50 words long. A caption should tell what is going on in a picture. Have students answer all questions that may come to mind: Who is that? What are they doing? When and where are they doing it?

Story Structure

First Paragraph

Students should begin with the most interesting thing they learned when researching their stories. Have them set the stage for their readers. They should use details to describe what’s going on, where the story is taking place, and what the person is doing, looks like, and saying.

Second and Third Paragraphs

The second paragraph is one of two things: a nut graph or a quote. A quote usually works best. The quote should build on the information in the first paragraph.

The third graph is a “nut” graph. (Some journalists call it a billboard). This paragraph tells why this story is important to the reader. It should include the where and when. Here’s an example:

Jane Student, 11, was recently accepted by Scholastic News to be part of the 2005-2006 Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

"I nearly flipped when I got the acceptance letter," Jane said. "I have always been interested in politics."

Jane is one of 15 students chosen by Scholastic to cover news stories over the next year. Scholastic Student Reporters have covered presidential campaigns, sports events, and breaking news stories. Reporters are chosen by Scholastic magazine editors based on the quality of their applications.

The Rest of the Story

The next three to four paragraphs, which will complete the story, fill in other information. These graphs should include at least one more quote, which usually goes at the end. The end quote should sum up the point of the story. In the above example, a quote from one of the Editors would be a good follow up to the nut graph.

“Jane’s application stood out because of the quality of her writing and her enthusiasm for the project,” John D. Editor said.

The rest of the story would be about how many were chosen, some examples of who else got the job, and what their first assignments were.

The Kicker

The kicker is the last paragraph of the story. It usually sums up the point of the story. It should also refer back to the first paragraph, which ties everything up nicely for the reader.

In the above example, you could end with a quote from Jane, or information about what Jane will be doing next as a Kid Reporter.

Writing Don't's

• Don't start a sentence with the person and/or title of a person or agency. Put the action first (what is actually happening), then tell who or what is doing it. (As noted in the example above, there is an exception to the rule. In that story, the story is about Jane Student’s appointment. Her name and identifier are short and sweet, so they don’t distract or bore).

Bad: The head of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Kenneth Johnson today announced that he will be the first man to walk on Mars.

Good: To be the first person to walk on Mars, Kenneth Johnson will have to learn how to live for days in a space suit. As the head of blah, blah, blah, he will have plenty of opportunity.

• Never start a lead (the first paragraph in your story) with a day, date, or time, especially if that day, date, or time is NOT the current day, date, or time. It makes your story look old.

Bad: On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Good: America’s involvement in World War II began with the sound of airplane engines. When Japanese fighter planes swooped down on unsuspecting Americans in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, U.S. citizens went to war.

Avoid too many conjunctive sentences (sentences tied together with “and”). Break any long sentences into two or three sentences. Also avoid starting sentences with “But” or “And.” Anytime a student writes a sentence starting with “But” or “And,” have him or her take those words out and see if the sentence doesn’t work just as well. Most times it does. If not, have them rework the sentence.

Don't start a sentence with “There are,” “There is,” “There was,” or “There were.” Write all sentences as Subject, Verb, Object sentences. The sentence is sharper and the idea is clearer. “There are" many vague sentences and most of them start with “There are.”

Writing Do's

Write with descriptive Nouns and Verbs. Avoid the “to be” verbs of is, are, was, were.

For example:

Please do not annoy, torment, pester, plague, molest, worry, badger, harry, harass, heckle, persecute, irk, bully, rag, vex, disquiet, grate, beset, bother, tease, nettle, tantalize, or ruffle the animals. -THE SAN DIEGO ZOO

From Strunk and White:

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a week or inaccurate noun out of a tight place … In general … it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color. -Page 71, Third Edition, The Elements of Style

Active voice, not passive: Make sure a sentence has a subject doing the action whenever possible. Subject, Verb, Object.

Bad: The ball was hit by Jack.

Good: Jack hit the ball.