Writing in Stereo

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WiS Lesson 7B: The Five Ws and the Hard Lede

April 19th, 2010

The original Writing in Stereo was published online back in the late 1980's.  Its purpose was to apply creative radio dramatics to all aspects of the teaching of high school English.  Each lesson included a lesson plan and notes.  I'm sharing these with you here.

UNIT OBJECTIVE: (VII) The student will improve primary research and writing skills using the discipline of broadcast journalism.

LESSON OBJECTIVE: (B) The student will demonstrate writing mastery of the "running" or "hard" (5-W's) lead (hereafter lede).

MATERIALS REQUIRED: Paper and pencil, newspaper

INTRODUCTION: Not many people read a newspaper from cover to cover. That's why the stories have headlines. We scan the headlines for stories of interest to us. If the story is interesting, we read the first paragraph. In a news story we expect to learn as much as possible from the first paragraph. If the first paragraph catches our interest, we linger and read on. Often, though, we don't have time to read any more than the first paragraph or so. We're in a hurry. So newspaper ledes are written in a very special way.


1. Describe what has been called the "inverted pyramid" style of writing and the inclusion of the four or five W's. Write the five W's and the H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) on the chalkboard or overhead.

2. Read several ledes aloud from your copy of the daily newspaper. Using the list on the board or overhead, students identify the five W's as they hear them. Your reading it aloud may make it more difficult for students to catch the details. Should any student complain, patiently reread the lede or the portion in question. This problem works nicely with the point we make later when we teach the broadcast "soft" lede.) Point out the number of sentences and the complexity of the few used in the first paragraph.

3. Select yet another news story and write the details in the lede next to the 5 W's on the board. Tell students to write their own newspaper ledes based on the information on the board.

4. Have students share their ledes with a partner/proofreader.

EVALUATION FOCUS: In grading these, look for the smooth inclusion of the 5 W's. The best work will have only one or two well-constructed complex sentences.

Notes (VII.B)

A high school journalism text is a good source of information on this material. Your school's journalism teacher may want to work with you on this.