- Keywords: Writing, newsletter, audience, creative writing
- Learner English level: Intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: University
- Preparation time: Varies
- Activity time: Varies
- Materials: Handouts (See appendices), Microsoft Publisher or Word, computer lab (optional)
A class newsletter creative writing project is an interactive and intense writing assignment that introduces students to alternative types of writing: reviews, short stories, interviews, surveys, advice columns, and horoscopes. Using the parameters of a newsletter, students learn about brevity, layout techniques, and audience awareness. The newsletter itself becomes a unique memento of the students’ time in the course and can also be used as promotional material for prospective students, either outside of a special English program or in a lower level of an intensive program.
Step 1: Determine group sizes. An ideal group size is between four and six students. Inform students that each group will be in charge of a specific section. The first handout (Appendix 1) students get for this project explains what type of content each group will be responsible for. The second handout is a group sign-up sheet (Appendix 2).
Step 2: Give students the handouts from Appendix 3, which list specific, step-by-step instructions for each group, as well as suggestions and deadline reminders.
Step 3: Plan ahead for the final stages of the drafting process, for when students will be typing up their sections, preparing them for inclusion in the newsletter. Reserve a computer lab if possible.
Step 1: Briefly introduce and explain the project. Find out what students already know about newsletters’ audiences and purposes. To reduce ambiguity about topics, set a theme (e.g., study abroad, future students as main audience). Give students the introduction handout and have students read about the different groups and decide which group they’d like to join.
Step 2: Hold sign-ups. Give each group its specific assignment sheet and have group members select a leader, review the assignment sheet, discuss topics, and brainstorm ideas.
Step 3: Check in on each group during each in-class work session. Have group members summarize their work and assess their group members throughout the project; this will help with instructor grading. If this project is being carried out over an entire session or semester, do weekly check-ins (See Appendix 4).
Step 4: As sections take shape, show students the layout size in Publisher or on a folded A3-sized sheet of paper. Seeing the actual size of the newsletter helps groups better organize their drafts. Tell groups to produce as much as they can but be prepared to cut text out as necessary.
Step 5: Have the class come up with or vote on a name, masthead, and color theme for the newsletter.
Step 6: Keep the class aware of the deadline. Edit and revise sensibly, printing the newsletter before the semester or session is over.
Step 7: Give students a survey that asks general questions about their work on the newsletter, their group members’ work, and their thoughts both about the project overall and ideas for future newsletters (see Appendix 7).
The length, depth, and use of in-class time for this project is variable depending on class frequency (once a week, twice a week, daily, etc.) and class size. This is a time-intensive project for the instructor as well, especially with the first newsletter. Once a newsletter has been completed, having it as a template for future newsletters will make the introduction and student buy-in much easier. One option to lessen the planning and teaching burden is to devote several class periods to the newsletter project only, in lieu of a standard academic writing assignment. I have done this project with intensive English program students in the United States and, most recently, in two of my classes in Japan. In both types of programs, student feedback has been the same: the drafting, writing, and editing processes are sometimes challenging, but seeing the finished product, seeing their names attached to articles, stories, surveys, and interviews, is worth the work.
The appendices are available below