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For Educators:
Hurricane Katrina: You Be the Reporter
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Lesson Plan

This lesson is designed for language arts, journalism, mass media, and communications classes in grades 9-12.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:
  1. Identify the key elements of news stories, feature stories, and editorials.
  2. Demonstrate the ability to distinguish opinions from facts.
  3. Read news, feature articles and editorials related to Hurricane Katrina and use them as models for constructing their own writing pieces.
  4. Participate in a class discussion about the role of technology in today's world; particularly in how we use it to communicate on a personal basis and in how the presentation of news has been changed by technology.
  5. Conduct research about Hurricane Katrina using the Internet, particularly personal blogs, and Web sites containing personal stories of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Other primary library resources can also be used for this research.
  6. Work in a small group to create news stories, feature stories and editorials/letters to the editor and organize them in a podcast, video-based program, or newspaper/magazine focused on Hurricane Katrina.
  7. Complete a written response activity related to lesson content.

Related National Health Standards

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), at

Language Arts

Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Standard 2: Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
Standard 3: Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written composition
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes


Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media
Standard 3: Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual
Standard 6: Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology
Thinking and Reasoning:
Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
Working With Others:
Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills
Standard 5: Demonstrates leadership skills

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Three 50-minute class periods

Materials Needed

Backgrounder for Teachers

After Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the entire U.S. was feeling the effects of the storm. Hundreds of thousands of evacuees were taken in by shelters, relatives, and generous strangers around the country. School districts absorbed displaced students. Gas prices rose sharply. New Orleans was flooded and declared unlivable. Many Americans gave of their time and resources to help those devastated by the disaster, and everyone will help pay for damages caused by the storm (through tax dollars, insurance premiums, etc.).

Unlike the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 or Hurricane Camille in 1969, technology played a major role in how Americans prepared for this Gulf Coast storm and learned about its aftermath. Using high-tech weather monitoring equipment, experts predicted the path and strength of the storm. Media from around the world covered the storm first-hand and sent pictures of its devastation and aftermath worldwide. In addition, the Internet, cell phones, and other technology made it possible for those directly affected by the storm to share their stories. For example, a number of evacuees used Web logs, or "blogs," to tell what happened to them or to connect with family members. This lesson examines technology's role in telling the story of Hurricane Katrina. It also helps students to develop their skills as reporters, and then use technology to share their work.

For more information on Hurricane Katrina, getting started with podcasting in the classroom, or the practice of "blogging," see the Related Resources section of this lesson.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

Students should be generally familiar with the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It will also be helpful if they have some experience with the technology you have chosen for them to use for their projects (computers, video cameras, etc.). Finally, students should have some prior experience identifying and writing a news story, a feature story, and an editorial.

Teaching Strategy

Part 1: Identifying the Facts and Key Elements of a News Story (15 minutes)
1. Use one or both of the following articles to help students identify the who, what, when, where, why, and how (5 W's and the H) for news stories related to Hurricane Katrina:

Read the articles as a large group and record the information related to the 5 W's and the H on the board/overhead for all students to see.

2. Once you have had a chance to review basic information about Hurricane Katrina, discuss how reporters are expected to present news using the facts surrounding the story in an objective, unbiased way.

  • Explain that the goal of the journalist is to gather their facts from a variety of reputable sources and supply the answers to the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  • While news reporters often use quotes or opinions provided by their sources, they should clearly attribute these quotes and opinions to the sources and refrain from presenting their own opinions and ideas in the news story.
3. As a class, have students brainstorm what draws them to read or listen to a particular story from a newspaper or newscast. Student responses might include:
  • A headline or segue (pronounced seg-way) that captures people's interest
  • Quotes or interviews with people who experienced the event first-hand
  • Pictures or video that allow viewers to see what is happening
Part 2: The Human Element: Focusing on Features and Opinion Articles (20 minutes)
1. Review with students the feature story, "Two New Orleans Teenagers Tell Their Story of Survival and Loss" (
featurestories/katrinainterview.html). Talk about the similarities and differences between this type of story and the news stories discussed earlier. List students' answers on the board.

2. Remind students that there are several types of feature stories, including personality profiles like this story on the two New Orleans teenagers. Effectively interviewing people for such stories is the key to the success of the article. Ask students to describe the approach used by the feature reporter in the New Orleans teenager article where two interviewees in similar circumstances were featured. What specific elements of the story made it so interesting?

3. Next, use a resource like the NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE editorial archive (
opinion/index.ssf?/mtlogs/nola_opinion/archives/2005_09.html) to read an editorial related to Hurricane Katrina. Discuss how the contents of this article differ from what was presented in the news and feature articles. Tell students that an editorial is an article based upon someone's opinion about a specific subject. Explain that editorials can be written or verbal, and that they could be presented by someone hired by a media outlet, or the editorial could be in the form of a "Letter to the Editor" where members of the community write, call, or email in to share their opinions. Remind students that an opinion article should be backed up with reasons, facts, and examples that support their point of view.

Part 3: Technology and the News (15 minutes)
1. Ask students to define the term "blog," derived from "Web log," or online journal.

2. Show how blogs were used after the Hurricane Katrina disaster by reading the article, "Blog Links for Katrina Survivors and Families" ( Discuss the role that technology played as people affected by Katrina coordinated their plans for leaving the city, tried to find loved ones, and recorded in their blogs their first-hand accounts of what happened. View a sample blog such as Kaye's Hurricane Blog ( or NPR's "Affected by Katrina? Listeners Write In" (
bstory/story.php?storyId=4821506) so students can see how the Internet allowed evacuees to record what was happening from the affected areas as well as from shelters such as the Astrodome in Houston.

3. Discuss how technology was used before, during, and after the storm to report the story, to provide first-hand accounts of what was happening and to help people get information to loved ones and reunite with them when traditional means of communication (i.e. telephone land lines) were inoperable.

Part 4: You Be the Reporter Project (50 minutes)
1. Distribute the lesson handout, "You Be the Reporter Project Guidelines" (See Materials section). Go over the handout and discuss the timeline for completion. NOTE: There are several options provided on the handout for constructing the project. Based on the available technology at your school, choose which medium the class will use to share their work.

2. Provide the remaining class time for students to work together to conduct Internet research and develop story ideas. Based on the abilities of your students and the availability of needed technologies, consider any adjustments that may need to be made for the project timeline.

Part 5: Sharing Projects as a Class (50 minutes, depending on the type of projects completed and the number of groups presenting)
1. Provide an opportunity for each group to share their completed projects.

2. When all projects have been presented, ask students to write a 1-2 paragraph response for each of the questions below:

  • How has technology changed the way news is delivered and experienced? What are the positive and negative effects of such changes?
  • Think about the various ways news is distributed, including print media (newspaper/magazines), radio, television, and the Internet. Discuss how each of these forms of media vary in the way they present the news and the types of news stories they are likely to focus on when generating articles for their specific audiences.
  • When you imagine the technology of the future, how will it impact the way we communicate with one another, specifically the way we learn about world events?

Assessment Recommendations

1. Use the general evaluation form handout (see Materials section) to have students self-evaluate their work, provide feedback to peers, and receive your feedback.

2. Evaluate student written responses to the technology questions in Part Five.

Extension Ideas

1. Using the NOW resource, "Delta and New Orleans Culture and History Resources" (, explore the unique music, food, history, and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. Have students research how these things have influenced life in New Orleans and drawn people there from around the world to visit. Have each student in the class report on a specific artist, type of music, food, or cultural aspect of the region and create a presentation featuring what they have learned. These should be creative, art-like projects that reflect the spirit of the Gulf Coast region.

2. Create a classroom blog where students can share their projects and the highlights of what they are doing in the classroom with other classes. In a supervised environment, have students take turns writing a daily/weekly blog entry describing what you are learning.

3. Work with students in a classroom at another school to collaborate on a project that integrates podcasting or blogging in the learning process. Students could participate in book clubs, science experiments, or a variety of other collaborative projects and utilize technology to share their findings and publish their learning.

Related Resources

NOW: "Katrina: The Response"
This resource features first-hand stories and comments about the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the government response to the needs of people in the Gulf Coast Region.b

NOW: "The Aftermath"
This program transcript discusses the effects of Hurricane Katrina and how the Gulf Coast Region's natural protection from such storms, the wetlands, is disappearing.

NOW: "The City in a Bowl"
This story transcript describes scientist Joe Suhayda's predictions about what would happen to the city of New Orleans if it were ever struck by a major hurricane.

NOW: "Losing Ground"
This report examines the disappearance of the Mississippi River Delta and the environmental, economic, and human consequences of this problem.

NOW: "Building in the Bulls-eye"
This resource looks at flooding in coastal areas and funding for assisting these areas when catastrophes strike.

NOW: "Race in Class in the Delta South"
This feature provides information and statistics related to income, education, and the poverty level in relation to race in the Gulf Coast region.

"New Tools for Student Communication"
This resource provides information about and tools for assisting students with podcasting and blogging.

"Kaye's Hurricane Blog"
This blog produced by an evacuee provides first-hand accounts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

This free site can be used for establishing your own blog.

About the Author

Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school English, social studies, reading, and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked extensively with PBS authoring and editing many lesson plans for various PBS programs and PBS TeacherSource. In addition to conducting workshops for teachers at various state and national meetings, Prososki also works with many corporate clients creating training programs and materials, facilitating leadership and operations workshops, and providing instructional support for new program rollouts. Prososki has authored one book and also serves as an editor for other writers of instructional materials.

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