Treena Mielke

MIELKE: Students tackle journalism assignment

Who! What! Why! Where! When!

The five ‘W’s of journalism.

Today was the day that I was supposed to explain the five ‘W’s to a group of Grade 6 students.

And not only that! I was supposed to hold their attention for a time block of eighty minutes.

“Eighty minutes,” I repeated to my daughter, the Grade 6 teacher, my voice registering only a slight note of panic. “Oh, my gosh?”

Anyway, that is how it happened to be that one-day last week I found myself standing in front of not one, but two consecutive groups of Grade 6 students telling them how to write a news story.

I really wanted to do a great job. I wanted to grab their attention and keep it for the whole eighty minutes. I wanted them to remember me years later as this cool journalist who came and spoke to their Grade 6 class and made such an impression it changed their life forever.

Their teacher gave a brief introduction for me, noting that my greatest accomplishment was being her mom.

The class seemed impressed with that little bit of information.

“She’s your mom?” one student asked, incredulous.

“Yes,” their teacher replied. “She is.”

We all took a moment to digest that worthy bit of information before I switched hats and assumed the role of journalist/guest speaker.

It was quiet in the room when I began to speak. So quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

The quiet lasted about two and a half seconds because these were, after all, Grade 6 students.

A news story. Who reads a news story?

“Well, my grandpa reads the newspaper,” one student said. “Another student said they had an aunt or an uncle or someone in the family who worked for a newspaper once, but they didn’t have a job right now.

I tried to act the part of a professional journalist, or at least someone who used to be a journalist, but I could feel their attention wavering.

“I once interviewed Premier Ralph Klein, I told them,” hoping to make some kind of impression.

It didn’t.

“Grade 6s,” their teacher said in her firm teacher voice. “Pay attention, please or you will have to go to the office.”

And for a nanosecond, silence reigned again.

For anyone, including a group of restless Grade 6 students, I do believe that action speaks louder than words and so I quit talking.

“I want you to make your own newspaper,” I said.

I encouraged the students to imagine the classroom as a newsroom and handed out sheets of paper that their teacher had photocopied with the masthead of ‘St. Matthews Catholic School News’.

They were to write a news story on the bottom of the page and use the top half for a photo. But first, they had to interview each other to come up with the news story. This resulted in a great deal of clamour and chatter and general mayhem which was cut short because of the deadline which was, of course, the end of the class.

And so, against all odds, these Grade 6 students took up the challenge, sharpened their pencils and their intellectual skills and created the front page of their very own newspapers.

I did not know and neither did they, but it turns out that hidden within those classrooms are students who have the potential to be the most incredible and awesome journalists and artists the world has ever seen.

Each front page was unique and special. Whether it was about a pregnant cat, a sports team, a scary dream or brand-new puppies, the stories sparked the readers’ interest and imagination.

I read the stories and I was so proud. These kids were amazing.

And believe it or not, they all made deadline.

Treena Mielke is a Central Alberta writer. She lives in Sylvan Lake with her family.