in cold blood

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					                                                                               News Literacy Institute
                                                                                       Summer 2009
                                                                                          Lesson plan

             Reading Writing and Producing Media is a senior elective for a mixed range of abilities.
             This course attracts students with an interest in media production, media analysis and
             some who want to emphasize journalism. The goals of the course are like most other
             English classes and emphasize skills in reading, writing, thinking and discussion. Unique
             to this course is a special emphasis on media production in video, radio, print and

             This lesson is geared to a class that has been exposed to concepts of news literacy,
             specifically deconstruction. Furthermore, students should have read at least the first
             part of Truman Capote’s novel, In Cold Blood. The entire lesson would run for two or
             three class periods over a week or two so students had time to complete the writing
             exercises that lead up to the final assessment.

A. Goal: To have students apply and assess the qualities of effective and ethical journalism
         juxtaposed to the qualities of effective literature so as to come to a response to the
         prompt: Is a nonfiction novel a possibility or impossibility?

B. Learning Objectives:
                    Students will be able to explain and apply terminology of news deconstruction
                    Students will be able to explain and apply the differences between journalism
                     and literature.
                    Students will be able, in writing, to establish a position and defend it citing
                     analysis of examples from an assigned text

C. Set-up:
             Prior to this activity, students will have studied the news story as a genre, learned the
             terminology associated with deconstruction and practiced deconstructing contemporary
             news stories. Furthermore, it is likely that they will have had some experience
             constructing news stories. The difference between news and opinion will have been

D. News literacy skills to be incorporated:
             The ability to deconstruct a story, with special emphasis on:
                 1. Summarizing the story
                 2. Assessing evidence to support the main points. What is and isn’t verified?
                 3. Assessing the reliability of sources
                          a. Named vs. unnamed sources
                          b. Multiple sources vs. single sources
                          c. Authoritative vs. uninformed
                          d. Verified vs. assertions
                          e. Independent vs. self interested sources
                 4. Direct or indirect evidence (are there many inferences made?)
                 5. Transparency
                 6. Context
                 7. Fairness
E. Process and activities:
          Students will have read some of In Cold Blood. Along with discussion on a variety of
          topics relevant to the text as both journalistic and literary, students will be asked to find
          passages of between ½ to a full page in length. They will then assess the passage using
          the deconstruction format outlined by the news literacy institute. (See deconstruction
          guide) Having completed the note taking on the deconstruction, students will write a
          short (1-1.5 page) analysis explaining what of significance emerges when the text is
          viewed through this lens.

          In a follow up exercise the students will take the same passage and assess it as pure
          fiction/literature. They will look at character development, authorial intent, theme, use
          of figurative language and creativity. Again, this will result in a short essay (1-1.5 pages)
          in which they come to a conclusion about the passage’s strengths and weaknesses as

          Students will share the passages and their essays with each other to get a broader view
          of Capote’s impact as a novelist and a journalist. Students will look, specifically, at
          Capote’s transparency, attribution and objectivity. Furthermore, they will look at his
          text as an argument on capital punishment, homosexuality, or journalistic distance.

          After sharing these essays, students will read a variety of short, primary sources on
          Capote’s novel (See list at the end of this plan). Using these sources, class discussion,
          the preliminary writings and class notes students will write a final essay on In Cold Blood
          in which they will assess its strengths and weakness as a work with journalistic integrity,
          literary merit or some hybrid of each.

F. State Standards:
   These vary from state to state…

G. Sources to be used by students

       AP. "U.S. Executions Down to 7 in 65; Death Penalty Gone in 13 States." New York
              Times 18 Feb. 1966: 14.
       "Capote Answers Tynan’s Attack." New York Times 27 Mar. 1966: 85.
       Fremont-Smith, Eliot. "Books of the Times." New York Times 26 Jan. 1966: 28.
       Gilroy, Harry. "A Book in a New Form Earns $2-Million for Truman Capote." New
              York Times 31 Dec. 1965: 23.
       Knickerbocker, Conrad. "One Night on a Kansas Farm." New York Times 16 Jan. 1966:
       "Letters to the Editor." New York Times 6 Feb. 1966: BR19.
       Lewis, Anthony. "British Acclaim? In Cold Blood?." New York Times 15 Mar. 1966: 36.
       Plimpton, George. "The Story Behind A Nonfiction Novel." New York Times 16 Jan.
              1966: BR2.
       William, Smith D. "Advertising: A Success Money Didn’t Buy." New York Times 20
              Feb. 1966: F16.
H. Extensions and Connections
   If students are interested in more background on Truman Capote or his attitudes on
   journalism, the video links at the end of this section provide direct commentary by
   Capote. As students come to see the subtleties in form and function they might want
   to look at other writers and other media. Analysis of a Michael Moore film like
   Fahrenheit 911, a publication like The Onion, a television program like The Daily Show
   or a websites like or All of these provide opportunities for
   students to examine form, function intent and purpose. By using the terminology
   associated with news literacy, they may better understand the niches in which these
   outlets exist as well as their strengths and weaknesses. discusses his view of the
              nonfiction novel. discusses the process of writing
              the novel as an outsider in the community. one of Capote on the Dick
             Cavett show two of the Dick Cavett Show

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