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Alternative story forms for adding context



by Candace Perkins Bowen


Alternative story forms for adding context

Fake news may just be incomplete news if it doesn’t provide the audience with enough context to really tell the story. That can happen with alternative story forms if they just add visuals and fluff but little real information. As The Poynter Institute’s Vicki Krueger describes them, these are “charticles, non-narratives, storytelling devices, ASFs and alts, among others. Some stand alone as a story, and some are supplemental: forms that clarify, complement and explain information in a traditional news story.” In her 10 ways to engage readers with alternative story forms, she offers guidelines for their use. However, a staff’s first decision is when and why to use them. Note that these are to clarify and explain information to avoid misinforming the audience. While alternative story forms can add visual variety, their main purpose is to accurately convey information.


  • Students will practice improving the information conveyed by providing alternative story forms when useful.
  • Students will evaluate alternative story forms as ways to explain complicated messages.
  • Students will apply these lessons to generate ideas for potential ASFs for future media topics.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.



50 minutes

Materials / resources

White board and markers

Handout: Alternative story form ideas and how to grow them

Access to the internet for seeing other graphics or printouts of them

Assessment: Exit slip to suggest a future ASF

Article: 10 ways to engage readers with alternative story forms

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Provide a bridge (10 minutes)  

Students should read the Poynter article, 10 ways to engage readers with alternative story forms. Create a list of ideas and discuss as a class what students see as some they can use to add information to stories in the planning stages. How can these be both graphically pleasing and add some depth to the factual articles? Don’t spend a great deal of time on this as the class will return to it after the next activity.

Step 2 — Handout and activity (20 minutes)

In pairs, students should look at the handout, “Alternative story form ideas and how to grow them.” Have them assess the hypothetical students’ original ideas. Then they should look at the examples on the second page and in links. Discuss what makes these better and how the ideas they offer can be used to improve the original suggestions. Make a list about what improved these new ideas in general.

Step 3 — Large group discussion and feedback (15 minutes)

Discuss what students thought of the original ideas and how they were able to improve them. Then generate a list on the board of what, in general, made the new versions better (e.g. including number surveyed, indicating source of expert information, etc.).

Step 4 — Exit slips

Students should write down one idea they have for a future ASF for a project in the planning stage.


Students could start the creation of alternative story forms, either the idea used on the exit slip or another for some of their own stories that are in the planning stages. This could be a more complete explanation of the idea on the exit slip or another idea the student has.

Students could also sign up for Poynter Institute’s NewsU course, Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Creating Alternative Story Forms, by Andy Bechtel. This self-directed online course is free and only requires registering with NewsU. It is designed to take about two hours to complete.

Additional resources

Tim Harrower’s The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook also has a lot about ASFs, including some pages accessible online.

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