The BIG 50: A list of quick hitter content ideas that your staff can use to drive traffic to your website

This year for the first time I have too many kids. Yep, you read that right. I have too many kids on my newspaper staff. Almost 50 students are on my production staff.

I don’t know what to do with them all. 50 kids doing 50 different things. My brain is totally fried trying to keep up. I do have a plan but it isn’t always beneficial to all my kids. I focus on the print edition, spend secondary time on the online edition, juggle the photographers and people making videos, yell at the podcast kids to get something up every two weeks, and hope half the class is doing something productive at least half the class period.

When I tell other advisers this, almost all of them are jealous and want to know how my staff has gotten so big. Well, it’s a big school, almost 3000 kids. That’s the number one reason. But, I know additional reasons include an engaging intro program, my delightful personality (okay that one is pushing the truth slightly), kids love to write lots and lots of words (lies), and maybe a little bit because of our success nationally and in our state.

I knew this influx was coming.

I didn’t know I was going to be working with so many kids who haven’t been a real student in almost 20 months. That part, I wasn’t ready for. 

It has been overwhelming. 

How do you go back and teach 20 months of content for almost 50 kids that got some things last year, but not everything. Add in a bunch of 10th graders who haven’t been on a campus since they were….in middle school? How do you accommodate all the different learning styles, experience levels, and still put out a top end product?

Well I figured out pretty early that I needed options. The kids needed options. Some kids know how to use a camera, some have somewhat of an idea of LTQT style, others can draw, some know how to record on their cell phones, and some can even hold a boom mic!

Now I know this is something that many people have done throughout the years. This is nothing new. We are always looking for things for their kids to do, or finding something you can ask the kid who isn’t doing much in class to do that might help you out, that non-compliant kid. This isn’t something new…except it is for me. We are truly running out of story ideas each cycle and I have more kids who aren’t writers, but need and want to get published. They all have something unique to bring to the table. I have finally figured out that I need to tap into those things.

So what I decided to do was to create a list of options. I want my kids to get published. I want people to see their work. I mean that is the goal right? I would like for it to be “journalistically sound” but what does that look like if it is a Tasty-style video? What does journalistically sound mean if you are going out and get responses from 25 kids about what song they are listening to right now? How do you make a Spotify list “journalistic.”

Well the truth is that many things do need an editor, do need other students to look over the text, or help edit the video. But many things can be created that are fun, interactive things that my, and now your kids, can do to drive traffic to your website, or even to your print edition if you can figure out how to incorporate it there.

How do you grade all this stuff? I am required to have one a week, and they are checking. Who has time for that? I find that these are easy to grade. Did you get it done or not? Yes? Here’s your grade. No? Try a little harder please. Make an agreement on how many per cycle. 3 = a 70, 4 = a 80, 5 = 90, 6 = 100.

So here is what I came up with – I call it my BIG 50 list –  things any kid can go make that will help “sell” your product, get them published, and be something you can “put a grade on.” And most importantly, the majority of this list is repeatable by any kid, any time.

The Big 50 List

  1. Ask an adult on campus for their top 5 songs of all time.
  2. Create a Spotify list for each staff member and change it weekly on your website.
  3. Make a video where you ask 10 random people with headphones on what they are listening to right that moment.
  4. Review a new song from the top-100 list on Billboard Top-100
  5. Write a short story about today (warning some are not school appropriate) : 
  6. Write a short story about this month (warning some are not school appropriate): 
  7. Make a Tasty-style video while you make dinner
  8. Go eat at some restaurant nearby and write a review
  9. Try 5 different donuts at a local shop and write a review
  10. Make a video of a theater kid doing warm-ups and then ask a random kid around campus to try to duplicate it.
  11. Ask an adult on campus their top-5 movies
  12. Create a poll about a localized topic and go ask 100 people to take part (make it a Google Form with a QR code!)
  13. Go ask your librarian for 5 new book titles and create some buzz by promoting them somewhere in your publication (a video, a brief, a podcast, or even a quick recap of the main characters and a short plot summary from your librarian)
  14. Do a 20 question Q&A with someone on campus. Make this a repeatable thing every week. Rotate through teachers, students, staff members (a custodian or a secretary), a coach, someone from 5 different organizations, etc. Ask the same questions every time. Ask completely different questions each time.
  15. Go make a question person – think of 5 different things going on around your campus and ask 5 different people questions about those things. 25 people = 5 question persons that you could run every day for a week. Keep it going for the whole semester or year.
  16. Record a choir student singing. Do a short bio-interview with them.
  17. Find a theater kid. Pair them up with a willing student and have them do theater make-up on them. Ask them about the process and figure out what they are doing.
  18. Go to the parking lot and find the <insert word here (ugliest, fastest looking, coolest color, tallest tires)> car. Figure out who owns it and write a story about them and their car.
  19. Do a story about a bus driver
  20. Go thrifting with <insert style here (an athlete, a cheerleader, a theater kid, a JROTC kid, a culinary student, ect.)> and document the experience. Limit to $10 or under. See what kind of outfit you can create.
  21. Do a story with the cafeteria manager
  22. Go to a local hobby store and find out what kids are buying. Create a story about it.
  23. Get your nails done and write about the experience
  24. Find a couple of people and go take a class at a local store. Think JoAnn Fabric, a leather place, a game store, an art store, a craft shop, etc.
  25. Alternatively pick a local business, make an appointment with the owner or manager and spend the day with them at work and see what they do at their job. Create a story about it.
  26. Shadow a student at their work. Create a story about it.
  27. Pick a new game app on the app store. Download it and play it for the weekend. Write a review. Don’t spend any real money on upgrades.
  28. Ask five members of your family for three story ideas. Pick one and create a story about it.
  29. Arrange to take a test-drive at a local car dealership. Create a story about the experience. Go through the entire process with a salesman or a manager. Make sure to explain this to students.
  30. Go to a local bank. Open a bank account. Create a story about the process.
  31. Go to your local public library. Get a calendar of events. Pick an event and go to it. Create a story about the experience.
  32. Go to your local hospital and learn about the people who volunteer there. Create a story about one of them.
  33. Get a yearbook from 10 years ago. Pick a person. Find them. Create a story about them.
  34. Ask 10 students to share their last photo on their phone with you. Create a gallery and write a caption explaining the photo. Keep it school appropriate please. 
  35. Go to a garage sale. Find one interesting object and interview the owner about it. Create a story about that object and its history. 
  36. Ask 25 students what they are currently binge watching. Create something with the data.
  37. Find 3 willing students, make a craft with them and document the process. Create a story with what you did/made. Make this one seasonal, maybe?
  38. Get permission to go to a local nursing home or assisted living facility. Go take quality environmental portraits with a few of the people living there. Talk to them about their lives. Create a story with what you learned. Print the photos out, throw them into cheap frames and take them back to your subjects to thank them.
  39. Go to an art class, ask 5 students to share their latest doodle. Take photos and make a gallery.
  40. Make a poll (think ranker.com) about any of the following things and create something with the data:
    1. Superheroes
    2. Musicians
    3. Artists
    4. Writers
    5. Actors
    6. Athletes
    7. Songs
    8. Movies
  41. Give 3 students containers of play-do to create with and document what they make. Sub in different items like pen/paper, clay, markers/poster board, paint/q-tips/paper etc.
  42. Ask a willing student driver if you can sit in their car. Document what you find and create a story about it.
  43. Pick 3 topics that someone else is writing a story about it, create an information graphic for each one. It might not get published in your print edition, but you can certainly use it in your online publication.
  44. Create a story about something kids should know how to do with their car like:
    1. Change a tire
    2. Change windshield wipers
    3. Check fluids
    4. Wash and wax
  45. Create a multi-step story and document how you did it, step-by-step like:
    1. Make a simple journal
    2. Fold a perfect paper airplane
    3. Make an origami piece
    4. Simple art piece
    5. Simple dance like the 2 step
    6. Tying a tie/bowtie
  46. Interview a groundskeeper on your campus. Create a story about them.
  47. Make top-10 lists of anything
  48. Ask 10 students to take a self-portrait. Run them as a gallery. Be picky.
  49. Do a blind taste test and document the results. Create a story.
  50. Ask 10 students to bring in a current photo and a baby photo. Create something and have students try to guess or match them up. Give perfect scores a prize. Document the process. Create a story.

One note: I use the words “create a story” very generically – this could be a video, a podcast, a story, an infographic, a graphic, a chart, a TikTok clip, a live Tweet, or even a photo gallery. Use these interchangeably. Do what is best for your program and what you need. I certainly do not mean that you need to write a text story for every single one of these suggestions. In fact, the opposite, make something else, unless you find some great angle or story that should be done in text format.

Other Options

Things we do all the time but can be options for getting published as well. These ones are thing you already know about, but here are ours:

  1. Write a story or brief
  2. Take a photo
  3. Make a video
  4. Make a podcast
  5. Create an infographic
  6. Make a political cartoon
  7. Make a Google Form poll
  8. Do a Q&A with video and/or audio
  9. Help another writer by gathering some quotes
  10. Write a headline or caption
  11. Post on social media
  12. Live “social media” an event (typically live Tweet something)
  13. Lord save me – create a Tik Tok….Yes, we are making one. No, I don’t have any idea what to do with it, but the kids seem to think they do. Maybe this list will help.

Has this helped us? 

For sure. Some of these are being shared with you first and my kids haven’t even seen the final list yet, but it has been in the works for a few weeks and some of my select kids are starting to create things using these ideas. 

How has it gone? 

Not sure yet, but I am looking for ways to get kids published. To tap into what they like to do and to use it to share information with our student body. Most of this wouldn’t make the cut for our print edition and frankly some of it probably won’t be very “journalistically sound” but my hope is that whatever these kids create will be seen and enjoyed by our students and maybe just maybe while they are seeing it on our website, they will click on something else my kids have created that is.

Maybe you can find something here to help you. Even if you only have 10 kids, there are things your kids can make that people might find interesting.

Michael Reeves

Michael Reeves, MJE, is the newspaper adviser at James Bowie H.S. in Austin, Texas. After almost a decade as a professional journalist, he joined the teaching ranks and has never looked back. The staff of The Dispatch and thedisaptchonline.net have won numerous state and national awards, but more importantly are an active part of the New Voices movement in Texas. Today journalism is more important than ever before and Reeves' goal is to help students find their role in the media through high school and beyond. Reeves is also a member of the JEA Curriculum Committee.

Michael Reeves has 6 posts and counting. See all posts by Michael Reeves

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