Teaching AP style: some high school teachers weigh in

What’s your approach to teaching AP style?

There are lots of ways to do it. The suggestions below come from a discussion about that topic on the Journalism Education Association listserv in August. Each of these entries is used with the kind permission of the authors.

Vicki Brennan, MA, CJE

Miami-Dade County, Fla., teacher (retired)
<vmbrennan@BELLSOUTH.NET>
I pick out the parts that students really need to make their publications more professional, so I hit hard on the rules about numbers, dates, time, sports scores, apostrophe use, capitalization, hyphenation and basic grammar, such as people are “who” not “that”.  Going letter-by-letter is going to give them a lot of rules they don’t use much and delay the teaching of some very important ones that they should be using all the time.

Bryan Halpern

Glenbrook North High School
Northbrook, IL
<bryanhalpern@SBCGLOBAL.NET>
I grab the most used sections of the stylebook, put the students in groups, assign each group a set of rules and then give them the task of teaching the rest of the class about their assigned rules. They do everything from conventional power point presentations and handouts to creating songs, raps or poems about their rules. The songs are great fun, and if annoying enough, stick in the kids’ heads so they can access them from memory when needed. Also, keeping a set of Stylebooks around is a nice resource.

C. E. Sikkenga

<cesikkenga@GMAIL.COM>
I used to do the quizzes and exercises and stuff.  I found that the kids hated them, I hated them and they really didn’t make us that much better. This may just be a reflection of my  personal style and the way it rubs off on my kids, but the traditional approach didn’t work well for me.

I did them all in my journalism classes too–but even after a quarter century of using AP Style, I really don’t remember all the rules myself. Just the really common ones and as I get older and my hard drive has filled up with more stuff, I forget some of those too. Two summers ago, I did an internship at our local paper and found that I don’t really need to memorize style rules–so long as I am smart and fast at looking them up when I need to.  WIth that in mind, in my intro class, I have a basic list of 30 sentences with either one, two or zero errors.  Every student must fix every one correctly before they can be done with that exercise.  It is open book.  Drives them nuts, but eventually they learn to just look everything up and how to use the style book.

Once they make it to the publication class, I tape a one-page list of the most common style issues next to every work station for quick reference. (I use the most excellent one that was posted here a couple years back). There’s also a full AP Stylebook within arm’s reach of any station. Beyond that, if anybody ever asks me a style question (or if I hear them asking anybody else) I just reply with “What does the style book say?”  By the end of the first trimester, most of them get it and it is not too much of an issue–at least with the basics.  If a crazy one pops up, I can help any kid through that one on one.  If something more basic is consistently an issue with many kids, then I’ll work in an impromptu lesson as needed.

I find that this approach frees up class time to use on more interesting things like storytelling or other cool conceptual stuff.

Catherine Podolak

Wyoming Valley West High School
Plymouth, PA
<CPodolak@WVWSD.ORG>
I do AP stylebook once a week where I type up the rules that my students will encounter on a pretty regular basis. I do A-C, D-G, etc. and then I type up exercises where they have to circle the AP error and write out the corrections. They must also keep each handout in a folder. Once we cover the letters, they get points deducted from their articles if the AP errors appear. It works for me.

David Bailey

Lincoln High School
Portland, OR
<dbailey@PPS.NET>
I have students write the rules, based on AP style, by giving them a series of sentences in categories (times, dates, quotes, etc.) that illustrate correct and incorrect usage. Example: “The dance will begin at 8 p.m.” NOT “The dance will begin at 8pm.” Now write the rule.

I also blow up to poster size the style issues that are most nettlesome and put reduced versions of same next to each computer.

(All of these entries were used by permission, and I thank each of the teachers for them.)
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And here’s what adherence to style brings to your writing:

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