Stylebook feud

Mary Bohlen | University of Illinois at Springfield

I don't know if this is a new tip because I have used it for years and am pretty sure I got it originally from an old Journalism Educator issue. So I'm a little concerned about taking credit for it. Still, it is one of my most effective teaching tools.

The tip is to help teach wire service style, although I have modified the exercise for other classes including Media Law and Ethics. It's called "Stylebook Feud," modeled on the "Family Feud" game show. A few days before we play this, I assign every student to bring 10 questions based on the AP or UPI stylebook. (I limit the choice to the actual style part of the book and not the libel manual.) I also have them write the answers on the sheet. They are always amazed by the kinds of things found in the stylebook and often come up with some real stumpers.

On the day of the game, students divide into teams of three or four (depending on the size of the class), usually by counting off. We start with two teams playing against each other. Members of a third team act as judges, question announcers, timers and scorekeepers, using the questions they generated. If I have a larger class with more teams, they observe until their turns.

I allow and actually encourage students to use their stylebooks and consult their fellow team members before answering the questions, although I do get some students who like to shout a guess without checking the book or consulting teammates. If they are wrong, the teammates quickly squelch such behavior. As a former wire service reporter, I tell students I never relied on my memory or guesses for stylebook questions, and I don't want them to either.

You can use some sort of bell or noisemaker for a team to ring in with the answer although I also have relied on handraising when I didn't have a bell. I leave it to the team serving as judges to decide who was first.

If the first team to answer is correct, that side gets 5 points. If that team misses, the other team gets a chance to answer for 4 points. We keep dropping the number of points each time no one gets it correct and sometimes get a question no one can answer. At the end of the round, we total the points for each team. At the end of the class session, the team with the highest total points from all rounds wins a prize. Sometimes I award a physical prize such as a reporter's notebook, and sometimes I award extra credit points.

I have done this exercise as a round robin tourney with each team playing each other and also as a playoff with the winning team of each round advancing to a semi-final and then final. Both work, although the round robin format allows more students to participate and thus become more familiar with the stylebook.

The students really get into the game and always comment that it helps them realize the breadth and depth of the stylebook's contents.

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