Fifth-graders use sinking of Titanic to play reporters

When I heard about the fifth-grade class that sent The Washington Post an enormous, "adorable" correction letter, I thought they could be budding copy editors, should such positions exist when they enter the workforce. Turns out they were budding reporters.

Leslie Reed, their teacher at Burning Tree Elementary School in Bethesda, Md., told me that the class was working on informative writing this spring, focusing on topics like lasers and Saturn — you know, the major issues facing a fifth-grader. The anniversary of the Titanic's sinking fit the teaching, so she had the children research what happened, interview one another as if they had been on the ship, and write news stories. It was around this time that Reed saw The Washington Post story with the wrong date of the Titanic collision and brought the story to the class figuring they'd spot it. They did, hence the correction letter.

Reed scanned a couple of her students' news stories and emailed them to me.

Amy Richards, editor-in-chief for "The New York Seas," wrote:

The wonder ship had over 2200 people of all classes, the immigrants, the rich and the in-between. This great ship was headed for New York. At first the ship was smooth sailing. Then once they were getting close to New York, in the North Atlantic Ocean, after repeated signs of large chunks of ice, The Titanic got hit by an iceberg on the starboard bou (upper right side) around midnight April 14, 1992. The ship of dreams is starting to be a ship of nightmares. The passengers are not alarmed though because they think this is a truly an unsinkable ship.

The reality struck then when things were falling of the ship, and chaos ran free.

The snide among you may look at the date in Richards' story and say the children don't have much room to point out the Post's error, but as Reed told me, they're 10 years old.

"We do peer editing and of course they type on Word, so there should be no excuse, but again they are 10." Peer editing? Maybe they are ready for the post-copy-editor world.

Patrick Ishimoto, editor-in-chief (naturally) of the Ishimoto Tribune, wrote:

The luxury steamship Titanic nicknamed "The Unsinkable Ship" has sunk on its maiden voyage to New York after hitting a big iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. ... After four days at sea, at about 11:30 p.m. on April 14th the Titanic was sailing in calm seas under a moonless, clear sky. The air and water was very cold and it created a slight haze on the water. The lookout did not see anything until he spotted the iceberg dead ahead coming out of a slight haze. He rang the warning bell and called the bridge. The Titanic was going to fast to be able make a hard turn to miss the iceberg. ...

All of the passenger's friends and family came to see if they survived. Most of them were crying because their family or friends died. After the disaster the Titanic proved that no ship is unsinkable.

By the way, each of these newspapers costs two cents. They're going to have to bump that up now that cruise ships have shifted their advertising to the Web.

Related: Two-year-old reads The Washington Post with her father (The Washington Post)

Here are Richards and Ishimoto's complete stories:

And of course the class:

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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