Call for Columnists

Columnists are informed opinion writers with a distinct voice and style. They have the same ethical and journalistic standards as reporters but add a particular perspective gained through experience, education and a passion for the topic. Columns are strong models for student composition development.
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Reporters cover a wide range of topics, moving between sections of the newsroom, gathering experience, securing reliable sources and expanding their understanding of the community and beat they cover. Some reporters begin to develop a distinct voice that expresses itself in their feature writing. These people often become columnists.


Columnists clearly present a point of view. They do this using facts, quotations from interviews, varied sources and their own opinions. These writers have been selected to be the informed voices with a perspective because of their years of covering an area as a beat reporter, their distinct voice and style, and their deep interest in the subject.


They tell about the lives of other people and their own. Some use humor; some use serious examples. As Post senior editor Marc Fisher stated about being a local columnist, “The great thing about writing a column is that I can let the news decide what I write about, or I can just follow my interests.”


Columnists make readers laugh, cry, think and care. Some readers will agree and others will vehemently disagree. Some readers will write back, others will take action, inspired by the columnist’s point of view and encouragement to get involved.


September 2018

Works of Fiction by Washington Post Columnists
Resource Graphic 

Explain Columns and Columnists

English, Journalism, Media Arts, Media Literacy

Local, regional, national and international news are found in the pages of The Washington Post and online. Sports, business, real estate, local living and health news inform readers with varied interests.


Readers get — and expect — more than news coverage. They want feature articles and other human interest pieces. They want editorials, editorial cartoons and letters to the editor with a span of perspectives. They want photographs, maps and informational graphics. They want comics, crossword puzzles and Sudoku. And don’t forget the classifieds and public notices.


Readers also get the perspective of columnists. Readers look to these individuals for a distinct style, point of view and informed opinion. Give students “More Than an Opinion” to review many of the columnists published one or more times a week in The Washington Post. What do they infer about the breadth of topics and interests of D.C. area readers? What might they assume about the columnists?


Identify Qualities

English, Journalism, Media Arts, Media Literacy

Readers get a glimpse into the qualities that make a columnist a columnist in two announcements from Post Features and Local editors. Give students “Monica Hesse becomes gender columnist” and “Theresa Vargas transitions to Metro columnist.”


Discussion could include:

• What qualities and background are highlighted for Monica Hesse?

• How might her reporting experience inform her new assignment?

• What qualities and background are highlighted for Theresa Vargas?

• How might her D.C. victims of gun violence and her road trip series inform her new role as a Metro columnist?

• What qualities do columnists have?

• What purpose do columns serve?

• Why would The Post create a column to focus on gender issues?

• What new column would you add to your school’s newspaper or online news source?


Meet a Sports Columnist
Character Education, English, Journalism, Physical Education

The hesitant reader and writer might find inspiration in the works of sports columnists. Covering high school, college and professional sports teams, sports columnists have knowledge of the teams, players and competition — and they have an opinion.


Students can get involved discussing the information, adding other details, arguing with the point of view. Teachers can use this to encourage debating and putting ideas on paper.


Fred Bowen, KidsPost’s sports columnist, is an excellent starting point for younger students and reluctant readers. Brief, accessible and always informative these columns also include sportsmanship, ethics and character education. Bowen has a sports-fiction series for boys and girls (ages 8-12) in hardback, paperback and E-book format.


Refer to “More Than an Opinion” for a list of sports columnists found in The Washington Post. Are students familiar with these writers?
• What point of view or theme is expressed in three columns by a particular columnist?
• What do sports columnists add to the coverage given by the many sports reporters and photographers?


Teachers may use these names as a treasure hunt activity to see who can first find columns written by each one in print, in e-Replica and digital formats. Online click on the columnist’s name to learn more about each one.


Encourage Discourse

Debate, English, Government, Journalism

People disagree with premises and points made by columnists. They forward the columns whose ideas they share, debate its ideas with friends and leave comments online for the writers. This is the dialogue that is healthy. Columnists want readers to think.


Ask students to select a columnist from those listed in “More Than an Opinion.” Read a minimum of five columns. Do they agree all the time, most of the time, occasionally or not at all with the columnist? Ask students to write a brief comment, with specific reference(s) to ideas presented, to post with a selected column. If the column(s) deal with a subject (school, youth-on-youth violence, heath or family, for example) that is close to students, they may instead write a letter to the editor in which they refer to a specific column (headline, date) and relate their point of view.


Some individuals have published so often in The Post, their guest commentary receives a response similar to that of established columnists. During his time as a U.S. senator, John McCain wrote or co-authored 60 op-eds in The Washington Post. The guest commentary, though not the work of a columnist, forms a sort of multi-voiced column by politicians, business and community leaders and authorities in varied disciplines. On August 25, McCain passed away. Government educators may find following his thinking through the years a way to demonstrate how policy and positions are articulated and may evolve. Journalism and media teachers may find his use of this forum as an example of the First Amendment in a democracy.


Works of Non-Fiection by Washington Post Columnists
Resource Graphic 

Think Like a Reporter

English, Journalism, Media Arts, Reading

Teachers can distinguish the roles of reporter and columnist with the “Think Like a Reporter | Why You Are Not a Columnist” activity. Students are given the basic distinctions, then asked to form pairs — one reporter and one columnist. Literary works, from fairy tales to classics, are suggested from which a scene or event is to be selected. 


Interact With a Columnist
Composition, English, Journalism, Media Arts, Reading

Begin this activity with asking students about their favorite sport to play and to watch. Are they the same?

• Are some sports more interesting to watch than others?

• Does knowing the players engage you more? Is this true for school as well as professional sports? What about college sports?

• If you were to offer a suggestion to make a sport better, what would it be?


Ask students to read “Baseball needs fixing, and it starts with the courage to think radically” by sports columnist Barry Svrluga. Don’t read beyond his column. If teachers have the time, give students “Respond to a Columnist.” This suggested activity gives more information and items to consider when discussing the column.


A shortened version of discussion would focus on these questions:

• Does he show his knowledge of baseball history and current rules?

• For whom is a sports columnist writing?

• What do students think of his suggestions to improve the baseball experience for fans? Do they know enough about baseball to respond?


Have students read through the reader responses to his column. These are not all the comments that were posted. What do their reactions reveal about readers of Svrluga’s columns and those of other sports columnists?


Establish an Alert

English, Debate, Jounalism

The e-Replica format has a number of features to add to students’ reading experience.

Use the e-Replica activity, “Establish an Alert: Know When Your Columnist Publishes” to guide setting up a monitor. You will receive publication alerts for the subject you specify. This will be especially helpful if the columnist does not have a specific day when his or her work appears online or in print. 


Include Other Columnists

English, Journalism, Media Arts

Columnists, such as Gene Weingarten, create characters or bring other familiar individuals into their columns. These foils engage or spar with the columnists. Read “Why you shouldn’t go toe-to-toe with a sports columnist.”

• Who does Gene bring into his column’s world?

• What is his purpose in doing so?

• Distinguish the voices, expertise and style of the two columnists.

• Weingarten likes to end with a punch line. What do his last words communicate to the reader? Do they support his tone? Achieve his purpose?

Read About Column Writing

Appreciate the Work of Warren Brown

Automotive CTE, Career Education, English, Journalism, Media Literacy

Teachers may ask students about their favorite cars. If they could test drive any car, what would it be? If they could own any car, what would it be? Who drives the most-wanted car in the student parking lot?

Tell them that Warren Brown, a columnist for The Washington Post, made a living writing about automobiles and the auto industry. Both Brown’s obituary (“Warren Brown, Washington Post auto writer who chronicled his health struggle, dies at 70”) and “Appreciation: Warren Brown’s freewheeling commentary on cars and life” might be read to learn about the man and to contrast the two pieces based on their purposes.

Note that the appreciation is both for the man and his writing style and content beyond the mundane data.

Excerpts from his columns may also stimulate discussion of columns that students at your school would read. What topics might students in your class suggest to the print, online and broadcast student media?


Model After the Style of Warren Brown

Automotive CTE, English, Journalism, Media Literacy

The student activity: “Almost Automatic: Use Your Experience, Knowledge and Literary Devices” may be used as a stand-alone activity with the excerpts from Warren Brown’s columns or as a springboard to use with a close reading of different columnists’ work.

After reading examples of Brown’s work and discussing the techniques used by him, students may be asked to select one longer excerpt or two to three shorter ones and try using one of his techniques. For example, dialogue, allusion or word play. Share in small groups. Select one from each group to share with the entire class to enjoy the creativity.

Students may be asked to brainstorm a column they would like to write. What will be its topic? Some possibilities are cars, fashion trends, behind-the-scenes students, classroom curiosities and student lives outside of school.

When students have chosen a topic, ask them to write a sample column, using two or more of the devices they have reviewed.


Create a Column

English, Journalism, Media Literacy

We encourage teachers to review “Parts of Speech at the Beginning,” “Take the Lede,” and “How to Write a Column” found in Inside Journalism: Composing Columns. All of these resources can be useful to guiding students to begin writing an opinion piece.

Ask students to write a sample column and make a pitch for it to be added to current student media. Students might consider:

• What columns are already found in your student media?

• How might they revise a current column to make it more appealing to readers?

• Student media usually have the standout athlete-of-the-month column. What different approach could be taken for a sports column?

• What new column would interest students in your school? Is there a column topic that would work for every month? Some topics that are better for each term or season?


The Last Column
Character Education, English, Journalism, Media Literacy

A person’s full value to others is often not expressed until death. From June to August 2018 this was seen in the outpouring of love and respect for Aretha Franklin, Arizona Sen. John McCain and for Post columnists Charles Krauthammer and Warren Brown. Reporters as well as columnists and guest commentators, wrote about the deceased’s contributions and impact on others. And the obituary writer, a unique beat — and almost a columnist — worked to summarize a life, highlight significant moments and relationships and capture personality.

Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post, essayists for magazines across the political spectrum and TV commentator, died on June 21, 2018. He wrote his final column, his own note to readers on June 8. His obituary captured many aspects of his life from birth to death.

Outpourings included “Charles Krauthammer inspired journalists with disabilities, including me.” 

If teachers add examples of Krauthammer’s columns, students will have quite a package to study style, explore different genre, watch perspectives emerge and delight in how writers use quotations, actions and interviews.

Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

 Terms Found in the Columns of Warren Brown  Be a Columnist Terms
Celestial  Column
Chortle Columnist
Compulsion Commentary
Curmudgeon Critic
Demeanor Opinion
Devotee Review
 Walter Mitty  

ANSWERS. Almost Automatic. 1) Bentley Continental T; second paragraph. 2) $324,500. 3) Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in Britain; point out how he sneaks this “car industry” information into his narrative; 4) Conversational style is found in his opening words: “Spare me the sermon,” word choice (“tooling around”) and the dialogue with the woman in another car. 5) Streets of D.C.; 6) He alludes to Jesus’ sermon on the “meek inheriting the Earth.” He plans on going to Heaven in Bentley style or if that is an unchristian wish, he’ll “raise Hell” on earth in this Bentley model. It allows him to express the feeling of “richness” and pleasure this car gives the driver. 7) He extends the allusion with “celestial consideration,” angels and jealousy. 8) In addition to the price given early in the piece, Brown sets up the idea of jealousy. We see it in the woman’s reaction to the price of the car which adds to the humor and the reality of economic disparity. 9) No question. Brown likes driving this car and the feeling of prosperity he gets — if only for a short test drive. 10) Answers will vary. 

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English: Reading, Reviewing and Responding to Texts. The student will use after-reading strategies appropriate to both the text and purpose for reading by summarizing, contrasting, synthesizing, drawing conclusions and validating the purpose for reading. (Indicator 1.1.3)


English: Reading, Reviewing and Responding to Texts. The student will identify features of language that create tone and voice. (Indicator 1.3.2)


English: Composing in a Variety of Modes. The student will compose persuasive texts that support, modify or refute a position and include effective rhetorical strategies. (Indicator 2.1.4)


English: Controlling Language. The student will recognize, combine and transform basic sentence patterns to vary sentence structure to emphasize selected ideas and to achieve syntactic maturity. (Indicator 3.1.9)

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

English. The student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of nonfiction texts.

a) Skim materials using text features such as type, headings, and graphics to predict and categorize information.

b) Identify main idea.

e) Draw conclusions and make inferences based on explicit and implied information.

h) Differentiate between fact and opinion. (Grade 6. 6.6 Reading)


English. The student will read and analyze a variety of nonfiction texts.

c) Analyze the author’s qualifications, viewpoint and impact.

d) Recognize an author’s intended purpose for writing and identify the main idea.

f) Identify characteristics of expository, technical and persuasive texts.

g) Identify a position/argument to be confirmed, disproved or modified.

j) Differentiate between fact and opinion and evaluate their impact. (Grade 9. 9.5 Reading)


English. The student will write in a variety of forms to include persuasive/argumentative reflective, interpretive, and analytic with an emphasis on persuasion/argumentation.

a) Apply components of a recursive writing process for multiple purposes to create a focused, organized, and coherent piece of writing to address a specific audience and purpose.

b) Produce arguments in writing that develop a thesis to demonstrate knowledgeable judgments, address counterclaims, and provide effective conclusions.

c) Use a variety of rhetorical strategies to clarify and defend a position organizing claims, counterclaims, and evidence in a sustained and logical sequence.

d) Blend multiple forms of writing including embedding a narrative to produce effective essays. (Grade 12. 12.6 Writing)



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

Reading: Literature. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.2 | Key Ideas and Details)


Reading: Informational Text. Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories). (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.3 | Key Ideas and Details)


Writing. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3 | Text Types and Purposes)



Common Core standards may be found at