Teaching with Best of SNO

You probably already know that Best of SNO showcases great student journalism from schools in our network. But the site’s usefulness doesn’t end at bragging rights. In fact, many teachers and advisers use Best of SNO as a powerful instructional tool in their classrooms and newsrooms.

We spoke to one such teacher, Natalie Rebetsky, adviser of Linganore High School’s The Lance, to see how she uses the site to inspire, instruct, and engage her journalism students.


Best of SNO helps Rebetsky’s students generate story ideas. By browsing the site, they can see which schools are getting recognized, and for what types of stories and topics. They can also see what isn’t being published that perhaps should be. Students keep special notebooks for jotting down ideas. In fact, they’re graded in part on this task. Editors compile these ideas into one big Google Doc, and at the beginning of each news cycle, the class decides which ideas to keep and which to throw out.


Rebetsky encourages her students to keep a close eye on the BoS Twitter–not only our activity, but the activity of those in our network. Who’s retweeting and responding to our posts? Who’s retweeting and responding to their posts? What else are those people sharing and commenting on? What are they interested in? Even if nothing tangible comes of this activity, analyzing and understanding one’s audience is an important skill for journalism students to practice.


The essential thing we look for in BoS submissions is solid writing–a great hook, well-organized information, quotes that enhance the story rather than parrot it, and so on.  If a student is writing an opinion piece, for example, Rebetsky directs that student to an opinion piece we’ve published as a model. By using a similar story as a blueprint, students can learn how to successfully construct their own.


Getting teenagers excited about anything can be a challenge. Rebetsky’s students love competition, so publication and site badges are a pretty big deal to them. She says they’re also very motivated by positive feedback (shocker, right?). So when a student writes a great story, she makes sure to encourage them to submit to BoS. “I used to submit stories for them,” Rebetsky says, “but now I make them submit their own stories before they leave class.”

How do you use Best of SNO in your classroom? We’d love to know!

Google Docs Rock

Here at SNO, we eat, sleep, and breathe WordPress. Why do we love it so? Let us count the ways! It’s flexible, reliable, and user-friendly. No matter what you want to do with your site, there’s probably a plugin or widget that’ll help you do it. You can publish content in just a few clicks—no complicated coding or frustrating software to learn. WordPress might just be the best thing to happen to the Interwebs since the Hamster Dance.

That said, there’s one facet of WordPress we aren’t crazy about. We know it’s tempting to compose your stories directly in the WordPress interface, but hold it right there, partner—resist the urge! We recommend composing and editing in Google Docs instead, and transferring your content to WordPress when (and only when) it’s ready to publish. Here’s why:

–Google Docs saves your work automatically every few seconds, while still allowing you to undo changes if you wish. Docs are stored in your Google Drive and can be accessed from anywhere at anytime.

–Google Docs are collaborative. In WordPress, only one user at a time can edit a story. Google Docs is designed to allow multiple users to simultaneously write or edit.

–Advisers and editors can leave comments on Google Docs without altering a story’s text–helpful if you want to suggest ideas or changes to a writer without doing their work for them.

–Flexible privacy settings let you decide who can access your Docs, whether that means everybody–even non-staff members–or nobody at all.

–Google Docs integrate seamlessly with SNO FLOW. All you have to do is paste your Doc’s sharing link into its corresponding assignment. It’s that easy.

So you think your site is eggcellent

The Site Excellence Badge is by far the most popular badge that we hand out in the SNO Distinguished Sitesprogram. To earn this badge, you’ll want to be sure that your site fits all of the criteria, and here are a few free tips that can go a long way toward helping you earn the coveted badge.

  1. Click through all of the categories in your navigation bar and be sure something has been published in each one in the last two months or so. If not, either publish something or delete the category from your navigation. All elements on the navigation bars should link to current content.

  2. Scroll to the bottom of your site and check forwhitespace. If you see some, rearrange and reformat the widgets until its gone. You don’t want any unsightly whitespace on your site.

  3. Check your photos. When you place an image on your website, that image needs to be an original photo taken by members of your staff, a photo taken by someone else that is used with explicit permission, or a photo that has been licensed for fair use.


Pull Quotes and Site Reviews

Got a gold-star quote? Make it shine.

Ever written a sentence so fantastic that you think to yourself, “Gee, self, wouldn’t it be great if this sentence was in larger type and placed in juxtaposition with my article so as to entice readers and/or draw their attention to a key idea, while also visually interrupting large blocks of text and thereby combating reader fatigue?” (Or something like that.)

It’s called a pull quote—a crisp, concise statement or quotation harvested from your story and displayed prominently within the text. Pull quotes should be limited to one or two sentences. Make sure they’re not taken out of context, and use them sparingly for maximum punch.

Our SNO FLEX theme allows you to effortlessly create pull quotes with only a few clicks. You can even add photos to them! On your story editing page, follow these simple instructions:

  1. If you want an image in your pull quote, click on “Add Media.” Upload or select your image. Write down the number in the Photo ID field, then click the X to close. DON’T click “Insert into story.”
  2. In your story editing field, place your cursor where you want the pull quote to appear.
  3. Click the speech bubble icon in the toolbar. A series of four boxes will appear on your screen:
    1. Quote text–enter the text of your quote (no quotation marks).
    2. Speaker–enter the speaker’s name. Leave blank if not applicable.
    3. Quote alignment–type in “left,” “right,” or “center.” Story text will wrap around quotes placed to the left or right.
    4. Photo ID–if you wrote down a number in step 1, enter it here.
  4. That’s it! A line of shortcode will now appear in your story.

Spiff up your site. Clean up your categories. Polish your pages.
The new year brings the opportunity for a fresh start in 2015 — just in time for you to enter winter and contests. We know, life is not all about awards, but no one ever turns down a shiny certificate! At SNO, we just want to help you to get better.

As your partner in publishing online, the SNO Team will give it to you straight. Order a Site Review, and we’ll comb the site to give you tips to being a power user, insights to analytics, suggestions for your social media and more. Each section contains a list of action items, so a plan for improvement is already laid out.

A Site Review isn’t a critique. It’s not a contest, either. It’s a thorough report of all aspects of your site — those that are working well and those that might need a bit of improvement. So whether you’re entering a Pacemaker,Best of Show, a state contest or the 2015 SNO Distinguished Sites program, a SNO Site Review is going to be the best preparation.

Should you get a SNO Site Review? YES! says this Oregon adviser:
“By all means, make the investment. The analysis was money well spent. Commentary was supportive, corrective, and enormously helpful. Makes a difference when working with true professionals — colleagues, really — who understand all the joys and aches of working with what we hope are good journalists in the making.”
— David Bailey, Lincoln High School, Portland, Ore.

A Virginia adviser says the SNO Site Review process was valuable:

“It was incredibly detailed and helpful. It almost became a checklist of what we needed to do to improve. I loved the suggestions about content and coverage but was really appreciative of suggestions for working on the back end of the website.”
— Valerie Kibler, Harrisonburg High School adviser and 2010 Dow Jones News Fund National High School Journalism Teacher