Tag Archives: podcasts

Powerful Popular Podcasts by Tosh McGaughy

Confession: My alliterative self wanted to add another “p” word to the title of this post but the only thing I could think of was pandemic. My plan for this blog PP (pre-pandemic) was to share some work around “rhetorical ladders”, but in our current very surreal new teaching paradigm I decided to share something simple and, a different “p” word, practical

The International Literacy Association defines literacy as, “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context”. (2017) The verbs, adjectives, and nouns in this definition push our traditional thinking about messages, texts, and even reading into a more global perception of literacy.

As language teachers, we cultivate our students’ skills to interpret and create messages. As thousands of us scramble to redesign how we deliver our instruction right now, the distance learning (e-learning, virtual learning, digital learning, at-home learning) that we are relying on due to the necessity of social distancing actually pushes us to tap into some different multi-modal messages. Critical listening is included in every strand of my state’s language arts standards, but it does not get the same focus as reading, writing, or even speaking in teachers’ lesson plans. Podcasts (easy to link in online plans and easy for students to access on cell phones) provide teachers with readily-accessible audio “texts” for students to critically listen and respond to during this time. Helping students think about critical listening as message-interpreting can be helped by using a simple checklist. Critical Listening Checklist.

And, if you are wanting to lay the foundation for more rhetoric work later, then this podcast listening guide (Podcast Listening Guide) adapted from a TED.com TEDTalk analysis handout can guide students to think of the speaker, audience, message, and context of the podcast. Previewing (pre-listening) to podcasts before offering them to students is advisable especially for the older grades where language and subject matter can vary greatly episode to episode even on podcasts labeled as “educational”.

Because student choice is even more important right now as our students grapple with the unprecedented restrictions in communities and homes, offering options for students to choose from for podcast listening is thankfully easy with the many great options available. A sampling is provided below:

16 Great Learning Podcasts from Common sense Education

50 of the Best Podcasts for High Schoolers from TeachThought

26 Best Podcasts for Kids in Elementary, Middle, and High School from WeAreTeachers

Personal Note: Usually I struggle to stay under the recommended word count, but this is all that I have right now, friends. Stay well. Know that your time, love, energy, flexibility, and dedication to “crisis teaching” is appreciated by families and fellow educators.

I’ve Been Thinking…About Our Town (Or What I’ve Learned About Workshopping the Canon With Thornton Wilder…)–Guest Post by Elizabeth Oosterheert


8th Grade Cast Members of Our Town by Thornton Wilder

Recently, I reread Amy Rasmussen’s post about defining what we mean by readers’ and writers’ workshop. I loved that Amy described workshop as  students doing the work of readers and writers, “engaged in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject” — specifically related to growing as readers and writers. This work happens because teachers open spaces in their classrooms which allow for it.”

I confess. Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize winner, is my favorite play. I read it obsessively. I find relevance in its pages time and again. Wilder said that he wrote the play to illustrate the value beyond price in every moment of our daily lives.

After spending more than twenty years with middle school students, and experiencing moments of deep joy and sadness, as well as tasting  my own mortality, the play resonates with me more now than it ever has…BUT, how do I workshop a canonical piece like Our Town? How do I make the pages sing for my students as they do for me?

Here are four ways that I changed my approach to the play this year to leave more space for student voice and choice.

Less is More: In Our Town, this meant placing students in small groups to reflect on specific scenes from the play. Rather than slogging through an entire act, and then replying to teacher generated questions, I asked students to journal with their groups and express their own thoughts, questions, and epiphanies after reading a few pages aloud and then viewing that scene. Thanks to @MarisaEThompson and @cultofpedagogy for encouraging me to try the TQE method.

Podcasts Rock!  is the most performed play in the United States, and that distinction 8thgradetheatermeans– a lot has been said about it! Students were invited to choose a podcast featuring an interview with a respected director, and then discuss observations from the podcast with their small group and share how those podcasts changed or enhanced their understanding of the text.

Music Matters: One of the fascinating things about Our Town is that Wilder designated a hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds,” to be played in each of the three acts. He was also very specific about the music that should be sung during the choir practice in Act I, and played for the wedding scene in Act II.  Music is a bridge from life to death, and beyond. Working with their small groups, students composed soundtracks for the play incorporating music from many different genres. They could also choose to write about Wilder’s musical selections and what difference his choices made.

Performance Deepens Understanding:  By the end of our study, my students recognized that George & Emily, the two main characters in the play, were allegorical. They could have been anyone, at any time, in any small town. We all grow up, most of us know what it is to love truly, and we all die. That is our story, and Our Town shows and tells it. My students did as well, performing some of their favorite scenes and exploring character motivations and emotions more deeply even than we did during our small group study times. Performing the scenes gave them a new appreciation for the nuances and poetry on page after page.

Our Town. Glorious in its simplicity, and relatable after more than eighty years, if students have the space to think and explore as readers, writers and speakers.


Elizabeth Oosterheert is a middle school language arts teacher and theatre troupe director at Pella Christian Grade School in Pella, Iowa. She loves writing, and sharing the stage with seventh and eighth graders. Her favorite stories are Peter Pan, The Outsiders, & Our Town. You can find her on Twitter @oosterheerte.





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