Teaching Episode 2 of Serial (from Season 2)

Today I used the second episode of Serial (Season 2) in my Criminal Justice class, and just like the first episode, it was compelling and engaging for the students. However, it did provide its own set of challenges:

1. It’s long. When I listened on my own, I appreciated the longer form, but in a high school class, it’s a little tougher for them to stay locked in for that length of time. The listening guides helped them focus, as did my “Ramifications” handout, but I also had to pause it 4-5 times so that we could take a short listening break, do a friendly classroom discussion, and re-engage. Fortunately, there’s plenty to talk about — for example, they enjoyed talking about what it would feel like to have a unarmed Taliban soldier suddenly walk into our room (assuming we were armed and at war).
2. There aren’t as many visuals as the first episode. I showed them the leaflets, which they liked, and they also appreciated the map. But there wasn’t the amount of video we had in the first episode, which was fine because…

3. I projected the transcript up on the big screen, which was a big help. Many studies prove how good it is for students to listen to high-level English while reading it, and this is a perfect text for that. Also, this episode features heavy accents, which is especially difficult for students for whom English is a second language, and so the transcripts helped everyone (including me).

Then we skipped my other four exercises that I use for English class (because this is just an elective) and went straight to the “Finding Bowe Bergdahl” game, which was a great way to end the class. In this game, students exchange playing cards (face down) with each other while a few “soldiers” try to find Bergdahl (the Ace of Spades) before he gets to “Pakistan” (the wall on the west side of my classroom). The Kings are IEDs that cause the soldiers to lose a man. Everyone had fun with it for 10-15 minutes, but ultimately the “soldiers” got a little exasperated, just as I planned. It kicked off a great little discussion about how 10 minutes of looking for the Ace of Spades compares to three weeks of actually looking for Bergdahl. “I get it now,” one girl said. “I’d be so over it.”

Also, a quick note on timing: We have a block schedule, so we got the whole thing done in a day, but there’s no way to get the whole episode done in a single hour with any kind of significant analysis or discussion. Most teachers will want to split this one in half.

Happy weekend!

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