Classroom Blog

A Recap of our Podcast Presentation and others at SXSWedu

I want to share some things about our presentation at SXSWedu before they slip my mind.

  1. It was so great to work with Listenwise and KUT. First of all, Monica Brady-Myerov and Emily Donahue were so easy to work with (that probably shouldn’t be my first priority but it is). Along with Chelsea Murphy (also with Listenwise), they were all so friendly and professional and respectful and organized and interesting–I want to work with them always.
  2. Our presentation on using podcasts in the classroom was everything we hoped it would be. The large room was packed (there was a line of people outside that they wouldn’t let in), the audience was great, the people of SXSW made sure everything looked and sounded perfect, and once I was done talking, I got to be inspired and enlightened by Monica and Emily.



Monica and Emily had all kinds of advice about creating a story and then publishing it professionally, but one real quick takeaway was their suggestion to use Soundtrap, which is a like a web-based GarageBand. This means my students can use it with their Chromebooks in class without any additional software, and they can also collaborate on the same project from multiple computers. How easy is it? We gave the audience some time to experiment on their own, and here’s what two participants published in just 10 minutes:

They’re not ready to sell advertising space for this podcast or anything, but I was really inspired by how quickly they did it and how relatively good they sounded (we were in a loud conference room).

The next step: Getting my students to produce their own podcasts. I’ll keep updating the blog as we go…


Also at SXSW:

I was fascinated by Christopher Emdin’s keynote speech, which is fortunately available on YouTube. It’s titled: “We got it from here: Thanks for your Service.” and it’s worth watching if you have an hour. I think I’m one of the “frenemies” he describes, but I was really moved by a few of his perspectives. If I were to start a “real” podcast, I would want him as my first guest.

I participated in an interesting workshop on “A Creative Approach to Emotional Intelligence” where the facilitators blended some old-school wisdom with some new-school innovation.

I also loved listening to Monica O. Montgomery tell her story: After teaching her young students how to creatively respond to the scary news stories in their lives (for example, she had them write cards to Trayvon Martin’s family), she was fired. But instead of making a stink, she made museum: The Museum of Impact. I was moved by her personal story, and also reminded of the amazing spectrum of cultures we have in this country (Fired for sending cards! Not in my district.)

I had lunch with a VP of a software company, where we brainstormed some really exciting ideas on how we can make the assessment process at our school (and maybe district) much more efficient.

Because I’m a nerd who fantasizes about being an expert on ESSA, I naturally enjoyed “Advocating for Students: ESSA Implementation” by Marco Petruzzi (CEO of Green Dot) and Scott Sargrad. My soul wants to start blogging about ESSA whether you want me to or not, and Scott would be my second podcast guest.

I also got some hands-on experience in the “playground,” where I used virtual reality goggles (or whatever they’re called) for a real civics lesson, played with 3-D printers, and real-life models of innovative classrooms.

There were so many other presentations I wanted to see — I hope I get to go back next year and stay an extra day. And I’m inspired to read and write more about ESSA and Emdin. But for now, it’s back to the classroom to see what we can create on our own…






The Unit Plan for the Entire First Season of Serial

A teacher asked me if I had a schedule for teaching entire season of Serial, and I was surprised to find out that I hadn’t done that already. So here it is. 

First, some notes and answers to frequently asked questions:

  1. There are 29 days of instruction in the Serial (Season 1) Lesson Plan Bundle. You can add to this with your own lessons and discussions.
  2. You can also shorten the unit in a variety of ways. Many teachers don’t use the vocabulary units, or they use their program. You can also assign some of these episodes (or parts of them) for homework. One of the great things about using Serial is that the students can always listen at home if you don’t finish in class (it’s not like they have to take a book home). And finally, you can always shorten or skip some of the lessons, especially in Episode 1.
  3. Speaking of which, these exercises and corresponding schedules are meant as ideas and possibilities. It’s not a rigid calendar.  For example, I’ve done all the exercises in Episode 1 at some point, but I’ve never done all ten of them for one class (it’s just too much).
  4. The following unit plan is assuming 70 minute classes.
  5. If you’re new to the game, this is where you can find the lesson plans.


Day 1

Vocabulary can be done the previous night, for homework. At some point today or tomorrow, go over vocabulary.

Complete Exercise 2 (Memory Game) before the students listen to Episode 1. Duration: About 25-40 minutes.

Begin listening to Episode 1

Day 2

Listen to more of Episode 1 until the 20:00 mark, at which point you can do Exercise 3 (Connotation). Episode 3 can also wait until the end of the episode, however.

At the 28:00 mark, you can pause and do Exercise 4 (“Lie Detector”).

Day 3

Finish listening to Episode 1.

Choose one exercise from #5-10. (“Theme/Motif”; “Purpose and Point of View”; “Reading vs Listening”; “Asia’s Letters”; “Timeline”; “Sarah vs Shakespeare”). They each take about 30 minutes.

Day 4

Choose two more exercises from #5-10. They each take about 30 minutes.

Day 5

You can choose two more exercises from #5-10, but your students are probably anxious to move on to Episode 3.


Day 1

Play Episode 2, complete Exercise 2a in class. (Vocabulary can be done the night before for homework.). At some point today or tomorrow, go over vocabulary.

Day 2

Take quiz (Exercise 4), and then get them in groups for Exercise 2b. Do the corresponding presentations. With enough time, create the “crazy chart” as a class (Exercise 4).

Day 3

Create/finish the “crazy chart” if they haven’t yet. Listen to Episode 3, and complete Exercise 2 (Vocabulary can be done the night before for homework).

Day 4

Play Episode 4, and do Exercise 2. Go over vocabulary at some point.

Day 5

There are no specific plans in this packet, but you have time here for a summative vocabulary test, listening comprehension test, or a writing assignment based on a writing prompt of your choice. Personally, I moved on to Episode 5. If my lesson plans for future episodes aren’t available yet, they will be soon.


Day 1

Listen to the first 28:00 of Episode 5, then do the mapping portion of Exercise 2. (Vocabulary could be done previous night for homework.)

Day 2

Finish up mapping “the drive” if necessary, and finish Exercise 2 (analysis of Jay’s story and evaluating it for how logical and truthful it is.

Day 3

Listen to Episode 6 while doing Exercise 2 (evaluating the evidence against Adnan).

Day 4

Go over vocabulary (that they did for homework) and do Exercise 6 (a writing/ thinking exercise). [Both vocab and Exercise 6 can be done in class or as homework].Assign Episode 7 for homework.

Day 5

Quiz on Episode 7 (or collect the study sheets). Discussion on the episode. Writing assignment (Exercise 2).

Unit 4

Day 1

Listen to Episode 8, while taking notes on Jay.Assign vocabulary homework.

Day 2

Collect vocabulary. Finish Episode 8 (if necessary) and do the exercises on the handouts.

Day 3

Listen to Episode 9 (45 minutes) and have them respond to one of the writing prompts provided.Assign vocabulary homework.

Day 4

Take the listening quiz, go over vocabulary, and address one or two writing prompts provided.Assign homework.

Day 5

(Optional) If you have access to a computer lab, guide their research process instead of assigning it as homework. If there is time left in the class when they’re done, start the presentations.

Day 5

Start presentations (about half of them). Listen to first half of Episode 10.Assign vocabulary homework.

Day 6

Collect vocabulary. Finish presentations. Finish Episode 10.Take quiz. Start writing prompt, which they can finish for homework or during the next class.

Day 7

Finish their writing, if they didn’t do it for homework. Discuss their answers as a class, and/or work on peer-editing if the paper is a formal essay. With time, start Episode 11.


Day 1

Listen to Episode 11, while taking notes on psychotic possibilities. Collect vocabulary from night before. Do Exercise 2 in class.

Day 2

Replay the end of Episode 11 and assign Exercise 3.

Day 3

Introduce a mini-lesson on satire, show Serial satire, and then do Exercise 4.With time remaining, start on Exercise 5.

Day 4

Do Exercise 5.With enough time, start on vocabulary for Episode 12 or start Exercise 2 of Episode 12.

Day 5

Collect vocabulary homework, start Exercise 2 of Episode 12 (if you haven’t already), and then listen to Episode 12 (55 minutes). Listening to half of it is fine, but don’t get caught with 5-10 minutes of the story left when the bell rings.

Day 6

Finish Episode 12 if necessary, and finish Exercise 2 and discuss.With enough time, do Exercise 3.

Day 7

Finish Exercise 3 if necessary. Start the final papers, cumulative assessments, and final projects that you choose.

My class’s first podcast

I’m a little shy to share this, since it’s really just a draft. But I’m always encouraging my students to show their work, especially if it’s still under construction.

My 11th grade English class listened to Serial (and loved it), and then also listened to an assortment of audio clips from various other podcasts. We analyzed them, talked about them, and discussed what we’d “steal” from each production and what we’d avoid if we were making our own podcast. Then the students spent a lot of time creating their own general ideas and specific scripts.

Our first production is almost a straight-up rip-off of the original Serial podcast, but we thought that was a good place to start. All the students had previously read The Stranger and they wanted to see what would happen if they playfully replaced Adnan and friends with Meursault and friends.

The product as it is now is delightful in some ways and very amateur in others — and often both at the same time. We learned that we need to spend more time on voice acting (or at least practicing the scripts); we also learned that it’s really hard or really easy to edit the podcast, depending on what software and computers we’re using.

Right below here, I’m going to make my first effort to embed the audio, and then below that I’ll paste script. Enjoy!


Cue music

(wait 2-3 sec)

Automated voice

This is a Global-Tel link prepaid call from [Adnan Syed] an inmate at a Morro Bay Correctional facility…


From This Californian Life and MBHS, it’s Stranger Serial, one story told week by week. I’m {Shelby}

(music turns)

For the last week,  I’ve spent every working day trying to figure out what a man was thinking on one hot day in 1942 — or if you want to get technical about it, and apparently I do — what a man was thinking for one single minute on a hot day in 1942. This search sometimes feels undignified on my part. I’ve had to ask about his sex life, his sketchy friends, his drinking habits, his relationship with his parents.

And I’m not a detective or a private investigator. I’ve not even a crime reporter. (music done) But, yes, every day this year, I’ve tried to figure out the motive of a strange, strange man.

Before I get into why I’ve been doing this, I just want to point out something I’d never really thought about before I started working on this story. And that is, it’s really hard to know what a person is thinking, in a detailed way, I mean.

It’s hard.

Just for a lark, I asked some teenagers to try it.

Do you know what I was thinking last Friday?


No. Not at all. I don’t even know what I was thinking.


Wait, not at all?


No. I mean, you were happy it was Friday?


That’s Tyler. He’s 16. I asked my friend Sam. He’s 16 too.


Not a clue. You were in school…probably…so bored? I don’t know.


Actually, on second thought?


I don’t think, it was Friday, so maybe you were super stoked..


What if I told you it was hot that day?


It was hot? I don’t know. Maybe you felt excited for spring? Or maybe you were frustrated?


OK, what if I told you that my mom had died recently?


Oh, then maybe you sa–


But I didn’t really care that she died. It wasn’t a big deal for me.



Oh. Then…I don’t down. Still a little sad I would think.



Sad enough to want to murder someone?


What? No. ….I don’t think. What are you talking about? You’re kinda sketching me out.



One kid did actually get this stranger pretty well, because he actually read really closely and picked up on a a lot of textual clues. That’s the main thing I learned from this exercise, which is no big shocker, I guess. If you read some significant paragraphs closely, you get them, plus you get the main character much better.

Here’s the case I’ve been working on.

About 75 years ago, on January 13, 1942, a man named “The Arab” was shot and killed. She was a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County in Maryland. He was Arab. He was quiet, and beautiful, and smart (maybe), and a great athlete, at least athletic enough to successfully slash a pimp across the mouth with a knife. And he was responsible.

His body was found on a beach. I don’t know who found him..

The cause of death was gunshots, meaning someone did it with a gun.. One page after that, so about ten seconds he’d been shot, The Stranger was arrested for her murder. He’s been in prison ever since.

I first heard about this story more than a year ago when I got an telegram from a woman named Marie. Marie knows The Stranger pretty well. She liked to go swimming with him. And other things.

And she believes he’s innocent.


Talking Podcasts at SXSWedu

By this time tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane to Austin for SXSWedu, and I can’t wait.

There’s already a basic summary of our presentation on the SXSWedu website, but real quickly I wanted to offer a personal recap of what we’ll be presenting and facilitating on Tuesday afternoon.

Monica Brady-Myerov and Emily Donahue, both of whom have extensive careers in radio and education, will be introducing the benefits of producing audio content (podcasts in particular) in the classroom.

I’ll be talking more about the value of listening to podcasts, particularly those podcasts that have transcripts that students can read. I’ve done extensive research and published a few articles on the topic, and I’m very excited about its value. Beyond the studies, though, I will also share what it’s like to use podcasts in the classroom instead of more traditional texts. My class has been featured in national publications like Mind/Shift, and I’m excited to talk more personally about the details.

And then as soon as possible, we want to get into a workshop environment to help teachers learn how to make podcasts in their classroom. Monica and Emily are the experts, but I’m going to describe my trials and successes at getting my students to write and produce their own podcasts. I’m also going to share my class’s first script and production at our workshop and/or on a subsequent blog post.

That’s it for now — I have to pack! Hopefully I’ll see you in Austin. Please introduce yourself if you see me there — I’d love to meet you.

Here are the details again, and a link back to the site. See you there!

Tuesday, March 7
1:30PM – 3:30PM
JW Marriott – Salon H



My Interview in Educator Magazine: Helping Introverts Succeed in the Classroom

I was recently interviewed by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, for CTA’s Educator Magazine, about accommodating introverted students. She was so professional, and it was great working with her. She wrote a perfect introduction, and the article also includes five quick tips for helping introverted students succeed in the classroom.

Here’s the link!