Radio Shows in the Classroom

Radio broadcasts have a long history of telling fabulous stories. We all know of Orson Welles’ broadcast of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds. If you haven’t heard it, you should check it out now:

Radio Dramas

From the 1930s to 1960s, radio dramas were popular throughout the United States as people were drawn to radio soap operas, mysteries, thrillers and even comedies. Popular television stars, such as Rod Sterling, even got their start in radio. In the 1960s, once television found a place in American homes, radio dramas faded to make way for television audiences.

Yet, now that the Internet makes radio programming readily available, radio dramas, as well as other radio programming focused on stories, is on the rise.

There are a growing number of science fiction and horror fantasy shows. BBC Radio aired The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the radio before it was on a screen. You can even hear The Twilight Zone (one of my favorites) as a radio drama, with Stacy Keach as the host.

There are also a number of religious themed radio dramas, including Unshackled!, which I think is one of the longest running radio dramas of all time.

Locally, you can hear radio dramas (and other old-time radio shows) from 5.a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday on 106.3 WTND.

If you have any cool radio dramas you’ve listened to, or listen to regularly, I’d love to know what they are. Many of them people listen to over the Internet, but it’s still considered a radio drama.

Other Storytelling on the Radio

In addition to radio dramas, I love to listen to stories over the radio. The two programs I listen to most often, and would suggest using in the classroom, are both on NPR.

This American Life

Many of you know that TAL is my all-time favorite. I LOVE it. I have it on my phone and it’s the first thing I listen to every week when I run. Usually it helps me run farther since most of the time I want to get the whole show done in one run.

They just re-aired the broadcast 504:How I Got Into College, which I think you all should listen to. Another two episodes that I think every teacher should listen to are the ones they did about Harper High School in Chicago.

487: Harper High School, Part I

488: Harper High School, Part II

TAL website has lots of great features and you can do a keyword search and find any subject you’re interested in. When I did a search for the word “school”, here’s what I found.

The Moth

Another fabulous radio program from NPR is The Moth. The folks at The Moth travel around doing events where “real people” get on stage and tell their stories. There are rules–the stories have to be about you and they have to keep within the theme and time limit–but other than that, it’s just people telling stories of their lives. It’s really amazingly awesome. They do shows everywhere, including Chicago, and you can go and present your story at a StorySLAM (kinda like a poetry slam only with stories so I like it even more). Maybe we can take an NCTE trip to a Moth StorySLAM and one of you can be part of the broadcast.

There are lots of cool ways to bring stories into the classroom in fun and unique ways. I love listening to stories and podcasts and think that there’s lots of ways you can engage students in listening. What do you think? Would you use radio drama or other story-based shows or podcasts in your classrooms?

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About Rebekah Buchanan

writer, researcher, teacher.
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10 Responses to Radio Shows in the Classroom

  1. marybethlillian says:

    Thanks for all the new information, Dr. Buchanan. I have little to no foreknowledge about radio shows. So, I listened to a couple episodes of The Moth and part of This American Life. These were the first radio shows I’ve listened to online! Honestly, I think I’m hooked! I really enjoyed The Moth. Creating a place where people can share their everyday stories is beautiful. I listened to a story about a man who ran the Boston Marathon with his friend who was blind, and they finished just minutes before the bombing. It was funny, entertaining, and powerful. I am really interested in learning more about how to use these pieces in the classroom. I know that listening is one of the standards students must meet for the Common Core. Maybe something like this could help students reach that goal?

    And, of course, I am absurdly interested in StorySLAM. Do I see a future NCTE event?

  2. Yes, MaryBeth, I thought you would like StorySLAM:) Maybe instead of a Slam Poetry club, we really need a StorySLAM club. How fun would that event be? Pick a topic, give folks 3 to 5 minutes, and you have to tell a story that is true. It would be a really fun activity to do at school or in your classroom. You could even video or audio record them for future students to watch/listen too.

    • Jon Naskrent says:

      I really like the idea of doing a StorySLAM in the classroom. For some of the students, of course, it would be difficult–due to fear of public speaking. But I also think it would be a great way to get students to–quite literally–share their stories. In a way a StorySLAM is its own genre, so some class time would naturally have to be dedicated to studying the different strategies to StorySLAMs. Any way to get students more comfortable in the classroom and think critically about telling stories seems like a win in my book.

  3. djkopping says:

    All of those fake news and parody tv shows like Colbert, and Stewart really do owe a debt to War of the Worlds. It was the first popular fake broadcast that seemed to grab America’s attention. People were actually freaking out because they thought that Wells was actually reading the news.

    I had no idea that there was still radio broadcast of things still being published today. I really did think that those things became extinct when tv took over, figuring the closest things still available are books on tape.
    As I mentioned in class, I like to listen to tv shows on hulu while I am on the internet. Aside from multi-tasking, I really feel that good writing will stand out when you hear it. Due to scheduling conflicts, I pretty much listened to every episode of the last season of Community before I watched them. Other good shows for this are John Stewart, The Middle, and The Big Bang Theory. They are easy to follow, all you need is an idea of who the characters are, so you can match the characters to voices. But if you go in cold, you really get to create the images in your head.

    I looked on TAL and sadly there is no radio station that carries it within 25 mile of Burlington, so I will have to check it out online. Are there any other sites that would have more book type readings that I could check out? Finding cool passages read oraly would be a useful classroom tool.

    • Dan, another good public radio show that has book readings is Selected Shorts (http://www.pri.org/programs/selected-shorts). It’s actors reading short stories. I don’t think it airs anywhere around here, so you’d have to listen to the podcasts. But when I lived in Philadelphia it was on the local NPR station and I would love to listen to it. Wonderful short stories and great readings.

      There are also a number of authors who have podcasts, so you could even look at authors’ websites and see what they have.

  4. kmoleson says:

    I have never really listened to radio shows prior to this unless you count podcasts as something similar to it. I enjoyed the variety of stories on The Moth page, as I listened to several different ones. One that really struck me was a young woman who told her story of visiting her childhood home after college in Iran. Sometimes people do not realize just how privileged we are here in America. I also liked the two Harper school radio shows; it made me think of any movie I have seen about education in the U.S. because they are usually set in those type of Chicago-like settings where there is a lot of violence and struggle.
    I think radio shows could be very useful in the classroom especially with students in the high school level because they get bored with just the typical reading all of the time. I think this is a nice way to get across important information to students and I think it would keep them engaged because all they have to do is listen (which sometimes takes quite a bit of effort for teenagers anyway).

  5. Jon Naskrent says:

    So in my High School AP English class we regularly listened to This American Life. I really liked how it got us thinking about things that are actually happening in the world while we also got to think about how to present information. We covered a lot of topics in that class, but one of the recurring things I noticed was how to effectively convey ideas. Stemming away from specifically This American Life and transitioning to radio as a genre in general, I think listening to radio programs does something interesting–it allows students to concentrate wholly on language and organization. I think frequently students get caught up in “English” being about proper grammar and conventions–especially when written. Taking the written word out of the equation gives students the opportunity to focus on just the words, without worrying about rules. Through this, we can focus on other central ideas, such as organization, appeals, rhetorical strategies etc.

    On my own, lately I’ve been listening to read poetry on Spotify premium. I recognize this isn’t quite the same as the radio show, but the concept of the spoken word is the same. I think attacking language from every direction will give students (and everyone) a better grasp of the subject.

  6. sdlambach says:

    I appreciate the links you provided. I have never heard the War of the Worlds broadcast, but the drama will be ideal to listen to while knitting.
    Radio dramas and other storytelling on the radio have been prevalent throughout my life. My mom is constantly listening to NPR over the radio whether it be in the car or at home. At first, I was resistant to radio programs because I did not have the attention span to follow the story without pictures flashing across the screen. Now, I find that radio programs hold my attention better because they lack extra distractions.
    One of my favorite programs is also This American Life. I also enjoy News from Lake Wobegon on A Prairie Home Companion.
    I have never explored The Moth, but I very much like the premise and am eager to give that some listening time as well. StorySLAM sounds like a fun way to motivate students to participate in storytelling and share their work.
    I think radio dramas/stories would be a great way to show students how storytelling can transcend writing as well as its place in a modern world.

  7. zxxkimxxz says:

    I’m pretty familiar with radio shows. I remember a lot of trips when I was younger where my dad would turn the radio station to listen to shows like Adventures in Odyssey and The Prairie Home Companion. Then, as Jon mentioned, I was introduced to This American Life through my high school AP English teacher. I’ve had a few friends recommend The Moth and The Truth as well. For those of you that haven’t heard of The Truth, that’s one I’d highly recommend on top of what Dr. Buchanan has mentioned.

    Since I’ve had teachers use radio shows in the classroom before and demonstrate how they can be tied to the curriculum, I think I’ll have no problem bringing them into my own classroom. I also have a soft spot for hearing stories out loud. Man kind has been telling stories and histories orally since they developed language. Over time, that tradition seems to have gotten lost in print and fonts and layouts. I think it’s important to sort of go back to our roots, to hear the way words sound when spoken, rather than focus on how they look on a page. There’s a sort of magic to listening to the melody and pitch of the human voice bringing a story to life that books can’t always get at. It’s just a totally different experience.

    On a completely different note, I’m all for going to a StorySLAM. We need to make this happen. If we can’t, we’ll definitely have to host one of our own.

  8. ptdinardi says:

    Throughout high school I had two horrible jobs. Hours upon hours that involved filing car work order receipts and the other that was packing FannieMay candy boxes. These jobs were both mundane and repetitive and unbelievably and numbingly boring. Luckily I was able to have headphones in while I worked so I listened to lots of podcast, radio hours, and books. Some of my favorites were This American Life, Pottercast, and TED talks. They helped pass the time but they were also entertaining, informative, and enjoyable.

    I think bringing this media into the classroom is great. I have one experience of a high school teacher bringing radio-based media into the classroom. As a reward he had us listen to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” skit. It was funny and the whole class was entertained.

    I enjoy listening to podcasts and would be interested in learning more ways to incorporate this media into the classroom.

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