6 Amazing Podcasts for ELA Teachers

Sometimes learning happens in the nooks and crannies of a packed life. That’s where podcasts come in. Whether you’re up to your elbows in dishwater, sweating up a storm on a mountain trail, or wandering through the grocery store with your earbuds in, podcasts can take you to your next level as a teacher without consuming any of your free time. 

When my life is really busy, I turn to podcasts to continue learning. And lately, it seems like it's ALWAY really busy. Yet I've had the chance to dive deeper into flipped learning, teaching tolerance, using hyperdocs, and more during my morning runs, household cleanup sessions, and drives to and from errands. 

The List

1. The HarvardEdcast offers a look at some of the big picture issues in education. If you're interested in topics like activism, teaching tolerance, immigration reform and education, bullying, and the role of homework in class, the Harvard EdCast is for you.

2. Raring to turn your lectures into creative video content students can consume at home? Wondering how to organize your classroom, empower your students to master your subject, and assess their work in the flipped classroom? Check out the Flipped Learning Worldwide podcast.

3. If you're ever on the lookout for creative strategies for engaging your students, you've found a new show. The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast explores topics like classroom murder mysteries, escape rooms, book clubs, and ELA makerspaces. 

4. Jennifer Gonzalez features thought leaders in education as well as wonderfully researched shows with teaching strategies you can implement immediately. If you like a mix of big picture and specific strategies that can be applied across disciplines, check out the Cult of Pedagogy podcast. 

5. If you're looking for inspirational talks about education through a variety of lenses, TEDTalks Education  is a great fit for you. You'll find food for thought and stimulation in these episodes (which also feature video), though not necessarily immediately applicable lesson ideas.

6. With awesome episode titles like "Is Your Lesson Plan a Blueprint, Burden, or Boondoggle?", how can you go wrong? The K-12 Greatest Hits: The Best Ideas in Education podcast features varied ideas in education, many of which apply across disciplines. Whether it's a conversation about the purpose of homework in our schools or the role of movement in the classroom, these short podcast episodes have a lot to offer.

I hope one or two of these feel like a good fit for you. If not, I encourage you to go search for just the right one, because it really is a pleasure to learn on the go. 

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4 Ways to Apply the Maker Movement to your ELA Classroom

 My five-year old peeked in at me from the next room. "What's that book?" he asked. 

"It's a book about making things and writing stories about them," I told him. 


"Like, imagine you made a gorilla out of your clay. And then we decided he could fly."

"Yeah. And he couldn't ever land! He just had to keep flying forever!"

We went on to have a long conversation about our flying gorilla, including details I would never have imagined. Just by talking about the idea of a writing maker space, my son was more creatively engaged in designing a story than he had ever been in his life.

As an English teacher, I've always been keen to encourage his storytelling, but my suggestions that we write a story together and he illustrate it, or that he tell me a story, have never gained much traction. 

Angela Stockman's book, Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer's Workshop Into a Maker Space, is absolutely unique. In more than ten years in education, I have never read or heard of this idea before. Stockman proposes we let students "make" their ideas before they write them, combining their physical and mental creativity. 

In the book, she goes through five main ways to incorporate making into the writing classroom. There are sections on making writing, creating a classroom space conducive to making, tinkering, authentic audience, and connecting this type of curriculum to standards ("not standardization," as Stockman often reiterates).

This book pushes for a full-on approach. Set up your space, change the nature of your assignments, workshops, and assessment. Here is The Make Writing Manifesto: 

It's common for someone sharing a new program to suggest how you can completely revolutionize your classroom with their new approach. Personally, I'm always looking for something new for my toolkit, but not to "revolutionize" my classroom. I just wrote a post last week about avoiding this kind of pedagogy overwhelm

You may love eighty percent of what you already have going on in your classroom, but need a fresh creative writing unit, help for a group of struggling analytical writers, or a new way to build community among your students. Stockman can provide a wonderful new dimension to your class.  

There's no need to throw out the curriculum you already love to embrace the writer's makerspace. 

Here are five ways to incorporate making into your classroom, inspired by Stockman's approach.


Stockman recommends keeping plenty of post-its, foam boards, and individual whiteboards on hand to help students who are drafting. "Sticky notes enable makers and writers to generate and organize abundant ideas, making them immediately accessible" (21). By letting them play around with their ideas physically, you help them get their thoughts in order. Students may have ideas for a range of plot twists in their story or a dozen different points for their restaurant reviews, but not have the foggiest idea of where to put those ideas and points until they start moving them around. Stockman even painted all her tabletops with chalk paint. Dedicate a closet, bookshelf, or giant crate to your maker space kit, and keep it on hand for the right moments.  


This is my favorite idea from the book, and the most quickly and easily applicable. Let students create something - paint a character, design the building where a story takes place, do a photo collage inspiration board, etc. before they jump into the writing process.

There's a great infographic in the first section of the book with a list of things students can make that help inspire different kinds of writing. 

For example: 

"When we make play-doh creatures, our projects mights inspire us to write myths or legend that reveal their history." 

"When we make puppets, our projects might inspire us to write plays that feature all of the characters we create." 

"When we make music, our projects might inspire us to write song lyrics." 

Yesterday my son and I took out his magnet blocks and started building. We started with houses. As we finished, I began asking him questions. 

"Who lives in your house?" I asked. 

"Five people. And they just had a baby. Plus the mom and dad. So.... eight." He turned to a bowl of crackers he was eating and began breaking them into pieces, sprinkling them around the house. "The baby sleeps in this cracker. In the morning she wakes up and eats the cracker she slept in. So she can sleep in a cracker for..." (counting crackers in the house) "...six nights. Then she has to sleep in a real bed." 

I asked him if we could make a video about his house and tell the story of the people who lived there. He grabbed the camera and began a dialogue between the cracker people. 

Until I began to try it myself in my own house, I never would have believed that "making" the stuff of stories could be so powerful. I began to build a magnet block candy shop. One room seemed separate from the rest to me, and I quickly began to concoct a plot for the secret recipe room of a candy store. A segue between rooms suggested itself as the tooth brushing hallway, where everyone coming out of the hard candy room would brush their teeth all the way down the hall. Silly? Sure. A detail I never would have thought of without first making the set for a story? Absolutely. 


Students respond to real audiences. Writing for a few editing partners and the teacher just isn't enough. Connecting students with authentic readers helps inspire their best creative work. 

Stockman recommends checking out Write AboutNational Novel Writing MonthWattpad, and Figment online, as well as looking into local newspapers and writing contests (like these eleven great writing contests to share with your students). 
For an easy start, download this free activity for writing a letter to the editor of The New York Times. It can make a great enrichment project for your strongest writers, or an engaging whole class activity. 


This great idea caught me by surprise. Perhaps you too will wonder how you could have missed this in your teaching. 

Stockman recommends giving writers a chance to talk about what they are learning about the process of writing.  "Make time for writers to share the strategies they are learning in addition to the pieces they produce" (76). If one student has figured out how to make good transitions between parts of her plot, another has found a way to mix and match descriptive writing elements from three mentor texts, and another just had an "aha" moment about how to write a killer conclusion, why not let them teach others? 

I've been thinking a lot lately about how to incorporate some flipped learning into a curriculum, and this strategy struck me as a great opportunity to let students create shareable videos. If you are spending your class time writing in your makerspace, consider letting students create the homework - videos to watch at home explaining the strategies they are using for success. 

Finally, don't get hung up on how maker spaces connect to standards. 

One of my favorite phrases in the book is Stockman's final mantra, "pursue standards, not standardization" (81). She pushes hard for deep reflection about what you hope to achieve as a teacher, what your own standards are, how you want to help your students, and how you can keep the standards that you set separate from conformity and standardization. 

In a helpful section called "What YOU can do tomorrow" at the end of the final chapter of the book, Stockman shares this prompt, which feels useful in the face of standards-based pressures whether or not you want to jump entirely on board the writing makerspace train. 

"Define your purpose. Craft a credo, a manifesto, or a purpose statement that defines your stance. Why do you teach? What kind of learner are you hoping to shape? How do you hope to influence your community, your school system, and the colleagues you support? Why do you matter? In what ways will you help your students matter? Why are high standards important to you? Why should learners pursue them?" (83). 

Stockman, of course, is considering this topic because a classroom given entirely over to a writing maker space may not immediately appear to be accomplishing the daily tasks of the common core. Deep learning is clearly taking place in her maker space, but not in neat order. 

However, my guess is that most readers of the book, like me, will quickly identify some wonderful takeaways from the book but choose not to revolutionize their classroom entirely into a maker space. A maker corner? Absolutely! A maker unit? Yee-haw! A maker festival? Love that idea! 

Read the book for yourself if you want to dive deeper into Stockman's theory and techniques. Or begin by testing out these four applications and see if you want to dig deeper.
Curriculum Spotlight

Looking for an easy way to add a bit of making to your curriculum right now? Check out my literary food truck project. You'll be reveling in the combination of great food and stellar literary analysis in no time.

If you're not already there, I'd LOVE for you to swing over and join our community of creative ELA teachers in our Facebook group, Creative High School English. We need your voice!

7 Ways to Flip your Class (now and then, not all the time!)

You've heard of the flipped classroom. It sounds like some kind of strange gymnastics move, or perhaps an interior design disaster. What's all the buzz about flipping?

At the basic level, flipping a class means letting students learn the material at home, usually through video, and then come in to class to interact, collaborate, and explore further.

Nothing wrong with that idea. Except, does that mean you have to throw out everything you've been doing and turn your office into a video production studio? Ack!

If you read my post last week about avoiding pedagogy overwhelm, you know I believe in adopting new strategies as lovely new elements in your teacher toolkit. There's no need to throw out the amazing units you have already created just because you want to try out this new strategy of flipping. It's easy enough to experiment with video lessons as a complement to what you are already doing.

Maybe you have a lecture day that you've never been able to make as engaging as you'd like. Maybe you're going to be teaching a new book next year and you don't yet have any materials prepared.

Trying out the flipped classroom is as easy as choosing one of these seven ideas and trying it on for size. If you and your students love it, maybe you'll try another. Or another. Maybe someday you'll decide to shift an entire new class to the flipped model, or maybe you won't. But either way, you'll know what this creative new pedagogy has to offer you.

#1 Create one short video series
Choose one element of your curriculum - the elements of a formal paper, a set of descriptive writing lessons, vocabulary for the fall, revisions strategies, the nature of transcendentalism, etc. Create a short series of video lessons on this one curriculum element and assign them as homework throughout your unit. When students come in after viewing a video, dive right into an interesting application they can work on together, taking advantage of their new mastery. See what they think! Ask them how they like learning with the videos.

#2 Let graduating students create a video
As one class finishes the year with you, let them choose one element from the year and create a video to help the students coming along next. Give them editorial freedom to use whatever creation tool they think would be most engaging. Then take the best few and sprinkle them in as flipped lessons the next year. Repeat the cycle, sticking with the best few to share every year.

#3 Flip your Assessment
In the most recent episode of "Flipped Learning Worldwide" (June 6, 2017), the guest shared her frustrations with how often her students simply dumped their papers (with her comments!) into the trash after looking at their grades. Now she no longer writes comments. She reads through a paper once and then records a video for the student in which she goes through the paper and talks through her suggestions. Her students' test scored have sky-rocketed and so has their engagement. Plus, she says, she actually needs less time to provide feedback on each paper.

#4 Try Facebook Live
If you're nervous about creating video, I'd venture to say nothing could be easier than Facebook live. If you gather your students into a Facebook group, all you have to do is point your smartphone at whatever you want to show and click "go live." In this way you could bring your students with you on a virtual field trip, bring them with you to a lecture or presentation, talk to them about something important, host a review session before an exam, or simply walk them through some material. The live session will become part of the feed in the group and remain there for students to go back to anytime. If you want to do the occasional live session at night, students can even show up to the live session and ask questions during your broadcast. But you can also simply record the live videos during a prep period.

#5 Dive in for a full unit
Teaching a new book? Consider going all in and flipping one entire unit. Create some videos yourself, find some online, and let students create some. See what works best. Experiment with how best to take advantage of all that awesome class time you'll free up by removing mastery instruction. Maybe you'll LOVE it.

#6 Experiment with Powtoon
If you're really interested in incorporating more video lessons into your classroom, one fun tool is called Powtoon. While it does take some experimenting to get the hang of it, Powtoon can help you create fun, animated movies for your students without much technical skill. To me it seems like the next Kahoot in terms of engagement and popularity. Forty-one million Powtoons have already been created on the site!

Here's an example of a very simple Powtoon someone created to teach the concept of "much" vs "many." Once you get the hang of Powtoon, creating a video like this would not take too long.

#7 Revamp three bad days
Everyone has taught a lesson that did not go well. Look over your next few months of material and choose three lessons that just didn't do it for you last time. Students watched the clock. Students kept peeking at their phone. Students continually asked what they were going to be doing next. Turn that material into video content they can watch the night before and remake your class day into something you'll all love.

I think flipped learning has great potential. Like any teaching strategy, there's no reason to embrace it to the exclusion of all the other amazing possibilities, unless you find it's the very best thing for you and your students. Test it out! Sprinkle it in! See what you think, and how your students react. Hopefully it will become another great strategy you can rely on now and then throughout the year.

Want a great place to share your progress with flipped learning and all the other creative pedagogies you're experimenting with? Hurry over and join us in our Creative High School English Facebook group. Can't wait to see you there!

Building a Teacher Toolkit (avoid pedagogy overwhelm!)

Have you ever felt like something NEW is constantly being rolled out in education? Like you have barely had time to start implementing the last hot pedagogy when the new one is announced in your faculty meeting? Like really, any of them could work, if you just had TIME to follow it through?

I made a useful decision early in my teaching career to let these waves roll over me, leaving behind one useful tool in my teacher toolkit instead of a complete classroom shift and total overwhelm for all concerned. 

There are so many intriguing teaching strategies out there, and so many people who will tell you that they have THE ONE. But do they really? Haven't plenty of students learned and achieved great things before "the one" even existed? I have fallen in love with many different pedagogies - showcase projects (check out the podcast on this subject, episode #1), Harkness discussions, online portfolios, journaling, literature circles, fishbowl discussions, reader's workshop, differentiation, and many more. 
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