36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

You and your students sometimes need a break from the books in the book room. And you also may need a rest from working with non-fiction text, short passages, paperbacks that are never quite as up-to-the-minute as you had hoped. Audiobooks are a great alternative to solo silent reading—not that we aren’t still trying to get students to love the experience of sitting with a book—but even they can get a little stale.

Unfortunately, musical theatre, one of the forms that has much to offer our media-saturated students is usually beyond the price range of our instructional budgets. Films are great, but for full-length films, we often need class time or a budget to make outside-of-class viewing feasible. Problems, problems, problems.

But there’s a new experiment you might want to check out. Good news: It’s a relationship story filled with intrigue. Good news: It’s a musical, but it’s also a play. Good news: It has appealing actors—Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton—performing in what is a hybrid of audiobooks and musical theatre. Good news: It can be downloaded for free. (Slightly less good news: There are a few short ads embedded in the podcast.)

Do you know what the 36 Questions to Fall in Love are? Maybe your students do…okay, maybe slightly more of your female than male students do (or maybe not, you might be surprised). Okay, well, the psychological angle to this podcast created by Two Up musical writers Chris Littler and Ellen Winter builds on the popular cultural discussion about whether getting to know certain things about another person is the path to falling in love with them. You and your students can learn more about the psychological research in a New York Times article that links to an essay about the 36 questions phenomenon. Go to this page, see a brief article, and even access a podcast of Mandy Len Catron’s essay from The Times “Modern Love” column.

The musical complicates matters a bit, though. What if a person thinks they know someone, but really doesn’t? Will resetting their relationship by answering the questions lead (back) to love?

At this point, you may be wondering what IS this podcast? What is it about? Is it really something that might interest my students?

I can’t tell you for sure, but I think you should check it out. Go to https://36questions.bandcamp.com/ to listen, or look up the “36 Questions” podcast on the Apple store. Download the podcast, and give it a listen in your car on the way to work or to pick up the kids from their activities. You might notice as you listen that the creators are doing something more than straightforwardly telling a story through audio…though they are doing that too. They are also using subtle clues tailored to this particular medium to draw their audience into curiosity about the characters we meet but can’t see. Sound plays a wonderfully complex role in this story, so you’ll feel yourself noticing that audio effects are not just creating the reality we are being encouraged to visualize, but rather—as in old-fashioned radio drama—stimulating a listener’s attention in directions the writers think will serve their larger themes, characterization, and story arc.

One warning: The story is a relationship story, and though its details are not harsh, there are a few references to sexual matters…relatively brief, not overly explicit, but likely best suited to mature high school students.  

What I’ve sketched out here is a rough set of complementary texts—an audio podcast or two, some short journalistic articles and essays, and then a wide set of texts that you might link to these when you investigate this podcast musical and the constellation of interviews, reviews, and commentaries available online. I’m sure you’ll find listening to the musical an enjoyable way to spend some time, and you might get some creative ideas for how working with such interconnected media texts might help you find a few new paths to engaging your students with characters, storytelling, and the psychology of human relationships.


Thomas C. Crochunis

Shippensburg University

36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

Allison Irwin

Now that we’re winding down to the end of the year and all that’s left to do is proctor finals and tally the grades, I find myself looking for next year’s greatest lesson. What should I change about my instruction? What will captivate my often less-than-enthusiastic audience? Where, oh where should I go to find a resource that is worth sharing in the precious few moments I get with my students each day?

In my googling frenzy, I stumbled across this precious gem from The Learning Network at the New York Times:

8 Compelling Mini-Documentaries to Teach Close Reading and Critical Thinking Skills

When I wrote to Michael Gonchar, Deputy Editor of the New York Times Learning Network, he replied within hours.  It’s easy to tell that this educator-turned-editor has a passion for learning.  When you look to the Film Club, you will see that he plays a big part in that initiative.   In his reply to my email he wrote:

“Thank you for your email. I love the Op Docs in The Times, and I’m really hoping that Film Club will catch on with even more teachers. I think it’s a great resource, especially for ELA teachers. All of these very cool short documentary films make for engaging content for writing, discussing and thinking. I’m so glad to hear that you’re excited about it too, and that you’ll be sharing it with teachers across PA.”

Hopefully more teachers will begin using these valuable resources available on the New York Times Learning Network! I can’t express enough the importance of free, thought-provoking resources that have clearly been developed by someone who knows and understands education.

Here are five reasons why you should absolutely check this out.

1) There is no time to watch a 2-hour video.

I’ve never been one for popping in a movie at the end of the year and coasting through June. That’s what summer is for. Or lazy, rainy afternoons at home on my couch. This post on The Learning Network blog opened my eyes to the possibilities of showing and discussing a short (less than 10 minutes) film. I’ve never considered this before. I could easily plan a 50 minute lesson around a pre-reading activity, video (reading – treat it like a text), and post-reading activity.  While this could be utilized at any point throughout the year, I see this format being particularly engaging in June.

2) The mini documentaries in the Film Club are well produced!

I actually want to watch these films. They have enough created by now that you could either look for the latest additions to their series or you could search for a subject that applies to what your classroom goals are at the moment. As a reading teacher, I find it particularly easy to choose engaging texts – YES VIDEOS COUNT AS TEXT 😊 – since I can teach reading strategies regardless of the content of the chosen text. Even though other teachers may be more shackled to a curriculum, with over 50 short films to choose from, you’re bound to find something that is applicable.

3) “They tell stories that often remain hidden, and introduce us to people and places foreign to us.”

My favorite quote from the original blog post on The Learning Network.  Joyfully and unabashedly making connections to abstract places, feelings, and situations that are foreign to us is one of the most valuable skills we can teach teenagers and young adults. So often kids are afraid of being wrong or sounding like an outcast. Or sounding like they sympathize with an outcast. Or they simply don’t know how to (or don’t care to) connect with something or someone that is unfamiliar. It feels uncomfortable. Watch the 7 minute video on the original blog post called San Quentin’s Giants.  Students will be able to use their familiarity with baseball to bridge a connection to some of the more heavy themes in this documentary such as incarceration in America, self image, race relations, or stereotypes. Valuable, valuable gem indeed.

4) The lesson plans are already there for you!

Sort of. While I almost always adapt the lesson plans and materials provided from any resource, the building blocks of the lesson are already provided here. Have you ever used The Learning Network created by the New York Times? They have an incredible inventory of articles with accompanying discussion questions and activities. Today I learned that they offer the equivalent in video through this Film Club.  I’m so happy! If you’re looking for something worthwhile but already partially constructed for you, then this is the place to look. It does not feel like a scripted curriculum the way that some options do. It’s just the building blocks for you to use and adapt to fit the needs of your students.

5) The Film Club meets and produces a new addition to their inventory every other week during the school year.

Hooray! Constantly evolving content to choose from! I love that this is fresh and remains relevant. It allows us to build on the activity so easily. For example, I could pair their most recent film Turning Oil Rigs into Reefs with all sorts of other texts. Current events from the newspaper would be perfect. Or I could pre-select a few photos that connect with the film on some thematic level and encourage students to make inferences to reveal the theme I intended. The interesting part here is that students may discover themes that I hadn’t intended – isn’t this a great moment to teach students about perspective? Or for younger students, I could use that natural moment to teach them that background knowledge plus the text evidence is what creates an inference. If we all have different background knowledge, we could easily come up with different inferences (even when we’re looking at the same evidence). This means we might all come up with different themes to connect the selected texts! It’s so much easier to have a lesson like this with multimedia texts rather than just words on a page.

Allison is currently serving as the Director of Special Activities for PCTELA. She enjoyed almost 10 years as a middle level educator before making the switch to high school this past year. As a Reading Specialist, she works with small groups of students every day and helps them to build a solid foundation for using text to learn.

Next Year’s Greatest Lesson: Mini Documentaries

How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology

How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology

One thing every teacher asks when they have an English Learner in their classroom is, what more can I be doing to help support this student? Technology can be a great resource to help a teacher who wants to engage their EL as a literacy learner.

First and foremost, it is important to remember that learning a new language takes time. In our high-stakes testing environments, we want to have ELs reading on grade level as soon as possible. We see that they are intelligent and are curious about the world. We want to learn what they are thinking and share our passion for learning with them. We must remind ourselves that learning a new language, especially when there may be gaps in a student’s education, caused by time away from school due to travelling or differences in curriculum, which insist on us to give the student time to acclimate and listen first.

When the student is ready to work on literacy skills, there are digital tools that can support a variety of learning goals.

Communication: Teachers and students can make use speech to text programs. Tools like Google Translate and American Wordspeller & Phonetic Dictionary can support students communicating into their home language and converting language into English. Likewise, if a concept the teachers is talking about is unclear, it can be translated back into the student’s first language for better understanding. While not perfect due to issues in the connotations of all languages, it can help get an important message across.

Listening Vocabulary and Comprehension: Especially for entering, emerging, or developing listeners, hearing stories read aloud is essential. There are many resources with read aloud features:

  • Scholastic’s Storia has a “read to me” feature for some of their e-books
  • PebbleGo offers spoken-word audio and audio/video media to support emergent reader research
  • Scholastic’s BookFlix pairs classic children’s storybooks in video format with nonfiction e-books
  • Scholastic’s TrueFlix offers multimedia science and social studies readings for older readers
  • Storyline Online, a free site featuring actors who creatively read books aloud
  • One More Story a site that features high-quality oral reading and the ability to read books independently with support

A low tech, but very helpful suggestion is to encourage the family to turn on the closed captioning on their television. Students will see and hear English spoken this way.

For students who are ready to be stretched in their listening and speaking skills, the app Speaky allows them to practice language socially. There are also a number of language learning tools, some of which are game based, like Duolingo. With Duolingo one can learn over 20 languages through gamification. Many more languages are being added monthly. More importantly, English can be learned from many of those languages, making it accessible for the learner of English, not just for someone speaking English learning a new language. And it’s free. To support academic and content learning, Voice Thread allows multimedia to be accompanied with narration.

Most importantly, get to know your student(s), his or her family, and celebrate their heritage and culture. The best strategy is being patient and finding creative ways to engage the EL in learning.

Aileen P. Hower, Ed.D. is the K-12 Literacy/ESL Supervisor for South Western School District. She also teaches graduate level reading courses for Cabrini University in Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching, she is the Vice President for the Keystone State Reading Association and conference chair for the KSRA 50th Annual Conference in Hershey, PA, in 2017. You can find her on Twitter at (@aileenhower) or on her blog (aileenhower.wordpress.com).


How to Boost Teaching and Engage English Learners with Technology

Why (& How) I’m Using Snapchat as a Teacher, and Why You Should, Too

Why (& How) I’m Using Snapchat as a Teacher, and Why You Should, Too

Snapchat has been around for about five years now, and I’ve used it for the last three, but in the past year, I’ve been using it as a teacher, and sharing my user ID with my students. I did a survey at the beginning of the year, and more students used Snapchat daily than any other social media (I’m not counting email or GoogleDrive because they have to use that for school).  I decided I needed to capitalize on the fact that over 70% of my students were using Snapchat. Once I announced that I had a public account, many students were incredulous. One even asked how old I was.  However, over the course of the year, I’ve seen benefits in using Snapchat in terms of sharing resources, reminders, book recommendations, poetry, and, of course, cat videos.

(For a great resource on the history of snapchat, complete with a timeline and tutorials, check out this article: “The Snap Generation: A Guide to Snapchat’s History”)


When I’m planning for our next class, sometimes I’ll share a clip of what we’ll be doing. For example, when we read Hamlet, I snapped a short video of David Tennant‘s version of Act II scene ii. Students arrived to class excited to watch the entire thing (and one confessed she ended up watching a bunch of David Tennant’s Hamlet videos the night before class).

Recently, I was watching Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events, which numerous students told me I needed to see. When the episode with all the Moby Dick  references came on, I snapped a video and shared it to my story, which let the students know I’d seen it, and then gave us something to chat about before class the next day. I do this whenever I see a reference to one of the books we read in class in other works.

Sometimes I’ll snap an image of a New Yorker cartoon relevant to what I’m teaching (here’s one relevant to this post).


When important due dates are coming up, I often snap a photo of the calendar to remind students about it (in case they haven’t recently opened up my constantly-updated online version of the calendar).

I also share general school announcements/reminders.  Posters hang all over the walls of our high school with information about clubs, activities, opportunities, and lectures. I make it a point to snap those posters and announcements regularly. I find that many students take screen shots of many of these posters (you can tell on your story if someone has taken a screen shot) and this encourages me that what I’m doing is useful to some students. In snapchat you can circle the date or add an emoji to your picture.

Book & Poetry Recommendations

I like to share my reading life with my students, so Snapchat allows me to do this in an unobtrusive, but consistent way. I find myself taking pictures of the books I read (I also keep my instagram as a record of books I’m reading, as well as my Goodreads, since they disappear off my Snapchat story.) Students will often screen shot the book covers, favorite passages, or entire poems that I share. This lets me know, again, that some students are benefitting from my recommendations.  Often, I’m reading a book recommended by a student (like with the snap below about We Are Not Ourselves) so it is a way to acknowledge how much I’m enjoying something a student shared with me. 


Another fun way to use Snapchat as a teacher is to celebrate what happens in the classroom. Now students across classes can see fun things we’re doing.  For example, I can video a short performance: our school does singing Valentines and I was able to record some of those on Snapchat, allowing students who were singing to see themselves. When we do creative activities in class (like this illustration of a quote on a page from an old copy of Moby Dick) students can see their own work celebrated and also appreciate what classmates created.  (I also hang them up on my classroom walls, but I’m not sure they notice that all that time.)

Cat Videos, Adventures, and Cookies

Finally, Snapchat allows me to share some of my own goofiness / quirkiness with my students. I often snap little videos or pictures of my three cats, or of adventures my husband and I take, or of the hijinks we get up to on weekends. For example, here’s what happened in a Target one Saturday: 

When we had a snow day recently, I snapped the process of making chocolate chip cookies.  I like my students to remember I’m human, but also to give them ways to connect with me. Students who love my cat videos will share pictures and stories of their own cats. Students who have been places I visit will ask about my trips (plus, there’s a really cool thing in Snapchat called Geotags that allow you to use a filter when you’re in a particular location.) Being able to form connections with students is a step in helping them take academic risks and grow as learners and writers and people.

Paradigm Shift

By using Snapchat, I’ve even shifted the way I think about teaching, and I’ve asked students to use it in the classroom.  When teaching Of Mice and Men, I had students create a snap Lennie or George might have sent to each other. This helped them make meaning of the characters a little better, and demonstrate to me they understood what the story was about. 

This year, when a student struggled with how to explain his claim about agony and how it appeared in a sculpture (related to Moby Dick), I suggested he use Snapchat to diagram the lines on the image. You can upload an image to Snapchat and draw on it, so this made it easier for him to write about the image once he used Snapchat to modify the it in the ways he referred to in his paper

There’s so much Snapchat can allow you to do for your students and your classroom. I admit, when I first heard of it, I dismissed Snapchat as a silly app, something I would never need or use. However, now I find myself snapping something anywhere from 3 to 10 times a day.  It has allowed me to communicate with my students when they’re not in my classroom and it helps me shift my thinking at times.

The important thing I would add here is the way I’ve set up my account. I have it set to public, so anyone can follow me, but I do not follow my students back. I figure it is just better for everyone involved if they can only see my story, but we aren’t actually “friends” on the app.  This makes it more professional.  You can change that in the settings of the account.  If you’d like to follow me, my snapchat ID is k1a9t7e5. Just be prepared for a few cat videos mixed in with the English snaps.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Why (& How) I’m Using Snapchat as a Teacher, and Why You Should, Too

Friday Five: Conferences to Attend as an English Teacher

I’m always amazed at how rejuvenated I feel after attending a conference. NCTE’s recent conference in Atlanta Georgia reminds me how important connecting with colleagues from all over the country and the state can be for educators.  Coming together and realizing we’re not alone, and we face similar issues and share similar triumphs is an important part of my mental health as an educator.  To that end, here’s a Friday Five list of conferences you may find useful to attend in the future to rekindle excitement, to spark ideas, and to meet kindred spirits.

  1. NCTE: National Council of Teachers of English
    next conference date & location:
    St. Louis, Missouri, November 16-19, 2017
  2. KSRA: Keystone State Reading Association
    next conference date & location:
    Hershey, PA, October 8-11, 2017
  3. PCTELA: Pennsylvania Council for Teachers of English Language Arts
    next conference date & location:
    Hotel Pittsburgh, Greentree, PA October 16 & 17, 2017
  4. AP: Advanced Placement / College Board
    next conference date & location:
    Washington, DC, July 26-20, 2017
  5. ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. 
    next conference date & location:
    San Antonio, Texas, June 25-28, 2017
Friday Five: Conferences to Attend as an English Teacher

Friday Five: Reasons to Check Out TV Tropes Wiki

I like to pay attention to what my students consume online.  This past year, one student in particular advocated for the website TV tropes, which describes itself as “The All-Devouring Pop-Culture Wiki.” He would quote from articles on the website when writing papers and I must admit, I was intrigued by the idea of the site, went to visit it, and fell into the rabbit hole that is TV Tropes.  There’s so much there.  Here are some of the many reasons you should check it out.

  1. The Literature page is broken down by both time period and genre. When you get there, let’s say you click on 1930s, and then Their Eyes Were Watching God. You end up with a summary, when it was made into a movie (something I didn’t know!), and a list of tropes. What I love about this, though, is the tropes with spoilers have to be clicked on to be revealed, so if you don’t know what “Shoot the Dog” might mean, you don’t have to click until you’ve read that far in the book.
  2. You could start on the Tropes page, which they define as “a storytelling device or convention, a shortcut for describing situations the storyteller can reasonably assume the audience will recognize.”  You could then click on TV Tropes and end up with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which some of my students were arguing kind of fit Ophelia in Hamlet.
  3. The Index page lists ALL THE THINGS of course.  I could spend a few hours just scrolling through that. (There’s an entry for Pun Based Title.)
  4. There’s a discussion page, which I haven’t entirely explored, but I’m certain there are some gems in there.
  5. They are super up to date! Series like Stranger Things, which just came out this July, already has an impressed entry with all the tropes (and of course, spoilers are hidden).

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.31.29 AM

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary

Friday Five: Reasons to Check Out TV Tropes Wiki

Friday Five: Tech Tools to Try this Fall

I have the opportunity to work with some amazing teachers. This week, I went to a summer session for teachers taught by other teachers in our district.  I was excited to attend this particular session because the math teacher running it, Shai, is known at the high school as extremely tech savvy. Her passion for her students and her job is contagious. I came away with so many ideas and some new technology to try out this year.

  • DotStorming–this allows you to create a quick vote for people and immediately assess the results.
  • Chrome extensions: There are so many Chrome extensions–which ones should you download? Well, I learned two that I liked: Pin tab, which allows you to pin tabs you use all the time (and it makes the tab smaller) and also One tab, which takes all your opened tabs and turns them into one website. I could see this being useful for research.
  • TodaysMeet–this is a great tool for holding virtual office hours at night (good idea for when people need help with edits before a paper is due) or also as a backchannel to class, like when we’re having a Socratic Circle or other discussion.
  • Padlet–this allows a bunch of people to edit an online bulletin board simultaneously. You can add images, words, videos…I think I’ll be using this for times when I want all students to submit an image (like when they make memes). I used to use Google Presentation, and they would all have a slide, but Padlet allows you to see images side by side. You can move them around to juxtapose them.
  • Limnu–this is on online whiteboard multiple people can use at once. Here’s Shai’s blog about it.


Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Friday Five: Tech Tools to Try this Fall