As English teachers we deal in words. Every day I want more words, better words, more meaningful words. I want my students to feel the same way. I want them to linger over Hemingway’s use of the word “nada” in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” and pour over all the description of the “courtesy bay” between Fitzgerald’s dashes.
It’s not that simple.
While you can teach a series of pieces that talk about the significance of words and writing (William Hazlitt’s “On Familiar Style,” “Why I Write” by Joan Didion, “Politics and the English Language,“ by George Orwell or Stephen King’s On Writing) students still struggle to synthesize the importance and effect of language.
Enter Radiolab and the program entitled “Words.” It’s a different angle from which to teach language. All three stories discuss, in essence, worlds either without language or with developing language. Whereas my desire is to throw as much language at a student as possible, this program begins with the following premise: Do words change the world? Literally. Does having language change our experience, understanding, and ability to think?
The program is composed of three segments. Each one is detailed below. You might choose only one or assign one for homework. They are powerful, and if you decide to use them, you will want to be able to enjoy the discussion that comes after “collectively” listening together.
I’ve offered questions to have students write/discuss. A Socratic Seminar using these podcasts as the basis would be perfect. The questions provided could be a starting point. Read more