Tag Archives: listening

America’s Secret Slang

If you haven’t seen it yet, America’s Secret Slang, which is produced by the History Channel, is worth checking out.  There are currently 9 episodes available, most of which are 44 minutes long.

I happened to catch this show one day when I was channel surfing and quickly got sucked in.  I haven’t seen all of the episodes, but I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen.  Each episode takes on a general theme and then examines the origin of slang (including idioms) that relate.  Most of the segments include a person-on-the-street segment asking native speakers if they use a slang term (spoiler: they do) and if they know its origin (they usually don’t, but they often try making one up.)  The origin and explanation is then revealed through in an interesting and visual way including animated words and historical re-enactments.

I’ve linked to one episode, above, and the rest are available on the History Channel website and YouTube.  Be aware the the show is rated PG, so you may want to preview episodes before watching them in class or assigning them to your students.  Non-native speakers will appreciate being able to rewind and review the videos online.  They can also turn on captions if they find that helpful.  Overall, the shows are very well made, include a ton of information, and are interesting to native and non-native speakers alike.

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My 3 Favorite Podcasts

podcast icon with headphones

I enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m at the gym, on the bus, working on a home improvement project, or otherwise have my ears free.  I’ve also incorporated them into ESL classes and recommended them to students for listening practice, though most of my favorites are targeted towards native speakers and so demand a high level of language proficiency on the part of the student.  These three podcasts are the ones I have found that I can not do without.  Find information on subscribing to them by clicking on the titles below.

This American Life

This weekly, hour-long NPR show is available as a free podcast and in a streamed archive that includes almost every story broadcast over the 15+ year history of the show.  I’ve mentioned this podcast previously, but it’s at the top of the list because of the consistently engaging stories that are posted (and aired — check local listings) each week.  Some favorites include episode 238 Lost in Translation, which includes the story of Yao Ming‘s first American translator beginning at the 40 minute mark; episode 188 Kid Logic, which incorporates kids’ ideas on everything from the Tooth Fairy to why planes get smaller when they fly away; and episode 90 Telephone, which includes a story about how a teenager’s behavior changes when he hears himself on the phone, which begins at the seven minute mark.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve listened to well over half of the episodes available online and many of them have stuck with me for years.

Radio Lab

Radio Lab is another NPR show that broadcasts in some markets (again, check local listings,) though less frequently than This American Life. But the focus of Radio Lab is science in the very broadest sense and the hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, do an amazing job of making some of the most profound and bleeding-edge topics understandable (and interesting!) to almost anyone.  Fortunately, every episode and the interspersed shorts, all of which make up the podcast, are available online for listening or downloading at any time.  Some of my favorites include the Limits episode, which details a non-stop bike race across the continent of North America including what effects riding a bicycle for a hundred hours has on the human body and mind; the Famous Tumors episode, which discusses the contagious tumors that are decimating the wild populations of Tasmanian Devils; and the New Normal? episode which reframes Evolution in a really startling way.  Many of the episodes draw conclusions that rub against the grain of common sense and challenge our preconceived notions of what we think we know.  Not only is the content compelling, but the audio editing is exceptional.

The Moth

The Moth features real stories told live onstage without notes.  There is some overlap in themes with This American Life, but these stories are not edited into a one-hour radio show.  Rather each story is presented individually, regardless of its length, and with live crowd reactions.  The Moth supports story telling events around the U.S. and broadcasts its best stories via the podcast.  A very few stories are available online, but most are not.  Stories are usually told by people you have never heard of, though there have been a few “celebrity” story tellers (Blue Clues host Steve Burns and Milli Vanilli frontman Fab Morvan are two examples.)  Some episodes are marked explicit, usually for coarse language, but each story is a personal tale told by the person who lived it.  I have heard stories that run the range from shipwreck survivors to Apollo Theater dancers to New York City cops to people getting out of bad relationships or reflecting on their parenting skills.  Each story is unique and interesting.

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History of English-Language Popular Music Elective

ipod in a book

You didn't think your students were reading, did you?

As promised, the list of songs I used in my History of English Language Popular Music Elective (HELP-ME) class is below.  The class was taught over 20 days in 5 weeks with each week devoted to a different decade of popular music.  We covered one song per day usually beginning with watching a video of the song, examining the lyrics and something linguistically relevant (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.), talking about the meaning of the song, and then listening to the song again and singing along.

A much more exhaustive (and exhausting!) resource is available as a Google Docs Spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet also contains several songs I considered but didn’t use.  Each entry has the song title, the artist, the year it was released, the genre, information about it’s popularity (#1 for four weeks, for example) as well as links to the lyrics, video, and Wikipedia articles on both the song and the artist.  I also have my notes on relevant or ESL-appropriate features of each song.

I delivered all of this information to students using Moodle, an open-source online course management system.  I hoped to present as much information for students to explore as I could and several students took advantage of this opportunity by logging in and exploring many of these resources.  They were also able to listen to each of the songs via our streaming server.  (Simply giving them the .mp3 files would have created copyright issues.)

Overall, the class was very well received for it’s novel approach and interesting subject.  I included a wide variety of musical genres so that no student would have to suffer through a prolonged period of country or R&B.  Students also appreciated touching on grammar points and new vocabulary words in the more relaxed context of an elective class.  They were exposed to more English without having to worry about a final exam.

If I were to teach the class again, I would probably eliminate a couple of the longer songs, or at least find a way to devote more time to them.  The class really enjoyed Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) and Parents Just Don’t Understand, for example, but we had to rush through them a bit in order to completely cover the lyrics.  In fact, I would like to teach this class every quarter, and could by changing up the songs so that they wouldn’t be repeated if students take the class in back-to-back quarters.  The class included students from all five levels in our program and I worked hard to ensure that all students were able to gain something from the class.  According to my student evaluations, I was successful.

In the table below, the names of the songs are linked to the lyrics (on sing365.com) and the artist names are linked to their page on Wikipedia.  As I mentioned above, you can view more information at the Google Docs Spreadsheet.

1950s and 1960s

1957 All Shook Up Elvis Presley
1964 A Hard Day’s Night The Beatles
1964 Paint It Black The Rolling Stones
1968 What a Wonderful World Louis Armstrong
1967 People Are Strange The Doors

1970s

1972 You’re So Vain Carly Simon
1973 Time In A Bottle Jim Croce
1978 I Will Survive Gloria Gaynor
1978 The Gambler Kenny Rogers

1980s

1979 Video Killed The Radio Star The Buggles
1983 Billie Jean Michael Jackson
1984 Jump Van Halen
1988 Parents Just Don’t Understand DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince (Will Smith)

1990s

1991 Smells Like Teen Spirit Nirvana
1993 If I Had $1,000,000 Barenaked Ladies
1999 Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) Baz Luhrmann

2000s

2000 Say My Name Destiny’s Child
2001 Clint Eastwood* Gorillaz
2002 We Are All Made Of Stars Moby
* = this page contains explicit lyrics

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Crowdsourcing Meta-Resources

A Google Spreadsheet of TED Talks.

A Google Spreadsheet of TED Talks.

I came across a blog post on The History Teacher’s Attic which organized TED Talks by educational discipline and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  The interesting part is that the post is based on a Google Docs Spreadsheet containing information on every TED Talk through July 29, 2009.  The thing I like most about this post is the potential in this spreadsheet.

Johnny Lee's TED Talk introduces his $50 interactive whiteboard.

Johnny Lee's TED Talk.

First, most TED Talks are fascinating (Johnny Lee’s talk introduced the world to the Wii-based $50 interactive whiteboard) and authentic audio resources for advanced ESL students.  Having one central resource with overviews of all talks, is very useful for an ESL teacher.

Second, Google Docs can be very useful tools for collaboration.  Because they are cloud-based, anyone can access and edit documents via a web browser.  By opening up the document for anyone to edit, the work of compiling all of the information can be distributed to many people.  For example, this list of educators on Twitter spreadsheet was crowdsourced, meaning many people did a little bit of work to build what is a pretty extensive list.

The US Presidents mashup.

A mashup of US Presidents.

And once the spreadsheet has enough information, it can be mashed up in useful new ways.  For example, this mashup, created using MIT’s Exhibit, makes the information in the TED Talks Google Docs spreadsheet sortable and searchable.  Other examples include Flags of the World, which combines flag images from Wikipedia and a Google Map, and US presidents, which includes a timeline, map, images, and facts about each president such as religion and political party.

So, at this point, I’m ready to begin the new project of collecting and compiling some of my favorite resources into larger, crowdsourced, mashable meta-resources.  I’m going to start with a wide-open Google Docs spreadsheet, and then try my hand at different mashups.  But, before I begin, here are some questions I’m trying to answer.  (Feel free to supply your answers by commenting on this post.)

This American Life has great audio.

This American Life has great audio.

First, what resource(s) should be compiled?  TED Talks seem to be relatively well covered, but how about a similar resource for This American Life episodes, stories from The Moth live storytelling events, YouTube videos (EDU or otherwise), or other resources?  Should the meta-resource be targeted to ESL / EFL teachers or all educators?  And finally, what information should be included?  A link to the resource, the title, duration and a synopsis are obvious details, but what else?  Maybe keywords or tags as a way to organize them, the goegraphic location of where the story takes place, a warning system for language or content not appropriate for the classroom, and links to related resources in case students want to explore particular topics further.

So, consider this a call to action.  I’m going to solicit lots of feedback and then begin.  Once underway, I’m going to solicit more help.  With a little crowdsourcing, we can grow some really interesting and useful resources.

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