As part of my self-directed professional development, I subscribe to numerous podcasts, but these are the five that provide regular combinations of fun and information for my English teacher soul. The links here point to the iTunes page for each podcast, but downloads are also available from each podcast’s web page.
“The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”: This is how I begin most days. Garrison Keillor, one of America’s great storytellers and narrators, relates the most interesting literary birthdays and historical anniversaries associated with each day of the year. As he tells the stories behind the people and occasions, Keillor somehow moves the part of the mind that gets things churning for writers. Each episode ends with Keillor reading a poem. His choices include both contemporary and classic works, and he makes each poem sound like a neighbor relaying to us the most intriguing parts of his day. And all of this happens in about five minutes on a daily basis, which is a small miracle if you think about it.
“Write Life: A Writers Week Podcast”: Writers Week at William Fremd High School in Palatine, Illinois is a week-long celebration of writing that has featured well over 200 professional writers, more than a thousand students, as well as faculty and staff members from every department in the school. (Disclaimer: I was involved in developing and planning Writers Week from 1995-2014.) “Write Life” is a podcast extension of this highly successful program. The “Write Life” format includes students interviewing a writer, most of whom have been Writers Week guests. Even though the “Write Life” podcast is fairly new, the impressive list of guests includes Chris Crutcher, Jennifer Niven, A. S. King, and Sierra DeMulder. The energetic student interviewers ask different questions than adults tend to ask, and listeners can tell the featured guests enjoy the spontaneity of interacting with young people. Most segments end with the students and guest playing some kind of game, usually a word-association activity. “Write Life” has also put out a couple of “Throwback Thursday” episodes that include faculty members introducing clips from past guest presentations, including Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Harry Mark Petrakis, and Daniel Ferri. (Another disclaimer: I introduced the Harry Mark Petrakis clip for the seventh episode.) Everything about this podcast will be inspiring to English teachers, from thoughtful authors communicating directly with their readers to students who comfortably engage with authors they clearly admire. Kudos to Fremd English teachers Gina Enk and Russ Anderson for their production of the “Write Life” podcast.
“The Yarn”: For the first season of “The Yarn,” Colby Sharp and Travis Yonker took listeners through a series of fascinating interviews with many of the people associated with developing the graphic novel memoir Sunny Side Up by Jenni Holm and Matt Holm. This season’s episodes have focused on one author talking about his or her newest book and usually reading a bit of it. Colby and Travis know all the sweet spots when it comes to children’s literature, so they choose writers and books that teachers will not only find interesting, but their questions help the authors illuminate aspects of their books that teachers can put to use in classrooms. Recent guests include Hervé Tullet, Lindsay Eagar, and Salina Yoon.
“Books on the Nightstand”: Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness provide those of us with bookish inclinations a weekly podcast that readers (and maybe only readers) will enjoy. Each episode includes Ann and Michael discussing something about reading, books, reading lives, authors, or publishing. (Both hosts work for Random House.) They are thoughtful readers and articulate in their conversations. In addition to the featured discussion topic, each episode also includes an audiobook recommendation, as well as other recommendations of new books (“Two Books We Can’t Wait for You to Read”) or older books (“Don’t You Forget about Me”). I can’t keep track of how many excellent books I’ve read because they were recommended on this podcast. Michael and Ann have friendly voices, and after listening to this podcast regularly for a couple of years, it’s easy to start thinking of them as book pals. (At last year’s NCTE convention, I asked the folks at the Random House booth if they knew Ann and Michael. They all said yes and talked about how nice they are.) English teachers and other book lovers will find kindred spirits in “Books on the Nightstand.”
“No Such Thing as A Fish”: OK, this one has nothing to do directly with our classrooms, but I still love it. “No Such Thing as A Fish” appeared in a recent ilovenewbies blog post about podcasts, and it’s now one of my favorites. This UK-based show features the same four clever fact-finders in front of a live audience. Each panelist presents a unique fact, which they all then discuss and dissect for a few minutes. Recent facts: In Utah, you cannot wear a hat in your driver’s license photo, but you can wear a colander on your head. For a penny, you rent a bee for a month. In Japan, making a human pyramid higher than five tiers is illegal. This podcast always has me chuckling within the first ninety seconds, and the banter is always funny. The humor here (or humour) is different from American humor—it’s not as crass and blunt and more based on fun wordplay, which appeals to the English teacher in me.
If you’re a fan of any of these podcasts, feel free to say what you like about them, as well as any other recommendations for enjoyable podcasts. As always, thanks for reading!