Old Time Radio

I’m a big fan of Old Time Radio (OTR). It started when I was a kid, with my parents allowing me to listen to an episode or two of CBS Mystery Theater late at night. Later, I discovered OTR cassettes, and then CDs, in the audiobooks section of my favorite bookstores. Now I’m happy that I can subscribe to a few OTR podcasts for free. I especially like to listen to OTR on my commute, on long car rides, and even on my iPhone when I’m at the dentist.

For the past several years, I’ve been teaching a theater arts class in addition to Latin. I’ve accumulated a number of Old Time Radio episodes that I like to pull out from time to time. Radio drama works well in the classroom because the stories are short enough to play in a single 40-minute class; because 99% of my students have never heard one; and because the best of them are more powerful than you’d think a 70-year-old form of drama ought to be.

Today I tried a new lesson, and I was pretty happy with it. It started with a recent episode of Relic Radio’s The Horror podcast: Episode 455: “Little Old Lady” by Lights Out.

Here’s what I did.

I set the scene for the students: we have two characters at the beginning. Alice is calm and reassuring, while Mona is excitable and argumentative. We meet them in the car, driving on break from college to go to visit Alice’s Aunt Harriet, who hasn’t seen Alice in a decade. Then I started the recording, asking the students to focus on how each character is revealed through dialogue.

I paused the recording shortly after the car got a flat tire on the lonely unpaved road to Aunt Harriet’s house. Alice decides that it won’t matter if they just leave the car on the road, and they grab their bags (after some grumbling from Mona) and start walking. Alice stops, noticing the sudden darkness and some odd mist that “looks like thin white fingers”. Mona reminds Alice that there’s a scientific explanation for everything, if Alice would just remember from their classes at school.

When I paused the recording, we had a quick discussion about their characters. We talked in particular why it made sense for calm Alice to be the one concerned about the darkness and the mist; as one student says: if it were Mona, it would just be one more thing for her to complain about.

I started the recording up again as Aunt Harriet’s house looms into view. Mona is impatient about Alice’s timid knocking, so she takes over. She begins to get exasperated, when finally the door slowly creaks open. We hear a hesitant voice: “Yes? Who’s there? Who is it?” After a bit of back-and-forth, Aunt Harriet recognizes Alice and invites them both in. Harriet brings them to a room, but quickly leaves to fetch some tea. While she’s gone, Mona is surprised that Harriet doesn’t pepper them with questions about school.

That’s when Alice stops Mona short: she sees something moving in a dark corner of the room. We hear the low sound of a very large animal. At first, Mona thinks it’s a dog, then realizes it must be a cat. But, Alice points out, it’s much to large to be a housecat. It’s the size of a tiger. Aunt Harriet bustles in with the tea service. When Alice starts to question her about the animal, Aunt Harriet’s tone immediately shifts. She is no longer the kindly old lady; she becomes sharp-tongued, and refuses to directly answer Alice’s questions.

This is where I stopped the recording. I had my students write for a few minutes about how they would continue the story. I told them to focus on the characterizations of Alice, Mona and the newly-secretive Aunt Harriet. After a few minutes of writing, I put out another challenge: how would they continue the story if it had to have a happy ending (or, at least, a non-horrible ending). Remember the car on the road, I said: what if someone found the car and went to investigate? I asked the students to include a description of what sound effects they would need to finish the story.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a group of students who were so eager to share their stories as this group was. Some were gruesome (the tiger ate Alice and Mona!), some were romantic (the tiger turned out to be Mona’s boyfriend!), some were Halloween-y (the tiger was Alice’s long-lost Uncle, under a spell from Aunt Harriet the witch!), some were prosaic (Alice and Mona ran away!). By staying active as the story unreeled, I helped keep the attention of even my sleepiest students — the class was first period — and got them engaged. It also helped that this story has a relatively intriguing opening, but a not-very-interesting conclusion.

Our next lesson will be for the students to write their own script with sound effects, which will eventually be recorded in GarageBand.

Using the iPad in Class

As a Latin teacher, my number one priority is to get students reading as much Latin as possible. We read in our textbook, we read out loud together, they listen to me, they listen to audiostories, they watch videos, they watch presentations. Variety is key.

In one of my classes today, I wanted us to read a story quickly without worrying about the grammar or new vocabulary. I figured out a new(-to-me) technique that went well. Even my most distractable students told me how much they enjoyed the lesson.

Here’s what I did:

Before class, I had already created a PDF of the story that I wanted the class to read. I transferred that file to my iPad, and opened it in an app called Notability. (Notability is a note-taking app that, among other things, lets you read and annotate PDFs.) I also used my whiteboard to write out the new Latin words with definitions. My goal today was COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT, so I wanted to make the language as accessible as possible to all of my students.


In class, I mirrored my iPad to my projector, and opened the PDF of the story in Notability. (I use Apple TV, but I could have connected the device to the projector cables if I wanted.) I briefly set the scene for the story, and then we were off.

As we read the story, I turned on Notability’s highlighter tool, and then slowly dragged my stylus over the words we were reading. We discussed what we were reading, and paraphrased what was going on. If students looked down at their notes, they were quickly able to figure out where we were the next time they looked up at the screen because of the highlighted text. When I was ready to move on, I hit the “undo” button to erase the current highlighted section, making the page ready for the next bit of highlighting action.


After about three sentences, something happened that I should have anticipated: one student asked if she could highlight the next sentence on my iPad. Of course I agreed. While she highlighted the Latin, I was able to call on other students to read and tell us what was going on. My students were surprisingly polite in the way they asked if they could be the next person to highlight. Everyone who wanted to participate got the opportunity to, while everyone else could enjoy the process.

Because I teach middle school, it was perhaps natural that a couple of the students quietly (and discreetly) drew happy faces or hearts with the highlighter tool after finishing a sentence. But no one was disruptive, and everything was erased when the next student hit the “undo” button. Some of the kids also figured out how to change the color of the highlighter tool, so they did that without much prompting.

We were able to quickly proceed through a fairly lengthy story, keeping up a full-class discussion that centered (over and over again) on the Latin in front of us. It wasn’t an earth-shattering story in terms of what happens in it, but there was a little bit of suspense about what a couple of the characters would do. Still, my students stayed focused and interested throughout the entire story. I’ll definitely try this technique in my other classes.

Using Wordsift

This summer is the Summer of Professional Development™ for me. I’ve got three multi-day workshops, and I’m tremendously excited about them.

One of the tools that I learned about is a word cloud generator called WordSift. Here’s one reason that I think it’s useful.

On the first page, you enter text. For this demo, I pasted in a Latin story from Cambridge Latin Course, Stage 4, in which a drunken Grumio sees a lion painted in the dining room and freaks out. After I pressed “sift”, this is what I got:


This is a word cloud showing frequency of the words; words that show up more often are larger. So far, it’s OK, but it’s not nearly as pretty as Wordle.

Wordsift has some interesting tools, however. I clicked the text “Create Workspace” underneath the word cloud, and immediately a new area opened up, as you can see:


The words from the original word cloud can now be dragged into the workspace. This allows you to create your own semantic maps. For instance, you can see that I’ve taken all of the words from the original word cloud, and in the workspace I’ve moved them into grammatical groupings: people/animals, objects, places, verbs, pronouns, adjectives/adverbs, exclamations, conjunctions. Imagine projecting this website in class, and doing this in front of your students.


In the bottom left of the next picture, you can see a Google Image search for some of the text from the word cloud. The images can be dragged into the workspace.


Ramsay Musallam of Flipteaching.com showed me how to use Wordsift. Here’s a techique that he uses that I’m totally going to steal:
• Ramsay has the students submit responses to videos that he creates via a Google Form.
• Once he has the responses, it’s easy to copy all of the entries to a particular question.
• He then posts all of the student responses to WordSift.
• This shows the words that the students use most often, which will (probably) be the main points.
• Opening the workspace, especially projecting it to the class, lets you quickly build an outline or mindmap.

This is a pretty powerful tool that I look forward to using more often in my classroom.

Update: On June 20, I wanted to make a word cloud using all of the tweets written by all of the attendees of a conference. I used both Wordsift and Wordle for this, and Wordle ended up being better for my purposes.

Wordsift is limited to the top 50 words in a passage, while Wordle is customizable. I found that using the top 200 words was ideal; anything beyond that and it starts becoming hard to read.

Visually, there’s no contest: Wordle just looks better, and can be customized in a number of fonts, colors, and shapes.

Finally, Wordsift’s innovative workspace cannot be saved, as far as I can tell. The only way to save your work on both Wordsift and Wordle is to take a screenshot. (Wordle has a gallery function, but it’s kind of limited.) This means that both tools work well for in-the-moment creation that you save as an image. Wordsift’s workspace feature is quite good for in-class work or, if you’re so inclined, capturing in a static screenshot or even a video screencast.

Here’s the wordle that I created.


O wall

The Romans covered their public spaces with writing: advertisements, announcements, election endorsements, and just plain personal comments.

One of my favorites comes from the basilica in the forum of Pompeii. It’s a tiny poem on the topic of graffiti.

It reads as follows:

admiror, paries, te non cecidisse ruina,
qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas. (CIL 4.2461)

Which means:

“Wall, I’m surprised you don’t fall to pieces,
since you bear the dronings of so many writers.”

There’s a pun in “sustineas” which means both “put up with” and “hold up” (the English word “sustain” is a derivative). “taedia” is related to the english word “tedium”.

#RomanMarket Part Two

Here are the rest of my attempts to live-tweet my 6th grade student’s Roman Market this year.
























Yesterday was a big day for my sixth grade students; they put on a Roman Market for our school. I decided to live-tweet the event using the hashtag #RomanMarket.