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ELA Lessons PREMIUM


ELA

Travels of a Toy Monkey

When Gert Berliner fled Germany during the Holocaust, he had to leave his entire family behind despite being only 14-years-old at the time. Almost 80 years later, his son Uri is attempting to reconstruct his family history around that traumatic event and rediscover long lost relatives. Listen to hear how one toy monkey connected the Berliners to new relatives and helped bring a family closer in the wake of incredible trauma.

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ELA

"Middle Passage"

Charles Johnson’s book Middle Passage is considered a modern classic, in part because so much of the story told in the novel is seen as a reflection on the history of race and what it means to be black in America. In the book, the main character, Rutherford Calhoun, a free black man, unknowingly boards a ship that’s part of the illegal slave trade. His experience on board forces him to clarify his own racial identity. In this audio story, we hear different perspectives, including the author’s, on the story the book tells and its important and relevant themes.

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ELA

A Father And Son Go On Their Last "Odyssey" Together

Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, is required reading in many high schools and colleges around the country. But in a new take on how to view the poem, an author, translator, and Homer scholar took his father on a cruise that retraced the route of the Greek hero Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca as laid out in Homer’s epic. Prior to this adventure, the son had taught The Odyssey in a course at Bard College, which his father had attended. In this audio story, and author and translator discusses a trip he made with his father, not long before the older man’s death.

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ELA

Friday Black

Consumer culture in the United States has been a fixture of the holiday season for years, particularly on the Friday after Thanksgiving–also known as “Black Friday.” That’s the inspiration for the title story in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s latest book of speculative fiction, Friday Black. In it, he addresses the topics of race and class as they relate to American consumer culture. Listen to hear an interview with the author as he discusses how his experience of these factors influences his work.

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ELA

Bringing Wuthering Heights into Modern Times

The classic novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is essentially a story about belonging. In this audio story, a British author has written a contemporary novel that borrows elements from Emily Brontë’s life and her novel to tell a modern story about belonging. The author of The Lost Child was born in St. Kitts in the West Indies and moved to Britain when he was just four months old. Listen to learn more about how one author’s search for identity and belonging influenced his craft.

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ELA

Before Helen Keller

Many people know about Helen Keller, a deaf and blind woman whose struggle to communicate was immortalized in her 1957 autobiography, The Story of My Life. Keller’s book was made into several movies and adapted for the stage, making Keller a well-known figure. But few people have heard of Laura Bridgman, a woman who learned to overcome the loss of four of her five senses 50 years earlier than Keller. Listen to hear more about how one young woman, with disabilities similar to Keller’s, overcame great adversity.

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ELA

A Guide to Florida: From Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was an American anthropologist and writer who focused her research and writing on African American folklore and racial struggles in the American South. In the mid-1930s, Hurston was hired by the Works Progress Administration, an arm of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal aimed at creating jobs, to write a travel guide for Florida. In this story, a present-day writer details what she observed and learned as she made her way through Florida with Hurston’s work as her guide. Listen to learn more about Hurston’s experience working for the WPA and how specific areas in Florida have or have not changed over the past 70 years.

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ELA

Who Identifies as Brown?

Several Asian Americans were asked the question: Do you consider yourselves Brown? Some said “yes,” others said “no,” and the reasons they gave for their answers varied. For some, their answer was based solely on their skin tone. For others, their answer was more complicated and took into account cultural and social factors. In this audio story, Asian Americans discuss the discrimination they have faced based on their skin color. Listen to learn more about why some Asian Americans do or do not consider themselves Brown and how the way others view them affects their lives.

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ELA

Understanding Complex Characters in "Of Mice and Men"

John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novella Of Mice and Men tells the story of two migrant workers during the Great Depression. George is committed to protecting Lennie, who is well-meaning but limited in his cognitive and social skills. George does all he can to keep Lennie out of trouble, and so the two are often on the move. Of Mice and Men has been adapted for film and stage. Listen to this story to hear how an actor who played Lennie on Broadway reflects on how his own background informed his portrayal of this iconic character.

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ELA

Hair Color and Racial Identity

What defines your identity? Is it what you believe? Where you were born? Or what you look like? In this audio story, African American poet, writer, and artist Claudia Rankine talks about her exploration of the connections between race and blonde hair. Rankine’s initial response to the question, “Why might a person choose to go blonde?” was that people simply wanted to lighten their hair. But she soon wondered if there might be more to it. To find out, she interviewed and photographed women of all skin tones who chose to dye their hair blonde. The result was a gallery exhibit entitled “Stamped.” Listen to hear about what the artist discovered when she explored the connections between race, identity, and blondeness.

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ELA

Fighting Illiteracy with "A Lesson Before Dying"

In Ernest J. Gaines’s 1993 novel A Lesson Before Dying, the central character, Jefferson—a young black man living in the segregated South in 1948—is accused of murder and faces the possibility of the death penalty. Readers learn that Jefferson is illiterate, and that, as a result, he lacks confidence and self-worth. To spare him the pain of facing death without dignity, his family hires a teacher to help him learn to read and write. Listen to the audio story to learn how Gaines’s character develops “pride through learning.”

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ELA

Teenager Shows Grit After Hurricane

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, many families forced to flee the island were resettled in towns throughout the United States. Some of these, of course, were students in the middle of their high school careers. Listen to hear how one high school senior is dealing with the tremendous challenges and uncertainty of finishing high school while being uprooted because of a natural disaster.

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ELA

Letters from Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was one of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African American art and culture that occurred in the late 1920s through the early 1930s. In 2015, Hughes’s letters were collected in Selected Letters of Langston Hughes by a team of editors. The letters reveal much about how Hughes viewed his writing, how he dealt with criticism, and how he felt about friends and peers. Listen to this interview with one of the editors of the collection to learn what Hughes’s letters reveal about who he was as a man, an African American, and a writer.

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ELA

Four Stories For Franz Kafka

This story features an interview with author Jay Cantor about his 2014 story collection, "Forgiving the Angel: Four Stories for Franz Kafka." In this work, Cantor fictionalizes the lives of several friends of renowned Czech writer Franz Kafka’s in order to examine the influence Kafka had on them. In the interview, Cantor explains what drew him to Kafka, the dilemma Kafka created for his close friend Max Brod, and the meaning of the term Kafkaesque. Listen to the story to learn about one writer’s inspiration and his thoughts on a literary giant.

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ELA

Fast Food Nation

Since World War II, fast food has been central to American food culture. Hamburgers and fries have come to be at the very center of many Americans’ diets. But fast food changed the way we raise and process beef and grow potatoes. It’s also added to the problem of obesity. The growth in fast food culture over the past fifty years has changed many fundamental things about culture, health, and the economy. Listen to hear how fast food has affected life in America by listening to this interview with the author of the book “Fast Food Nation”.

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ELA

Incentive Awards Drive Success

The University of Maryland’s Incentive Awards Program celebrated its first group of graduates along with new award winners at a reception in the university president’s backyard. The program awards full scholarships to promising, at-risk, local students who have overcome major obstacles to succeed. The university president who established the program expressed great pride in the success of the program and its students, many of whom are the first in their families to earn a college degree. Listen to hear the stories of several program participants, challenges they faced, personal qualities that helped them succeed, and their aspirations for the future.

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ELA

Shirley Jackson's Life as an Author

During her short life, Shirley Jackson was a famous author. Jackson wrote several novels, including two best-sellers, one of which was nominated for the National Book Award. Her most famous book was her 1959 The Haunting Of Hill House, but her short story “The Lottery,” published in The New Yorker magazine, also made an impact on readers. Jackson’s novels incorporate both terror and humor as they relate to the human condition. Listen to an interview with Jackson’s biographer to learn more about Jackson’s life, the society in which she lived, and how her own background impacted her writing.

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ELA

Aging Out of Foster Care

Every year, thousands of children in America are removed from their parents and placed in foster care because they are unsafe or neglected. Foster care is meant to be temporary, but sometimes kids can spend their entire childhoods in foster care and never be adopted or returned to their biological family. As well-intentioned as the system is, it often fails to deliver on its promises due to understaffing, overwhelming caseloads, and other issues. In this story, we hear from a young man who spent his childhood in foster care, and at the age of 21 is now leaving the system. Listen to hear how he faced this difficult challenge and why he thinks the foster care system failed him.

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ELA

Teen Girls and Positive Social Media Messages

Social media has the power to influence our personal lives as well as the world around us. In this audio story, you will hear about a group of teenage girls who took to social media to fight bullying and to effect change in their educational environments. Students explain how Instagram helped them to build confidence among their group of friends, as well as how they used Twitter to raise awareness about dress code issues at school. Listen to learn more about the positive ways in which teenage girls are using social media to build self-esteem and feel empowered.

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ELA

California Teen Lives Between Borders

More people have been deported from the U.S. in the last decade, starting under the Obama administration, than at any other point in history. Deportations occur for any number of reasons–criminal activity, improper paperwork, and so on–but regardless of the reason, they always have an impact far beyond the person who is removed from the country. Listen to hear how having her father deported has affected one teen and her family.

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ELA

Identity Across Generations

In 1969, Lynn Girton fell in love with a woman for the first time ever, not even understanding what homosexuality was. Her adopted daughter Molly is also gay, and despite this commonality has had a very different experience of life. Listen to hear mother and daughter discuss their different experiences of gender and sexual identity.

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ELA

Students' Perspective On Gun Violence In Schools

In February of 2018, 17 people were killed in a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Though not the first mass shooting of its kind, this tragic event, some say, represents a turning point the country’s tolerance for gun violence in schools. Since Parkland, student-led protests have risen up nationwide demanding a change to gun laws in America. This NPR story, told from a student’s perspective, reflects on the impact of school shootings. In particular, it focuses on the impact shootings have on students’ lives and how they shatter the notion of school as a safe haven.

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ELA

Growing Up a Single Mom

Cassandra Gonzalez is a very young single mother. She had her daughter while she was still a teenager, and as she approaches her early twenties she is struggling to balance her desire to enjoy her life with the responsibilities and expectations of motherhood. Listen to learn more about the challenges she faces, and what she does to confront them.

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ELA

Mall Culture Used to Connect Teens

For most of the last fifty years, the mall has been one of the most popular destination for teenagers all over America. It’s a place where young people spend time with each other to connect and build relationships. In recent years, though, that trend has changed, as fewer and fewer teenagers are choosing to spend their time at malls and more shopping is done online. Listen to one young person’s attempt to understand why teenage mall culture has changed so much recently.

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ELA

Promposals

Promposals – over-the-top performances of asking someone to prom – have become more and more common in recent years as teens seek to outdo one another in extravagantly asking their date to prom. While some people feel that promposals are just cute wastes of time, others feel differently. Listen to hear one student’s experience with promposals at her high school in Berkeley.

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ELA

13 Reasons Why Not

In response to the popular, yet controversial Netflix show "13 Reasons Why," one school began sharing some personal stories from students struggling with suicidal thoughts. Instead of sharing the reasons why someone might make the choice to end their life, however, they shared messages of hope and positive influences on the lives of its students. Listen to hear those stories and how they impacted the students at the school.

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ELA

Adopted by a White Mom

Race in America is a complex and difficult topic. This is especially the case for children adopted into families of a different race than themselves. Listen to hear how one girl tries to navigate the waters of race after being adopted into a white family.

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ELA

How Adults View Teens

Adults have a wide range of opinions about teenagers and other youth, positive and negative. Often, these are based on stereotypes, not necessarily experience. Regardless of how these opinions were formed and what they are, they certainly have an impact on young people everywhere. In Baltimore, these opinions and the reactions to them may have a lot to do with the social unrest that has built up in the city. Listen to learn about how a group of teenagers from Baltimore feel they are viewed by adults, and how they feel about those views.

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ELA

Young Adult Dystopia

Dystopian fiction is tremendously popular with young people all over the US right now. Books like "The Hunger Games" dominate bestseller lists for young people. But what is so appealing about this genre? This story features commentary from teens themselves and from scholars who study the subject. Listen to find out why this genre has such an impact on its audience.

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ELA

Post Traumatic Growth

Natural disasters don’t just devastate our environment; they wreak havoc on our mental health as well. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Psychologist Jean Rhodes studied the long-term mental health effects and health outcomes of young women living in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. However, Rhodes discovered something interesting after looking at survivors years after the trauma: many women gained strength despite the hardships--a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. Listen to learn more about Hurricane Katrina and its destruction as well as the merits of being strengthened by adversity.

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ELA

"The Hate U Give" and the Call to Activism

Angie Thomas’ novel, The Hate U Give, tells the story of Starr, a young woman of color, who turns toward activism after witnessing the murder of her friend Khalil by a police officer when she is 16 years old. The novel is closely modeled after Thomas’ experiences as a student, and on the stories of several of the young men who have been victims of racialized police violence in recent years. Listen to this audio story to hear the author talk about what inspired her to write this groundbreaking novel.

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ELA

The Language of Idioms

Idioms are developed within a culture and are like a language of their own. They convey meaning that extends beyond the definition of individual words to express a fuller collective meaning. Many times, idioms are able to pack more meaning into fewer words because they directly translate a familiar sentiment. A dictionary of idioms is essential for communication in America. This story reveals the origin of idioms that allude to art, history, and American politics in the latest edition of “The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms”. Listen to hear how idioms reveal a snapshot of American society in different time periods.

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ELA

Homer’s "Iliad" and "Odyssey"

Homer’s poetry has been read both in translation and its original Greek for thousands of years. The Iliad and the Odyssey contain many of the most enduring images and characters in literary history. As time passes, the original texts become more and more distant and the language, even with updated translations, can be daunting. Listen to hear how a new translation of Homer’s works aim to bring those characters to life for a new generation.

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ELA

Anne Frank’s Diary

Literature has the power to influence our lives. In this audio story, several fifth graders at Anne Frank Elementary School in Philadelphia reflect on the lessons they have learned from reading Anne Frank’s innermost thoughts in The Diary of a Young Girl. Their fifth grade class is diverse, with kids from many countries and cultures all over the world. You will hear many students explain how they can relate in different ways to the sentiments Anne Frank expresses in her diary. Listen to learn more about the ways these students think Anne Frank’s diary brings us together, gives us hope, and inspires us to never repeat the horrors of the past.

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ELA

Poetry and Basketball in "The Crossover"

The crossover dribble is a basketball move. But to some people it’s more than just a move, it is poetry. The Crossover is a Newbery-Award-winning basketball novel by author Kwame Alexander. Students can relate in many ways to the themes in the novel, such as struggling with relationships, loneliness, and loss. In this audio story you will hear from the book’s author and hear students discuss how basketball is a kind of poetry in motion and how language and writing can capture that sense of cadence and rhythm as well. Listen to learn more about how author Kwame Alexander was motivated to write about the poetics of basketball and how readers relate to and are inspired by the tragedy and triumph in The Crossover.

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ELA

What Motivated the Author of "When You Reach Me"

Books allow us to transcend the world we live in, but they also help us to connect to the people and places around us. In this audio story, several young students at a school in Washington D.C. talk about the plot, characterization, themes, and motifs in the book “When You Reach Me.” The author, Rebecca Stead, discusses what motivates and inspires her to write. This book includes clues to solve a puzzle, mysterious notes, time travel, and the excitement of figuring out a book as you read it. Listen to more about the novel, “When You Reach Me” as these students discuss the elements of fiction and question the author about her own creative process.

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ELA

Understanding Worldwide Idioms

Every language has its own collection of idioms, phrases that you can’t take literally. The meanings of idioms have nothing to do with the words in the phrase. Understanding these phrases in different languages is a unique challenge for anyone learning a second language. Listen to hear about the idioms used in a wide array of different languages.

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ELA

The Perseverance of Strong Women

Many people have mothers or grandmothers who inspire courage and tenacity when facing adversity. This audio story focuses on women who sacrifice and provide for their families, especially when times are tough. One recent high school graduate discusses her family’s challenges and describes how her mother and grandmother find the strength and inspiration to overcome their struggles. Listen to hear more about women who are an example of perseverance and grit and discover what it is that helps them succeed.

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ELA

Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet

The story of Romeo and Juliet is a fictional Shakespearean tragedy about star-crossed lovers. In Afghanistan, falling in love with someone from a different background can get you killed, especially if you are a woman. A true story of love between a man and woman from different ethnic sects of Islam was reported in The New York Times. Journalists have a code that requires them to remain impartial in their work, but one reporter got involved and helped these people during their crisis. Listen to how he helped this couple avoid danger, similar to the friar and nurse who helped Romeo and Juliet.

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ELA

Teens and Stress

For many high school students, stress related to academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and homework affects their mental and physical health. In this audio story, psychologists discuss when stress is helpful and when it is hurtful. Some parents and their teens discuss ways they have tried to lessen school stress, allowing life to be more manageable and enjoyable. Listen to hear more about how high school students and their parents have decided to make changes to lessen stress while still aiming to be high achievers.

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