TEACHERS: Try our Lessons free — get a 30 Day Premium Trial

Learn More

ELA Lessons PREMIUM


ELA • ELL

A Reluctant Hero

On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced acts of terrorism. But the response on that day included countless acts of heroism, big and small. Friends, co-workers, emergency workers and strangers did what they could to protect the people around them. Michael Benfante is one of these heroes, though he is uncomfortable with being called a hero. Benfante worked in the second tower of the World Trade Center and as he fled down the staircase he encountered a woman in a wheelchair who needed his help. Listen to learn more about his decision to help carry her out of the doomed building and the lasting impact it’s had on his life.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Steinbeck and "The Grapes of Wrath"

American author John Steinbeck published his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, but his journey writing the novel was much longer. The novel tells the story of Oklahoma migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl for work in California’s migrant worker camps. Steinbeck did months of research and spent much of mid-to-late 1930s with migrants in camps for a series of articles in the San Francisco News. As a result, The Grapes of Wrath spoke to the working class during the Depression era, and continues to resonate today with its themes of struggle, redemption, greed, and goodness. Listen to learn more about this great American novel.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Ernest Hemingway's Writing Style

American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway exemplified his literary style with novels like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway’s adventurous life inspired these stories. From running with the bulls in Spain to fighting in World War II, Hemingway was a larger than life celebrity known for his machismo and literary skill. Hemingway’s talent was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. His writing style, which consists of short sentences that describe the external world, changed American literature forever.

Read More
ELA

Understanding the Amish and Technology

The Amish are a Christian religious group who are known for their isolation and rejection of modern technology. Popular culture has shaped our understanding of the Amish community, from the Harrison Ford movie Witness to TLC’s show Breaking Amish. But this lens on the Amish doesn’t show the complexities of their religious culture. Listen to learn more about the Amish and their complicated but thoughtful relationship with technology.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Editing Jane Austen

Jane Austen wrote a new type of female character. Emma Woodhouse of "Emma" and Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" are two memorable characters. They were charming but normal, flawed but winning. The legend of Austen is that she wrote her novels exactly as they were published, but the release of her original manuscripts suggests she had an active editor. Does it matter that an editor helped clean up Austen’s prose or is it her genius that shines through?

Read More
ELA • ELL

Food Safety and "The Jungle"

Our food supply is considered safe today thanks in large part to a movement to improve safety following the publication of the novel in 1906, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It was a vivid portrayal of the lives of immigrant families who worked in a meat-packing plant in Chicago. Americans were shocked and disgusted. This public radio story tells of how The Jungle galvanized public support to improve the safety of our food system.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Saving Literary Masterpieces

Franz Kafka worked at an insurance company and wrote in his spare time. He asked that all his personal papers, including literary manuscripts be burned when he died. After Kafka’s death, his friend and literary executor Max Brod ignored Kafka’s wishes and published many of his manuscripts. The Trial, a novel about law, justice and the arrest and prosecution of a man for an unknown crime, was one of these manuscripts. Other people face similar decisions around respecting the wishes of an artist or writer by destroying their work. Listen to a conversation with an ethicist as he discusses the implications of this debate through a modern day example.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Creating the Vietnam War Memorial

The Vietnam War has a controversial legacy in United States history and culture. The U. S. was immersed in the conflict in Vietnam for 20 years. The draft of young men to fight far from home in the seemingly endless war led to widespread resistance and protest against the war itself. This discontent led to a disrespect of veterans when they returned. Since then the sacrifice of soldiers has been honored in memorials, movies and books. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in 1982 in Washington DC. But it was controversial at the start because it honored soldiers by etching the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers killed in polished black granite. Listen to this radio story to learn the history behind this war memorial.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Reflecting on Thoreau's 'Walden' with Art

For many, Henry David Thoreau is best known for his 1854 experiment on simplicity, where he lived in the woods of Massachusetts on Walden Pond. The resulting book Walden; or, Life in the Woods, has connected generations of readers to his vision of self-reliance, closeness to nature and transcendentalism. An art museum located near Walden Pond has launched a show, Walden Revisited, with works inspired by and responding to Thoreau’s work.

Read More
ELA • ELL

"The Hunger Games" and Reality

In Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, an all powerful Capitol controls and exploits the districts of Panem for resources. The inequality and concentration of power in Panem has struck a nerve for readers, reflecting on their lives and their governments. Heroine Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of resistance adopted by political parties and protest movements across the globe. Why and how does this dystopian novel reflect the real world? Listen to learn more about the link between The Hunger Games and our world today.

Read More
ELA • ELL

"Animal Farm" and Satire

George Orwell’s Animal Farm was published in 1945. Its message was explicitly political as a statement and a satire against Stalinism and the dictatorial socialism of the Soviet Union. Understanding this allegory gives deeper meaning to the talking animals who take control of their farm. Seventy years later, does this message of failed revolution resonate in a communist nation with a similar revolution and trajectory? Listen to learn how a later theatrical adaptation of the book is being understood in modern day China.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Animals Display Emotions

From "Shiloh" to "Lassie" and "Old Yeller," young adult literature is full of stories about friendship between people and dogs. People love animals but what do animals feel? There is a debate in the scientific community and in popular culture about what emotions animals are capable of and how they display these emotions. Does recognizing that animals can feel take away from human emotion? Or does it help us recognize where these traits came from? This story discusses recent research on the emotions of animals. Listen to learn more about what researchers discovered, and the controversy surrounding the emotional lives of animals.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Natalie Babbitt Writes for Young Readers

Author Natalie Babbitt has been writing books for young people for four decades. Her respect for young readers shines through in the themes of her novels, from love and everlasting life in Tuck Everlasting to money and dreams in her first non-fantasy novel, The Moon Over High Street. In this interview, Babbitt describes her perspective on writing for young people.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Setting and Symbolism in Arthur Miller's Life and Work

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote plays that spoke to the common man. From his commentary on the American dream in Death of a Salesman to McCarthyism in The Crucible, Miller wrote hard-hitting personal dramas that also resonated with a wide spectrum of American people, especially the working class. Listen to learn more about Miller’s roots, his writing process, and how his personal background—particularly his house and writing space—compare to backgrounds shared by his characters.

Read More
ELA • ELL

A Real Life Gatsby

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel "The Great Gatsby", James “Jimmy” Gatz becomes Jay Gatsby. Gatsby creates a false identity for himself to enter the world of wealth and power that his beloved, Daisy Buchanan, lives in. The novel explores this world of excess and what it takes for Gatsby to truly enter it. This premise of false identity has moved from fiction to reality. Listen to learn about a real life Gatsby who called himself “Clark Rockefeller.”

Read More
ELA • ELL

Charles Dickens Reflects on Society

Charles Dickens was the first literary celebrity of his era. He wrote about the working poor and the dangerous working conditions in England. A visit to the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts served as an inspiration for Dickens to continue writing about these London realities. Listen to this story to learn how Dickens reflected and questioned English society in his work.

Read More
ELA

The Setting of Macondo in "One Hundred Years of Solitude"

In 1967 Nobel prize winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote "One Hundred Years of Solitude". The novel takes place in the fictional and fantastical town of Macondo. Macondo serves as a setting as well as a metaphor for Colombia itself. The novel’s magical realism inspired a genre of writing and in an ironic twist of fate inspired the naming of the oil field that was blown out by the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2011. Listen to learn more about the literary and thematic connections between the two.

Read More
ELA

Jon Krakauer on Researching "Into the Wild"

The book Into the Wild chronicled the journey of twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless who died in April of 1992 after attempting to survive alone and virtually unaided on a remote Alaskan hiking trail. While McCandless’ official cause of death has been recorded as starvation, author Jon Krakauer has evidence suggesting otherwise. Krakauer, who wrote Into the Wild, has conducted extensive research on McCandless’ death even after he first published the book chronicling McCandless’ experiences. His findings have led him to believe that McCandless’ death may have been caused by the ingestion of a poisonous potato seed that is only deadly if you are malnourished. Listen to hear what evidence led Krakauer to this conclusion.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Life on a Reservation: Native American Identity in Literature

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold Spirit, a young Native American who leaves the reservation to get a better education. In this semi-autobiographical book, author Sherman Alexie discusses big issues including choosing your identity, figuring out where you belong and the hardships American Indians face living on reservations.

Read More
ELA • ELL

What is a Memoir?

How accurate are memoirs? This public radio story looks at a scandal involving author James Frey and his memoir A Million Little Pieces. Frey was charged with exaggerating, and even lying about, his own life in his memoir. Where should a writer draw the line between fact and fiction in memoirs?

Read More
ELA • ELL

Injustice in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the Civil Rights Movement

The novel To Kill a Mockingbird was written more than 50 years ago and yet its themes of racism and civil rights remain relevant today. In this story author James McBride who wrote The Color of Water explains why the book inspired generations of American writers.

Update: This story first aired in 2010. In July 2015, a newly discovered novel written by Harper Lee in the 1950s was published. The novel is called Go Set a Watchman.

Read More
ELA • ELL

"A Wrinkle in Time" Continues its Journey

A Wrinkle in Time, a famous novel by Madeleine L’Engle, is the story of teenager Meg Murry. Meg is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother and friend as they try to rescue her father. When it was originally published in 1963, no publisher knew how to promote it. What is it about A Wrinkle in Time, and why is it so controversial 50 years after its publication?

Read More
ELA • ELL

George Orwell and Surveillance in "1984"

In a real-life case that has shades of George Orwell’s 1984, the United States Supreme Court must weigh the public good against privacy. Does putting a GPS monitoring device on the car of suspected criminals violate their privacy? Or does it protect society? Listen to this audio story which addresses the issues in the novel 1984, as you discuss this recent case.

Read More
ELA • ELL

YA's First Modern Heroine: "Anne of Green Gables"

One of the most enduring novels written for young adults is Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, published in 1908. It was one of the first YA novels to feature a strong, unconventional female lead—Anne, the unwanted, unloved, but unbowed orphan who grabs hold of a chance for a new life and refuses to let go, no matter how difficult things get. Before Anne, most heroines were beautiful and angelic. Anne of Green Gables is over 100 years old, but its heroine measures up to any female lead contemporary YA novels have to offer.

Read More
ELA • ELL

A Friendship Between Fantasy Writers C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

Two famous authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R..R Tolkien, had a deep friendship. C.S. Lewis helped J.R.R. Tolkien get published, but Tolkien admitted he didn’t even like Lewis’ work, especially The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which he thought was terrible. Both were Christians and heavily influenced by Christian ideology. Tolkien says Lord of the Rings was a deeply Catholic book, while Lewis was more influenced by writers of the Renaissance who were fascinated by Pagan mythology. Listen as this radio story explores the two authors' friendship and motivations.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Roald Dahl's Motivation for Writing

Roald Dahl’s life was plagued by tragedy, and yet he wrote some of the most famous children’s books of our time, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. This public radio story takes you into Dahl’s life and explores what motivated his writing. Listen to learn more about his relationship with his wife and children, his special writing hut, and the legacy he left behind.

Read More
ELA • ELL

"The Giver" and Memory

The Giver is a story about a world without memories. Years after the novel was published, a movie version was produced, depicting this world as a sterile, emotionless place, where order is thought to prevent conflict. Listen to hear an interview with author Lois Lowry about what sparked the idea for the book, which asks, “Would it be easier if we didn’t have memories?”

Read More
ELA • ELL

Maya Angelou's Life and Legacy

Maya Angelou was an author, poet and icon. She grew up during segregation and used her work to empower and give voice to the African American community. Her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings changed the literary world and opened doors for African American authors and women.

Read More
ELA • ELL

Fighting Injustice in "The Book Thief"

The novel The Book Thief is narrated by Death. He tells the story of a young German girl saving books from Nazi bonfires to read to the Jewish man hiding in her home. Listen to this audio story to hear an interview with author Markus Zusak, who explains his choice of Death as the narrator and the message he hopes teenage readers get from the novel.

Read More
ELA

New Discoveries on "The Prince" by Machiavelli: Was He Really 'Machiavellian'?

This public radio story describes the life and misfortunes of Niccolo Machiavelli, a citizen of Florence who led the fight against its takeover by the Medici family, and was banished from his beloved city. His single work of nonfiction, the manual The Prince, was published five years after his death, in 1532, and has guaranteed that this civil servant erased by the Medicis would live forever, famous—or infamous—for the advice he gives to rulers in his work. Was Machiavelli really recommending ruthless practicality for rulers? Or is his philosophy more subtle and moral than people think?

Read More