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Radiolab Podcast Lesson: Where do Good Stories Come From?

If you were to ask my husband what my catchphrase is, he would likely tell you it’s, “I was listening to this podcast…” Seriously, I say it all the time (at least a couple times a week), then I usually go on to describe (in more detail than he would like) some amazing story I heard on Radiolab, Reply All, This American Life, Invisibilia, or a number of other podcasts that I love to listen to.

As I listen to these beloved podcasts, I am often astounded at, not only the quality of storytelling in these podcasts, but their ability to find such incredible and unique stories to tell. So, when Radiolab recently posted a bonus episode all about how one journalist, Latif Nasser, comes up with his stories, I was:

  1. Completely intrigued from a personal podcast lover standpoint.

  2. Realized that it would make an excellent English lesson.

I think most English teachers (and anyone who has ever been assigned a piece of written work) will recognize the experience of being totally stuck and uninspired when choosing a topic for an essay, story, or project. I typically do a brainstorming lesson with my students, providing different questions and prompts for my students as they think of topics; but the content of their brainstorming session is often still coming from their own heads, or occasionally a basic Google search.

In this podcast episode, Latif Nasser shares a number of unique ways in which he searches for story ideas (which are on the Radiolab website, and I’ve reposted below for your convenience).

Before your next essay, article, (or podcast?!) assignment, consider listening to this Radiolab episode as a class, and then having your students use one of his strategies to come up with a unique and original topic idea.

This strategy has the bonus effect of giving you, as the teacher, more interesting assignments to read.

The World's Biggest Scavenger Hunt: Latif's Transom post on story scouting.

Google Alerts: Set up your own!

Wikipedia Random Article: Play wiki roulette by clicking "random article" in the far-left column.

WorldCat: to find where a book exists in a library near you.

ArchiveGrid: to search libraries' special collections and oral histories.

Trade Publications: Search for trade magazines by industry.

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