To expand on a popular saying: Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll pass a fishing test and then forget how because he wasn’t all that into fishing in the first place. Inspire a love for fishing, and he’ll fish for a lifetime. I think most teachers want to get their students to that third stage—where learning is no longer a trial, but a game, an endeavor, a creative outlet. This may start in a classroom, but it carries far beyond.
This is what the Word of the Day Podcast is all about—inspiring students of all ages not merely to recall words for however long it behooves them to do so, but to love language. I’ll tell you how below, but first, there’s an obvious question.
The Word of the Day Podcast? What’s that?
Glad you asked! The Word of the Day Podcast is a free, on-demand audio program (you know…a podcast!) where we highlight fun but underused words, and explain what they mean, where they come from, how to use them and what they look like in ordinary conversation or writing. Now, I don’t know how your students are building their vocabularies right now—perhaps, to paraphrase a Jane Austen hero, “in the improvement of their minds by extensive reading”—but I’m pretty sure they haven’t heard anything like this show.
Useful Words, Pleasantly Explained
That’s our motto! Both halves of it are crucial. First, every word on the show is useful—not in narrow, specialized contexts, but ones you might encounter any day, amongst friends and family, at school or perhaps work. Words that capture a feeling or concept like no other can, or add zest to an otherwise mundane description. Sensing someone is complimenting you because they want something in return is well and good—identifying that type of compliment as a “blandishment” is exciting (not to mention useful, since people dish out blandishments all the time). And why decry punishments as extreme and unfair when you could call them draconian? Just like that! New words, reinforced.
But anyone could read these definitions off of flashcards? How do you make them stick? How do you make them exciting? Pleasant explanations, that’s how. There’s no dense lexicography, endless recitation of Latin roots, droning monotone or pointless arcana on the Word of the Day Podcast.
Instead, we explain the words in clear, simple language, with relatable examples and plenty of humor. And we know the mind can wander, so we keep it concise! Episodes average about 8 minutes—and that’s usually including a fun bonus segment, too. We advertise hypothetical products like the Specul-8 Ball (it doesn’t predict your future—it just speculates!) and the revolutionary Instapicket (protesting made portable); we ponder sayings no one says (if “warm regards” is a friendly written farewell, is “piping hot regards” even friendlier?); and we muse free-form via the ever-popular Gratuitous Observations About Things.
We believe there need be no conflict between entertainment and edification, especially with language. It’s already fascinating—we just make sure it stays that way.
I Spy…a fun and educational project!
There are myriad ways to use the Word of the Day Podcast in the classroom. While your own natural creativity may uncover more, consider just a few suggestions:
- Have students discuss situations in which they’d use the word, or experiences it describes. Feel free to chime in!
- Bring a selection from a work of literature where the word appears (The Free Library is a great way to locate particular words in famous books and poems), hand out copies and talk about it in context.
- Reward students who correctly use the word in class discussions or homework. At my job, for example, if anyone used the word properly in a meeting (as long as they pronounced it right and sounded natural), I would buy them a sandwich.
- Ask students to write their own definition of the word before they know what it means–then read them all (including the real definition) and have everyone vote on which they think is genuine. (Like the game Balderdash.)
- Interact with the show–we always respond to emails (or tweets!), whether they suggest new words, segment submissions, questions or glorious stories of successful usage. Some messages may even appear on the show!
Through each of these activities, students can actively engage with the English language, rather than just listening passively. If you’ve found some other way to use the Word of the Day Podcast in class, let us know at [email protected]!
Works across ages, learning stages
Obviously individual teachers know their students best and can evaluate whether the show will help them. Already, educators have used it with middle schoolers in California and non-native English speakers in Afghanistan. But language aficionados of every age can learn and laugh a little, whether they’re intrigued by “idyllic,” fascinated by “philistine” or curious about “countenance.” Coupled with lucid and memorable explanations, seemingly advanced words become accessible to students while staying interesting to experts.
It’s what we do.
As Calvin says, it’s only work if someone makes you do it. In my mind, the Word of the Day Podcast is a great way to turn what many see as a chore into a much-anticipated activity—and one that might spark a lifelong enthusiasm for language that no flashcards could mimic. Listen for yourself on iTunes or Soundcloud, and let the discoveries begin!
This isn’t the only show teachers might find handy, by the way—in my next article, I’ll preview a couple more, and tell you why podcasts are among educators’ best friends.Until then,
Host of the Word of the Day Podcast
Feature image courtesy of Unsplash, Eric Nopanen.