weird news podcastsDid you know our Weird News podcasts are some of our most popular lessons for English learners? We’ve heard so many success stories from teachers who use Weird News podcasts to help their students practice strategies that build literacy.

Using podcasts as texts provides equitable access to students who struggle to read, as they may be more easily able to acquire information, build vocabulary, and practice critical thinking and literacy skills through audio. Pairing literacy strategies with podcasts also addresses listening and speaking academic standards

The literacy strategies below work as well for our fun, 30-second Weird News podcasts as they do for printed text stories. 


Strategy 1 – Plot Relationship Chart

A plot relationship chart made popular by Kylene Beers is a summarizing strategy that helps students think critically about a story. The chart focuses on key aspects of its plot: protagonist, conflict, rising and falling action, and resolution. A graphic organizer to guide students in the strategy includes four columns labeled Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then (SWBST). After completing the chart, students can put their thoughts together into a succinct summary of a story.

Teachers should first prompt students to notice any characters who were trying to get or do something (Somebody Wanted). Next, students should think about any conflict or challenges the characters faced on their quest (But). Additionally, students should consider how the characters reacted to the challenge or what they did to overcome it (So). Finally, students must listen for the result of the actions the characters took (Then). 

Jim Bentley, a 5th grade teacher from  Elk Grove, California, uses this strategy with the 26-second Weird News story The Ketchup Thief.  Despite the story’s short length, his students’ ability to discuss it after their first time listening was limited:

“I asked students to share what stood out to them. A handful offered one or two points. The rest of the class was silent. I asked students to think for a moment about their thinking. Did they know what to listen for? … Students agreed they liked the story, but were struggling to identify what was most important.”

Bentley found that when his students listened to the story a second time with the Plot Relationship Chart graphic organizer, they knew what to listen for. He noticed that they paused the audio, relistened to parts, and discussed with other classmates what they thought. 

A completed Plot Relationship Chart for “The Ketchup Thief” might look like this:

Try using these Weird News podcasts as texts for the Plot Relationship Chart strategy:

Strategy 2 – Contrast and Contradiction

Another literacy strategy popularized by Kylene Beers that can be modified slightly and used with Weird News stories is “contrast and contradiction”. This strategy helps students recognize when there are appropriate places to make an inference or prediction while reading or listening to a text. 

To implement this strategy, teachers prompt students to notice when:

  1. A character in a story behaves or thinks in an unexpected way based on the character’s past behaviors, or
  2. When a detail or event in the story is unexpected according to what typically happens in life.

When students find an appropriate moment in the text, they should stop reading or listening and think: Why is this happening? Then, they should complete this sentence stem to include what they noticed. What was weird or unusual? What happened that they would have expected? What inferences or predictions can they make about why there was a contrast between their expectations and reality?

A reason why _____________________ instead of __________________ is _____________________.

A teacher can model this strategy using the Weird News story Relaxing with Bees

Teachers should stop playing the audio (played without the transcript) at :21 seconds. 

Then, teachers should “think aloud” their process of filling in the sentence stem. It is helpful to model many different appropriate options for the blanks so that students understand the strategy is not about having “the right” answer. The objective is to use critical thinking at the right time. A couple of strong models might look like this:

A reason why Slovenian students relax at their school beehive instead of taking deep breaths is that bees are common in Slovenia.

A reason why Slovenians de-stress to bee sounds instead of listening to music is because they find the buzzing sound soothing

Lastly, teachers should play the rest of the story. Often when reading or listening to a text, strong inferences or predictions are eventually proven correct, but not always. Teachers should point out when this happens, or if another explanation is given for why something happens. In the case of “Relaxing with Bees,” listeners quickly learn that “more than one out of every 200 Slovenians is a beekeeper.” 

Try using these Weird News podcasts as texts for the Contrast and Contradiction strategy:

Strategy 3 – Scaffolded Retelling

One more literacy strategy to use with Weird News stories was shared with us by Listenwise teacher Abby Osborn, a K-4 English Language Development (ELD) teacher from Tahoe Truckee Unified School District in California. It is based on a text reconstruction strategy she learned from Steven Weiss of Stanford’s Understanding Language team. This strategy offers a helpful way for students to practice speaking, build their vocabulary knowledge, and demonstrate comprehension. It also offers assessment practice for the retelling portion of the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California or the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System’s listening and speaking portions.

Osborn used her Scaffolded Retelling strategy with the Weird News story Young Skateboarder Shreds World Record. Teachers can follow the steps below to implement this strategy:

  1. Initial Listen – The teacher plays the Weird News Story using the slowed audio setting and presents the transcript for students to listen and follow along.
  2. Clarifying Questions – Students ask the teacher clarifying questions about language that they don’t understand, like vocabulary words, idioms, jokes, or complex syntax.
  3. Second Listen – The teacher plays the story and presents the transcript again, so students can hear it with their new knowledge of vocabulary and language.
  4. Retelling – Students retell the story in their own words incorporating the important details and the style of delivery. Teachers can choose for students to retell the story individually or in pairs first, then individually 

Try using these Weird News podcasts as texts for the Scaffolded Retelling strategy:

After you and your students have successfully used these literacy strategies with short, Weird News stories, try using them with our collection of fiction stories, Timeless Tales.


Get more tips for how to build speaking and listening skills with your English learners!