Audio Broadcasts and Podcasts: Oral Storytelling and Dramatization

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Ten 50-minute sessions
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Students begin this lesson by discussing what makes a good, vivid story and creating a working checklist of the criteria for a good story. They explore background information about the Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds from October 30, 1938. They read the broadcast script from the show and compare its characteristics to those listed in the checklist they created. They then listen to audio of the production and compare it to the script version. Next, students create their own audio dramatization of a text they have read, following a process that takes them from preproduction activities, such as outlining, through postproduction activities, such as editing and publishing their work. During the process, they analyze how The War of the Worlds script conveys emotion and feeling. Finally, students share their broadcasts with the class and use a checklist to assess each other's work.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Lou Orfanlla explains, "Radio has the power to individualize its presentation within the mind of each and every listener. There is an intimacy and shared vision that it creates" (55). In an early example of the power of radio, Orson Welles "accidentally terrorized many Americans, young and old, with [his] updated Halloween-night version of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds-proving the power of radio in a remarkable way" (Bianculli 39 in Orfanella). To explore these connections between listeners and those who compose audio media, this lesson asks students to make personal connections and to consider the connections that others make. Based on this understanding, students then compose their own audio stories, in order to investigate more fully how audio composers connect with their listeners.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Mercury Theatre production of War of the Worlds (October 30, 1938)
  • Assorted texts or class textbooks
  • H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds (optional)




  • Gather audio recording equipment-cassette tape recorders and blank cassette tapes, a computer with audio recording software and a microphone, or an MP3 player (e.g., an iPod) with a microphone. Playback equipment is also necessary, in order to share finished dramatizations as well as to listen to the Mercury Theatre version of The War of the Worlds.
  • Decide on the short stories or novels that students can use for their dramatizations. Depending upon your resources and the point in the school term, you might choose any of the following options:

    • Create a specific list of stories from students' textbooks that they may choose among.
    • Allow students to choose any short story from their class texts, whether you have read it as a class or not.
    • Ask students to choose any event from a novel they have recently read. You might use this option with books recently read in literature circles as a way for groups to share their reading with one another.
    • Have students reflect on the short stories and/or novels they have read over the term and choose a story or passage from the list. This option can provide a nice review of readings at the end of a term or year.
    • Use the activity as a book report alternative, with individual students dramatizing short passages from the books that they have read.

  • As an alternative, students can use picture books as the inspiration for their dramatizations. Picture books will result in well-focused stories, allowing students to avoid any struggle with narrowing to a suitable excerpt.
  • Make copies or overhead transparencies of the handouts: War of the Worlds Worksheet (if desired), Audio Dramatization Rubric, and Audio Dramatization Process.
  • Be sure to review any music download sites that you will share with students to ensure that they are appropriate for your particular classroom. Some include advertisements. Sites may also include language that is not appropriate for the classroom.
  • Review the resources listed in the Websites section for basic information about the Mercury Theatre broadcast.
  • Test the War of the Worlds Travelogue, Plot Diagram Tool, and CD/DVD Cover Creator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • listen to (and read) an audio broadcast.
  • explore the historical and cultural context of an audio broadcast.
  • establish criteria for effective audio storytelling and dramatizations.
  • compose a dramatization of a scene from a recent reading.

Session One

  1. Ask students to brainstorm a list of the qualities that make a story vivid. Write the list on the board or on chart paper. Focus on the following questions:

    • What makes a story entertaining?
    • What makes characters in a story strong and interesting?
    • How does a conflict or problem influence whether a story is vivid and interesting?
    • What are the important qualities of the resolution to the conflict?
    • What makes a setting appropriate?
    • How is the underlying code of behavior best communicated in a story?
    • What are ways to connect to the history of a place or people that make work well in a story?
  2. To summarize the discussion, ask students to create a working checklist of the criteria for a good story, based on their responses so far. Record the information on chart paper or an overhead transparency.
  3. Review the items and, with students, phrase the criteria in yes/no questions.
  4. Explain that the class will explore the Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds from October 30, 1938.
  5. Students may already be familiar with the story and events of that production. Ask them to share any information they know about the famous broadcast.
  6. Share additional general background information from the resources listed in the Websites section. 
  7. Working individually or in small groups, have students explore the Web resources included in the War of the Worlds Travelogue. Alternatively, you can use the War of the Worlds Worksheet. If time is short or computer resources limited, students can work in groups, with each group exploring only one of the three sites listed.
  8. After students have spent time researching the sites, gather the class and ask volunteers to share their findings. Draw connections to the class checklist for a good story.
  9. For homework, ask students to read The War of the Worlds broadcast script.
  10. If desired, type the class checklist for a good story before the next session, and make copies for each student.

Session Two

  1. If you prepared copies of the class checklist for a good story, pass copies out to students. Otherwise, draw attention to the posted list from the previous session.
  2. Ask students to share any immediate responses to the broadcast script, especially in light of the information they read on the Websites during the previous session.
  3. Have students compare the characteristics of the story to the class checklist for a good story, taking notes on their observations on the board or on chart paper. Be sure to label the observations so that it's clear that they are for the script only.
  4. Access one of the audio recordings of the Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds (Real Audio or MP3), and listen to all or part of the recording in class (depending upon the time available for the session).
  5. As they listen, students can follow along in the broadcast script, noting any features of the recording that surprise or interest them.
  6. For homework, ask students to return to the broadcast script and, if desired the Real Audio or MP3 recording, and compare the characteristics of the two versions (script versus audio). Ask them in particular to consider how the audio recording compares to the class checklist for a good story.

Session Three

  1. Ask students to share their homework comparisons of the script and audio recording of Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds. Encourage concrete connections to the class checklist for a good story.
  2. After students have shared their immediate responses, have them review the class checklist for a good story and ask them to consider how the list would change if the checklist were focused on the qualities that make the audio recording of a story or an oral story vivid. Record their responses on the board or on chart paper, adjusting the class checklist as necessary.
  3. Explain that students will complete audio dramatizations of short stories or short passages from longer works, much as the Mercury Theatre created a dramatization of H. G. Welles' The War of the Worlds.
  4. Pass out the Audio Dramatization Rubric, and compare students' checklist with the requirements for the project.
  5. Explain the option for choosing excerpts from short stories or novels that you have chosen (see the Preparation section).
  6. Outline (and if desired, demonstrate) the technical equipment that students have available to them as they work on this project (e.g., cassette recorders, computer software).
  7. If you choose to share the finished pieces through podcasts and students are unfamiliar with how podcasts work, review "Podcasting Power for the People" from NewsHour with Jim Lehrer to provide some basic background. Alternatively, you might ask students to read this piece for homework and discuss it briefly during a later session.
  8. Answer any questions that students have about the project or the rubric.
  9. If students will work in small groups, arrange the groups at this point.
  10. Allow students the rest of the class session to choose their stories and begin planning their dramatizations. To encourage students to choose their story or passage in a timely manner, you may require that they choose by the end of the session or by the beginning of the next session.
  11. Ask students to turn in a brief freewrite that explains what story they have chosen and why they chose it. Review the choices, and provide feedback and support. Be sure to confirm that students have chosen passages that are a reasonable length for the project. If necessary, help them expand or narrow their focus individually.

Session Four

  1. Present an overview of the process that students will complete over the course of the audio dramatization project:
    • Outline the story
    • Identify key scenes and characters
    • Compose script
    • Choose any sound effects
    • Practice the script
    • Set up equipment (including anything needed for sound effects)
    • Record the segment in short segments
    • If working online, save often!

    • Edit the audio as necessary
    • If working online, add any additional music or sound effects
    • Review the completed recording
    • Publish or share the final piece
  2. To begin the process of outlining the story, ask students to identify the key points of the story structure for the Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds. If desired, use the Plot Diagram Tool to record the events and establish their place in the narrative structure.
  3. Working from the diagram of the plot, begin work on an outline of the significant events in the Mercury Theatre production of War of the Worlds. If desired, use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker to compose and organize the outline. There is no need to outline the entire story. Simply record enough detail for students understand how to gather information for the stories that they have chosen.
  4. Once students understand these two tasks, ask them to create a plot diagram and outline for the stories that they have chosen to dramatize. If desired, students can use the Plot Diagram Tool and the ReadWriteThink Notetaker to record their work.
  5. Spot-check diagrams and outlines to ensure that students have identified the necessary information for a successful dramatization.
  6. When they complete the diagrams and outlines, ask students to begin the work of composing their scripts by identifying the events and actions that are important to their dramatization. Allow this work to move smoothly, based on students' work, rather than waiting for everyone to finish each step.
  7. As they review their diagrams and outlines, ask students to consider the characteristics of a good story and the rubric for the project. These two lists of criteria should shape the choices for their scripts.
  8. If time remains, ask students to begin gathering notes from the original source, such as existing dialogue, that can be used in their dramatizations. If time is short, students can begin this process as a homework activity.

Session Five

  1. Review the work students have done so far and the rubric for the project. Answer any questions. Allow students to share excitement or challenges. Provide any problem-solving help as needed.
  2. As a class, look closely at a short excerpt from the the Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds.
  3. Ask students to identify the kinds of details that appear in the text, using the following questions to guide the discussion:

    • What details in the script communicate the settings for the story?
    • How can you tell what emotions the characters feel?
    • How do you know what is happening in the story?
  4. As you review students' responses, stress that the only way to tell what is going on in a well-written play is by what is heard. Characters rarely explain their emotions; rather, they communicate them through such features as tone of voice, word choice, and pace of conversation.
  5. Have students identify a sample passage from the War of the Worlds script that demonstrates how emotions are communicated.
  6. Ask students to identify how techniques other than words communicate information in the War of the Worlds broadcast. Encourage them to choose specific features from the text to demonstrate such techniques as sound effects and background sounds.
  7. As students begin talking about adding background sounds and music, talk about the copyright restrictions on such files. This issue is important regardless of how students will record and share their work, but it is especially important if students are sharing podcasts online. The best option is to choose podsafe music. The LearningInHand Website explains that "Podsafe music is the term for music that can be legally used in a podcast and freely distributed online for others to download." Some possible sources to share with the class are the following:
  8. Ask students to return to the process of composing their scripts, modeled on the techniques in the Mercury Theatre script. Remind them to keep in mind the discussion of how information is communicated to listeners in an audio broadcast.
  9. As students work, circulate through the classroom, providing support and feedback. Encourage students to try out short excerpts from their script for you.
  10. Allow as many additional sessions as necessary for students to complete their scripts and finalize their plans for their audio dramatization.
  11. Ask students to come to the next session ready to begin production of their dramatizations.

Sessions Six to Nine

  1. Explain that students will record their dramatizations during the next four sessions.
  2. Remind students of any technical details regarding the equipment that is available for their productions.
  3. Encourage students to record in small segments and, if working online, save often. It's easier to rerecord a short segment if something goes wrong than it is to have to rerecord the entire production. Working in small pieces allows students to save their work often (so that they avoid losing any data is there is a technical problem).
  4. Discuss any options for editing the recorded audio files (e.g., how to splice smaller segments together, how to add background music if working online).
  5. Answer any questions and allow students to work freely on their dramatizations during these periods.
  6. Provide support and feedback during the session. If students run into any challenges that cannot be easily resolved, explain that they can modify the script as necessary.
  7. At the end of the last session, students should have a broadcast that is ready to share with the rest of the class. If students have created online files, ask that all are published on your network or given to you on a CD or floppy disk before the next session.

Session Ten

  1. Set up the technical equipment necessary for students to share their productions (e.g., computers, iPod and speakers, computers).
  2. Give groups a few minutes to make any last minute preparations.
  3. Ask individuals or groups to describe their production briefly as an introduction.
  4. Play the related recording. Encourage audience response.
  5. Rotate through the class until all broadcasts have been played.
  6. Ask students to return to the class checklist and assess the work of other groups.Which stories were particularly vivid and compelling? Why were they vivid and memorable?
  7. As a final activity, ask student to write a reflection in their journals, focusing on one or more of the following questions:
    • How did the process of creating an audio dramatization of a printed text influence your understanding of the original?
    • What was the most interesting thing about your dramatization of the text, and why?
    • Choose the dramatization of another group or student, and reflect on what made that story particularly vivid.
    • If you were to dramatize another passage, what would you do differently and why? Imagine that you have whatever technical equipment you need to complete your task.


  • Students can compare passages from H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds to those from Mercury Theatre production of The War of the Worlds. As they compare the works, ask students to consider how the changes that Orson Welles and the other members of the Mercury Theatre group made lead to a good story. Have students use the class checklist for good stories as they compare the texts.
  • Have students publish their dramatizations on CDs and use the CD/DVD Cover Creator to create covers for their finished work.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Focus on observation and anecdotal note taking as students work on their projects to provide ongoing assessment of their progress.
  • Use the Audio Dramatization Rubric to assess students’ recordings.


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