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Sounds of ... Assignment

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Keywords: Sounds, Scriptwriting, English, Commentary
Subject(s): Writing, Podcasting, Technology, English/Language Arts, Journalism
Grades 10 through 12
School: Poolesville High School, Poolesville, MD
Planned By: Emily Sigman
Original Author: Emily Sigman, Poolesville
I wanted to provide my students an opportunity to write creative scripts with style and substance, but I didn't want them reporting on an event or relying on interviews for their material.

I wanted colorful commentary that used vivid imagery and rich sounds and textures.

Then I heard NPR's piece, "The Smells of Summer in New York" (linked), and used that as a springboard for this assignment.

Getting Started:
As a class, determine what Sounds of... might be interesting to explore. Choose a broad category that gives students a sense of where to begin but still allows for creativity.

Examples: Sounds of Summer (or other season), Sounds of the Heart, Sounds of Childhood, Sounds of Freedom.
My rule was, "No Music." That would be too easy--both as a category and as a sound explored in a different category; however, Sounds of Rhythm would be interesting. (Think porch swings, horse trots, raindrops.)

Have the students brainstorm what sounds would fit the category and WHY a particular sound appeals to them as individuals.

The students will be writing 2-4 minute scripts that not only incorporate the sound but also address WHY it resonates with them--WHY it is important--WHY we should pause for a while to savor it.

Gathering Sounds:
This is the fun part. Send them out with the digital audio recorders, and encourage them to record several sounds related to the topic, and several minutes of recording--say, at least 5 minutes.

Before writing, give students the opportunity for guided reflection of their sounds. Have them get at the WHY so that they have a purpose and direction for their scripting.
Have the students listen to NPR, Youth Radio piece, "Crazy for a Summer Anthem" (linked). The student reporter does a great job of finding the WHY.

I would listen to this second NPR piece at this point instead of at the beginning of the assignment because it relies on music and interviews for content instead of environmental noises and the student's insight and writing ability.

Have students time-out their recordings, noting when different sounds appear. This will help them script and produce their pieces.

Have students compose their scripts in a two-column format, with the audio on one side and their commentary on the other. They should note how the audio is used--under the voice, in the foreground, etc.

After peer reviews, have the students produce their scripts.
Email me for a rubric. I'm happy to share.
Links: NPR's The Smell of Summer in New York
Materials: Podcasting, Word Processor, Batteries, Digital Voice Recorders