Kami Toumey is an innovative 8th grade English teacher in Indiana who was looking for a substitute for the Serial podcast when she discovered Limetown. She is going to share some fun and creative ideas for teaching Limetown season one!
When the now infamous March of 2020 hit my school, we, like a lot of you, immediately fell into remote teaching. And like many of you, I looked at my existing lesson plans for the remainder of the year and to see if I could rework them for an online setting. This was a nonstarter. So, I scraped what I had and decided this was my chance to get creative. I follow a ton of fellow teachers on Instagram, and several were incorporating podcasts into their lesson plans. Using podcasts in the classroom was a goal of mine and what better time to try it then during remote teaching!
After doing some research into what podcasts would be appropriate and engaging for my 8th grade ELA students, I settled on the podcast Limetown. I’d heard lots of good things and began listening to it that weekend to begin brainstorming lessons, as well as standard based activities, for my students. I was blown away by the production quality, the storyline, and suspense woven throughout each episode. I had a hunch students would connect with it as much as I did and I was right. I had students emailing me after episode 2 (when the suspense really kicks in) expressing their enthusiasm for the story and the fact that they couldn’t wait to listen to the next episode.
I had such a good response that I ended up presenting it to my team and we adopted it into our set curriculum and still teach it to this day. It is always a favorite amongst students every year! With that, here are some of my favorite ideas for teaching Limetown.
5 Creative cross-curricular ELA ideas for teaching Limetown
Teaching Limetown with drama elements
The first element I wanted to focus on when introducing students to Limetown was the fact that it is a fictional podcast! Fictional podcasts are not as popular or well known so this might be a foreign concept to students. Not knowing that when I initially started listening, you can imagine how quickly I began researching this town of scientists and their families to see if there was any information on their disappearances. To avoid the confusion I had, I had students look at drama elements found in radio broadcasts from the past (The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street or War of the Worlds) to ensure they knew from the beginning this was a dramatization.
There are a variety of components that make up dramatizations. Here are some questions to ask when analyzing Limetown:
- Voice acting– It’s good to analyze the importance of speech and dialogue the voice actors give. How does voice acting add to the dramatic effect?
- Sound effects– How do they incorporate these throughout and what do they add to the story?
- Music– What are the types of music they play and what is happening in the story when this type of music occurs? What mood does it set?
- Silence -This is something we don’t normally think of but how is silence used and how does intentional silence create suspense?
It’s also important to look at the pacing of the episodes. Some sections have lots of information being given, especially when background information is being built. The pacing is usually slower and more relaxed in these sections. Other sections might be fast paced with more action and sound elements involved. Character building is also important to look at. With just voice and writing, how do they build these characters and make us care about them? And lastly conflict, how does this move the story forward? Since Limetown has a six episode arc, you want to clarify that there is usually a specific conflict in each episode and also the main conflict that spans all episodes. All of these are great ways to have students analyze the techniques behind radio and podcast dramatizations and see what all goes into a production like Limetown.
Teaching Limetown as a mystery genre study
When beginning the Limetown podcast with students, and after establishing that it’s a fictional dramatization, it is a great opportunity to discuss the genre it fits in as a work of fiction. Mystery seems to be a genre middle school ELA students don’t have a lot of exposure to so it was important to discuss what a mystery is, the formula it follows, and the vocabulary associated with mysteries. Here is a great TED ED video on author’s mystery craft: How to make your writing suspenseful
You could assign mystery vocabulary terms to groups and have them look them up and give modern day examples to teach the class. You could play a fun Kahoot or Quizlet Live to review. When the podcast is over, have students return to the mystery term list and analyze how the podcast producers used the elements of mystery in their production.
To keep the mystery analysis throughout the podcast, students created evidence boards similar to what detectives and investigators do when working a case. They add any and all details, such as; victims, locations, clues, evidence, suspects, witnesses, etc. Since Limetown is also a Facebook Watch show, I was able to get pictures of characters and other things to give to students. They use these and re-examine the case every two episodes as more and more information is revealed to them. We then discuss their findings and how the information changes how they view various characters. This is a great visual and works as an accommodation for students who might struggle with the listening comprehension aspect of a podcast. This allows them to visualize the characters and their connections.
Teaching Limetown as a utopia unit pairing
The first two episodes of the Limetown podcast deal with setting up the purpose of the fictional town, as well as interviewing a survivor who tells her story of what it was like living in Limetown. The town is presented as a “utopia” filled with scientists and their families who have volunteered to come and help better understand the human brain. Everyone has an assigned role or job in the community. There are houses with white picket fences, stores where you can get things for free since there is no currency, and there are no locks on the doors.
While middle school literature is heavy on dystopian themes, utopian ideas are different. Most of my students didn’t know what utopias were, or that they actually existed. So we took this time to brush up on our research and we studied various utopian communities throughout our history as a country. We examined the time period and what led them to develop these communities and how their ideologies differed from those of America during that period. We talked about the Shakers, Brook Farm, Rappites, and the Oneida community and how they were different and similar to Limetown. From there you can get creative. Have groups set up their own utopian societies; rules, regulations, ideologies, town layout, etc. Let them get creative. Have town bylaws. Discuss what led them to make these decisions and about their society? Have them make persuasive flyers advertising their community and everything it offers. It’s a great way to get creative with history.
With that said, the Limetown podcast does make a fantastic dystopia pairing with middle school ELA stories like: The Giver, Matched, Hunger Games, etc. When teaching Limetown, students will be able to make text to world (utopia experiments in history), text to self (their own ideal utopia), and text to text connections (how does this relate to a middle school dystopia I’ve read?).
Teaching Limetown with STEM
Limetown episodes 3-4 are interviews with two people who were involved with different types of experiments that were conducted in Limetown. Episode 3 discusses the start of the experiments which were conducted using pigs and humans, linking them together with the tech so they can share thoughts and communicate. Episode 4 interviews a lead scientist and goes more in depth, discussing what the tech was, how it was used, the purpose behind the experiments, and how there were two groups; the experimental group and the control group.
My school is heavy on STEM so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to work with my science department. They use the Scientific Process where students work with a five step process to determine an outcome of their claims.
Using this process opens up a variety of experiment opportunities. You can allow students to come up with their own experiments or do one as a whole class or in groups. I chose paper airplanes. I assembled my classes into groups or partners. Everyone made the same paper airplane (found a how-to- tutorial on Youtube). This was our “control group”. Then I had groups find their own tutorial to make a second airplane or they could make the same airplane and make modifications to it. Our question was which would fly further? They made claims. We spent a day flying them and collecting data on the average flight length for each. Groups then wrote reflections on the experiment, the data they collected, and whether their claims were correct or not. I also had them compare this experiment with the one discussed in the podcast. Students loved the ability to get out of the classroom and have hands-on experience in a class where we typically are reading and writing.
Exploring Social Sciences when teaching Limetown
The last two Limetown episodes, 5 & 6, discuss the ramifications of the experiments conducted in Limetown. We find out how those with the tech (the experimental group) were able to communicate without verbally speaking and would often look at each other across rooms or laugh out loud, which in turn created tension and paranoia within the control group (those without the tech). They felt left out of conversations and the community and thought perhaps they were talking about them or other important things and leaving them out of these discussions. Have students closely examine Episode 5 where Deirdre begs Max to help her get the tech. This creates a divide amongst the groups which eventually leads to the night of the panic.
One of the interviewees discusses this phenomenon, which happened on the set of the film Planet of the Apes. Those dressed as apes naturally sat apart from each other and those who portrayed humans also sat together. This phenomenon can be interpreted as two things, one being herd mentality, which is where groups naturally form and do things together without independent thought. This can also lead to mob mentality which involves more paranoia and chaos if not stopped. We read a great article on this from commonlit.org- Herd Behavior. We watched some Youtube videos of social experiments regarding herd mentality: Question the Herd | Brain Games, Social Experiment On Mob Mentality . We discussed the psychology behind these behaviors and why this was exhibited in Limetown and how it progressed to the night of the panic. This was a great opportunity to discuss human behavior and make students aware of this and encourage them to always think for themselves. A lot of interesting discussions were had when we analyzed this.
Here are some more discussion questions for Limetown:
- Does technology bring us closer together or push us further apart?
- How far is too far when it comes to technology?
- Where did they go wrong with their utopia?
- What does Limetown teach us about society?
- How is a digital divide also happening in real life right now?
If you need help hosting a middle school socratic seminar after finishing Limetown, this blog post is full of ideas: How to Liven Up Your Socratic Seminar and Get Students Talking !
I love being creative with my curriculum and showing students that language arts can be fun, thought provoking, and engaging, which students never expect! Limetown is the perfect catalyst to create the type of learning environment that kids really enjoy. Every year at the end of my class, I ask students for their feedback. Here are just a few student comments about Limetown:
Student fEEDBACK ON LIMETOWN IN ELA
- I really like podcasts, and the mystery of it made me excited to come to class!
- Limetown was my favorite because of the sound effects and music for the background voices. It’s like you’re there, it was interesting.
- Limetown was so different from the other units. I liked listening to a podcast that kept me guessing
- I love podcasts 🙂
I hope I was able to give you enough ideas to create your own engaging lessons around Limetown, or any other awesome podcast you find. And I hope my students’ words are enough to convince you of the power podcasts have on their learning.