Podcasting is the fastest growing form of media, yet only around 30 percent of Americans listen to podcasts at all. Even though I'm an avid podcast fan, I can tell you that zero percent of my students had ever listened to a podcast before we did our Serial unit in my English IV class. You know that thrill you get when you introduce a student to a new book that they love? Well, having the opportunity to introduce 30 students to a completely new form of media that they LOVE and can listen to for FREE intensifies that feeling ten-fold. I have at least 5 students who have searched out other podcasts on their own after we finished Serial. I truly believe that listening is a form of reading, so for this English teacher, that is a huge win.
Podcasts to use in the classroom:
1. Rick Steves: This guy has my heart. I could listen to him while walking and dreaming about travel adventures every day of the week-- oh wait I do. Ha ;) His podcasts are fantastic for integrating ELA, geography, foreign language, and history standards. The uses for this podcast in the classroom are endless, but I will list some ideas as examples. For most of his podcasts, I only use a small section that pertains to what I'm teaching. These episodes are normally an hour long, but the small sections are usually 10 to 15 minutes which makes them perfect for classroom use.
Comparison-making -His program 426 American Lighthouse; Skyfaring;Travel Tales; The Longbow has a beautiful description of traveling by plane. It makes a wonderful comparison piece for any traveling description text (think seafaring -Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick, Early Explorer Primary Document Journals).
Holiday- related informational "text" - Rick has lovely episodes devoted to almost every American holiday where he explores how other cultures celebrate in different parts of the world. For example, his program 427 More European Holiday Traditions, has guest speakers from Europen describing how they celebrate Christmas.
Author studies and settings- Steves has a number of episodes devoted to celebrated authors or novel settings. I use his program 392 Ireland's W.B. Yeats; Scotland's Robert Burns; Agatha Christie's England to teach Yeats' poetry in the lesson below. There's really nothing like hearing a native Irishman recite Yeats--it's mesmerizing.
Download this lesson here: W.B. Yeats in Ireland
2. Ask Me Another by NPR: My husband really enjoys this one. It's full of brain teasers that are excellent for Friday funday, time fillers, or inspiration for making up your own vocabulary riddles. If you are teaching Shakespeare, here is a fun one: Sir Patrick Stewart: Brush Up Your Shakespeare (minutes 21-27) that uses a former member of the Shakespeare Company to recite pop songs. This episode would go along perfectly with the song lyric Shakespeare idea I have linked in this post: Fun Ways to use Music in the English Classroom
3. Serial Season 1: In college, my absolute favorite class was Literary Nonfiction. We read things like In Cold Blood and Devil in the White City, and I fell in love with the genre. When I found Serial last year, I knew that it would be in my top 5 list. It's so well done, and it works well in upper grades because: 1. It's free 2. It's relevant (deals with high school-aged subjects) 3. It's rich in teachable content. One thing that really surprised me while teaching for the first time was that my students CHOSE to read the transcripts while listening to it. Studies have shown that reading comprehension greatly increases when students both read and listen simultaneously, so I was thrilled when the majority of my students would open their Classroom OneNotes to the transcript each time we listened in class (it would be very hard to print this many copies for each episode. If you don't use OneNote, you can email them the transcripts).
As we read and listened, we hit a ton of standards. We had 4 Socratic Seminars where students had to use evidence to prove their insights, we close read and compared 3 writing styles (fiction, nonfiction, and literary nonfiction), we found examples of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, we wrote speeches to work on argumentative skills and so much more. Here is a fun yet poignant activity we did that involved studying photography by Trent Bell where inmates write letters to their younger selves. I had my students write from Adnan's point-of-view. Even if they think he is innocent, most agreed that he has many regrets. Here is an example of how they turned out:
I can tell you that I had students excel that this unit in a way that they would have never excelled during a traditional classical-fiction unit. Though this podcast has some mature language and topics, I feel that analytical and interest value outweigh the risks of pushback. Some students just need something real and raw to make a connection with their lives, and this production will do just that.
If you want to see more activities for Serial, you can check out my unit plan here: Serial Season 1 Activities
4. M.O.N.E.Y. :This one is for real-world English classes or Economics classes. In particular, Uber driver episode is EXCELLENT for teaching supply and demand in an accessible way and their interview with a financial advisor to top athletes is an insightful way to start the conversation about why education is still important even when students plan on "going pro."
Do you have any podcast ideas that work well in the classroom? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!
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