Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


Trailer: The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast
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061: Using Podcasts Successfully in ELA

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In today’s episode of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, you’re going to hear from the always creative Amanda from Engaging and Effective. She’s my first ever repeat guest, and if you missed our first conversation, you might want to go back and listen because it’s definitely one of the most popular episodes ever.

Episode 031: 3 Engaging Lessons (Murder Mysteries, SNL Clips and Ted Talks)

In this episode, we’re going to dive into all things podcast for the classroom: which podcasts she likes to use, how she helps students stay focused during listening periods, using QR codes to give students access to episodes, and a great creative activity you can use with the NPR show, How I Built This (so good!). 

You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher. Or, read on for the written highlights. 
When you play a podcast for your students, what do you all DO so you’re not awkwardly staring at one another? 
It’s nice to have a graphic organizer or guiding questions in front of your students as they listen. 
You can also try out sketchnotes or one-pagers, another way of processing as you listen. 
Another option is to let them listen solo, giving them the QR code to begin playing when they are ready. 
Finally, transcripts are another excellent option – NPR podcasts generally always have transcripts (and many other podcasts do too). This REALLY helps, especially if students miss something and want to be able to go back and figure out what was just said. Students can also annotate on the transcript if you print them out, which is a nice way to practice that skill. 
I love your idea to let students listen through QR codes. Can you explain how you use podcasts to launch activities that do NOT involve the whole class listening together? 
When students are absent and miss something involving media, it’s super helpful to just have the QR codes on the worksheets so they can easily find the media. 
Using QR codes also gives you the option to let students listen individually to different episodes or listen with partners (one earbud per student!). 
Sometimes Amanda uses time stamps with these individualized episodes. For example, there might be a question with the info that the answer appears between minutes two and five.
By using QR codes, you can also use brief audio clips to differentiate or as extension activities, since the students have everything they need to dive in independently, accessing the media and then knowing where to find things through the timestamp info you provide. 
There’s a great podcast called 5 Minute History that she once used for a digital breakout – using the QR code can also allow students to access media in the middle of an escape room if you’re looking for more options when designing a digital breakout or physical escape room (check out episode 17 if you want to learn more about escape rooms). 
HOW TO PUT A QR CODE ON A WORKSHEET: Use “QR Code Generator” and plug in the link, then hit the button, download the QR code, find the download in your download files, and then drag it onto your handout either in Google Docs, Powerpoint, or whatever you use to create your handouts. 
Most phones don’t even require a special QR code reader, students can just focus a phone or iPad camera over the QR code and it picks up the QR code link. 
What are three of your favorite podcasts to share with students? 
It’s impossible to limit the list to just three! 
Scary Podcasts: 
Myths and Legends: episodes “Urban Legends” and “Runner in the Night” 
David Sedaris (hilarious AND clean) is great for the holidays. 
Santaland Diaries” and “An Animal Farm Christmas” from This American Life
Fiction/Documentary Style: 
Limetown: a whole town has disappeared, and they’re trying to figure out what happened
Blackwood: three teenagers were bored and wanted to investigate a local urban legend
How/when do you incorporate these podcasts?
As a spinoff of First Chapter Fridays, Amanda has been experimenting with podcast Fridays
She can either teach a short mini-lesson related to the content of the show (irony, characterization, etc.), or use the listening to inspire students to listen further on their own. 
Next she’s thinking about having students listen to short pieces of podcasts during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo – November) and using the podcast clips to help them brainstorm writing ideas of their own. 
I really like what you write about the NPR podcast How I Built this, with Guy Raz, on your blog. This is also one of my favorite podcasts, and I think it has the potential to be so meaningful to students who are trying to figure out what their role in the world will be. Can you share the way you teach it and guide students toward a personal appreciation of it? 
Amanda’s favorite episode features Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s former manager. It shows soooooo many setbacks. So many of the episodes do! Carter just keeps getting back up onto his feet and finding another artist to manage after getting fired.
Not a bad example to set for students about growth mindset.  
This episode is both inspiring for the students and connected to their interests. 
There is such a consistent theme amongst How I Built This episodes of guests who just LOVED what they were doing and then managed to build a vast business empire around what they loved after many many setbacks. Students can choose from a huge variety of types of businesses, based on their interests. 
Amanda generally has students choose an episode, then do a one-pager or guided sketch notes about the episode they choose. 
They talk together about ways of putting the arc of the episode onto the paper visually and brainstorm ideas. Eventually what they create is almost like an infographic of the guest’s life, including certain basics that almost every episode contains. 
Once everyone has finished, they put all the work up on the walls and gallery walk to learn more about all the other guests/businesses/episodes. 
Do you think students are more likely to seek out podcasts of their own after going through your class? Do they ever talk to you about their own discoveries?
Connect with Amanda from Engaging and Effective
Go check out Amanda’s fabulous blog! You might want to start with three of her posts that relate to this interview, and then explore from there. 

Wish your students could dive into podcasting but wary of the tech? Let me give you the tips, trick, and (easy) tools you need to help students succeed with this engaging, relevant medium. Join over 5,000 other creative teachers when you sign up for Camp Creative: The Easy Roadmap to Student Podcasting. It’s a free three day PD with every resource and tutorial linked straight to your inbox – no need to try to slot a live session into your (very) busy schedule. 

Click here to learn more and sign up.



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  • Thank you! The only books we have for use are those I've purchased, so I discovered long ago it was easier on me (financially) to use podcasts in class. Kids love them, and so do I! It was difficult for them at first, so we started out with short ones around 5-8 min and worked our way up to about 30 min. It usually takes us a couple days to listen to one, since we stop and discuss just about everything. We listen to a variety of them, but some favorites have been:
    1. Sharks (Criminal podcast)
    2. Prom (The Moth podcast)
    3. Falling (Unfictional podcast)

    I usually give them options when it comes to their "During Listening" activites, one-pagers being a more popular option (especially with my 5th hour…they LOVE THEM!). (I've taken some pics of a few completed one-pagers, if you want me to send them to you…?)

    Thanks for the awesome topic and ideas – loved it! 🙂 Keep up the great work!

    • Tara, thank you so much for sharing all these ideas! I can't believe your school hasn't bought you a single class set of books, but I applaud your amazing resourcefulness (as always) in coming up with solutions. And I'd LOVE to see some one-pagers photos! Thank you!

  • Thank you for all the ideas. Do yo have some particular podcast recommendations that will fit middle school classrooms? I know your focus is high school but perhaps some will lend themselves to the younger listener?

    • I'm so glad they're helpful! I think younger kids could really enjoy "How I Built This" – it's basically a series of stories about successful business owners and how they created their businesses. Not really a lot of irony or drama, just interesting stories and soooooo much evidence of growth mindset and perseverance.

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