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099: How to Get your Students listening to Podcasts, with Ashley Bible

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Today on the podcast, I’m talking to Ashley Bible of Building Book Love about podcasts, virtual and actual classroom design, and her workshop series, Keeping the Wonder. She’s a wonderfully creative teacher (and designer!) and I know you’re going to love her ideas.

You can listen to today’s show on the podcast player below, or on your platform of choice. Or, read on.

Building a Podcast Unit

When it comes to building a podcast unit, the sky’s the limit.  You can find podcasts for ANY objective. So the question to start with is, what is the objective of your unit?

You can use a podcast as a mentor text for writing. You can use one to build out an informational text unit. You can use one to pair with a creative writing project.

There are two fun ways to approach adding podcasts to your curriculum. You can either start by thinking how you can add podcasts to current units to enrich them, or begin to brainstorm how you might build a unit about anything in the world that you’d love to teach through podcasts.

If you’re hustling to create a unit for fall that works well with blended learning, building an entire unit around podcasts could be an ideal option for you.

Top Show Recommendations

Here, we’ll dive into a small sample of Ashley’s recent favorites, but I also suggest you check out her recent post, Podcasts for Kids: An Epic List of Activities and Podcasts for School, for a huge list of shows and episodes.

#1 Following Harriet: This series is like a chapter book. There are six episodes to be listened to, in order. It’s an incredibly well-researched and produced show with many female researchers and experts sharing their life’s work about Harriet Tubman. Students will finish the series with a completely new perspective on Harriet Tubman’s life, and a new perspective on what history books do and do not tell.


#2 Criminal: There are so many true crime podcasts now, and they are always at the top of iTunes.  But this one is completely different from a typical true crime podcast. There’s more focus on the justice system, making you think about your own morals. This podcast shares the stories of people who have broken laws, but their stories make it so much more complex.

 “Tiger” (a good episode for middle school): This episode is about a man who has a pet tiger. The whole episode is an argumentative piece about whether he should be allowed to keep his tiger, and would lead easily into a class debate or an argumentative piece for students to write.

“Sharks” (a good episode for middle school): This episode features the first person point of view of a young girl who was attached by a shark. You expect her to have a different attitude towards sharks because she was attacked, but it really moves towards how people are invading the sharks’ space, not vis versa.

“Red Hair Gold Car” (a good episode for high school): In this episode, a man gets identified as a murder suspect because of his hair color The show then moves into social justice issues and issues with identification across cases.

The same podcaster has a show called “This is Love”, all about unique love stories.

“Wolf 10”: This episode follows one of the first wolves back in Yellowstone after they were hunted out there. It follows his journey to finding love and the first litter of puppies born in the park after the reintroduction of wolves.

“The Ugly Club” : This episode tells the unique story of a city in Italy where people started a club that you could only join if you’re ugly. It’s got a really interesting messages about  true beauty.

“Prairie Warbler” : In this episode, a black birdwatcher whose love of birds was kindled when he was a child, shares how people told him he couldn’t be a birdwatcher because he was black. He shares his love for birds, his incredible skill with using his voice to create bird song, and stories of discrimination he has encountered.

Keeping Kids Engaged as they Listen

Eighty percent of adults who listen to podcasts are multi-tasking, either on a commute, taking a walk, etc., so it’s counterintuitive to ask students to just sit there.

Distance learning kids can take a walk, help around the house, etc. But kids in class will probably also benefit from doing something else as they listen.

Ashley provides choice. Kids can take doodle Notes, take conventional notes in notebook, color on her provided coloring sheets, or walk around. They just can’t be on the phone or distract someone else. The big thing is to avoid the awkward staring around the room that takes place if everyone just sits there and listens without doing something.


Assessing a Podcast Unit

Anything you can do with a short story or book, you can do with a podcast.

Let’s take the “Following Harriet” series as an example. You could do a one-pager for the whole series, pulling together key ideas across episodes. You could have students take the theme of researching different voices that aren’t featured in the textbook, and dive into another person’s story and write their own podcast. You could launch an argumentative piece or a debate. ANYTHING you could do with any other text, you can do with a podcast.

Online Discussion about Podcasts (or anything else)

When Ashley gives the students an assignment to listen to something or read something, she likes to have them prep for discussion by doing a 3-2-1.

3 Questions to generate discussion
2 Insights you have
1 Most Important Quote

Model the types of questions you want – they have to generate discussion. Tell students it’s not about proving that they read!

In class, Ashley likes to run socratic seminar and chart the conversation. Online, she has mixed it up between video/voice discussion through Flipgrid and written discussion on Canvas.

One unique spin on a silent discussion is to open up a Google Doc, share it with the discussion participants, and then have each person color code with their own highlight color so it’s easy to see who is talking on each other’s questions. Check out Ashley’s post about this on Instagram for all the details. 

Classroom Design

When it comes to classroom design, Ashley focuses on three words.

Welcoming, peaceful, productive.

She likes to keep her classroom as a unique space, unlike a standard classroom. This can mean adding lamps, unique wall decor, and recently, a living room that each table group got to rotate into once a week.

Ashley’s beautiful classroom

If you’re struggling to imagine your classroom design for this year, Ashley’s got a fun challenge for you! Try creating a Bitmoji classroom as a vision/mood board for what you actually want your classroom to look like when you go back. That way it serves two purposes for you, and it will make the transition on and offline easier for your students (they’ll recognize your virtual and physical classrooms, whichever one they’re transitioning to!).

The mood board Ashley created for the classroom above (pre-Covid)

Keeping the Wonder

Ashley runs a workshop every year with several collaborators called Keeping the Wonder. It’s all about keeping the wonder and magic of books alive in classrooms.

The last workshop was held in a castle, with so many special details. Each table was named after a different castle in literature, with color-coded centerpiece castles to match participants’ bracelets. Ashley loves to work on these special details, but the actual content translates beautifully and easily to an online format. There are now three “seasons” of the workshop available online. This year’s workshop was planned for Sedona, AZ, but went fully virtual this summer instead.

Participants at Keeping the Wonder in 2019

Learn more about Keeping the Wonder.


Connect with Ashley

I know you’re going to want to get to know Ashley!

Check out her website, Building Book Love

Be inspired by her beautiful feed on Instagram

Do you find your inspiration in VISUALS? I love ‘em too. Let’s hang out on Instagram! Click here to get a steady stream of colorful ideas all week long.



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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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