With kids spread across scenarios these days, free digital texts are a helpful base for any unit. It’s the perfect time to use podcasts in your classroom. Kids can listen and learn, listen and respond, listen and then record podcasts of their own. There are tons of possibilities! In today’s post, I’m going to share five ideas for building a podcast unit of your own, or for simply sprinkling podcasts into your weekly work throughout the year.
#1 Listen and Learn
If you could use an easy win once a week or every other week, try a consistent podcast listening activity. You’ll be sharing a new(ish) and important ELA genre with your students, bringing new perspectives and voices into your classroom, and setting yourself up for a student podcasting unit later on (if you wish).
Here are three great episodes (or parts of episodes) to get started with:
“Squirrel Cop,” from This American Life
In this hilarious story, two police officers try to impress a beautiful citizen by catching the squirrel in her attic. Only to fail utterly…
“For the Birds,” from Radiolab
At first this story seems a little tame, all about safeguarding the return of whooping cranes into the wild. But when an elderly couple refuse to take down their birdfeeders to help save the cranes, the story twists and turns in a highly unexpected way. This episode is a great springboard for discussion, writing, or debate.
“How Champions Win,” from School of Greatness
In this episode, Lewis Howes talks with four professional athletes about their success and their values now that they’ve achieved greatness in their sports. What they say may surprise your students.
While kids listen, you can either let them sketchnote or get up and stretch. When I interviewed Ashley Bible of Building Book Love on the podcast over the summer, she even suggested an idea from a colleague to let kids go for a walk around the track at your school while they listen. If you provide a QR code to students, they can scan it with their phones and listen through their own earbuds, giving them more freedom of movement. If you want to give them choice, you can create a menu of QR codes and they can pick the one they want whenever it’s listening time.
#2 Build Curiosity with a QR-Code Based Interactive Display
Maybe you’ve got an empty hallway wall outside your room, a blank door in need of a spark, or a bulletin board ready for a refresh. You can build curiosity in your students about podcasts by filling those spaces with QR codes that lead to different podcasts they might like. Then you can point early finishers toward the displays, or use them as a back-up plan if an activity doesn’t take as long as you expect. Plus, interested kids may swing by and grab the code before or after class.
#3 Bring in a Guest Speaker (through their earbuds)
If you listen regularly to The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, then you know that last week I recorded an episode for you to play for your students that is all about being a podcaster. I pared down about 100 questions I received from students about podcasting to the most common 19, and answered them! By sharing this episode with your students, you can help them imagine how podcasting works and how it might fit into a future career.
#4 Get them Podcasting
It’s not as hard as it might seem. Start by helping them think about the type of show they’d like to have. To submit a podcast to a directory, it needs a title, a show description, the podcaster’s name, and cover art. Start by having them think through who they want to reach and why, and then they can figure out their these nuts and bolts before they come up with the content for their first show.
Once they know what kind of show they want to do and what that show is going to be like, they can start working on a script or set of bullet points for their show. Here’s where you can work with them on research, storytelling, interviewing, narrative writing, etc., depending on what you want the unit to accomplish in terms of mastery. The elements in the infographic below are the elements that usually make up any professional podcast, so your students can dip into the real world of podcasting by including each of them too.
Once your students are ready to record, you can either tell them how to do it or let them choose their own adventure.
The simplest way to record, if you want to basically take tech out of the equation, is to use Vocaroo. I walk you through how to do it in this blog post.
If you are teaching advanced students, a journalism or podcasting elective, or just want to give kids more options, there are plenty of more complex (and higher quality sound) routes.
If you have Mac access, Garageband is a great program for creating podcasts, and there are plenty of Youtube tutorials to help.
If you have internet and you’re ready to learn the ropes of a new program, Audacity is a free sound recording and editing tool online.
Anchor.fm is probably the most popular option for students, because it’s incredibly easy and free, AND it provides a platform for publication to the world. The only downside is that you can’t keep a podcast private on Anchor. If you use the platform, your sound file will be public. Now, is it likely to get a lot of listeners if you’re not trying to market it? No. This tutorial is the best one I’ve found for introducing Anchor to your students.
Once your students have recorded their podcasts, I suggest you create a listening day, where they have a chance to listen to each other’s work and write reviews like they would for podcasts on Apple (focusing in on the positives, maybe giving one suggestion for improvement for the next show in the series). If students have recorded on Vocaroo, you can have them embed their audio file with their cover art image in a collaborative Google Slides show, and everyone in the class can then see and listen to everyone else’s work. Below, you’ll see the printed version of a Google Slides template I created for sharing student podcasts. The blog post I mentioned earlier, that shows you how to use Vocaroo, also walks you through how to embed the sound file in slides and how to design professional looking podcast covers for free using Canvas).
#5 Listen and Write
If you’d like your students to be writing more, but you need a fresh option for prompts, podcasts are ideal. Ashley Bible spoke eloquently about this in her interview over the summer, explaining how podcasts can be a launching point to master almost any ELA skill. You can have kids listen to a show and then use it as a mentor text for writing like personal narrative or informational writing, listen and then create an argument about what they heard, listen and then launch into research related to the topic. There are so many options!
I hope these ideas are helping you to feel excited about diving into podcasts with your students, or giving you some fun extra pieces for the podcast unit you’ve already got.
If you’d like help putting your curriculum together for your podcasting unit, you can find my podcasts + podcasting line on TPT right here.