I’ve heard from a few teachers lately who have adapted the idea of book clubs or literature circles to include podcasts as a text. How cool is that? I love it! So today, I’d like to share my take on this intriguing concept. My hope is to get you thinking about whether this might be a powerful addition to your own courses, give you some starting points for how you might structure it, and suggest some podcasts to you that your students might like.
When I say “Podcast Club,” Here’s what I Mean
Getting students together to work through a text that they’ve chosen is a powerful way to give them agency in the classroom. This has (happily) become more and more popular with books. Whether you call it clubs or literature circles, it’s giving students time regularly in class to set their own reading schedule and then meet and talk about their book.
So, with book clubs, you might have, say, six groups of kids meeting to talk about books surrounding the same essential question. For example, how is our identity shaped by our environment? Each time you schedule a meeting, the kids will gather to check in about the book and do any related activities you have for them.
For a podcast club, you’d simply swap in podcasts as the text. Students would choose from a few great podcasts, form their groups, set up a listening schedule to match your meeting times, and grab their earbuds.
Structuring Podcast Club Time into your Schedule
There are so many ways you could do this! Let’s look at a few options.
The Mini-Unit: If you’d really like to introduce your students to podcasts through clubs, but don’t have much time, you could just spend one week with this project. Introduce the shows on day one and let students choose their show and two or three episodes to listen to during the week. Then, on days two through four, let them meet to talk about the podcast. On the final day, ask them to choose a five minute clip to share back to the class, along with a short review of the ups and downs of its format and content.
The Complementary Unit: Podcast clubs could complement many types of reading and writing units. You could have kids in podcast clubs examining narrative podcasts while you do narrative writing, research-based podcasts while you’re engaged in research, storytelling podcasts while you’re exploring identity texts, etc. For this path you might keep it simple, introducing the podcasts on day one and letting kids form groups and choose episodes to listen to, then having once-a-week meetings throughout your unit where students can discuss a single episode they’ve listened to. In this case, you might want to create a final project for the unit that integrates the podcasting form (more on this in the last section).
The All-in Unit: You could also use podcast clubs as the foundation of a major podcasting unit. If you have the time to dive deep, students could meet in their podcast clubs throughout a four week unit while they are also deeply engaged in the creation of their own podcast. They might meet in their clubs twice a week to discuss the format and content of what they’ve heard as well as share back what they’re learning about form, research, storytelling, etc. to the class as a whole. On the other days, you’ll be teaching mini lessons about podcasting – creating intros, choosing music, contacting people for interviews and how to do an interview, incorporating research, storytelling, etc. and then guiding students through the process of creating their own podcasts.
Podcasts to Consider for your Podcast Clubs
In The Happiness Lab, Yale Professor Laurie Santos shares ideas for leading a more fulfilling life. The podcast is a spinoff of her incredibly popular course on happiness at Yale, and has garnered tons of national attention. This podcast provides a lovely way to introduce positive psychology or focus on SEL topics.
Check out: The Happiness Lab
NPR’s Life Kit tackles fun and surprising subjects, providing tips on things like making decisions, investing money, getting better sleep, dealing with stress and grief, and more. While not every episode will apply to teenagers, there are tons to choose from that will.
Check out: NPR’s Life Kit
This fictional podcast, told through mock investigative reporting, is a fascinating look at how to weave together a compelling audio story. It’s full of suspense and mystery, and is definitely creepy at times. It will probably appeal to students who enjoy mysteries, suspense, and thrillers when reading. It’s full of cliff hangers! I didn’t realize it was fictional at first, but got so worried in episode three that I started researching the story and that’s how I found out it was all pretend. You’ll have to decide whether to tell students up front or wait until they go through season one to tell them it’s fiction, because the podcast is shared as if it is the truth.
Serial, representing the true crime genre, has been a popular classroom choice for some time. Reporter and storyteller Sarah Koenig investigates the murder of a high school student, sharing pieces of the confusing puzzle little by little over the course of season one. This one really is a true story.
Check out: Serial
For students interested in theater and writing, Shakespeare Unlimited provides a number of appealing episodes about how William Shakespeare shows up in the modern world. With episodes like “Shakespeare and Star Wars” and “Shakespeare and YA Novels,” students can find topics that intrigue them among the 180+ episodes of Shakespeare Unlimited.
Check out: Shakespeare Unlimited
Final Project Options for Podcast Clubs
If you dive deeply into podcast circles, you might want an associated final projects. Here are a few ideas.
Podcast Review Infographics: For this project, have each group (or each individual student) design an infographic about the podcast they’ve listened to. It can start with information and images about the podcast overall, and then move into a showcase of the top two or three recommended episodes as well as why those episodes are the best. These infographics can then be displayed in the school hallway or library, as ideas for other students.
Podcast QR Code Posters: This is another (quick) way to bring student favorites out into the community. Invite students to make posters featuring their favorite episode, with a blurb about the episode, related imagery, and a QR code that will take the viewer straight to the episode. Then put the posters up somewhere in your community.
Podcast Creation: In this project, students create podcasts of their own, either mini-podcasts of 2-3 minutes in length or longer podcasts, depending on what you have time for. You can invite them to create a podcast that somehow relates to the podcast they’ve heard (for example, Life Kit listeners might teach on a topic they love, Happiness Lab listeners might interview someone about what brings them joy, etc.) or just let them choose any genre. Take a look at my previous post, “The Easiest Way to help Students Record and Publish Podcasts” for more ideas and information.
Ready to Try it?
Alright, my friend, I think you’re ready to go! Getting started with podcast clubs doesn’t have to be a gigantic production. You can keep it small and simple the first go round, and expand next year. Or you can go for the deep dive right away, and learn with your students as you progress. Just choose a structure for your clubs, some shows you think will appeal to your students, and a final project, and you’ll be on your way.