9 Engaging Podcasts for Secondary ELA Students

The other day as I set out on my rollerblade, I realized I’d listened to everything I wanted to hear in my podcast queue. Disaster! I found myself scrolling through episodes as I skated under cherry trees on the backroads of Austria, looking up often to make sure I wasn’t about to hit a cyclist or one of the “ziesels” or wandering “kroten” the road signs warned me against. (By the way, the ziesels are so stinkin’ cute). Finally I found a show to love.

Maybe you’ve been in this situation with your students (minus the rollerblades). You know you want to share more podcasts with them, and good ones, but you’re not really sure what to put in their queue. What will they like? What will complement your curriculum well? Which shows are too mature, and which ones are just right?

Today I want to share some of my favorites with you to help you skip the overwhelm of a search through the podcast directories. Because there are so many ways to work podcasts into your curriculum!

You can share them as models before a podcasting unit, start podcast clubs, pair them as complementary texts in units you’ve already got in motion, or integrate them as mini texts of their own through a program like “Podcast Mondays.”

You can also use them as informational texts, as with podcasts like Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day, The Shakespeare Unlimited Podcast, or Grammar Girl.

Personally, I have podcasts I listen to just for fun, ones I listen to for teaching ideas, news source podcasts, and podcasts I snag to help me when I’m trying to learn something new related to writing, podcasting, or social media. My podcast queue is a bit like my TBR pile – fiction, nonfiction, cooking, self-development, work…

Today, I’m going to share some of my go-to shows when I’m searching for great models and listening options for students. And I’ll be sharing even more resources around this topic – like QR-code listening sheets, podcast sketchnotes templates, and interactive podcast bulletin board displays during Camp Creative: The Roadmap to Student Podcasting next month! So if you haven’t yet signed up for this free and fun PD June 13-15, take a second to sign up here and then come on back.

A quick note as we begin. It always makes sense to listen to a podcast episode before playing it in class. While I think these are all wonderful models, I can’t preview every episode, and I can’t know everything about your classroom, students, and district. Please preview your classroom content to make sure it’s a good fit for you! 

How I Built This (listen to this podcast here)

On How I Built This, Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurial leaders about their journeys, walking listeners through their success from its origins to the current day. Over and over themes of growth mindset, curiosity, creativity, and grit come up as guests talk about all the ways they failed before they succeeded.

Featured Episode: Ben & Jerry’s (Wait till your students hear about how Ben and Jerry learned to make ice cream through a mail order course!)

Ted Talks Daily (listen to this podcast here)

If you love Ted Talks, the Ted Talks Daily podcast is a way to bring them into your curriculum quickly and easily. With sooo many topics , search for what’s related to your current themes, or let students choose what they’re interested in.

This American Life (listen to this podcast here)

This wildly popular podcast tells stories. About themes. Every week. Pair it with a personal essay or narrative unit, or find a theme that relates to your essential questions.

Featured Episode: Check out the first two acts of episode 765: Off Course. Your students will be hooked on the stories of these two girls – one who spent her childhood preparing for life as a professional violinist only to get a huge surprise at her audition, and the other who suddenly realized her morning practice swim was taking place in the company of a baby whale.

The Happiness Lab (listen to this podcast here)

When Dr. Laurie Santos taught a class on happiness at Yale, it became so popular that it eventually grew into a podcast with an international audience. On her show, she shares the research behind what makes people happy, and it’s often not what you’d expect.

Consider letting students vote on episodes they find intriguing from season one. Titles like “The Unhappy Millionaire” and “Making the Grade” are great hooks.

Radiolab (listen to this podcast here)

Radiolab is part science, part storytelling, investigating the answers to big questions with a heavy dose of interesting sound design.

Featured Episode: Try “For the Birds,” a story of conservation with a highly unexpected twist

Life Kit (listen to this podcast here)

Life Kit takes on allll the topics! Whether teaching listeners to listen better, choose clothes in their own style, maintain friendships, take back life from the internet, or something else, each short show is a deep dive into a topic people can use to improve their own lives. This would make a fun choice board for students.

Featured Episode: How to Get a Job After College (or, I’d go so far as to add, anytime!)

Travel with Rick Steves (listen to the podcast here)

Rick Steves has been traveling Europe for decades, and he shares close-up looks at the culture and attractions of hundreds of locations through his podcast. This one could be fun to pair with a unit on travel writing, a virtual travel research project, or a project in which your students are creating podcasts about their own city or neighborhood.

Serial (listen to this podcast here)

Serial (season one) is a wildly popular investigative reporting show looking into the murder of a popular senior girl. Each show is a new chapter in the story, as host Sarah Koenig digs deeper into what really happened.

Featured Episode: Better start with Episode 1, The Alibi

Limetown (listen to this podcast here)

OK, for me, this one was a bit too scary! But it was also highly addictive and super surprising, and it’s a hit with a lot of students. This would make a great option when you’re giving students choice, for kids who like mystery and thrill. But they would need to know that it has scary moments (and you should listen to it too, so you know if it’s ok for your class). When I first listened, I thought it was real investigative reporting, but it turns out it’s a fictional radio drama! You decide whether or not to tell your students that.

Featured Episode: Better start with Episode One of Season One, “What We Know.”

Shakespeare Unlimited (listen to this podcast here)

This fun, quirky show spotlights places in society where Shakespeare is showing up. Whether that’s in YA novels, sonnets based on pop songs, or hip hop, there are a lot of episodes to help students to connect to the work of the bard. This show demonstrates one way that research and literary analysis can lead into an appealing podcast full of stories and interviews.

Featured Episode: Pop Sonnets (seriously though, it’s hilarious)

OK, that’s a wrap on our nine featured shows! Don’t forget to sign up for Camp Creative: The Roadmap to Student Podcasting, coming June 13-15. I’ll be sharing so many helpful resources, like the listening kit below and everything you need to get students started podcasting quickly and easily.

Sign up here!

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I'm Betsy

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