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My Favorite Podcast for Middle School ELA (and how to use it)

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If you’re a teacher searching for a great podcast to play in class, you know the pain of listening to episode after episode hoping not to hear a swear word or moment of maturity at the 27 minute mark. If you’re a middle school teacher, doubly so!

While podcasts are an amazing freely available text to use in class, it’s not always easy to find one that’s right for your students. As we’re focusing on podcasts as texts in The Lighthouse this month, I’ve spent a TON of time with my earbuds of late, and I wanted to share my favorite find for younger kids. I’ve talked before about great shows for secondary, like The Happiness Lab, This American Life, How I Built This, and Shakespeare Unlimited. But only recently have I explored podcasts for the younger set, and I have a definite favorite.

Smash, Boom, Best takes funny topic suggestions from kids and smooshes them together in competition. Episodes include “Birthday Parties vs. Trick-or-Treating,” “Sneakers vs. Jeans,” and “Ghosts vs. Zombies.”

Two debaters play through three (sometimes silly) rounds to try and prove that their side is best, and a guest student listens in and gives points for each round, eventually declaring a winner. Smash, Boom, Best even provides a listening sheet on their website and the opportunity to cast your vote online after listening to an episode.

So let’s talk about how you might use this podcast in class.

Here’s one episode I enjoyed (and a universal topic of discussion) – “Books vs. Movies.”

Basic Argument Practice in a Fun Way

One quick way to use this show is to let students listen to a single round and choose a winner, then defend their choice with evidence. You could choose rounds from shows with funny topics and try this exercise to open class for a week, letting students practice picking out the strong arguments they hear and awarding points for them.

To extend the activity, after they choose the winner, you could provide the format from the show for a round two of debate on the topic, and let students write their own arguments in that format, perhaps sharing with a partner who argued the opposite side before listening to the debaters give their versions.

Listen for Types of Argument

Another way to use the show would be to have students listen for the types of arguments and evidence being used.

If you’re introducing rhetoric, for example, students might listen for appeals to emotion or logic.

If you’re working on different types of evidence and narrative that help to make a point, you could have students listen for ways these components are introduced in the show – are the debaters telling stories to support their points? Providing statistics or research? Referencing pop culture?

Students could make a list of types of argument being shared and talk about which ones feel most persuasive.

Let Student Partners Script a Round for a New Show

Once kids have listened to some episodes or pieces of episodes, they’ll have the idea of the format. You could let student partners come up with a topic they’re interested in and script their own round, each taking one side.

You can provide a list of the types of arguments or evidence you’d like them to practice using along the way, to reinforce your current learning goals.

Put on a Full Live Show

Oh man, I get pretty excited imagining this! You could break your class up into roles and produce your own show live, either for other members of your community (parents? other classes?) or to perform for a group of younger kids, perhaps by livestream or actually visiting a class in a younger grade.

In this case, you’d want teams for each of the three rounds for each of the sides, and three types of debate style that mimic different options from the show.

You might also want to split the kids into committees to produce the actual event. One committee could be in charge of providing the host and a script for the host, one could be in charge of public relations (figuring out the audience, coordinating any video or photography or microphones for good sound, etc.), and one could be in charge of the atmosphere (setting up the stage and room, creating programs, perhaps providing food). You could provide judging cards for your audience to determine the winner or invite one guest up on stage to judge and declare a winner the way they do in the show.

The great thing about a project like this is that all the work along the way – identifying types of argument, practicing them, working on scripts, prepping the committee areas – flows into this big important real-world event, providing inspiration and relevance for all the different learning targets.

The Runners-Up

OK, though Smash, Boom, Best was my favorite, I also found two more great middle school podcasts in the fiction sphere. If you’re hoping to get into lots more podcasts for your middle schoolers, take a look at The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel and Eleanor Amplified too!

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I'm Betsy

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  • Can’t wait to check out Smash, Boom, Best- so thank you for that recc! If you like Mars Patel, the other podcast from that company is called “Becoming Mother Nature” and features two seasons of storylines that start out as two very different story lines that ultimately merge together.


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