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A Beginner’s Guide to using Podcasts in the Classroom

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So you’ve heard the buzz about podcasts, and you’re intrigued. You want to play an episode in class, but you wonder what that would even look like? What would kids do while they listen? What would they do after they listen? Which show would be best? How would it fit into everything else you’re up to?

Yeah, I hear you. It’s a whole new genre and you might be the first teacher on your hall to use it. A few easy wins to help you get started wouldn’t hurt!

So today on the podcast, I want to help you get started with… podcasts! I know you know they can be a great resource for learning, because here you are, listening to one. So let’s talk about how to try one out in class ASAP.

You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Play a Podcast Episode and Practice Sketchnotes

Do you want to help students work on their listening and critical thinking skills at the same time? Queue up an episode you think they’ll love, let them choose a sketchnotes template (here are some popular free ones 75,000 other teachers are using). Sketchnotes help students practice the skill of choosing which information that they hear is most important. They structure that information on the page using different containers, lettering styles, icons, and connectors and make the information more memorable to themselves through the process.

Find out waaaay more by tuning into episode 46 with Mike Rohde, inventor of sketchnotes, or episode 140 with Sylvia Duckworth, who has been pioneering them in educational contexts for many years.

You’ll see this pairing of listening with sketchnoting throughout this post! It’s just such a helpful way to keep kids stay focused and thinking carefully as they listen.

Play an Episode and use it as a Prompt

There are so many ways you could do this.

Working on argument? Play an episode that takes a position, then invite students to attack that position and argue for the other side in writing.

Working on script-writing? Play a dramatic episode that leaves a story hanging, then invite student to write the next part of the show.

Working on personal essays? Play an episode that shares a personal story in a unique way, then invite students to consider how they might share a story from a similar angle or with a similar twist.

Working on research? Play an episode that brings in an expert. After listening, ask students to consider which perspective is missing or how the expert shows a bias toward an issue or perspective. Then invite them to do some research that would allow for another voice and perspective in the same episode.

Let’s walk through two quick examples of how you might play a podcast episode in class as a prompt. These happen to be perfect for middle school.

Smash Boom Best is a beautifully-produced (and fun) debate show, perfect for helping students see the possibilities for arguing two sides of an issue, not to mention addressing counterarguments. This episode on Baths vs. Showers is absolutely hilarious and likely to elicit strong reactions from your students. After you play the episode and kids take notes, ask them to write their own opinion – which is better, baths or showers?

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a serial mystery show with suspense, drama, and a cast of talented middle school actors. Try playing episode one and then inviting your students to write their own script to forward the plot for episode two.

Feature Podcasts on an Interactive Bulletin Board

Oh the magic of QR codes! If you want to start warming your students up to podcasts without taking actual class time to do it, try putting up an interactive bulletin board or hallways display with a few show recommendations.

Canva – always my go-to for creating posters – now has a QR code generator built right in. Just search for “QR” in the apps section of the tools and drop your podcast links right in.

Play a Podcast Episode to Provide Helpful Information

This is a really easy way to dip your toes in the world of podcasts.

Trying to teach a grammatical concept? There might be an amazing short episode of Grammar Girl that could do it for you with well-researched and witty examples (like this one on active vs. passive voice).

Want to teach your students how to write better college essays? Play episode 160 of this very podcast for them, and they’ll hear the best advice from expert college guidance counselors and university admissions officers. (Ooh, and grab the free college essay curriculum I created to go with it here).

Play an Episode to Introduce an Author

Looking to help students get to know an author before diving into that author’s work? Podcast episodes are a great option for that! The Folger Library’s podcast, Shakespeare Unlimited, is a fantastic resource if you’re teaching the Bard.

Check out this episode making connections between Hip Hop and Shakespeare, or this one about the popular Pop Sonnets website. Or go exploring, because there are over 200 episodes of this podcast!

Maybe you’re introducing a more modern author? Got it. Try a quick search for their name and the word podcast and browse through the interviews they’ve done or the shows related to their work. You’re likely to find lots.

For example, a quick search for episodes related to Trevor Noah’s memoir showed me this short episode from “A Little Happier” , in which Gretchen Rubin reflects on Trevor’s line in the book that “You can only dream of what you can imagine.” This two-and-a-half minute episode could make a great pre-reading listen, or a writing prompt partway through the book.

Teaching New Kid, or another graphic novel? Last week’s interview with Jerry Craft about his work as a graphic novelist could be a great add!

Play an Episode and Use it as a Mentor Text

When you’re ready to devote more time than one class period to the world of podcasts, you might be ready to have kids listen to shows as mentor texts. When they start listening like podcasters, and thinking about how podcasters are crafting their shows, it’s a whole different way of interacting.

Having kids listen to an episode and take notes on its STRUCTURE instead of just its content, leads beautifully into having them write and record an episode of their own. This can be a single class period mini-project, or an entire unit incorporating lessons on research, interviewing, editing, recording, cover design, bias, and more!

If this pedagogy lane is one you’re excited about, I can walk you through it step by step (and give you the curriculum you need to get started) inside my free mini-course, Camp Creative: The Easy Roadmap to Student Podcasting. Sign up here, and you’ll be ready to teach podcasting next week!

OK, my friend! That’s probably enough for one day! I hope you’ve found a first step that you’re excited about into this wonderful genre. Once you get started, you’ll be amazed at all that’s waiting out there in the podcast world.

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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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