Podcasts are an underutilized media format in the ELA classroom. There is such a push to teach the canon that it is important to think outside of the box and bring other non-canon items into your lessons. If you are unsure why you should use podcasts in the classroom, check out this article, Why Should You Use Podcasts In Middle School?
11 Creative Ways To Use Podcasts With Students
In this blog post, 11 teachers have gotten together to share their ideas on how you can use podcasts with students.
Use Podcasts In Lieu Of A Novel Study
Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog loves to use podcasts in lieu of a traditional book-based novel study. Podcasts usually fall into two categories – non-fiction or serialized fiction. You can swap out a serialized fiction podcast for a novel study, depending on the curriculum standards you need to teach.
Middle school teachers could use a fiction podcast like Mars Patel to help teach or reinforce literacy elements such as plot, character, setting, theme and conflict. In this podcast, Mars notices his friends suddenly disappearing, and when he questions the adults in his life, they are quick to dismiss his thoughts. Mars sets out on a mission to find his missing friends.
Whereas high school teachers could use the non-fiction true-crime podcast Serial to cover their curriculum standards and spark deep discussions about the justice system and race. Ashley from Building Book Love outlines how she has taught this podcast in her blog post, Teaching Serial Podcast in High School ELA.
Another great serialized fiction podcast is Six Minutes. This podcast season covers the story of Holiday, who was pulled from the water and does not remember how she got into the water or who she really is. Spoiler Alert: She’s a robot! Season 1 is a fantastic introduction to serialized podcasts for your students. Each episode is only 6 minutes long and highly engaging.
Use Doodle Notes With Podcasts
Samantha from Samantha in Secondary loves incorporating podcasts in the classroom. Not only are they engaging, but they also help to hit those speaking and listening standards. Podcasts provide so many options that are perfect for the ELA classroom.
You can pair podcasts thematically to a text you’re reading together, or you can choose episodes that build background information. Alternatively, you can choose episodes that are unrelated to anything you’re doing in class for a nice break that still aligns to the standards.
Doodle notes are Samantha’s favorite way to keep students on track while they’re listening. Not only do the graphic organizers help students keep track of information, but it also allows them to color and doodle while they’re listening. By combining these two elements, you can create a dynamic and interactive learning experience that your students will love.
Some of Samantha’s favorite podcast episodes come from How Stuff Works, Stuff You Missed in History Class or Hidden Brain. You’re sure to find an episode that will work for your specific students from any of these offerings.
Pair Novels With Podcasts
If you ask Amanda over at Mud and Ink Teaching about her favorite genre to teach, she’d hands down tell you: dystopia! And if you love yourself a good dive down through a dystopian lit circle or whole class tackling of Fahrenheit 451, she has the perfect podcast pairing for you to check out:
Limetown is the fictional podcast series that takes listeners through the mystery of what happened when 300 people in the city of Limetown went missing overnight. Narrator and journalist Lia Haddock has a unique connection to the night of chaos: her uncle was one of the missing. It’s Lia’s mission to uncover the mystery of Limetown, and she reports her findings to the audience in each episode.
Limetown’s mystery is dystopian in nature: experimental procedures on animals, worship of their research leader, and a creepy utopian village experience make Limetown the perfect pairing to go alongside any dystopian novel study.
Here’s a tip: Spend three days of the week on your novel (or lit circles) and then the remaining two to listen to and discuss the evolving events of Limetown. This is called a paired-text unit.
At the end of the unit, wrap things up with a summative that lets students synthesize all of the things they learned about dystopia by answering the question: to what extent does our own world resemble a dystopia?
Pair Podcasts with Poetry
Let’s put our cards on the table … Poetry is hard! So every chance she gets, Lesa from SmithTeaches9to12 adds in poetry. One way that’s been successful with students of all ages is by using short poetry podcasts.
Poetry Unbound is one of Lesa’s favorites to use in class because it provides a reading of a poem with some interpretation of it, and the episodes are short! An amazing trifecta, for sure! The host spends a bit of time talking about why he loved a word, a line, or even the imagery or ‘feel’ of the poem. This sort of enjoyment of poetry rather than strongly focused analysis is a way to make poetry more engaging and less intimidating.
To incorporate podcasts into class Lesa loves is to adopt a literary circle approach!
Have a small group of students listen to one episode. They can complete individually a one-pager about the best line, notable elements, figurative language devices used, and examine the rhyme or rhythm. You can go into as much depth as you’d like, depending on your students. This set of one-pager templates provides ready-made options for your students to use, along with some suggested poetry episodes. Then, students can share their chosen poem in rotating discussions or create a small poster profile of their poem and share it with the class.
Turn it into a gallery walk to encourage students to listen to a different episode next time. Groups could rotate through a set of 5-6 poems over a variety of weeks. With their shared knowledge, they can build on the profiles, create new ones, or mix-and-match for discussions too.
With each new poem their comfort will grow with poetry and so too will their skills with noticing and noting its elements. Check out this post from SmithTeaches9to12 with more poetry podcast suggestions.
Have Students Create Their Own Podcasts
Your students may love to listen to podcasts, but have they ever created their own?!
Krista from @whimsyandrigor knows firsthand how engaged students are in the learning process when they are able to research, write, and record their very own podcasts.
The subjects they have covered feature spooky fictional stories, interviews with other middle school students, and even Zoom calls with experts who have visited Antarctica. The parameters she gives her students are simple: find something you want to learn more about and educate others about, and go!
Using traditional research strategies, she teaches her students how to find answers to specific questions, how to evaluate websites, and how to paraphrase information. You know, all the traditional research unit tools but because students know they are not writing a boring research paper, they are actually invested in the work in which they engage!
After the research portion, Krista guides students as they write their scripts and then introduces them to the podcast recording tool. (Anchor and Soundtrap are two favorites.) To wrap the project, she hosts a listening party where students hear each other’s pods and give feedback on their favorite parts, coolest transitions, and best use of sound effects.
If you want to give students this magical learning opportunity, Krista created a whole curriculum that will walk you through each step – from pre-production to a wrap party – and you can find it right here! You can also find Krista on her blog Whimsy and Rigor.
Use Podcasts as a Warm Up Activity
Katie from Mochas and Markbooks loves incorporating a warm-up activity at the start of class to help students settle in and turn on their “English class” brains. Over time, Katie has found that the key to success with warm-ups is to keep the routine consistent but also keep it fresh with different mediums.
How does this look?
Every day, there is a chunk of time at the start of class for a warm-up activity where students respond to the learning through writing or class discussion. Students may be presented with a short video to discuss or a photo related to the current unit of study, for example. Another option is podcasts!
To include podcasts as a warm-up activity, find ones that have stand-alone episodes (not a series) and are relatively short (you can also usually skip a lot of ads and banter at the start to cut down on the run time). Play the podcast episode and ask students to write down notes or make doodle notes while they listen. After listening to the episode, present students with a question related to the topic and conduct a class discussion or ask students to write responses.
Some podcasts with high-interest episodes that would appeal to teens include Part Time Genius and Curiosity Daily, which include interesting random facts and topics that will pique your students’ interest.
Try A Mock Trial
Yaddy from Yaddy’s Room loves podcasts so much for students. During October, creepy podcasts tend to be the best approach for engagement. One of her favorite activities to complete with students is a serial killer mock trial, based on Billy Gohl.
Billy Gohl was the most prolific, convicted serial killers of his time. At one point, he was blamed for 200 bodies floating up in the river of his logging town.
But was he really a killer?
In Criminal’s podcast, Ghoul of Gray’s Harbor, a researcher found evidence to believe that Billy Gohl, Union President, was framed for the deaths by big company executives in order to make business more profitable.
In the mock trial, students are challenged based on what side they are on to either defend or prosecute Billy Gohl. With affidavits and eyewitness reports, student listening and analysis, and then presentation and cross-examinations, this lesson is sure to be a hit with any of your classes.
Use Podcasts To Discuss And Reflect On Mental Health
In a time where mental health concerns are on an alarming rise, Ana from Simply Ana P. passionately advocates for the integration of mental health resources in every classroom.
Mental health resources can empower students to seek help and develop self-awareness, but sometimes, starting a conversation on these topics can be a little intimidating.
To ease this process, Ana suggests initiating the dialogue with a TedTalk or podcast.
Two fundamental aspects of mental health education are knowing when and where to seek help and learning to reflect and turn inward. By addressing both of these aspects, schools can play a significant role in fostering positive change, even in small ways.
For this purpose, Ana suggests the podcast The Science of Happiness. Particularly the episodes shown below.
- Episode 60: Step Away from Anxiety
- Where to Look for Joy (The Science of Happiness Podcast)
- How to Feel Better About Yourself (The Science of Happiness Podcast)
- Happiness Break: A Note to Self on Forgiveness, with Alex Elle
In addition to its extensive library of valuable episodes, The Science of Happiness also offers ‘Happiness Breaks.’ These bite-sized episodes, each lasting less than 10 minutes, are specially crafted to provide quick moments of meditation and inspiration.”
While September is designated as Suicide Prevention Month and May as Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s crucial to remember that mental health is a year-round concern, making it suitable for inclusion in your lesson plans whenever it fits.
One idea is to host ‘Mental Health Mondays’ once a month, during which you can select one of the recommended podcasts or explore others that resonate with your students. You could also sprinkle in ‘Happiness Break’ episodes for brain breaks every now and again.
In a world filled with noise, taking a moment to listen and reflect can make a profound difference. For additional secondary mental health resources, click here.
Use Podcasts to Teach Plot, Argument, and More
There’s something magical about listening to a production. It’s relaxing yet mentally stimulating; it’s relatable yet eye-opening … come to think of it, it’s no wonder podcasts are having a moment right now.
This rise in popularity means that no matter what you are looking for, there’s probably a podcast for that.
In fact, Natayle from Hey Natayle has made it a goal to tie one in with nearly every unit.
With her first unit of the year, Natayle has students get familiar with the plot diagram using Greeking Out podcasts. They make the perfect stepping stone between plotting Pixar Shorts and short stories.
And later, when her students are learning how to analyze an argument? Natayle uses Smash, Boom, Best. These fun and slightly silly podcast debates offer students the perfect opportunity to hone in on their ability to trace and evaluate an argument.
Use Podcasts as a Research Paper Prompt
Have you listened to the Unsealed Tylenol Murders podcast yet? If not, you should!
On a seemingly peaceful day in 1982, Chicago residents began to drop dead.
The only thing they had in common?
Each victim had taken an extra-strength Tylenol just moments before their death.
The police soon discovered that Tylenol across the city was laced with cyanide, and the poisonous medicine was immediately recalled.
But who did it?
Over forty years later, that question remains unanswered.
The Unsealed podcast attempts to get to the bottom of this unsolved mystery with research, interviews, and logic.
Olivia from Distinguished English listened to the podcast on a road trip last summer, and she immediately knew she had to use this true crime story in her classroom. Instead of listening to the entire podcast with your students, Olivia recommends using clips from the podcast to pique your students’ interest in the crime.
From there, your students can make claims about who the killer might be, and they can support their claims with evidence–from the podcast and from other online sources. Olivia’s students even write entire research papers about this puzzling crime!
Looking for more true crime? These True Crime Research Papers are a HUGE hit in the ELA classroom.
Conduct a Mock Trial
If you just can’t wait to get home and binge-watch your favorite criminal series, you’re not alone. We all know how much everyone loves true crime – our students included!
Why not bring this obsession to the classroom and align it with your learning goals? Whether you follow the Common Core State Standards or another provincial or state curriculum, you likely have some form of argumentative writing on the list of required teachings.
Daina from Mondays Made Easy has a tried and true approach to teaching this form of writing: help students see the value of developing strong arguments and locating solid evidence by hosting a mock trial.
A mock trial can be held for essentially any character or real-life figure in any criminal podcast (check out some great suggestions above!).
If crime is a bit too intense for your group, you can adapt this project-based learning activity to any podcast with a storyline that explores a protagonist who commits a moral error. This includes podcast episodes exploring controversial historic figures, like Cleopatra or Ghandi.
Podcasts cannot replace your entire ELA curriculum, but replacing one of your current units of study with a modern update might just be the thing your students need. If you want to engage more with podcasts, check out these Interesting Teacher Professional Development Podcasts. I hope this blog post has given you lots of ideas on how to use podcasts with students.