Using Podcasts in the ELA Classroom

Teaching today’s teens necessitates that we integrate technology into our practice. We get that. This is not new. But how? Sure, it does mean going digital, and many schools are making the move to 1:1 classrooms; that’s a great step in the right direction. Yet we cannot simply place laptops in front of students with digital versions of paper-based worksheets and feel as though we have that 21st-century-skills-box ticked.

No; it cannot be an add-on. We as educators need to find ways to interweave our instruction with digital experiences, to infuse our lessons with social media interactions, and to permeate our practice with new media elements. That’s how we make learning relevant and instructive with the technology we have at our fingertips.

So many teachers are doing this incredibly: teachers right here on this blog. For example, I have aimed to really do this with my music videos lesson plans which have students analyzing currently videos to help teach a range of ELA skills; Sara, from Secondary Sara has a year of multimedia poetry lessons which you really need to check out; Presto Plans has a great resource for using videos as writing prompts; and Nouvelle ELA uses webquests to help bring Shakespearean language to life.

Here is another way to integrate technology and new media in your ELA classroom: PODCASTS.

Ok, so there are a world of incredible podcasts out there, yet how exactly might they be used in the classroom? Here are just a few ideas for when/why I use them.

1. To teach LISTENING SKILLS: So much of communication is listening, and this really is a vital skill for students to learn. Podcasts are a great way to teach this skills as students really have to think about what they are listening to, and try to comprehend, engage with and respond to the contents. 

2. To teach NOTE TAKING SKILLS: It is vital that we help our students learn to take notes and make sense of the information with which they are engaging. Therefore, having them listen to podcasts and try out different note taking strategies, is a really important part of the ELA skillset. 

3. To help MAKE CONNECTIONS ACROSS GENRES: I love using podcast to pair with my novel studies: for example, when studying The Great Gatsby we might listen to a podcast about desire or the American dream. This will help students synthesise information across text and types of texts to provide more meaningful engagement and learning. 

4. To facilitate PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: Why not have students create their own podcasts? Not only does this help teach new media skills (editing, recording, designing etc.) but it can also be great for collaborative work, as well as helping student to think about communication of information and skills of delivery.

1) Hand out large pieces of paper and lots of colorful markers. 
2) Play an engaging podcast and instruct students to draw, write keywords, link ideas, make connections etc.

1) Instruct students to listen to a podcast for homework and to come to class with questions for discussion. 
2) In the next class, facilitate a discuss / complete a comprehension exercise / have students write an essay as a response.

1) Instruct students to listen to a podcast and take notes (You could use this FREE worksheet for this purpose) 
2) Hold a socratic discussion in response to the podcast: this hits both listening and speaking goals! 

1) Instruct students to find the podcast on their phones (if allowed). 
2) Go outside on a beautiful day to have them listen and breath in some fresh air! 

1) Have students listen to a podcast and just write down words and phrases, lots and lots of them that they pick up on. This could be a list, or sketch note.
2) Then have students write found poetry from these words noted: a great way to turn non-fiction into poetry, and scaffold the process of writing poetry.

If you are new to podcasts, you may be wondering how to even select one to use in the classroom. So here are just a few of my current favorites; yet I encourage you to get listening to find others that will work for your students.

TEDtalks are awesome. We all know that. But did you know that they also make fabulous podcasts? What I love about them is that often take a concept or idea, and then pull from a variety of talks on the stage, and weave them together with interviews and ideas. For example, their episode “The Hero’s Journey” would be an excellent addition to a mythology unit. 

This American Life
If you haven’t listened to This American Life yet, grab a coffee, put it on, go for a walk and listen with joy (while thinking about all the classroom possibilities!). Woven together through the iconic voice of Ira Glass, each episode follows a theme, and then in 4 acts this idea is examined from varying angles. My absolutely favorite episode is 3 Miles: a story of two schools divided by huge class disparities. This episode has sparked many a lively and meaningful debate in my classroom.

If you are looking for a way to collaborate across subjects, ask the science or computing department what the currently teaching, and then head over to Radiolab and look for something on that topic: indeed, they weave stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries which would be great to integrate into the classroom. A great starting place is the episode, Super Cool.

Looking at the invisible forces around us in the world, the two female presenters (yay!) of this podcast present some really thought-provoking stories and concepts. For example, I recently played the episode on Fear during my Lord of the Flies unit as we discussed the fear the boys experience on the island: we did this while sketchnoting and my students made connections between the contents of the podcast, and the theme of the novel.

The Allusionist
This one is great specifically for the ELA classroom: the host, Helen Zeltzman, explores words and phrases of the English language - the weird and the wonderful. Each episode is only 20 minutes long, and will be sure to spark an interest in the way we communicate with each other every day.

There are many great teaching resources out there for this one! I would be surprised if you hadn’t even heard of Serial as it certainly created quite the buzz and even made listeners out of those who had never even heard of podcasts. It is investigative journalism which tracks a true story over many episodes. One of the great parts of this is that you can listening to the whole season over many classes and really get into it as you would with a novel study. 

Do you use podcasts in your classroom? We'd love to hear which ones and how you use them!

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