It was probably over ten years ago when our after-school multi-media club began creating podcasts for our school using GarageBand on our MacBook Pro. The students put a lot of work into each episode - adding intros and outros, recording segments of trivia and riddles, and playing around with bumpers and stingers. Unfortunately, our audience was small - basically the families of the students in the club and one loyal second grade teacher who played them for her class each week. Many people had never heard of podcasts back then, and there weren’t as many distribution hubs or options for subscriptions. Perhaps even more importantly, many educators did not see a way to integrate them into their lessons.
Nowadays, of course, podcasts are ubiquitous. With SoundCloud, Stitcher, iTunes, and Spotify (just to name a few) making it simple to both distribute and subscribe to these on-demand radio programs, as well as a pandemic to make the format even more appealing, new productions roll out every day. With a seemingly endless number to choose from and numerous user-friendly tools to create them, more and more educators recognize the value of podcasts as an educational tool.
Students might listen to podcasts for several reasons: to learn about a topic, practice listening skills, or analyze the anatomy of an audio program. In fact, some studies have shown that students who listen to podcasts as they read the transcripts might increase their literacy skills, much like reading subtitles during videos.
Some companies, like Listenwise, have built an entire platform around curriculum-based podcasts, but there are also plenty of free opportunities out there. If you’re working with younger students, your best bet is to use podcasts made just for them. These will take into account shorter attention spans and appropriate material. Fatherly recently published a list of their favorite podcasts for kids. Another option is to use the Leela Kids app to search for podcasts based on age level and other criteria.
For students from elementary to high school, We Are Teachers offer suggestions. But the truth is that many podcasts that appeal to adults can also be used in secondary classrooms. If you are an avid listener of podcasts yourself, you may hear segments on your programs that you think would fit perfectly with a unit or project. That Part is a new app that you can use to share portions of podcasts with your students. Take a screenshot of the episode as it is playing near the moment you want to save, and the app will help you save the piece and distribute it.
Whether playing podcasts synchronously for your class, adding them to choice boards, or presenting them as listening stations, there are several ways to ensure accountability while students listen to podcasts. One possibility would be to ask students to create a sketchnote that emphasizes the podcast’s main ideas. Another idea is to use a response sheet, like this free one from Mrs. Harwick available on Teachers Pay Teachers. Digital or paper reflections can be done using visible thinking routines, which can also serve as springboards for discussion. Some shows, like Wow in the World, have their own downloadable worksheets.
With a quick conversion to a video file format, podcast comprehension can be assessed formatively in EdPuzzle (use an MP3 to MP4 converter to change the podcast file format first), giving the teacher an opportunity to add stopping points and questions throughout the program as well as a simple way to share it with a class. Lastly, many podcasts that are specifically produced for children offer lesson plans. For example, Who Smarted? will send a curriculum for each of its episodes directly to your inbox if you subscribe.
As we know, higher levels of thinking occur with synthesis and creation, and this is where designing and producing their own podcasts can thoroughly engage students in learning. Publishing work for a larger audience can be a big motivator and lends authenticity to an assignment.
The main portions of any podcasting unit should include: listening to and analyzing published podcasts, choosing topics and formats, researching, planning, recording, editing, and distributing. In addition, there should be multiple points for assessment and reflection along the way.
Younger children (grades 3-5) will get a great introduction to making their own podcasts when you use the Smash, Boom, Best curriculum. This podcast is in a debate format and includes topics such as “Mermaids vs. Bigfoot.” Once students listen to a couple of episodes, they can research their own subject matter and turn it into a scintillating match-up for their classmates.
If your main focus is to help students tell a good story, The Moth Storytelling School is an excellent place to start. With plenty of examples and guiding questions and activities, you can lead students through the Moth Story Map as they craft their own autobiographical tales.
Another common podcast format includes interviews. In its educator materials for The Great Thanksgiving Listen, Storycorps provides a complete toolkit for teachers (that can be used anytime - not just at Thanksgiving) who want to encourage their students to interview someone and turn it into a podcast.
NPR hosts an annual podcast contest for grades 5-12. Whether or not you intend for your students to enter the contest, the curriculum guide is an excellent resource. The New York Times also provides guidance for their podcast competition, including planning, recording, and editing the program.
Recording can be done with just about any mobile device, though you may want to experiment with different microphones to increase the sound quality. Once something is recorded, you will need to note the device’s file format if you are using a different editing program. If you need to change the format, there are plenty of free file converters available online. Some apps, such as Anchor, can record and be used to edit as well as publish. Audacity and Garageband (Mac only) are often used for editing, but if you cannot download software due to district restrictions, Audiotool is free to use in a Chrome Browser.
Sharing a podcast depends on the audience you intend to reach. If it’s just within your school or classroom, “publishing” a podcast can be merely a matter of sending the file to a webmaster or attaching it to a parent e-mail. For a wider scope, Anchor and PodBean are two favorites that are free (though PodBean also has paid tiers) and will distribute your podcast to different channels such as iTunes and Spotify. You can read comparisons of some of the top contenders here. Don’t forget, if digital files of student work are being shared, to get appropriate guardian permission before you upload and circulate student-created programs.
Whether podcasts are a supplement to your curriculum, one of several options for a final product at the end of a unit, or an assessment that each student contributes to in their own way, there are many opportunities for choice, creativity, and reflection during the process. And, unlike a decade ago, there are multiple tools that can be used already available in most classrooms - so no fancy equipment is required.