Monday, July 15, 2019

Why You Should Be Using Podcasts in Secondary ELA


If books are a uniquely portable magic, then podcasts are the wizard in your pocket. When you find interesting podcasts for teens that they want to listen to, you will open up a whole new world of literacy for secondary students. Did you know that podcast listeners are 29% more likely to have a household income of more than $75,000? And that they are more likely to have secured a four-year college degree? And that this powerful form of life-long learning is FREE and accessible on the devices our students are obsessed with? This is why you need to be using podcasts in your classroom, and this is why podcast units and pairings are such a passion for my English teacher heart.




Here's why you should be using podcasts in English class: 


1. Podcasts are a free form of complex, authentic, and diverse texts!

One reason I'm such a huge podcast proponent is because podcasts are FREE tools that give teachers and students access to diverse perspectives, voices, and content. While I'm not able to veer too far from my British Literature Curriculum, I can bring in diverse voices that pair with Shakespeare, multicultural perspectives that enrich my argumentative writing unit, and informational "texts" that enhance my lessons. With each podcast response, my students make deeper connections across multiple forms of media and perspectives. 

*Not sure where to look for rich-text podcasts? Be sure to check my podcast idea list out at the end of this post!



2. Listening is literacy and podcasts help build listening skills!


* Studies show that students generally listen two to three grade levels above what they’re able to read. Therefore, it stands to reason that listening should be a prime tool for introducing challenging language, vocabulary, and topics.

*Research also shows poor listening comprehension directly relates to students who do not develop adequate reading comprehension skills. If students have poor listening comprehension, they are poor comprehenders in all. While they might decode words on a page, they aren’t comprehending what they read nor what they hear. This increases with age. Researchers found that by eighth grade, listening comprehension and reading comprehension form a single construct.


*Listening comprehension involves the same language processes used to comprehend text except without needing to decode the page. Listening comprehension requires understanding individual words and sentences, but good comprehenders go beyond single words to construct a mental model that combines story elements, prior knowledge, and understanding. 


Citation: Hogan, Tiffany. Suzanne Adlof, and Crystle Alonzo. Int J Speech Lang Pathol. 2014 Jun; 16(3): 199–207. “On the importance of listening comprehension”



3. Podcasts make perfect mentor texts!

As writing teachers, we know the importance of using mentor texts with students. Because of their entertaining nature, podcasts can serve as perfect mentor texts for a variety of writing tasks and podcast responses.

For example, if you want students to write a mini-memoir, nonfiction narrative, or any other plot-based story, have them listen to one of the Goodnight Rebel Girls episodes. These stories showcase strong women throughout history by telling their stories in a succinct and entertaining way. The podcast episodes have everything you would want in a mentor text: rich vocabulary, interesting plots, story elements, and worthy characters-- all within 15-20 min of entertainment for your ears.

Another example of a mentor-text-ready podcast would be Science VS for teaching students the thought process for using reliable sources and for using evidence to support their claims. This podcast has a lively host who takes topics like "Climate Change... the Apocalypse?" and talks through the evidence that either supports or discounts these stances. *As with any podcast that I have mentioned in this post, you will need to preview the episode before you play it in class or assign it for homework. 


4. Podcasts are high-interest for students.

Perhaps the most important reason teachers should use podcasts in their classrooms is because podcasts are a high-interest form of media for students. The best part about finding interesting podcasts is that most students haven't even been introduced to podcasts yet. This means that YOU get to be the person who ignites that spark of curiosity, wonder, and enjoyment for a new form of literacy!  There is nothing better in an English teacher's world than converting an "I hate English" student to a lover of the spoken word.

This is why podcasts are a literacy passion of mine. I have seen podcasts transform non-readers into life-long listeners, and I want every teacher to realize the incredible potential of using podcasts in their classrooms!



5. Podcasts make ideal informational text pairings!

As my readers and followers already know, I truly enjoy finding intriguing and unexpected informational text pairings that help students look at literature-- and therefore the world--in a deeper way. Podcasts provide incredible opportunities to pair interesting informational text with themes found in your curriculum. You can find an entire blog post I wrote dedicated to podcast and literature pairings here: Podcast Pairings for the ELA Classroom

Read all the way to the bottom to get this printable podcast recommendation list! 

Now that you have the why, I want to give some podcast recommendation ideas for your secondary English classes.  I don't listen to podcasts to find literature lessons; I let the literature lessons find me. However, I've listened to so many podcasts that I have a pretty good idea of where to send you so that you can find some winners for your ELA lesson plans.

Podcast Episode Recommendations for English Language Arts: 

*Remember: PLEASE preview each of these episodes to ensure the content is acceptable for your classroom. 


Science vs is an interesting and fast-paced podcast that teaches the listener how to investigate topics using reliable data from science. The host is funny and the topics are relevant for today's students! As with all of the podcasts below, transcripts are available on their web-based platform.





Hidden Brain is a podcast that I listen to each and every week. It is FASCINATING, and the writing is everything an English teacher dreams of.  For example, in The Sorting Hat episode, Shankar Vedantam (the host) begins by playing a snippet form Harry Potter then transitions into the controversial topic of personality tests. After giving first-hand accounts, research and his own experience with being branded by a personality, he circles back to Harry Potter to close it out. Brilliant. Simply brilliant. Also, while I'm here, I will go ahead and do a deep dive into how I plan lessons using podcasts. When I heard this episode, I immediately thought of a character sorting strategy that my coworker uses. Here is the strategy:

Follow me on Instagram @BuildingBookLove for more ELA Strategy Ideas!

This made me think of the idea of having students sort each other and the characters they are currently reading as a hook, listen to the podcast through the lens of an employer or teacher researching the best practices for grouping, then close with a discussion or persuasive essay on whether personality tests are harmful or helpful. 

I hope this little look inside how my mind thinks of podcast lesson plans was helpful! Now on to more recommendations so that you too can create your own podcast activities! 





I always recommend Criminal for those who can't teach Serial because of the content. If you are looking for podcasts like Serial, Criminal is a great one to try!  Criminal isn't a long-form podcast like Serial, but the episodes have the same high-interest factor and lend well to persuasive writing.





Smash Boom Best is another persuasive/ debate podcast and the topics work really well with younger students. If you teach 5th-8th, this is a great podcast to try out!





Historically Black doesn't have a lot of episodes, but the ones they do have are must-listens. These episodes work well with giving context and diverse voices. The Harlem episode would make a fantastic pairing to help disrupt The Great Gatsby. #disrupttexts 





Goodnight Rebel Girls is absolutely a DELIGHT to listen to. The episodes are short and full of entertaining sounds and storylines. These episodes are wonderful mentor texts for literary nonfiction and narrative writing.





This is Love is by the same group as Criminal, and the reporting, author's craft, and production are the same exceptional quality. While Criminal focuses more on crimes and moral dilemmas, This is Love focuses on the human condition and metaphors that relate to love. Start with "Ugly Club" and become forever hooked.



Though I've given you a great list of podcasts to listen to, I would love for you to explore the episodes under each category on your own so that you can find the episodes that speak to you and your students. Please tag me on any social media @BuildingBookLove if this post inspired you to start using podcasts in your classroom! 



If you are worried about students remaining engaged throughout an entire podcast episode, I highly recommend trying podcast listening worksheets and podcast listening coloring notes. I'm always amazed at how focused my students are when they listen, doodle, and learn!

Want to hear me speak on this topic? Join me for an online technology conference that will be held July 22, 2019- July 24, 2019 (replays for up to one year). I will be live on July 23, 2019 from 3:30-3:50 EST answering all of your podcast in the classroom questions.  Register here: Teach with Tech

Below is a PDF full of podcast ideas for you! I put ELA Common Core Standards under each category to help you think about which standards you can reach by using podcasts in the classroom. Simply sign up for my Building Book Love Letter, and I will email you the printable along with other helpful English teacher inspiration!

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