The Classroom Teacher’s Guide to Podcasting with Students
Modern students don’t live in a world dominated by pencil and paper, or standing in line for goods and services. As digital natives, they are accustomed to touch screens, streaming content, and having access to an on-demand world.
With many ways you can integrate technology within your classroom, when it comes to the R in SAMR, my go-to is podcasting. It’s an amazing approach to take with students who are walking around with creation devices everywhere they go. Not only does podcasting provide the space for students to reflect and showcase what they’ve learned in an interesting and authentic way; it provides opportunities for students to get experience with professional tools for a worldwide audience. This article covers resources to get you started podcasting with your students.
Learning with Podcasts
Before taking the plunge in creating podcasts with your students, take the time to expose your learners to what podcasts look like in the real world. Hearing real podcasts will familiarize them with different formats they can utilize once they start their own, as well as demonstrate the endless possibilities for content and topics.
To familiarize your students with the power and value of podcasts:
- Use podcasts as a research tool to gather information as part of an assignment or project.
- Focus on examining the different features of a podcast and how they are different from other media tools.
- Listen to a few favorites in your class to show students how information is presented.
Here are some of my favorite podcasts that offer a variety of formats and relevant content that would gauge student interest:
This is a kid-friendly podcasts that presents social scenarios from multiple perspectives offered by the hosts. What makes this podcast unique is the lively and engaging manner in which the content is shared. Listeners enjoy fun dialogue and special sound effects catered to children’s humor all while encouraging students to consider different points of views. Short and Curly podcast is presented in the ideal format for students who are interested in a debate style podcast or one where they are able to discuss a topic they are passionate about.
Each episode of Smash Boom Best focuses on juxtaposing two related topics and having guests present why one is better than the other. Some example topics include Aliens vs. Robots and Libraries vs. Museums. The host encourages listeners to keep score of the points made during the episode, which can be done by downloading a score sheet on their website—a very clever way to encourage student engagement. The format of the debate is entertaining for all learners and especially suitable for those students who like to think outside the box.
This podcast is hosted by a five year old boy who is fascinated by all things science. Each week he interviews professionals across different science fields to dig deeper into topics related to biology, chemistry, anatomy, and more. It’s amazing to see how this young child develops questions that get his guests to share their expertise in an engaging way for younger listeners. I would recommend this podcast as a mentor example of how to structure an interview style podcast.
This is an interesting option to explore because the topics are based on ones submitted by the listeners, who are mostly children. The hosts set out to answer the questions by either offering facts and information, or by interviewing experts who can give advice on a topic. For those topics that don’t necessarily have an answer, the host presents different opinions and points of view for listeners to ponder. This is an excellent format for those curious students who love to share their perspectives on a topic.
Stories podcast presents new fictional stories along with retelling of classic stories and folktales for its listeners. The storytelling format offers a creative approach to podcasting. All throughout, listeners are exposed to the power of voice overs, sound effects, and music, as well as the impact of creatively using these elements in storytelling. This podcast—specifically its format—is well suited for those creative learners with big imaginations.
Guiding Students in Podcasting
In order to equip your students for success, employ a solid structure—just as you would with any lesson—as you begin podcasting. One teacher in Tennessee introduces her six-phase process for designing podcasts for/with students that led to her students creating the winning podcast in the NPR Student Challenge. For this challenge, high school teachers in Tennessee collaborated on an interdisciplinary unit, where students created a historical fictional story based on an event that happened 100 years ago. Students worked in teams to write their stories and then were guided on how to make a podcast.
The six phases of the process include:
- Proposing topics
- Conducting background research
- Generating questions
- Finding experts to interview
- Conducting interviews
- Podcast production
While the phases presented are specific to her project, some of these steps can be adapted as a universal format to prep for an interview style podcast. It is recommended to have students research the topic they want to cover before even thinking about the logistics of recording, editing, and hosting. What makes her project stand out is that she involved community experts who vetted student questions during the research phases and in turn had her students interview six experts in the community to add historical perspective to their stories. While this is not required to make a podcast, it does add the perspective and guidance of professionals which, in turn, enriches the entire experience for students.
In this section, I will outline some activities that can be incorporated into your curriculum to have your students try out podcasts on a smaller scale.
Here are six ideas to get you and your students started with podcasting. Remember, podcasts can be an alternative to oral reports that can easily be implemented across subjects and contexts.
- Current Event Newscasts - Students research a current event, summarize it, and present to an audience
- Reading Radio - Students review books they have read and offer recommendations.
- School Reports - Using the school and events as a source of inspiration, students interview people at school to share upcoming school wide events.
- Cultural Celebrations - Students share happenings during holidays or events with cultural significance such as Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.
- School Tours- Students record a welcome message and description of the most important places in the school for new students.
- Podcasting Pen Pals - The class records messages or facts and information about themselves to share with a class in another state or part of the world.
These ideas are universal and can be differentiated for students from elementary to high school, engaging them by using multiple sources as inspiration.
Additionally, here are four podcasting ideas that lend themselves more toward the middle- and high-school aged classroom, designed to give a creative spin to writing and oral history projects:
- Field trip reports - Students share landmarks they visit in their own communities.
- Virtual field trips - Students highlight locations around the globe and their historical significance.
- Historical Community Interviews - Students interview community and family members to learn about one’s history and ancestry.
- Convert a personal narrative into a podcast - Students use the same template as the five paragraph essay but instead of writing, students create audio podcasts for their responses.
National Contests and Projects
Once your students have started the podcasting process, the next step is to put their skills to the test by participating in national contests. The NPR Student Podcast Challenge, now in its second year of production, is for students in grades 5-12 who are interested in submitting a podcast inspired by a selected theme. Last year’s topics included:
Tell us a story about something that happened in your school or community—recently or in the past—that you want your audience to know about.
- What is a moment in history that all students should learn about?
- Show us both sides of a debate about an issue that's important to you.
- What do you want to change about the world? What's a big change that you want to make in the future?
- Explain something to us that kids understand and grownups don't.
These prompts allow for students to express their viewpoints on topics that are relevant to them. They also change each year, so stay tuned to the contest website for the 2020 theme. In the meantime, you can check out NPR’s resources for students and teachers, which offer comprehensive guide and lessons that range from exploring the different types of podcasts with students, from interview practice to taking field notes.
Another project worth exploring is Story Corp’s, The Great Thanksgiving Listen. While not a contest, The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a project that encourages high school students to record the experiences of an elder, a mentor, or a friend to share with a global audience. The idea is to promote intergenerational conversations to capture personal stories and history, while the ultimate goal of the project is to preserve oral history by archiving these stories in the Library of Congress.
In order to participate, teachers must sign up through the project page and use the Story Corps app to upload audio recordings. This pages also hosts a Teacher Toolkit that includes lesson plans, multimedia resources, and guides for teaching students across contexts such as in the classroom and via extracurricular groups for example. Even if you decide not to participate in these contests and projects, their resource pages are definitely worth a look!
Podcasting is an excellent medium that teaches students communication and technology skills, but is also a space for students to explore different ideas and subjects while harnessing their voices. Podcasting with your students may seem daunting at first, but when you establish a routine and a clear structure for creating podcasts in the classroom setting, you will find that your students will take great pride in their work, provide greater evidence of their learning, and show up in your classroom in ways you never expected.