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Podcasts for Real Skills and Compelling Conversations
By Samantha Jungheim & Eric H. Roth
“Any story hits you harder if the person delivering it doesn’t sound like some news robot, but in fact sounds like a real person having the reactions a real person would.”
–Ira Glass (1959- ), American radio personality and host of “This American Life”
Where do you find real world content to bring into your classroom? How do audio stories help your students learn? How do you teach multiple skills simultaneously?
Starting the Conversation
Teachers often look for authentic material to tap into multiple skills (i.e. reading and writing). Suggesting students watch sitcoms to improve their vocabulary and listening skills remains tried and true advice. Likewise, selecting short video clips to build toward a longer conversations helps English students’ listening skills. But what other content encourages students to create compelling conversations?
Students encounter the radio and podcasts in their daily life, and may listen to them in their first language. Podcasts provide a range of material to aid you in teaching core skills. Listening to podcasts furthers students’ interests in a variety of topics. Many American podcasts showcase American culture or news in the same way American television does. Why not take this opportunity to suggest a podcast like “Six Minute English” to your students instead of the dated “Friends”?
Now most podcasts are available online for free. We are able to recommend a range of podcasts to students before assigning homework to complete a Listening to the Radio Search and Share from Creating Compelling Conversations book.
Using Podcasts in Your Classroom
First, we share with the class a list of podcast recommendations. Then students choose one to listen to for a range of reasons. Busy English students might select whatever podcast is at the top of the recommendation list or advanced students could choose a specific podcast episode because of their field of interest.
Students listen to the podcast before the next class, jotting down a few notes. We provide guidelines, so students know they can listen to any podcast in English with a minimum duration of four minutes. This sets the students up for success because they are able to complete a majority of the homework while washing dishes or doing another task.
However, after listening to just four minutes, many students will switch to devote their focus to listening to the podcast. Some students will be surprised at the amount of vocabulary they pick up and start to acquire from listening to the same podcast more than once. Students use the Search and Share worksheet to organize their notes. This worksheet provides students with a template for pair or small group discussions during the following class session (fore more sample chapters from Compelling Conversations check here).
We engage students’ curiosity by allowing them to select the podcast and then listen to it in whatever way they want – while folding laundry or actively taking notes. This freedom helps along the next steps.
During the English class, students expand their knowledge further by hearing about the podcast their classmates selected. Our students practice summarizing and evaluating the podcast they listened to before class. Students share their summaries and ask each other questions.
Building Beyond a Search and Share
English teachers of course can take podcasts to another level. Brent Warner, community college professor and DIESOL Podcast host, makes podcasts the centerpiece of his advanced oral skills class. Students write and produce a thirty-minute podcast in class. He strongly recommends the NPR guide for students. “It’s fantastic!” Approaching a podcast from multiple angles (listener and creator) can lead to more exciting classroom experiences.
Depending on your students’ needs, podcasts could be a great gateway into introducing students to multiple skills you need to cover. For instance, you could use podcasts to introduce hedging or boosting language. Students could share their varying levels of certainty about the podcasts’ given topic.
On the other hand, you may just be looking for a homework assignment that reinforces skills students have already started to develop. In that case, having students listen to podcasts weekly or across the duration of your course is a great option. Students can talk to new partners and listen to a new podcast or podcast episode every week or so. This repeated extension activity creates a familiar structure and builds rapport in the classroom.
How do you use podcasts in your classroom? What have you found particularly useful? What’s your favorite podcast?