The school I was working at prior to my time volunteering and travelling through South East Asia was 5 minutes drive from my house. I don’t like wearing head phones while I exercise. I get easily emotionally involved in stories and find it hard to sleep when listening to narrative or expository audio.
Ergo, I’ve never been much of a podcast person. I mean, I listened to some Harry Potter fan-casts when I was at uni, and dabbled in some comedy programs every now and then, but I never thought I’d be someone who would binge a podcast.
Then came 9 hour bus trips through Cambodia and Vietnam. Then came roads that were so bumpy, sleep wasn’t an option. Then came hitting myself in the face with books as I launched out of the seatbelt-less bus benches. Then came, like a saviour, podcasts.
The first podcast I binged was the fantastic Serial which is produced by This American Life and written by Sarah Koenig. It, episode by episode, slowly unveils the story behind a murder case which has been closed… but never really resolved. The writing is masterful and the storytelling is deliberate and, at times, explicitly referenced. Depressingly, because #teacherlife is all consuming, all I wanted to do after listening was to write a series of lesson plans for Year 11 English. I still may. Regardless, the podcast engaged me deeply, made me laugh, cry, hold my breath, and importantly, reconsider the value of podcasts in the classroom.
Podcasts open up the world in a way that other literary mediums can sometimes struggle to achieve. It’s common knowledge that literacy is not just about print literacy in its traditional forms- books, poems, newspapers- but is now broadening to include media, visual, film and critical literacies as well. A study of podcasts not only engages students’ aural literacy but can also address their critical thinking skills and their general media literacy. Plus, podcasts are cheap, accessible and, often, short. This means that they can be engaged with within the classroom, at home, and in transit for a majority of student/consumers. For students who do not have access to internet accessible devices, they are able to consumed (as they are short) in libraries, on campus or on borrowed devices. Podcasts with transcripts address concerns regarding both students who are learning English as an additional language and students with hearing impairments. They really are a teacher’s dream- especially when you take into account the educational resources many podcasts come equipped with.
In my role as the Passport to Democracy Coordinator, I’m always on the look out for ways of making learning about democracy both more accessible and more engaging for young (and not so young!) learners. Obviously, our own dynamic and curriculum based resources are excellent ways of engaging young people and developing active citizens but in addition to these, as either homework tasks, follow up materials, or extension work, podcasts are a highly engaging, valuable and simple teaching tool.
There are incredible political/civics podcasts available but one which I highly encourage exposing your primary aged students to is the ABC series “Short and Curly”, described as
“a fast-paced fun-filled ethics podcast for kids and their parents, with questions and ideas to really get you thinking. It asks curly questions like about animals, technology, school, pop culture and the future.”
THIS episode contains a debate featuring the opinions of students, researchers and laypeople, on the issue of young voters and lowering the voting age so that children can vote. The podcast is highly engaging, funny and aimed at young listeners. It is empowering in that some of the presenters are young, the language used is highly accessible, and the content is interesting. It also offers students the opportunity to respond both during the podcast and afterwards.
The following activity requires students to use the above podcast as a launching point and develop their own plan for an interview with some of the key stakeholders of this issue. They must also express their own point of view, addressing and rebutting the arguments of the opposition using evidence, persuasive devices and rhetoric. Finally, students can choose to write (and/or record) an audio script for their own podcast in response to the original. This activity not only develops the multi literacy of students but also engages their critical and creative thinking skills. There are also three shorter activities linked to this podcast:
- An annotation of the media file where students decide
- How the episode has been divided into sections and why
- The tone of the episode (with supporting evidence from the language features and production features)
- The audience of the episode (with supporting evidence from the language features and production features)
- The purpose of the episode and of the podcast (with supporting evidence from the language features and production features)
- A proposal for another episode for the same podcast which outlines
- The topic/issue
- 3 discussion points
- A conclusion point
- A review of the podcast which requires students to detail their feelings about
- The topic
- The way the topic was presented
- The validity and reliability of the content
- The way their own point of view affects the way they feel about the podcast (the effect of their bias)
I hope these activities are a helpful tool for any teachers looking to break into the world of podcasts. I encourage you not to stop here though; there are so many excellent ways of using podcasts in your classroom, in both analytical and creative tasks.
If you have used podcasts in your classroom – especially if you have used them in relation to the Passport to Democracy program – let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear about it!