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Making podcasts with students

New York Teacher
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Have you heard? Podcasts are all the rage ... again. Podcasts were popular when technology began to filter through schools, but when video became easier to work with, many educators abandoned them. However, following the success of the podcast “Serial” which aired in 2014–16, podcasts have returned to the cultural forefront and have found their way back into the classroom. It’s not hard to understand why.

Creating podcasts with students involves more than just recording voices. A podcast project can integrate all four benchmarks of ELA (reading, writing, listening and speaking), as well as reinforce content in any subject area. Compared with a video project, producing podcasts requires less technical expertise and allows students to practice similar higher-order skills, such as research, design and revision.

Just like professional podcasts, a student podcast involves much more happening behind the scenes than the audience realizes. Always require students to script and plan their podcasts beforehand. Students can research information, craft a creative plan and assign roles based on specific criteria tailored to the project. Providing a rubric or checklist is essential. After a script is written, students should rehearse before they record, allowing them to practice and refine. Teacher feedback can be given at any, and every, step in this process.

Podcasts can be created with even the youngest of students, but the teacher may have to be more involved and the final product may be more basic. Older students, in addition to narration, can edit audio and add sound effects and music.

The recording process is nothing to stress over. If you are working with an iPad, purchasing the Garage Band app ($5) makes life a lot easier. It comes with sound effects and voice processing. You can record directly onto a computer, but using a USB microphone creates a higher-quality sound. The Blue Snowflake mic is widely available, cross-platform, plug-and-play and priced around $50.

Podcasts can be used for just about any classroom project. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Broadcasts from the classroom, like an audio newsletter. Students can report on your class and the school community at large. They can incorporate interviews with other school personnel, fellow students and even you. You can publish the podcasts on the school website for parents to hear.
  • Interview and role-play notable figures in your subject area. Students would first conduct research to learn about the notable figure’s life and accomplishments. Set the interview during a crucial time, such as while Harriet Tubman traveled south to bring slaves to freedom or after Galileo built his first telescope.
  • Students can teach concepts to their classmates. I used to use podcasts in this way to teach grammar: Each group of students explained a single grammatical rule, and then I’d post all finished podcasts on the classroom website for everyone to hear. This can be easily applied in math, science or any subject area.
  • Create a public service announcement about an important issue. First, students individually write an op-ed about a topic of their choice. The teacher chooses the most popular topics and organizes the class into groups. The teacher plays real public service announcements for the students to use as models and creates required criteria for the podcast, such as including a help line, advice or statistics.

No matter the project, be sure to add a listening piece so the entire class can hear and review the finished student podcasts. Speaking and listening are skills often overlooked in the classroom, but podcasts get everyone talking.

Sandy Scragg is an instructional technology specialist with more than 15 years of experience in New York City public schools.