The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide for How to Use Podcasts to Teach English

Published on
May 25, 2020
|
Updated on
September 4, 2020
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📖
14
min read
Written by
Ramsay Lewis

Podcasts can be a great teaching tool. Here is how you can use podcasts to teach English both in class and as supplemental material.

The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide for How to Use Podcasts to Teach English

I’m an English teacher in Brazil. I’ve worked with both kids and adults and I’m always experimenting with new and effective ways to keep my students engaged and learning.

My biggest challenge as an English teacher for adults and business professionals was getting them to engage with English outside of our lessons together. Lessons are great, but students make much faster progress when they also engage with the language outside the classroom. 

My biggest challenge teaching kids and teens, besides managing behaviour, was finding engaging materials and designing the lesson around an interesting topic. They were curious about how the world works and what other cultures were like. I needed to find materials that could satisfy their curiosity as well as provide authentic materials that supported the language concepts that I was teaching.

My go-to solution in both cases was podcasts. 

With the adults, I recommended that they listen outside of class as supplemental English activities. 

With the kids, I often used podcasts as the content around which to teach aspects of English, or I used them for homework assignments.

Podcasts have a lot of potential for English teachers. They are a very valuable resource, and I’m always surprised at how few English teachers use them. 

Here, I want to give some ideas about how English teachers can use podcasts as a teaching tool; this is the ultimate teacher’s guide for how to use podcasts to teach English.

What’s Great About Podcasts

Podcasts are great for a bunch of reasons.

  • They are authentic. Podcasts are useful because they provide students with examples of how people actually talk. Rather than silly, made-up dialogues, podcasts feature real conversations and speech.
  • They are diverse. Sure, some English textbooks try to provide a variety of English accents in their audios, but many don’t. Podcasts offer you a wide range of types of spoken English. 
  • They are convenient. One of the reasons I suggested podcasts to my business professional clients is that these clients are busy. They don’t have a lot of extra time for English activities. Podcasts worked for them because they could listen in the car or while they were at the gym. As long as you have access to the internet and a pair of headphones, you can listen to podcasts. 
  • They are interesting. Students don’t want to do exercises unless they’re genuinely engaging. Podcasts are designed to be interesting. They are for people who are curious about how the world works. 
  • They improve speaking skills. Teachers know that listening activities, like podcasts, improve listening skills. But many don’t know that they also improve speaking skills! Don’t believe me? Check out our post on the science that suggests listening to podcasts improves speaking skills as well as listening skills. 

Podcasts are a flexible and useful classroom resource. Here are some ideas about how you can use them in your classroom. 

  1. Use podcasts as an in-class listening activity.
  2. Create a podcast as an in-class speaking activity.
  3. Assign podcasts for homework.
  4. Recommend podcasts as a supplemental activity. 

Podcast Use 1: In-class Listening Activities

Podcasts can be used as part of your classroom listening activities. Here are some ideas for how you can use them in your classroom. 

Listening comprehension quiz

Here, you’re interested in having students focus on listening for understanding and meaning. 

To do it:

  1. Play the podcast. You can present the podcast once or a few times. 
  2. Students then demonstrate their understanding with a short quiz, questionnaire, or written summary.

Listening comprehension discussion

Again, in this activity you want your students to practice listening for general meaning. But here, you’re using the podcast as an opening for discussion. 

To do it:

  1. Play the podcast. You can present the podcast once or a few times. 
  2. Put questions that you want to engage with on the board. Some examples are:
  • What is this episode about?
  • Who is speaking?
  • What are they talking about?
  • What is the general mood of the conversation?
  • Where are they?
  1. Students can discuss answers to questions in partners, in small groups, or as a class.

Introduce new vocabulary

Here, your goal is to introduce new vocabulary. 

To do it:

  1. Start by teaching key target vocabulary and creating a glossary of the new words. These will be a guide for students to use as they listen to the podcast. 
  2. Provide a transcript of the podcasts as a cloze activity with blank spaces where the key words should be. Students can populate the blank spaces with the correct key vocabulary. Pro tip: you can get key vocabulary lists and transcripts for episodes of English Learning for Curious Minds podcast when you become a member.

Vocabulary Bingo

Here, your goal is to have students recognise vocabulary words using the game of Bingo

To do it:

  1. Teach key vocabulary and choose a podcast that uses those words. 
  2. Create bingo sheets based on the key vocabulary. 
  3. Play the podcast. 
  4. Students have to listen for the phrases. If they find one, they cross off that square. If they get 5 squares in a row, they win.

Conversation starter

Here, your goal is to begin a class discussion or conversation. The purpose of the podcast is to provide some background information or to introduce an idea or topic. You can also use it to start off a unit—maybe on the environment or fair trade

To do it:

  1. Play the podcast. 
  2. Have the class summarise what they heard.
  3. Ask them what they think about the podcast content. Do they agree? Disagree? Why? Do they think there is a problem? What is it? Who is responsible?
  4. Have students discuss questions in partners, small groups, or as a class.

Write a letter to the podcaster

Here, your goal is to practice writing. The podcast is simply a piece of material for the students to respond to. 

To do it:

  1. Play the podcast. 
  2. Have the class summarise what they heard and discuss it if necessary.
  3. Ask students for examples of how they might respond to the podcaster. What would they say to her or him?
  4. Introduce a letter-writing activity. It can be a full letter or a paragraph or just sentences depending on the level of the students.
  5. Depending on student interest, you could actually send the letter. 

On that note, we love to hear from students and listeners of the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast! We encourage you to email us here.

Listen for grammar

Here, your goal is to have students notice particular grammatical constructions. 

To do it:

  1. Introduce and teach the grammar points that you are targeting.
  2. Choose a podcast in which the speaker makes use of those target grammar constructions.
  3. Play the podcast for your class.
  4. Have them write down instances of the grammar construction. Or, provide a multiple choice sheet and have them circle the instances of the target grammar construction that they hear.

Listen for pronunciation

Here, your goal is to have your students notice particular aspects of pronunciation, intonation, register, or accent. 

To do it:

  1. Introduce the aspect of pronunciation that you’re interested in. 
  2. Play the podcast.
  3. Have students try to repeat the sounds. Or, have them compare the pronunciation or accent from a speaker in one podcast with that of a speaker in another podcast. 

General activity tips

Here are some things to keep in mind as you use podcasts for in-class activities.

  • Pre-teach. Make sure you set your students up for success by pre-teaching anything necessary for the podcast.
  • Choose appropriate length. Shorter podcasts are better for in-class activities. You can break-up a longer podcast by playing segments of them. 
  • Have a purpose. Make sure students know why they’re listening and what they’re listening for (a certain piece of grammar, the gist of the podcast, certain vocabulary, etc.)
  • Filter. Go through the podcast ahead of time to choose the segment you want to present. Make sure it will work and is appropriate for your activity. 

Podcast Use 2: Create a Class Podcast 

This may be my favourite way to use podcasts to teach English. The goal here is to make a class project where your students make their own podcasts. 

This works best as an individual or small group activity. Each student or group can create a podcast episode on a common topic. Then you can put them together into a digital collection or series. The podcast is very flexible; it can be used for a variety of class topics and at any level. 

To do it

  1. Research. Have your students research the topic. They should gather enough information that they can make an entire episode. You can decide how long each episode should be depending on the level and age of the students. 
  2. Write a script. Your students should then write a script for each of the episodes. You can review the scripts and correct language if you like.
  3. Learn the technology. Depending on your class, you may want to teach them how to use the technology. For example, two of the most popular programs for recording and editing audio are Audacity (for Windows) and Garageband (for Macs). You might also need to teach how to use the microphone, edit the audio, and so on. Here’s a post on how to actually create a podcast. You don’t need to go ‘high-tech’ though—just recording with the inbuilt recording app on a smartphone will also do the job.
  4. Record and edit. Have your students record their scripts. Make sure they understand how to edit the audio. Encourage them to get creative and add in music and sounds. Save the podcasts as an audio file. 
  5. Play the podcasts. You can play the podcasts in class or at an end-of-unit celebration so that students can enjoy their work and get additional listening practice. Also, consider building in some of the activities in the previous section to maximise learning. 

Podcast Ideas

Here are a couple ideas for podcasts your students could make. But feel free to get creative!

  • Audio tour. Students pretend they are a travel guide. They can give an audio tour of the school or a local tourist attraction.
  • Explore culture. Students talk about a local cultural event or tradition, or cultural events and traditions that they have learned about from other countries. 
  • Current events. Students give a news broadcast about important local news items or international events.
  • Debates. Students host a debate show and argue for and against different sides of a somewhat controversial topic. 
  • Guest speaker interviews. Students interview guests that they think are interesting. These could be real guests (the principal, a fireman) or imagined ones (someone pretends that they are Barack Obama or Lady Gaga).
  • Classmate biographies. Students can interview each other and ask about their personal lives: family, their age, what they like to do, where they are from, and so on. 
  • Book reviews. Students provide an audio book report on something that they have been reading—either in class or at home. 

General Activity Tips

Adjust for English level. Making a podcast can be appropriate for all language levels, but you might need to make some adjustments. 

You can make this activity easier by:

  • Providing sample scripts 
  • Providing key vocabulary
  • Providing key facts and information
  • Lowering requirements for grammar difficulty
  • Making the episodes shorter
  • Slowing down the audio (for example, to 0.75x)

You can make it harder by:

  • Requiring more complex language and grammar
  • Requiring longer episodes
  • Requiring more indepth research
  • Requiring dialogue
  • Speeding up the audio (for example to 1.25x)

Adjust for age. This activity is appropriate for most age levels, but again, you might have to adjust. 

Make accessible to younger students by:

  • Giving more structure for topics
  • Giving pre-written or partially written scripts
  • Giving research guides or provide information
  • Helping them use the technology and assist with recording
  • Making the episodes shorter

Make enjoyable for older students by:

  • Giving them more latitude for topics
  • Allowing them to find their own information and research
  • Giving more flexibility for type of podcast and content
  • Letting them be more independent with technology
  • Making the episodes longer

The experience of actually making a podcast can be a fantastic way for students to improve their English, as one of our listeners, Daniel, found out when he made his own English podcast.

Podcast Use 3: Assign for Homework

Podcasts can be a great out-of-class activity as well. You can assign them as a homework assignment to reinforce the content that you're learning about in class. 

For example, if you're learning about Great Britain, assign a podcast about the gin craze, Guy Fawkes, or the Royal family. If you're learning about global issues, give a podcast about fair trade or about suffragettes

To do it

  1. Find a podcast that is relevant to what you are teaching.
  2. Provide students with instructions for how to access the podcast. 
  3. Have students complete a homework activity. This could be a true/false activity, multiple choice questions, or short answer questions. It could also be a written response to the podcast or topic. 

General activity tips

Here are some things to keep in mind as you assign podcasts for homework activities.

  • Pre-teach. Make sure the podcast is relevant to what students are learning. This could be in terms of topic or in terms of a particular language lesson. 
  • Choose appropriate length. Podcasts for homework can be a little longer than for in-class activities, but don’t choose ones that are too long. 
  • Have a purpose. Make sure students understand what they are to get from the podcast and what to listen for. 
  • Filter. Go through the podcast ahead of time to choose the segment you want to present. Make sure it will work and is appropriate for the homework assignment. 

Podcast Use 4: Supplemental Activities

My business adult clients were always looking for ideas for how they could practice English outside of lessons. I suggested that they create their own English immersion programme at home, but I especially highlighted the utility of podcasts. 

These were busy professionals and they were looking for something that they could do that wouldn’t take time away from their commitments or time with their kids. Listening to podcasts on their commute or while they were at the gym was appealing to them. 

So that’s another way you can use podcasts to teach English: recommend them as supplemental material or an “extra” activity. 

Tips

  • Explain podcasts. Many of my adult clients hadn’t listened to podcasts before. Help them understand what they are by showing them how to find and listen to podcasts.
  • Have a list of some favourites. My students weren’t that interested in looking around for podcasts themselves; they wanted my suggestions. Have a list of your favourites ready to recommend for students. 
  • Choose interesting podcasts. Listening to podcasts is difficult if they’re not interesting. Do your students a favour and choose ones that are engaging. They’ll stick with a fascinating podcast even if the language is a bit hard. 

Conclusion

Podcasts are amazing teaching tools. Science suggests that they’re effective at both improving listening skills and speaking skills. They can teach vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and fluency. They’re accessible, convenient, and inexpensive. 

That makes them great resources for use in your classroom. We encourage you to try them out with one of the suggestions in this article, and feel free to get in touch with us if you’d like some more tips on using our podcasts for your class.