Classroom Podcasting for the Middle Grades

Classroom podcasting is exploding!

I used to work as an NPR reporter, and eight years ago the industry was wringing its hands fearing the death of radio. What we didn’t foresee was the rebirth of interest in audio in the form of podcasting.

Recent research indicates that 51% of the US population has listened to a podcast, and that 91% of people aged 12-24 in the U.S listened to a podcast online in 2019. This trend is expected to continue as more people are eager to consume audio on-the-go via their phones or in their cars.

With such a young podcast audience, it’s no surprise that the instructional use of podcasts in K-12 classrooms is increasing. Teachers have discovered that listening to podcasts is a great way to promote deeper learning for students using a modality that has not been traditionally featured in the classroom. And thousands are also teaching their students how to create their own podcasts.

Podcasting is a great way to invite students to investigate authentic, engaging, complex questions and problems. It empowers students to share their voices with an audience beyond the teacher.

Not only is podcasting fun to do, but it can build important 21st-century skills and competencies, including communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.

And considering so many students are avid listeners, students are drawn to expressing themselves through podcasting. Not only can they emulate real journalists and famous podcasters, they are engaged in designing their own learning by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories, and pursuing answers and solutions.

Who Is Podcasting

Thousands of classrooms across grade levels, demographics, and locations are podcasting. More than 6,000 classrooms submitted podcast entries into the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. And the New York Times had 900 submissions for its student podcast contest. That’s an amazing number of aspiring podcasters!

I know the breadth and depth of student work because I’ve listened to dozens of student podcasts and spoken to the teachers who are making them happen. This past spring, we launched the Student Podcast PODCAST to help share their work. It’s a podcast that highlights and celebrates student work, demystifies the creation process by interviewing teachers about their successes and challenges, and hopefully inspires other educators to start podcasting with their students. (Listen to Episode 13 – NPR Podcast Challenge Middle School Winners.)

I interview teachers about their podcasting tips and their most surprising moments. Listening to the Student Podcast PODCAST is a great way to hear student work and discover new lesson ideas from practicing teachers.

What I’ve learned from these interviews is that students love making podcasts. Their teachers say it gives them agency in their learning. It lets them interview people within their community and hear firsthand experiences and perspectives. It allows them to be creative with their writing, song choices, and interview clips.

One 8th grade class created an entire podcast on radicals in math. And it’s fun to listen to! Another student explored the roots of her immigration story and learned about the history of the Philippines. In another student podcast, 5th graders dived into the etymology of words like kerfuffle.

Podcasting can take many different forms. Listen to this sample student podcast about what it means to be an adult. This was put together by Ms. Bannerman’s podcasting class:

And there is no age barrier to podcasting. Any child can podcast with the support of an adult. Listen to these kindergarten podcasters!

So why not get your students engaged in project-based learning through podcasts?

5 Steps to Classroom Podcasting

Step 1: Listen.

Start by having your students listen to high-quality audio stories. My company, Listenwise, is a great resource because it provides free access to a collection of more than 1900 audio stories from public radio curated for classroom use. Students need to hear great audio storytelling and what a good podcast sounds like before embarking on creating their own.

Step 2: Plan.

Creating a 3-minute podcast doesn’t take 3 minutes or even 30 minutes. It should take about two weeks of dedicating some part of class to researching, interviewing, writing, recording, and editing. Set aside sufficient project time for your students to focus on their podcasting projects.

Step 3: Collaborate.

Even when only one voice is heard, professional podcasting is typically a collaborative endeavor. Podcasts need interviewers, narrators, researchers and editors. All students should participate in the writing of the script, but students should be encouraged to choose production roles that play to their strengths.

Step 4: Assess.

As with most class work, it’s important to provide feedback on your students’ work. Don’t wait until the final podcast to assess their work; set up expectations at the start and provide feedback at critical points along the way. For example, if you provide feedback on students’ interview questions, the interviews are likely to be more productive. And remember, more important than the quality of the audio recording is the quality of the ideas and the depth of learning.

Step 5: Share.

What’s great about podcasting is that it lends itself to sharing student work with a wider audience. That audience might include peers, parents, or the rest of the school. Student podcasts can also be shared outside the classroom by submitting them to the next NPR contest — or to us, to be featured on an upcoming episode of the Student Podcast PODCAST.

Here are 8 easy project ideas to get podcasting in your classroom. If you want to chat with other educators about podcasting, Twitter is a great place to connect and explore classroom podcasting ideas using #podcastPD or #podcastEDU.

Don’t Fear the Technology

Podcasting is easy to do–at least technically. I’m not just saying that because I have 20 years experience in audio recording and editing. It’s because there are now so many free and low-cost recording and editing tools that the technical part of podcasting has become the easiest part.

Students can record audio on their smartphones or computers and use Audacity, which is a free downloadable editing program, to edit their podcasts. iPads are pre-loaded with GarageBand, another popular sound editing tool. If you have a budget, I recommend Soundtrap, a low-cost subscription-based online editing application that includes podcast features for educators, including transcription and sound effects.

These are all intuitive, user-friendly programs. While you might be intimidated by the complexity of audio editing, I doubt your students will be. Ask them for help! And if they need help, follow the rule of having them ask three other students before coming to you. 

Podcasting projects work well in the classroom or in blended or online learning environments. Podcast creation lessons can fit into one-computer classrooms, classrooms with mini-labs, and one-to-one classrooms, or they can be implemented using mobile devices or computer labs.

Go Classroom Podcasting!

You can find a variety of resources to support student podcasting projects in the Listenwise support center, including this article by an 8th grade social studies teacher, “Podcasting on Field Trips.”

And if you want more great resources to support your podcasting projects, check out the NYTimes Learning Network and NPR.

*Monica Brady-Myerov is a 25-year veteran public radio journalist and host and the founder and CEO of Listenwise. Before founding Listenwise, she was Senior Reporter and Assistant Managing Editor at WBUR in Boston, and her reports have been heard on NPR, Marketplace and numerous other outlets. Listenwise, with Common Core lesson plans built around story topics, is free for teachers (with limited features) and has premium features for school or district subscription levels.
If you are interested in participating in a more guided exploration of podcasting in your classroom, with live coaching and personalized support, you might consider this virtual 3-month professional development module hosted by Listenwise and Soundtrap. It’s designed for teams of up to six educators and a good budget fit ($3600) for schools that want to begin a building-wide program.