Great podcast episodes for students and teachers

Find stories that will captivate you and your students, plus tips on how to get started

There are lots of teachers who love listening to podcasts and want to share that passion with their students. But many aren’t sure how to justify using podcasts in the classroom. That’s how I got started. I wanted to use Serial as a primary text for at least a few weeks, but I wasn’t sure how it would fit in with Common Core or how it might affect my students’ reading habits. It turned out that, for a variety of reasons, Serial worked better than most texts I’ve assigned. Plus, I learned that using podcasts with transcripts actually increases literacy skills and vocabulary acquisition.

Some teachers come at podcasts from a different need. They want to mix it up in their classrooms or want their students to practice listening skills. With just a little preparation, playing a podcast in class is as simple as hitting a few buttons.

I asked my fellow educators for their favorite episodes, considered some student-appropriate episodes that my high school classes have really liked, and came up with a small but solid list of must-listens. It’s organized into two categories: podcast episodes that can be shared with students in grades 9-12, and episodes teachers might find personally interesting (but aren’t for students). One important note: The student recommendations here are for teens and up since some of the themes are too mature for younger students. (You can find ideas for younger students here.)

4 podcast episodes students will love

Serial, Season 1, Episode 1, “The Alibi” | Transcript
Episode description: Introducing the essential details and providing real interviews with the main characters, Sarah Koenig reports on a true story from Woodlawn High School in Baltimore. A popular high school girl disappeared after school one day, and six weeks later detectives arrested her ex-boyfriend for her murder. He says he’s innocent, but his former friend with a penchant for lying gives the police a semi-believable eyewitness account, and another girl offers semi-believable alibi testimony. Somebody is definitely lying–but who?

The reasoning: Let this be your starting point. In all my years of teaching, no text has offered a better opportunity for students to practice their analytical skills. Students willingly and excitedly assess the evidence, judge the characters, dissect the testimonies, and break down exactly how Koenig crafted a story that engaged more listeners than any podcast in history. My wife and I published lesson plans shortly after this season finished, and we get a lot of encouraging feedback regarding student engagement, particularly in classes that are typically low-performing.

This American Life, Episode #538, “Is This Working?” | Transcript
Episode description: It’s an age-old question with no agreed-upon answer: What should teachers do with misbehaving kids? Using compelling interviews with teachers, a parent, and a child, this episode explores the possibility that the most popular punishments actually may harm kids in significant, long-term ways.

The reasoning: This episode is great for both teachers and students. They really like the story, particularly the little boy’s voice. Meanwhile, it gives me a great opportunity to introduce the concepts of classroom discipline and institutional racism while teaching different rhetorical strategies modeled by the narrator.

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