Utilizing Podcasts as a Writing Activity

The following blog was contributed by Kim Chi Pham, middle school ELA teacher from Holy Family School in San Jose, CA.

How can I empower students, and at the same time, save ME time by having them do the work that ultimately helps them learn and practice skills? That was the question that jump-started my first year of teaching and led me down countless rabbit holes as I tried out shiny new EdTech tools.

Now, after having abandoned many of those tools, my aim for my third year is inspired by Dave Stuart Jr.’s idea that as teachers, “our work is to promote the long-term flourishing of kids.”

When I followed up with another teacher’s tip to try out podcasts, I applied this frame of reference as I delved into The New York Times’ Project Audio. The elements of this mini unit incorporate some of the core attractions of buzzworthy “new” teaching methods:

1. Student choice results in student engagement, nurturing their love of learning.

My students were excited to start and work on their podcast projects. There was no carrot to dangle other than giving them the chance to choose their own topics.

2. Students have the opportunity to practice relevant skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce: interacting with people and managing projects.

Though I briefly considered grouping my students together, I decided that they could all be leaders by making their own podcast. Since all of the podcasts played in class had multiple voices, I required students to also include multiple voices in their podcast. Not only did this allow for even more student choice, they also had to carefully consider who to feature for their chosen topic and how best to garner the kind of responses they would want to include in their podcast.

3. Students connect with the community within and outside school.

A few of my students did choose to conduct vox pop interviews for their podcast. With their parents, they went to the city center to ask people walking by to answer a few questions for them. I was surprised that my middle school students (and parents) were open to doing this. Others featured their family members, friends, or classmates. Some students even gave up their lunch recess to record in my classroom.

4. Students use higher-order thinking skills to create.

As an ELA teacher, I was thrilled that this project used all of the steps in the writing process. I heard from my students how they had to delete, add, and rearrange their audio tracks. Instead of the tools listed on original page, we used Anchor.fm to record and host the podcasts and the Chrome extension Beautiful Audio Editor to edit audio tracks.

            My students were motivated to learn how to use it on their own over a weekend because I warned them that I will be “slow and boring” when I model it for them. I only had to show them once, and after that, my tech-savvy ones took over to help out their neighbors. I was fortunate that troubleshooting was easy for this project. The common issue was in the publishing step, and now I know for next time that this is the part that I’ll want to screenshot and make a short video or gif of how to complete the publishing step.

Here are two student samples from my 8th graders:  Student 1 and Student 2

As a bonus, I did get to save time.

  • The New York Times’ mini unit is free and provides the materials you will need. They are ready to print or make into Google Forms or Docs.
  • The recommended samples listed on the Project Audio page are mostly kid-friendly between the start and end times, with the exception of the Dark Thoughts podcast that has topics that are heavy and violent.