Listen Up! Podcasts in the Classroom

Three students stand in front of a wall painted with Frederick Douglass' image and a quote. Each student holds a book.

Professional headshot of Kitty FeldeThis is a guest post by Kitty Felde, host and executive producer of Book Club for Kids, a free, 20-minute podcast devoted to middle grade books and readers that has been recognized as one of the “Top 10 Podcasts for Children” by The Times of London. Each show features a trio of students discussing a favorite book, an interview with the author, and a celebrity reading.

Book Club for Kids is a 2018 recipient of the Cooke Foundation’s Good Neighbor Grant program, which is currently accepting applications from nonprofits in the Washington, DC metropolitan area that help students develop their talents and intellectual curiosity.

When we first launched the Book Club for Kids podcast in 2015, we spent a lot of time explaining the concept of a podcast. No more. Today, podcasts are everywhere. Librarians happily share their playlists with us and our young readers describe podcasts as “YouTube without the pictures.”

There’s even research to back up the usefulness of podcasts in education. Kathleen Scalise and Marie Felde, authors of Why Neuroscience Matters in the Classroom: Principles of Brain-based Instructional Design, say effective questioning strategies in a podcast allow a host to “employ three important instructional design elements –elaboration, extension, and knowledge integration –that research shows support understanding and reinforce memory.”

Teachers have even started using podcasts in the classroom.

Michele Bethune, an English teacher at Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, uses NPR’s Invisibilia in her investigative journalism class. She says the show helps students understand “the structure of investigative journalism without having to figure it out.” Students listen for structure, content, and credentials of the experts and hear how an initial anecdote can illustrate dense facts.

Social studies classes at Ridgecrest Intermediate School in Rancho Palos Verdes include the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. Teacher Joseph Dell’eva says the podcast adds “a very different part of the story that you don’t really hear.” Stories of women and people of color “bring more kids in,” he says, as does the conversational style and humor of the hosts.

A student sits on a stool and speaks into a microphone to record a podcast.

Joe Rodriguez at Normandie Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles has been using podcasts in the classroom for years, calling them “part of his pedagogy toolkit.” Joe says kidcasts “front-load content to a new unit in science, catch up on current events, listen to book reviews or a good science fiction story.” Joe created “Podcast Thursday” where students choose their own podcast, listen, and share back what they’ve learned. One of his students, 8-year-old Zemaurye, reports, “I like to listen to podcasts because we get to listen to different stories.”

Some teachers like Susie Gomez have taken the next step and started podcasts of their own. Susie teaches 7th and 8th grade English at Fedde International Studies Academy in Hawaiian Gardens, California. Susie’s students record book reviews, student interviews, and favorite class activities. The audio is edited and the podcast is emailed to parents. Her students “not only showcase what they learn, but also practice their speaking skills.”

If your students want to be podcast stars but you’re less than enthusiastic about technology or the time required to produce podcasts, there are a number of kidcasts out there –including Book Club for Kids – that would love to put your students on their show.

Additional information about using podcasts in the classroom is available from these resources:


Photo header: Three students from Washington, DC’s AIM Academy hold copies of The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson during a taping for the latest episode of the Book Club for Kids podcast.