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Why use podcasts in class (and 14 activities to try!)

Why use podcasts in class (and 14 activities to try!)

Authentic materials—written, audio, and video materials students come across in everyday life—can be a wonderful addition to your teaching toolbox. Podcasts are an example of authentic material, and likely a format you and your students are familiar with. But why (and how?) can they be incorporated into your class?

Types of podcasts

There are three types of podcasts that teachers will be interested in:

  • Authentic podcasts—not originally designed for the EFL classroom. (For that reason they are very genuine sources of real-life language use, and good for higher level students.)
  • Teacher podcast—audio content created by teachers, likely for their own class.
  • Student podcasts—audio content recorded by students, in response to a topic and supervised by their teacher.

The following tips relate to authentic podcasts: those you as a teacher didn’t have a part in creating.

Why consider them?

Ohh, there are so many reasons. Essentially, podcasts cover practical content, interviews and current events, played out at real-time conversational speed with true-to-life accents. In short, this makes them great for training your students’ listening comprehension. They can be downloaded, listened to repeatedly, slowed down, sped up, shared, stitched together and cropped—and are available on every theme under the sun. (Really, from physics to fashion and cooking to cryogenics.) You can find them easily on Google, iTunes, and Play Store, plus on the websites of some large educational institutions and major broadcasters (such as the BBC and ABC).

Tips for best practice

Though podcasts are a teacher’s best friends, you can’t just play one and call it a day. While planning, remember:

  • Shorter is better. For beginners, use a maximum of 5 minutes.
  • Analyze the episode’s structure. Is there a use of music or clear passages to mark transitions? The more structured the episode is, the easier it will be to segment for use in class.
  • Always have a purpose. Each time students listen they must know what they are listening for (gist? a certain piece of grammar? a teacher-generated list of terms?)
  • Filter. Before class, carefully choose the segment you’ll present and decide how you will pre-teach any material likely to inhibit meaning.

Try these activities in class

  1. Predictions—Provide your students with a summary of the episode and ask them to predict five things they believe will happen. Listen and check.
  2. Listening comprehension—Prepare a short questionnaire for students. Allow them to scan the questions, and ask them to complete it following the episode.
  3. Listen for gist—Provide broad questions about general meaning: What is this episode about? Who is speaking? What are they talking about? Where are they? What’s the general mood of the conversation? Listen once to answer. Listen again, then compare with a partner. Compare open class.
  4. Summarize—Students listen then summarize the episode. After listening a second time, ask them to add more information to their summary. Compare with a partner.
  5. Listen with a glossary(Lower levels) Create a glossary of new terms. Hand this out before playing the episode and let students use it as a guide during the listening.
  6. Introduce new language—Pre-teach difficult words, then listen to the episode writing the words on the board as they come. Listen again and identify them in context. Following this, reinforce them in your students’ lexicon by working on them in class using your favorite go-to vocabulary activities.
  7. Conversation starter—Controversial topics can be introduced and discussed by listening to a segment from a related podcast.
  8. Write a “letter to the podcaster.”—Ask students to write a response to the episode, addressed to its creator. (Depending on student interest and the podcast content, you may consider actually sending in these letters.)
  9. Listen in chunks—Segment a longer episode into chunks and use them to start each lesson over several days. Before beginning, allow pairs to recall the previous day’s episode and make predictions about the next installment.
  10. Bingo—Based on the podcast’s theme, ask students to write down ten words, expressions, or pieces of grammar they think they’ll hear. During the episode, students play bingo, crossing items off as they hear them. (At the start of the lesson you may provide a theme-specific list of items for students to choose between so they aren’t guessing cold.)
  11. Fill in the blank—Use the podcaster-provided transcript to create a cloze exercise. Ask students to listen for gist, listen and complete the cloze activity, then listen and check.
  12. Introduce a new topic—Start off a new unit (the environment? local government? travel? food?) with an excerpt taken from a relevant podcast.
  13. Focus on parts of speech—Stitch audio files together to focus on parts of speech, or grammar points.
  14. Focus on pronunciation—Stitch audio files together that focus on components of pronunciation, register, intonation, and accent.

Podcasts are immensely popular worldwide. For language teachers, they represent a never-ending source of authentic materials to exploit in their classrooms to improve students’ listening comprehension, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Good luck as you start incorporating podcasts in your class!

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