Content creation in general is a useful and motivating space for K-12 students these days. There are few kids who aren’t familiar with youtubers or podcasters and creating a project that allows them to envision themselves in that role is a useful way to create the kind of buy-in that means students will work harder on assignments. So getting them to create an educational podcast is a great way to go.
And the kids are already listening to podcasts. According to a 2022 report by Edison Research, 48% of Americans aged 12 and older listen to podcasts regularly, and 32% of them listen to podcasts related to education. Listening to a podcast can be an effective way to work on listening skills, but creating a podcast is a good way to work on speaking skills, something that is dramatically under-taught in K-12.
In this article, we will show you how to create a lesson that has students make their own podcasts. We will provide you with some tips and tricks on how to plan, record, edit, and share your podcast. Let’s get started!
First, let your students choose a topic.
One of the useful things about podcasts is that they plug in pretty well to most class subjects (with the exception of math because equations and graphs don’t translate well). So whether your class is about geology, history, english, music, or almost anything else, students can choose a topic within it.
Letting students choose their own topics helps to tap into whichever area they feel knowledgeable in. Letting them choose their favorite topic within the covered curriculum can give them a lot of options but constrain them enough so that they don’t run into choice paralysis.
Then, let the students think about format. There are a number of formats which lend themselves well to education.
The most obvious is a straightforward lecture. Educational podcast examples of this include Philosophize This!, Fall of Civilizations Podcast, or You Must Remember This. These can contain text excerpts, sometimes read by other voice actors, but most of the runtime is just the host lecturing to the audience. It is the easiest to do from an editing point of view.
The second and often easier podcast format is co-hosts / interview. The idea is to have one person educate another on a topic. Educational podcast examples of this include Sawbones, Stuff You Should Know, or SciGuys. The advantage here is that you don’t have to have a fully written out script and can rely on banter and questions to propel the energy of the podcast along.
The third format to consider is a highly edited podcast. These will often contain elements of both of the above formats stitched together with extra musical flair. More than anyone, Radiolab popularized this, but other educational podcasts that have done it well are A History of the World in 100 Objects and Song Exploder. These tend to take a lot more editing work but can also produce some of the most energetic and cohesive narratives. Keep an eye on any students who want to do this format because it is easy for their eyes to be larger than their ability to complete a class project by the deadline.
The next thing to think about is episode length and the number of episodes. An assignment like this lends itself well to groups of students, especially because different students might have different areas of expertise. So setting a goal of 3-6 episodes that are at least 10 minutes each is a place to start.
Then head on to writing, contacting people for interviews, and recording. The amount of writing that is needed depends on the format you choose. This is a great place to involve ChatGPT to teach students how to use it to create drafts or write cold emails.
Interviews are an interesting question in the classroom. The age of the students is going to be a big determiner for what kind of interviews you want to let them do. With all ages, interviewing other students is on the table and can give them a feeling for both writing interview questions and responding to questions, even if it can be intimidating.
But for older students this is a great opportunity to encourage them to reach out to experts in the community. Interviewing a professor at a local college or people knowledgeable in AI at tech companies in the area starts students on the path to build important networking skills and opens up the world of experts at their front door.
And if there isn’t anyone local, zoom interviews are easier than ever. Encourage your students to email a professor who really knows about the civil war and ask them to come on a student educational podcast.
When it comes to the actual recording, don’t get too caught up in what technology to use. There are podcast microphones out there and very high quality tech that professionals use, but the truth is that phone microphones are quite good these days. Make sure students know how to record audio on their phone and how to get that audio file to the cloud. If there are students who want to use more complicated audio equipment you can let them do that, but don’t make this assignment dependent on students getting it set up.
Both Android and IOS have sound recording apps built into the OS.
Then have your students edit the product into episodes. Audacity is the most commonly recommended open source editing software, and it is certainly workable, but will take some getting used to. Garageband is a good option for MacOS or IOS devices. The other option for editing is some podcast publishing software that has editing built in. Have your students make ample use of the Free Music Library or any other copyright free music you find to create clean transitions and intros / outros.
Publishing a podcast is a complicated topic all on its own. Understanding “podcast directories” and “RSS Feeds” is probably over the heads of most students and maybe even the teachers. Check with your school and see if they have a setup for this already, but if not you have a few options.
The easy way is Anchor / Spotify for Podcasters. This allows anyone to create a podcast and upload files to be published to all the major podcast publishing platforms. This truly will get students podcast out on the web. But that might also be something you want to avoid. Especially for younger students.
You can create a “fake” podcast publishing platform within the class LMS or on google drive. It can be folders which contain the podcasts from other students so that everyone can listen to them without inviting the entirety of the internet to comment on the content.
The last step you want to take is to encourage peer feedback. Focus on positive feedback and constructive criticism, but let people show off their work to their peers and hear feedback back from them.
However you choose to structure or change an educational podcast assignment, it is bound to be useful for your students. Let them loose on the topics they care about and let their creativity flow freely.
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