Podcasting Boosts Language Acquisition

I choose to present this article about podcasting because, in the Immersion context as well as for the simple purpose of acquiring and deepening a language, I believe PODCASTING to be an excellent tool for the learners.

I choose two articles that summarize my own researches and which presents 1.the benefits of podcasting, 2. how to do it, 3. some podcast channels which can be used by yourself as themes to develop and 4. some real podcast channels for students which would be wised to use as they reach specific "real" audiences.

Also, as Teacher-librarian, podcasting is a tool which you enhance "digital skills" and digital literacy. Instruments are quite simple. Can be cellphones, simple Sony recorders or a computer.

Adding to this would be to create a school podcast channel where all recordings would be published. (see special projects section).


First article

Creating Podcasts with Your Students

Creating podcasts in the classroom has many educational benefits, including strengthening skills in research, writing, and collaboration — and podcasting is easy to do. This article walks you through the steps of preproduction, recording, postproduction, and publishing.


Before students even think of stepping up to the microphone, much planning must be done. In fact, I've found in creating Radio WillowWeb that preproduction takes over three-quarters of the time to produce a podcast. Students need to keep their audience in mind. Who will listen to the podcast? Is it everyone in the school? Is it parents? Is it students in another state or another grade level? Determining who exactly is the audience should help focus the podcast.

The podcast will need a name. The more creative, the better!

In preproduction, you must also decide upon the format for the podcast. Who will actually be heard in the recording? Should you have a host? What segments do you plan for the show?

Sample ideas and uses for a podcast:

  • Weekly classroom news broadcast
  • Document a field trip
  • Record a class discussion
  • Share book reviews
  • Conduct interviews
  • Review curricular content

Segment Planning Booklet: Download the planning sheets used for Radio WillowWeb.

When planning, consider the length of your podcast. This will be based on your content and audience. With Radio WillowWeb, we try to keep our podcasts around 8 minutes long, which seems to work well for our audience of kids.

If your podcast is involving an entire classroom of students, the teacher should find ways to involve everyone in preproduction. For Radio WillowWeb, some teachers have everyone pair up in class. The pairs all write segments. Then the pairs present the segments to the entire class. The teacher and students then select which segments should be included in the podcast. This way everyone is involved, the podcast gets the best segments, and the recording will be an appropriate length.

It's really helpful for students to practice what they are going to say out loud to others. We've had adult volunteers take students in the hallway to listen to them practice what they will say in the podcast. The volunteers can coach students to do better. Students tend to have trouble speaking at an appropriate volume and speed. They will probably need help enunciating too.

Apple has lesson plans for using iPods in classrooms. Many of them involve students recording audio.


You can actually use the recording feature found on many Pocket PCs or use a microphone attachment for an iPod. However, the sound quality is not high.

If students have practiced what they are going to say, recording will be a much quicker process. Although you can try using the built-in microphone on a computer, I suggest using a USB headset microphone like the those made by Logitech. Students then don't have to worry about their distance from the microphone while they read their scripts or notes.

Macintosh Users

If you use Macintosh, I suggest using the included GarageBand software for recording and postproduction. Apple has useful information for using GarageBand for recording podcasts.

PC Users

If you use Windows, I suggest using the free software Audacity for recording and postproduction. For making music, I suggest using Sony's free ACID XPress. Visit ACIDplanet.com each week for free musical loops for ACID Xpress.

Jake Ludington's MediaBlab has a great tutorial for recording using Audacity.

It's best if students record short portions of audio at a time. Students then have less chance of messing up what they intend to say. When the portions are played right after another, the listener won't realize that some things were recorded separately.

It might sound counterintuitive, but I suggest recording the introduction last for a couple of reasons. First, recording last allows you to introduce exactly what will be in the podcast because it has already been recorded. Second, students have had practice in front of the microphone and are more comfortable. They'll record a much better introduction, and after all, the introduction should hook the listeners!


After recording, it's time to edit the audio. You may not have recorded the audio in order, so the first priority is to make sure all audio is arranged properly. Also, clips can be trimmed to delete any unnecessary pauses or interruptions.

Music and sound effects can be added in postproduction. If you're using a Mac and GarageBand, it's easy for student to mix loops of music. Audacity users cannot compose music within the software. If you use music, be sure it is "podsafe." Podsafe music is the term for music that can be legally used in a podcast and freely distributed online for others to download. There's actually so much podsafe music online, that you can spend hours sifting through it. Here are some sites for podsafe music:

Although loops may seem specific to GarageBand or ACID XPress, they are simply AIFF or WAV files that can be used in any audio editing program.

Remember to give the artist credit for the music, if possible.

To easily fix volume levels that are too high and too low, use the free Levelator.

Once the podcast sounds just the way you want it, it's time to send it to iTunes. You can do this from the File menu in GarageBand, or you can export to an AIFF or MP3 in Audacity and then open the exported file in iTunes. Now you select the file you imported in iTunes and select Get Info from the File menu. Complete the fields. It's best to make sure this information is consistent in each podcast produced.


More information can be found in the Converting Your Podcast section of this article.

Once you have the fields completed the way you want them, then click OK. Next, choose "Convert Selection to MP3" from the Advanced menu. Finally, select the file in the iTunes list and drag and drop it onto the computer's desktop. Now your MP3 file is there, ready for publishing!



Publishing is perhaps the most technical part of the entire process. You need access to a web server. You'll copy the MP3 file to the server. Also, a podcast needs a web page and an RSS feed. For the web page, use your favorite HTML editor (like Dreamweaver or FrontPage) or put the podcast information into a blog posting.

You might need software that creates the RSS feed if your web server doesn't create on for you. Feeder ($29.95) for Macintosh and FeedForAll ($39.95) for Mac and Windows are great pieces of software for making the RSS feed. It's somewhat complicated, so be sure to use the help menus or read the user manual. Once you input the information for your podcast into one of these software applications, it will have you upload the RSS feed to a web server. A free alternative for the RSS feed is to use the Blogger and Feedburner method for publishing the web page and RSS feed for a podcast

Submit the web address of your RSS feed to podcast directories, including iTunes, to tell the world about the podcast!

Learn how to link to your podcast in iTunes so web visitors can easily subscribe.

Related links

Vincent, T. (2008). Learning in Hand: Create Podcasts. Retrieved June 26, 2008, from http://www.learninginhand.com/podcasting/create.html.
Second Article

The Benefits of Using Podcasts in the Classroom

Young girl in classroom with headphones

A teacher shares his success in using podcasts to improve literacy skills in the classroom, in this blog post from Common Sense Education. Learn more about how reading along with a podcast builds confidence and literacy and keeps students engaged.


If you're considering whether or not you want to explore using podcasts as primary or supplementary texts, consider these benefits for students:

Reading along with a podcast builds confidence and literacy

Word recognition (or “decoding”) is the most crucial skill for very young students; however, with older students (middle school and upwards), decoding becomes more automatic, and listening comprehension becomes the primary component for learning language. Podcasts allow students to practice their listening comprehension of complex texts that are both conversational and formal, and the corresponding transcripts enable students to confirm their success.

In addition, students learning English as a second language report that they like how they can read the words and promptly "hear how they're supposed to sound." Pronunciation and prosody — the patterns of stress and intonation used when people are speaking — aid in understanding, especially for English-language learners.

Podcasts present a broad array of narrative types and subject matter

With podcasts, you can choose the content and form that fits your particular lesson, and the possibilities are endless: fictional stories, educational and inspirational TED talks, current events/world news, history, sports, pop culture/entertainment, and investigative journalism. Using an array of forms keeps your class fresh and engaging, and podcasts expose students to a wide variety of methods of communication, including narration, casual dialogue, scripted dialogue, and interviews.

Also, featuring diverse subject matter keeps the class exciting and gives them access to a whole world of knowledge and wisdom. English classes can fall into a rut of using the same types of stories; podcasts can provide new subject matter that not only keeps you and your students more engaged but also allows students to experience exemplary communication outside traditional texts.

Reading along keeps easily distracted students extremely focused

Students report that reading along with the audio helps with their focus and keeps them from "spacing out" while listening. Plus, many of our students explicitly recognize that they can look back and reread something they didn't understand when they first heard it.

Podcasts are free, accessible, and always contemporary

Total cost of using a podcast in your classroom: $0 — which also happens to be the budget most teachers are given for classroom materials. Because of the casual tone of podcasts, the contemporary topics, or both, students have the feeling of participating in a conversation rather than having adults reading or talking at them. Students feel like they’re doing something special, new, and fresh — which is inherently exciting.

This article originally appeared on Common Sense Education.


The Value of Using Podcasts in Class


Two years ago, I was practically begging a student to read a novel in my high-school English class. This isn’t an unusual problem. The girl, who’s a relatively bright, college-bound athlete, told me that she “just gets too distracted after five minutes” of reading. When she promised that she would listen to the audiobook of the novel on the team bus that afternoon, I was less than enthused. “Reading is like getting in physical shape,” I told her. “This time, try to read for seven minutes and then take a break.” But a few minutes later, I could see she had spaced out again. I considered the implausibility of students such as her reading the novel for homework, outside my quiet classroom.


In contrast, I recently discovered my students voluntarily reading a story together, all at the same time. And they were inspired by an unlikely medium—podcasts—which is obviously ironic, as many people like podcasts precisely because they don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and read. In fact, Serial has an explicit warning at the beginning of their transcripts: “Serial is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read.” Of course, teenagers are infamous for enjoying exactly what they’re told not to do, but I was nevertheless surprised that while listening to an episode of Serial in class, their collective eyes fixed on the transcripts displayed on a screen at the front of the room. And I was startled—happily so—by their shouts when I was tardy in scrolling down.

I already knew that my students enjoyed listening to contemporary podcasts in class, and I’ve found value in using them as primary texts. In a unit on racial bias, my students were visibly moved by a This American Life episode called “Is This Working?” To learn about slander, libel, and defamation, they loved listening to Bill Simmons’s rant that led to his suspension from ESPN. And we studied the first season of Serial for a variety of reasons, most of them related to critical thinking, listening comprehension, and the art of storytelling. While I felt guilty the students weren’t reading very much during this unit, their engagement with a relevant and timely story—their eagerness to ask questions, their intrinsic motivation to use critical thinking—seemed to make it worth it, at least temporarily. The students voluntarily studied maps, evaluated clues, argued with each other, and wrote twice as much in their journals as they previously had. Perhaps most satisfying to me, they were engaging in adult conversations with teachers, parents, and administrators who were listening to the same podcast.


I also already knew that podcasts, whose popularity continues to grow—one in five Americans listened to a podcast in the last month—were catching on in other classrooms across the country. MindShift’s Linda Flanagan has written a series of articles about students listening to and creating their own podcasts, and Edutopia has listed “8 Podcasts for Learning.” TeachersPayTeachers.com, an online marketplace for lesson plans, reports that annual downloads of lessons based on podcasts increased by 21 percent in 2014—and then 650 percent in 2015 (the year after Serial launched).

What I know now is that high-schoolers—at least my students—like reading and simultaneously listening to podcasts even more. Although many observers attribute the growth of podcasts to recent technological advancements in production and access, relatively little is said about the latest in voice transcription. Unlike the first season, Serial’s second season features almost perfectly accurate transcripts of each episode. I knew it would be a bonus to my lessons this year; I didn’t know it would be a game-changer. I turned off the lights, projected the words, and told them, “Here’s the script in case that helps anyone.” It apparently helped everyone. They all turned their heads, and some of them shifted their desks.

Apparently there were teachers who were at least a year ahead of me with this discovery. Rich Hovey, who teaches English to at-risk high school students at the Grizzly Youth Academy, recently told me that he let his students voluntarily read along with Season 1 of Serial using transcripts found on Reddit, and they jumped on the opportunity. “It was thrilling,” Hovey said, “to watch them so focused on their reading, excitedly scrolling down on their Chromebooks.”


Earlier this week, I asked each of my own students to write down what they’d honestly like to do for the rest of the semester: read a good book together, listen to another podcast, or listen to a podcast with the words on the screen. Sixty-two voted for the latter, while just two voted for podcasts alone, and one for reading alone.

The reasons were as varied as they were compelling. Many of them said that reading along with the audio helped with their focus and kept them from “spacing out” while listening. Others, paradoxically, wrote that they were able to multi-task—they could take notes or write on their worksheets and could keep up with the story even with their eyes off the screen. Some explicitly recognized that they could look back and re-read something they didn’t understand when they first heard it; others said they read slightly ahead and then could write down a quote while they listened to it. A student with eyesight problems said he appreciates the ability to take reading breaks without stopping his enjoyment of the story. A few students learning English as a second language wrote that they like how they can read the words and—as one student put it—promptly “hear how they’re supposed to sound.”


In an Atlantic piece about “the podcast brain,” the writer Tiffanie Wen quoted Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, as saying that “listening, unlike looking at a written page, is more active, since the brain has to process the information at the pace it is played.” My student Roberto offered similar insight: “I think it helps me out with my reading since I have to keep a pace up.”

I shouldn’t be surprised they like the transcripts. Ever since my 5-year-old daughter learned the advanced functions on the remote control, she intentionally puts closed captions on her cartoons. My students—particularly those who are learning English as a second language—enjoy a similar motivation to master new words, albeit at a much higher level. Jose Aguilar wrote that the podcast-transcript combination is “so much better than reading because it allows me to read the right pronunciation of the spelling.” His classmate Jon Rios reads the transcripts because, in his words, “It is so helpful, both hearing and seeing the words, so I can kind of know where I’m at.”

 A similar situation in India was observed on a much larger scale when—starting in 1999—certain networks started supplementing some of their television shows with “Same Language Subtitling” (SLS), and the country’s literacy rates soared. The Boston Globe reported on the phenomenon in 2010, claiming that “in the last nine years, functional literacy in areas with SLS access has more than doubled. And the subtitles have acted as a catalyst to quadruple the rate at which completely illiterate adults become proficient readers.”
 Drawing conclusions that sounded very similar to my own students’ reflections, the SLS study found that “one’s ability to anticipate the lyrics,” combined with immediate validation through the audio, cultivated “a steady stream of successful reading events”—presumably scenarios in which students read with accuracy and enjoyment. In this way, the SLS contributed to “a nonthreatening reading environment in which to embark upon, confirm, practice, and enjoy one’s developing reading skills.”

The study also noted that the low cost of subtitling television shows is “attractive”—and again, I feel the same way in my own classroom. Two years ago, my English department worked for months to convince the district to buy hundreds of copies of a nonfiction anthology for tens of thousands of dollars. For two seasons’ worth of Serial, including maps, photos, and links to supplementary articles, a teacher simply goes to the website and presses “play.”

Though the similarities with the SLS project are inspiring, I’m not ready to incorporate subtitled movies or television shows. From my perspective, they’re simply not as textually dense; and from the students’ perspective, they’re frankly not as interesting. When I showed Twelve Angry Men and even an episode of Making a Murderer (which has some subtitles) to my criminal-justice class, they were visibly nonplussed, and openly asked for a return to something like Serial.


Again, this could be expected. In the same aforementioned Atlantic article, Rodero explained: “Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production … and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.” Or, as one of my students put it, “listening to the words puts the visualization in my head.”

Audiobooks, too, seem to fall short of the podcast’s value in the classroom for a variety of reasons. One, from my experience there are few things more soporific to a teenager than listening to a singular narrator read a classically told story. Even an Edgar Allan Poe tale near Halloween fails to captivate, which used to surprise me. Wen cites Rodero’s study that shows a story told through dialogue “stimulates listeners’ attention” more than a traditional narration. Also, as The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance recognizes in her analysis of Serial’s “fandom,” the listener can participate in many contemporary podcasts rather than feel like a novel is being read to them.


It should almost be remarked that podcasts are, as Kevin Roose explained in New York Magazine, experiencing a renaissance at least partly because they’re “simply better” than they used to be. And in the Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Alter points out that today’s authors are realizing that “writing for audio requires different techniques,” which they’re utilizing. Take Serial, for example: Sarah Koenig’s first-person narration never goes very long without the infusion of somebody else’s voice, very subtle music, slight shifts in volume, and transitions from a formal to conversational style.

And while entertainment writers are gushing about podcasts, educational scholars are excited about the latest findings concerning listening comprehension—and its correlation with literacy. In a 2014 article published in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Tiffany P. Hogan and others review the significant amount of research that indicates that “listening comprehension becomes the dominating influence on reading comprehension,” especially as children grow older. In short, word recognition, or decoding, is the most crucial skill for very young or beginning students of English, but as decoding becomes more automatized and texts become more complex, listening comprehension becomes the primary component for learning language. Podcasts offer an opportunity for students to practice their listening comprehension of complex texts that are both conversational and formal, and the corresponding scripts give the student the chance to confirm their comprehension.


Podcasts can also aid in teaching the craft of storytelling—again, Serial is a great example (and perhaps even exceptional—by no means are all podcasts written and produced with the same level of quality). As LaFrance points out, Sarah Koenig has a tendency to explain why she’s withholding secrets, to foreshadow later parts of the story, and even to muse about what she should publicly publish and what should stay private. In Season 2, she explicitly cites the children’s book Zoom as the model structure for her story, discusses her sources, and even asks the narrative’s “characters” what they think of the reporting so far. For obvious reasons, Koenig’s self-conscious literary reflections are invaluable in an English class full of kids learning to write, as the students get the sense that the author guiding them through the creative process.

With that said, not everyone is impressed with the idea of audio replacing or supplementing books. Speaking for many traditional bibliophiles, CityLab’s Eric Jaffe writes that “the very freedom granted by audio books—inviting the eyes to wander, and then the mind—may make them less intellectually interchangeable with printed ones.” To be fair, he’s writing about audiobooks, but the Frontiers in Psychology study he cites does explicitly call out podcasts: “While listening to an audiobook or podcast may seem to be a convenient and appealing option, our findings suggest that it might be the least beneficial to learning, leading to both higher rates of mind wandering and less interest in the material.” Here, too, however, the study’s authors neglect the possibility of reading the podcast, and for good reason—not very many people outside a classroom would even consider the possibility.


Perhaps another reason the podcast transcripts have been routinely ignored is because they’re so new—even newer than Serial itself (or at least Season 1). Rather than leaving the transcription responsibilities to sites like Reddit as they did in the first season, Serial is now publishing its own within a week of each episode. Educational sites and other podcasts are also catching on. ListenWise, for example, a education website that curates “the best of public radio,” includes the transcripts for their audio clips—along with lesson plans that particularly focus on EL students. This American Life has transcripts of all their shows, as does Freakonomics.

Students like Melissa, who says “I like to listen to story better, but I have to be able to read it at the same time,” are now asking for these aforementioned “successful reading events” with enthusiasm. And there’s hope that while the podcast revolution won’t be televised, it may be transcripted.

Michael Godsey is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and an English teacher based in San Luis Obispo, California.