If you don’t use podcasts in your ESL lessons, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Here is what you need to know to get started with this great resource for ESL teachers and students.
What Is a Podcast?
Back in the early days of radio, families and individuals could be found gathered around a radio listening to programs any night of the week. Back then, this was how most people got their news as well as their entertainment. They listened to radio dramas and children’s’ programs. There weren’t many other options until television made its big splash later.
In a way, the podcast is the modern version of radio programing. In essence, a podcast is an audio program produced either professionally or by an amateur about a certain topic. Some podcasts are about news and current events. Others are instructional, how to programs if you will. Still others are dramas where podcasters read short stories or share serial programs. Basically, if you can think of a topic, there is probably a podcast on it. And while you won’t have to tune your radio in to a certain frequency to access podcasts, almost anyone can find a program they enjoy with just a little bit of effort.
So why does this matter for the ESL teacher? Because podcasts are a great resource for your classroom. You can use podcasts lots of different ways to help your students in their journey to learn English. And there’s one other great reason teachers love podcasts. They’re FREE! So if you want to learn how to use podcasts with your ESL students, here are some thoughts on how to do that.
Top 9 Ways to Use Podcasts in the ESL Classroom
Podcasts are a great resource for listening comprehension material in your ESL class. Most of them are relatively short, so you can easily give a listen on your own, before your students arrive, and come up with a few comprehension questions for your students to answer after they listen.
Plus, since they are produced by both professionals and amateurs, you will find more authentic speech patterns and English pronunciation in podcasts. This can be a challenge for your students’ listening skills, but one they would do well to master. In addition to accent, your students will also encounter regional dialect differences including vocabulary and slang.
As An Example of Something You Want Them to Do
Podcasts are a great way to model something that you want your students to do. It is very helpful for ESL students to record themselves speaking and then listen to that recording and evaluate their own speech. You can use a podcast as a model for something you want them to do. If you want them to give an instructional presentation, play a podcast in which someone is explaining how to do something. If you like, have your students do their presentation live or via recording and have them do a self-evaluation before you give them your own speaking evaluation.
Listen for Specific Words and Fill in the Blank
Cloze exercises are always good, and you can use podcasts for them. You’ll need a transcript of the podcast, so you may have to do some work ahead of time. Or use a podcast that also supplies the transcript of the show. (Many do.) Have your students listen to the podcast once through just to get the gist. Then give them your transcript-now-cloze exercise and let them listen again. Give them a third listen to check their answers, and then discuss the right answers with your class.
Preview before Reading
If you are going to introduce a new content unit to your students, a podcast might be the way to bring up the subject. You don’t have to test your students on what they hear, but you might want to play a topic-related podcast for your class. Then ask them what they understood while they listened, what topic it was about, and what they already know about the topic. This is a great opportunity to move into completing a K/W/L chart before you go any further in your unit.
Introduce New Vocabulary
While you are at it, why not use the podcast to introduce new vocabulary to your students. After you complete your K/W/L chart, write down some of the lingo the speaker used in the podcast. These might be words your students already knew or ones that they just encountered for the first time. Play sections of the podcast that contain the unfamiliar words, and see if students can’t determine its meaning from the context in which it was used. Then go on to use any activities you like for introducing new vocabulary as you reinforce these words in your students’ lexicon. Use the words throughout the unit and expect your students to do the same.
To Start a Discussion of Opinions
Controversial topics may be something you avoid in your day to day life, but they are gold for the ESL teacher. Differences of opinion in your students directly results in conversation. And that’s what the goal of teaching English is, after all. Play a podcast on a topic that your students may not agree on. Then use it as a springboard for a class discussion on that topic. Just make sure everyone knows it’s okay to agree to disagree.
Write a Reaction to the Podcaster
And since you are playing controversial podcasts for your students, use it double duty. Have your students write a letter or email to the podcaster after listening to the podcast. In fact, you don’t have to limit yourself to controversial topics to do this. Have your students write their reaction to any podcast in letter form, and then send those letters off to the creator.
Sometimes listening homework is hard to assign, especially if your listening materials are only available in your classroom. For a change of pace, assign students a podcast to listen to for homework. Then have them do whatever listening exercises you choose. Most students will be able to access podcasts without any trouble, but you might want to make sure podcast access will be smooth before assigning it for homework. Either that or let students download a particular podcast to a flash dive in class before heading out the door.
Podcasts are a great resource just waiting for you to tap in. They offer flexibility in subject matter, realism in presentation, and challenges in language for your students.
Have you used podcasts in class?
What are your best tips for using them in the ESL classroom?