Enhance Your Social Studies Curriculum with Podcasts

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Classroom Application
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“Social studies is like the lima beans on the curricular plate of the elementary student’s day” 

Paul Fitchett

Wow! Just think about the above quote and how depressing that sounds. It came from an article on the Hechinger Report website titled “How social studies can help young kids make sense of the world.” The article discusses how the amount of time spent teaching social studies has declined over the past 20 years due to a variety of factors, including the need to meet rigorous math and reading standards in the early grades. Although the article focuses on the teaching of the sensitive issues of race, equity, and gender, the information discussed applies to all social studies curriculum content and all grade levels.

When standards, testing, and time constraints get in the way, how do you bring in meaningful social studies lessons? Many teachers use cross-curricular content to teach social studies. It is much easier now to find high-quality, non-fiction reading material both in print and online. Other technologies such as digital timelines, digital book creators, and image editors provide the starting point for students to create and share information.

Another digital resource is podcasts. Adults and kids all love entertaining and informative podcasts, so why not take advantage of this tool and bring it into your social studies classroom? In addition to students being consumers of podcasts, consider extending learning through student creation and sharing of podcasts.

One way to get started is to get students interested in podcasting is by sharing popular broadcasts that address social studies content with your students. Most podcasts are available on several platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Here are some popular podcasts with social studies themes to get you started:

Middle School/High School:

  • Backstory – this weekly podcast takes a deep dive into America’s past. Broadcasts include interviews with historians and call-in questions from listeners. One bonus for teachers, there is an educator section with downloads for classroom use to correlate to many of the episodes.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class – this bi-weekly podcast explores a variety of events in history and takes listeners beyond the facts to focus on the people and stories behind the events.
  • History Unplugged – learn from a combination of experts and audience questions as this podcast takes a look at the story behind the main story. Recent episodes include “American Politicians Nearly Had George Washington Fired During the Revolutionary War” and “Was the US Involvement in World War One a Mistake?”
  • The History Chicks – take an in-depth look into history with a focus on women. Topics include Amelia Earhart, Cleopatra, and others to celebrate and learn about their contributions to history and the juicy tidbits that make them unique.

Elementary School: Unfortunately, it is difficult to find many podcasts devoted to social studies for younger students, and this backs up the point made earlier that this topic is not stressed strongly in the early grades.

  • Short and Curly: this is an ethics podcast from Australia geared toward kids and their parents. Listen to the hosts discuss different points of view through questions like “Should You Give Up Your Teddy Bear?” and “Is it Ever OK to Fight Back Against a Bully?”
  • The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd – follow along on the wacky adventures of Dr. Floyd, the World’s Most Brilliant Scientist, as he races through history to find his nemesis, Dr. Steve.
  • Eleanor Amplified – travel with the world-famous reporter, Eleanor, as she takes listeners around the world in pursuit of her latest story.

Some ideas for incorporating podcasts throughout the school day:

  • Create a listening center stocked with an assortment of podcasts for student choice
  • If your students each have a mobile device, take a pod walk. Get outside and take a break from the classroom while listening to a podcast
  • Listen as a whole class while students record their thoughts and ideas to ask questions later
  • Create a listening guide for students that includes essential information to discover and asks them to reflect upon their learning.

Don’t just listen to podcasts, use them as examples for students to create and share their own stories through podcasting. The NPR Podcast Guide and The New York Times both provide excellent ideas for using podcasting in the classroom. The New York Times also offers a yearly podcasting competition and shares examples of student work.

Use iCivics (TeachersFirst review) as a starting point for podcast topics. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor created the site to teach students about government and to encourage civic participation. iCivics offers a variety of standards-based games and lesson plans for all grade levels. Use any content on the site as a starting point for a student podcast. 

  • For example, Win the White House (TeachersFirst Review) is a new game that challenges students to run their own presidential campaign; as students play the game, they learn how to determine significant issues, strategies for fund-raising, and media strategies. Create a podcast that asks students to share their experience as a candidate and their experiences along the campaign trail. 
  • Use the International Affairs lesson as the basis for a podcast where students become involved in international diplomacy based on current events or a made-up crisis. Use a series of podcasts to include students with different viewpoints, share approaches used to solve the crisis, and explore the impact of their decisions.

Choose from several free resources to create your podcasts. Anchor (TeachersFirst review), Buzzsprout (TeachersFirst review), and PodOmatic (TeachersFirst review) are some options to try. Several podcasting formats include apps that offer additional opportunities for recording and sharing broadcasts.

Credit for the first podcast goes to Adam Curry and Dave Winer in 2004. Podcasting is an accessible resource for adults and students to use as a learning tool and for personal growth. The versatility of this format is an excellent fit for many classrooms, so it is worthy of consideration to use with content that needs additional support. Perhaps we can change social studies from the lima beans on the plate into something tastier through the creative use of digital tools such as podcasts.

What is your favorite social studies podcast? Perhaps you have a student-created podcast to share? We would love to hear about them in the comments.

About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.

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