Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Using podcasts in the classroom

Yesterday I came across the Guardian podcast travel page (see here) and downloaded their podcast on Athens. I thought that it would be a good for my private students to listen to. They could compare their experience of Athens (the older ones usually go there at least once during their high school years) with that of the presenter.

Actually, I as loaded it from my ibook onto her mobile phone, which can play mp3s, it suddenly occurred to me that this same phone could be used to create a similar podcast (with photos) about Thessaloniki.

I know that I’ve mentioned this idea before in previous posts but I could now see how such a project could be done with equipment that many of my students carry with them: a mobile phone and then be transferred effortlessly to a PC where it could be turned into a podcast using readily available programmes which can either be download free from the internet or come with Windows as standard.


1 Ask students about their impressions of Athens. What they liked or didn't like and what they would recommend people see and do.

This is probably best done by asking students to spend a couple of minutes jotting down ideas and then putting them in groups or pairs and comparing notes.

2 If you do this in a private lesson then give the Guardian podcast for homework and ask the student to write down how it compares with their experience of Athens.

If you’re doing this as a class play a short three to five minute extract from the start and ask them to compare it with their own experiences. Students then discuss answers and listen to it a second time.

3 Ask students what places would they recommend a foreign visitor to go to here in Thessaloniki.

What is the place ?
Why is it interesting ?

You may encounter some difficulties at this point as students may have never visited the tourist traps or have seen them so often that they are hard pressed to describe something they consider self-evident. You may need to work with them on how to “distance “themselves from their home town in order to see it afresh.

4 For homework ask students to visit one of the places described and write down a few notes in English and Greek (if necessary) on the questions mentioned previously. Also ask them to make a note of any difficult vocabulary items that might be useful when describing these places.

5 In the next lesson students discuss their ideas and ask for help with vocabulary etc.

6 Explain to students that they are going to use their mobile phones to record a short, five-minute podcast. Remind them that they can do this on their own or in pairs, as a kind of interview.

7 Students then write down a brief outline (and make sure it is brief as we want a sense of sponteneity, rather than the droning lecture).

8 Check the outline and make suggestions, if necessary.

9 Students record their podcast for homework and if possible, take photos (again, using their phone).

10 In the next lesson transfer (hopefully, the phones should all have USB cable connections - check to see if you need any other kind of cable).

11 One idea is to use Audacity and Lame to join and edit the different podcasts. Alternatively, Window Movie Maker (which comes with Windows XP) could be used to add photos and titles to the podcast.

12 The final product could be put on YouTube and then their blog, burnt onto a cd or stored on the student's PC for use in their European Language Portfolio

Possible problems

This is not something I've actully tried out yet so there could be some teething problems. Usually, I try out such ideas myself, then do them with my private students and then apply them in class. However, I thought I'd outline some potential trouble spots.

1 What happens if some students haven't been to Athens ? Well, get them to interview the ones that have.

2 They can't understand the podcast. This exercise is definitely for advanced students, however, you could give them some printed materials instead e.g. a page from a guide book.

3 They can't think of anything to say about their own town. Again, spread the workload over as many students as possible. The more difficult the tasks the bigger the student group that works on it.

4 They don't have mobile phones that record. Then students pair up.

5 The don't do the assigned exercise outside the classroom. This is difficult as many students are not as motivated as they should be. However, tell them if they don't do in spoken form then they have to write up their descriptions.

6 I can't connect the phone to the PC. Ask all the students to bring their phone cables with them. Hopefully, there should be some overlap and hence if somebdy does forget, the others should have a similar cable.

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