Add diverse voices and fresh content to your lessons with free, high-quality podcasts.
If you haven't thought about how you might use podcasts in your teaching, take note: A 2019 study found that over 50% of people in the U.S. age 12 and up have listened to a podcast. In addition, podcast listening among young people age 12-24 increased 48% from 2017 to 2019. This fresh, engaging medium has gone mainstream and can be a great addition to your lessons.
There are lots of benefits to using podcasts in the classroom. For one, podcasts are free. Plus, you can find podcasts on nearly every topic, from science questions to lesser-known history, and in nearly every genre, from short fiction to in-depth journalism. And, as the popularity of podcasts continues to grow, more creators are focusing on content for young people. So why not give podcasts a try?
To help you get started, we've put together a list of our favorite podcasts for the classroom. We took our best guess for the target grades since we couldn't listen to every episode. Use the grade recommendations as a guide, and age them up or down as needed. Some content in these podcasts can be mature, so always preview the episodes before you share them with students.
Circle Round is an engaging, gentle storytime podcast aimed at kids. In every episode, narrator Rebecca Sheir tells a lesser-known folktale or story from around the world, helped by a rotating voice cast of talented stage and screen actors. The stories are captivating and compelling and are nearly always accompanied by a positive message or moral. Free coloring pages are available for each story.
Kids are always asking seemingly simple questions that have surprisingly complex answers, such as "Why is the sky blue?" and "Who invented words?" This cute biweekly radio show/podcast takes on answering them. Each episode features several kid-submitted questions, usually on a single theme, and with the help of experts, it gives clear, interesting answers.
Nothing can really match a kid's original story in terms of absurd comedy. And that's what's at the heart of this wacky, wild, imaginative podcast. In each episode, the Story Pirates crew -- a group of talented improvisers pretending to be pirates -- read short stories written and submitted by kids and then reenact them with hilarious results. There are even original songs, famous guest stars, and interviews with the young authors about how it feels to have their work adapted. Kids can submit their stories to Story Pirates (with the help of a grown-up), which could make for a fun, real-world way to end a classroom writing unit.
Wow in the World takes kids (and their grown-ups) on a journey fueled by curiosity and wonder. In this weekly show, hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz explore the science behind topics kids will love -- from singing mice and wombat poop to the amazing power of a dog's nose. Teachers can get access to classroom activities and conversation starters with a membership to Tinkercast, the company that produces Wow in the World. Plus, in response to the school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the creators launched a spin-off podcast called Two Whats?! and a Wow, an interactive, science-based game show with daily 10-minute episodes.
Similar to But Why, this is another podcast that takes kid-submitted science questions and answers them with the help of experts. What makes this one different is that it tends to skew a bit older, both in its questions and answers, and it has a different kid co-host each week. The result is a fun show that's as silly as it is educational. Teachers can encourage students to take one of the topics and research it more completely or to use it as a jumping-off point for science experiments and research-related questions.
Often compared to a kid-friendly Radiolab, this podcast not only addresses fascinating topics but also tries to foster a love of science itself by interviewing scientists about their process and discoveries. The hosts don't assume that listeners have a science background -- but even kids who think they don't like science may change their minds after listening to this podcast. Teaching materials for the episodes are available for purchase on the podcast's website.
This fun and fast-moving spin-off of the popular Brains On! podcast is a kid-friendly debate podcast. A kid judge listens to and scores the rousing, fact-based arguments of two contestants. With episodes like "Piranhas vs. Venus Flytraps" and "Pizza versus Tacos," kids will be hooked, and they won't even notice that they're learning how to defend their ideas along the way. Use Smash Boom Best in a persuasive writing or speech unit, or as a fun addition to your science or history class!
This excellent biweekly podcast features middle schoolers talking about a popular middle-grade or YA book as well as sharing their favorite book recommendations. Public radio figure Kitty Felde runs the discussion, and each episode includes a passage of that week's book read by a celebrity guest.
This Peabody award-winning radio series/podcast delivers scientific ideas in a creative, innovative way. The episodes are a joy to listen to, with a great deal of emphasis put on sound design in addition to the hosts' clever banter. Teachers of science, math, ELA, and other subjects can use full episodes or segments as prompts to get kids thinking or to kick off a discussion. Some episodes feature strong language, so be sure to preview them before sharing with students.
Science Friday with Ira Flatow covers a variety of complex science topics, from the first Apollo moon landing to climate change to how exercise affects the heart. On the show's website, listeners can access full episodes or choose from a selection of shorter segments from the episode. Related articles and videos are also available to supplement the audio. For teachers, Science Friday offers free STEM activities, lessons, and resources.
One of the largest oral history projects of its kind, StoryCorps has recorded the stories of over 250,000 people in the U.S. Students at just about any grade level or in any subject area could use the StoryCorps interviews in a variety of ways, including writing prompts, discussion topics, primary sources for research projects, and more. Students also can record their own stories. StoryCorps Education provides teachers with free lesson plans and support to use StoryCorps in the classroom.
Little-known history comes alive three times a week in this fascinating, comprehensive podcast from the people at HowStuffWorks. With a focus on weird events, overlooked stories, and underrepresented groups, this popular series is educational, too. The extensive archive is easily searchable by topic. Teachers can find supplemental material for lessons on the civil rights movement, European history, World War II, and much more.
This popular NPR radio show and podcast combines personal stories, journalism, and even stand-up comedy for an enthralling hour of content. Host Ira Glass does a masterful job of drawing in listeners and weaving together several "acts" or segments on a big, relatable theme. With an archive of over 600 episodes on as many topics, it might be tricky to figure out which episodes to share in the classroom. Teachers can browse the Education Resources on the show's website to learn how other teachers are using This American Life in the classroom. Many episodes have mature concepts and swearing, so always preview the episodes before sharing with students.
This I Believe was a radio series on NPR (now archived) that focused on the writing, sharing, and discussing of people's core beliefs through short personal essays. In the classroom, teachers can use This I Believe to get students to write about their own experiences. Personal experiences, beliefs, and values can make a rich foundation for classroom discussions, but you'll want to make sure you've created a safe space for sharing. A companion book and website offer plenty of resources for teachers and students to work on personal essays.
From the people behind the award-winning website HowStuffWorks, this frequently updated podcast explains the ins and outs of everyday things from the major ("How Free Speech Works") to the mundane ("How Itching Works"). Longer episodes and occasional adult topics such as alcohol, war, and politics make this a better choice for older listeners, but hosts Josh and Chuck keep things engaging and manage to make even complex topics relatable. And with nearly 1,000 episodes in its archive, you might never run out of new things to learn.
Frannie Ucciferri contributed to this article.