With the newly implemented Common Core State Standards and the highly controversial state tests created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, listening and speaking skills have become significantly more valued in education. Up until now, teachers have not been held too closely responsible for the speaking and listening skills of students. Some of you may be outraged. When, between September and June, do we have the time? Where in our already bursting curriculum can we fit these standards? Though clearly, with technological advancements and the increased usage of television and social media, it is clear that these standards are necessary for our students to master. Read on for a compiled list of YouTube channels and podcasts that can sharpen your students’ listening skills and generate hours of discussion.
Many of you may know YouTube only for watching hilarious cat videos, recapping Super Bowl commercials, or learning how to contour your makeup. Now I’ll admit, I do my fair share of looking up music videos and Harry Potter puppet shows, but there is a whole other world out there in YouTube Land that you may not be aware of. A world that is — dare I say — educational and engaging and inspirational.
For those of you new to YouTube, the way it works is this: you subscribe to a “channel”. For example, you can subscribe to the National Geographic channel and every time you log in to YouTube, their newest videos will be ready and waiting for you to enjoy. Channels can be produced by either a single person, or an organization, and the topics range as far as your imagination will reach. While you’re probably already familiar with channels such as Khan Academy and TEDTalks, I’ve compiled a short list of some other great “edutainment” YouTube channels that you need to subscribe to. Like immediately. Your students will thank you for it.
All Time 10’s
This highly interesting channel produces very simple list-based videos. The Top 10 Worst Vacations. The Top 10 Biggest Dinosaurs that Walked the Earth. 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Romans. The topics are totally random, but are grouped in categories, which makes it easy to find videos to suit your class’s needs, such as History, Crime, Geography, and Sci-Fi. They are quick and a great jumping-off point for research or to just build some background knowledge. But be warned, there are definitely some videos that are not suitable for students of any age, so be sure to watch the videos ahead of time.
This is a well-researched channel that is also great for expanding students’ creative thinking and curiosity. Each video centers around a current and relevant question and includes well-known and lesser-known experts to weigh in. These videos could definitely spur some interesting class discussions.
Crash Course and Crash Course Kids
Produced by brothers Hank Green and John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns), these beautifully illustrated videos are geared towards teaching complex and interesting topics to kids in easy-to-understand ways. Videos are grouped into categories such as Economics, Astronomy, US Government, Anatomy, World History, Psychology, and Chemistry. Crash Course Kids is a better fit for elementary concepts (mostly science).
This well-known organization creates professional development videos to keep teachers up to date on current trends in teaching. Some videos provide great tips and advice for classroom management, while others explore recent studies and hot topics in education. This is a great channel for all teachers and especially administrators to keep up with.
Intelligence Squared Debates
These videos are live recordings of actual debates on current topics and issues. Some topics are a bit mature and advanced for students, but if you filter through and find a debate that works for you, not only can your students have their own in-class debate, they can see how real debates are run and analyze the strengths, weaknesses, and evidence of the arguments provided.
SciShow and SciShow Kids
Looking for quick videos that dig deep into mysterious science, current events, and history concepts? Look no further! What I love most about these channels, is that they are grouped into categories that can be utilized for a variety of classroom purposes such as News, Quick Questions (on life’s mysteries), Talk Show, Quiz Show, Great Minds, World’s Most Asked Questions, and Weird Places. These can be used as writing prompts, research topics, discussion topics, debates, and the list goes on.
While this probably lends itself best to Language Arts and English classrooms, these videos can also be adapted to work across disciplines. To put it simply, these videos are readings of famous and some not-so-famous speeches, letters, poems, and chapters of novels. Talk about read alouds!
This innovative and well-researched channel feels more like a podcast or documentary than just a YouTube channel. These videos can open students’ eyes to other parts of the world and other perspectives. Some of these stories are funny, some are inspirational, and some will just blow your mind. The category Podium features videos that revolve around speeches and rhetoric, which could be both a great modeling tool as well as a starting point for research or discussion topics.
Vsauce is an overall conglomeration of videos in the realm of human behavior, art, and culture (among some more “academic” categories). The host of the show is captivating and charismatic and the list of videos includes such intriguing topics as What is the speed of dark? When will we run out of names? Why do we kiss? and Is your red the same as my red? A must-watch for kids and adults!
Words of the World
An extremely interesting (ok, I may be biased as an ELA teacher) channel on the history and use of well-known words. While some words may not be appropriate for younger audiences (fettish, vodka), this channel is overall a gold-mine for teachers of the English language.
Aside from YouTube, there is this whole other universe you’re probably less familiar with: podcasts. Most people listen to podcasts on their smartphone using apps such as Pocket Cast or Overcast, though some podcasts can be listened to for free online. Podcasts are basically like radio talk shows with specific themes or missions in mind. Some podcasts have more of a talk show or game show feel such as NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (highly recommended). Some podcasts are on a hunt for the truth such as Mystery Show. But most podcasts are little windows into the world of other people. They tell stories of inspiration, success, failure, and defeating incredible odds. Not only are podcasts great for building listening skills, but they can also build prior knowledge, foster creativity and curiosity, and spark powerful discussions. I have yet to find a podcast that is specifically geared towards students, so some of them may have an inappropriate show here or there, but you can always use a portion of a show if need be. Here are some of my favorites.
This American Life
Produced by NPR, This American Life is my all-time favorite podcast. Each show revolves around a theme and the host, Ira Glass, and staff reporters delve into three or four stories related to that theme. There are some themes that would be great for students such as: Notes on Camp (about the quirky and communal world of summer camp), Middle School (about the horrors and joys of middle school), and Super Powers (about whether or not invisibility or flying would be a better super power). This podcast is mostly comprised of interviews and storytelling.
This podcasts features recordings of short stories that are read and acted out on stage by professional actors and performers. Stories truly come to life in this podcast. Some more well-know stories, and some lesser-known. Each show includes several stories, so you can just zoom in on one story for your students, or listen to the entire show and discuss the theme that connects them all.
You surely know this name from the best-selling book, but this podcast delves into a world of seemingly unrelated and random topics. This podcast is very well-researched and chock full of facts, statistics, and interviews. Even if students don’t listen to an entire episode, it would be a great model for writing engaging and informative research papers.
There’s a book, a blog, and now a podcast on quick tips and ideas related to writing, punctuation, grammar, spelling, and the history of our sometimes confusing yet beautiful language that is English. Interesting, quick, and highly useful in the ELA classroom.
Talks with Teachers
This podcast is just for the teachers, not the students. As the title says, each show the hosts interview a leader in education such as national teachers of the year, leaders of teacher organizations, administrators, and leaders of teaching methods and pedagogy. Not only are there interviews with teachers, but the show also features tips and practical ideas to implement in the classroom and the most current tech tools.
If the tech world is new to you, it can be overwhelming, so take it slowly. I’d recommend starting a morning or evening routine where you watch one or two videos while having coffee. Or you could even pick one day a week to catch up on videos. Maybe if you have a long commute, you can listen to podcasts as you drive. And if you discover or know of any other YouTube channels or podcasts that you find useful, please share in the comments below! Happy listening. 🙂