Friday, 8 May 2015

Using Podcasts in ENG3C: An Alternative to the Traditional Text

A colleague introduced me to the podcast Serial. I was immediately hooked, and further recommended it to others. My colleague mentioned using it in the classroom, and the idea stuck. Last semester I taught ENG3C for the first time, and my unit on social issues and research did not go very well. I needed something that was different than the typical ¨abortion is bad" or ¨capital punishment should be brought back to Canada¨arguments. I decided that Serial could be used to meet curriculum expectations and the goal of writing a research report.

The goals of the unit were threefold:
  1. Work on active listening to understand text and complete notes
  2. Complete secondary research to support interpretations of the primary source (the actual podcast)
  3. Write a research report using proper APA formatting
To begin the unit, I used the hook designed by Michael Godsey. Trying to get students to think back six weeks in their lives got them thinking, and they realized that their memories weren't what they thought they were. It also got them to connect to the challenges Adnan faced when asked to remember a specific day.

We then focused on what active listening looked like. You can see my students' ideas in the photo. I found brainstorming active listening as a class made it easy for me to keep them on task. I often just had to point to the list, and students would know that they couldn't fully engage if they were looking at their phone or weren't taking notes.

After the first episode most students thought
that Adnan was "not guilty". For the most
part that belief didn't change.
Students also had individual journals where they were responsible for tracking the information. Prior to listening, I would give the students people, ideas, or events to pay attention to. I also made use of Google maps to help students track and visualize Adnan's apparent actions on the day of Hae's disappearance. We alternated listening as a whole class and listening in small groups or independently. I found that this allowed the students some freedom in how they wanted to engage with the text. When we listened as a whole class, I would stop the podcast occasionally to model note taking and to give students an opportunity to discuss.

We also kept track of our thoughts about Adnan's guilt as we worked through Serial. One of the most engaging, yet frustrating things, about the podcast was the constant uncertainty. After each episode students were responsible for moving their magnetic pin from "guilty" to "not guilty" or vice versa, as they saw fit.

Overall, it appeared that students were engaged in the podcast. There would occasionally be heated discussions in pockets of the classroom about the evidence presented.

For the most part, I was happy with the summative research report, but there are aspects that I need to improve upon. The large number of formative work we did focusing on point, proof, and explanation paid off in their reports. For next year, I need to work on bringing in secondary sources and helping students to incorporate them into their work. Additionally, students struggled with the format of a research report. I think they had difficulty with the template I created. I will need to be explicit in my teaching of it. They also need more guidance to complete their references page.

I think that the unit was a nice alternative to using traditional texts in the classroom. I have included my folder of resources below, and please don't hesitate to give me feedback to make the unit better for next year. The actual Serial website has great resources to use, and the Serial sub-reddit on Reddit was also very helpful, especially since people had typed up transcripts of each episode.

Serial Teaching Folder


  1. Great post Sarah! I'm interested to see how Serial turns out in my 3C class.

  2. Great post Sarah! I'm interested to see how Serial turns out in my 3C class.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience! I am interested in trying it in my ENG3C class as well!