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Only Social Studies in the Building. Using podcasts as teaching tools

I know I’m not the only one who’s waiting to find out the ending to Season Two, Only Murders in the Building. A True Crime show about a True Crime podcast? With Steve Martin? What could be better?

Even if you’re not an #OMITB fan, I’m guessing that you’re probably following at least one or two actual podcasts. Perfect for anywhere, anytime learning and listening, podcasts can also be great additions to your social studies classroom.

Why podcasts?

Better listeners make better readers make better writers

Researchers understand that when kids are exposed to the sounds that make up spoken words and listen to stories, they hear grammar and syntax and understand how words should come together. All of this helps lead to higher comprehension. And better readers make better writers. Which we want. So it doesn’t matter how old your kids are, listening to podcasts is a good thing.

Podcasts offer a wide range of narrative types and content

So many podcasts. So much content. The good thing about the current love of podcasts is that there is a ton of options to choose from: current events and news, history, TED talks, geography, civics, fiction, sports, entertainment, investigative journalism, if you have a topic, I’m pretty sure you can find a podcast about it. You get to choose the content and style that fits your specific instructional needs. And using different types and formats hooks your kids while exposing them to a hodgepodge of narration, dialogue, and interviews styles that helps expand their understanding of communication types beyond simply text.

If a student misses class, they don’t have to miss the content

This is anywhere, anytime. We need to be taking advantage of the technology.

Podcast transcripts can help students stay focused

Most podcasts provide transcripts along with their audio clips. Reading along with the audio helps with student focus while listening. Transcripts also support the ability to go back and review anything that they didn’t get the first time.

Even without the transcript, students need variety in the way that they access and comprehend information. Listening to a podcast just adds one more option to your teacher tool belt.

Podcasts are free, easy to use, and well . . . it’s kinda the cool thing right now

Zero dollars. That’s how much it costs to use a podcast. Zero. Which is probably what your classroom budget is right now. They literally will download to your device without you having to do a thing. And let’s just admit it . . . a good podcast is a good time.

Podcasts are good for the SEL

Listening plays a huge part in your student’s social and emotional well-being. Researchers found that when we’re engaged in listening to stories, our brains associate that with safety and not with social anxiety. And guess what? This encourages even more listening which encourages even better SEL which encourages . . . well, you get the idea. It’s a good thing.

The Cult of Pedagogy people created a great graphic that combines a bunch of these ideas. Be sure to catch all of what they have to say on – what else – Episode 174 of their podcast.

Before using podcasts

  • Understand your school’s media policies.
  • Review the podcast for appropriateness and quality. Listen for diverse voices and perspectives.
  • Make sure students have access if you’re asking them to listen outside the class or during the school day.
  • Decide how much frontloading needs to happen.

While using podcasts

  • Provide a way for students to summarize the content. This could be something as simple as having them complete a History Frame or Story Frame while listening. You might also encourage kids to improve their Sketchnoting skills while listening.
  • I’m a huge fan of Hexagonal Thinking. You can provide pre-filled hexagons for students to arrange while listening or, even better, have them fill in and manipulate the hexagons as they listen.
  • Ask students to create a list of words and phrases that catch their attention while listening. Have them use their list to create found poetry that summarizes their thinking.
  • Project Zero has so many great thinking routines you should be using. But the 12 strategies focused on Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas seem perfect for podcast listening.
  • A series of simple Think Pair Share activities during podcast commercial breaks can work.

After using podcasts

  • If you flipped your classroom and had students listen outside of your class, you’ve probably already decided what to do with the content once your kids file back in. But a Socratic Seminar would work.
  • Have students create a mind map of the podcast.
  • Ask students to pull out their connected hexagon tiles. Have them explain their arrangement either orally or on a shared Google Doc or a big poster paper or in small groups or . . .
  • Create a FlipGrid that encourages student discussion and teacher feedback.
  • Continue the conversation using popular social media hashtags while asking students to connect what they learned to larger themes. 
  • Encourage (or require) the use of podcasts as primary sources that students incorporate into their own research.
  • And perhaps best of all, ask that students create their own podcasts as research or as formative and summative assessments. NPR has a great how-to guide for creating podcasts.

What are some podcasts that can work in the Social Studies classroom?

I’ve haven’t seen a better place to start than this amazing spreadsheet of podcast goodness created by #sschat co-moderator and social studies guru Chris Hitchcock. You get titles, links, and suggestions for use.

The good and bad all at the same time? There are hundreds of options but . . . that can make it difficult tracking down what you need. So head over there, then come back here for some of my favorites.

The classics

  • The Stuff You Missed in History Class
    You get complex and relevant facts, like how smallpox was eradicated and shares histories lost or manipulated over time, including the tale of Mildred Fish Harnack, a Nazi resistance fighter from Wisconsin. Hosts pay special attention to the histories of underrepresented groups.
  • RadioLab
    Radiolab asks deep questions and uses investigative journalism to get the answers. Episodes might whirl you through science, legal history, and into the home of someone halfway across the world. 
  • This American Life
    An entertaining kind of journalism that’s built around plot. In other words, stories! Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.
  • Listenwise
    Listenwise is designed for educators with short audio clips that engage all your students with multimodal lessons for Social Studies and ELA. Find easy to embed and flexible lesson designs for varied classroom settings.

Some that might be new to you

  • TED Radio Hour
    TED Radio Hour investigates big questions with the help of the world’s greatest thinkers. In each episode, host Manoush Zomorodi explores a big idea through a series of TED Talks and original interviews
  • American History Tellers
    The Cold War, Prohibition, the Gold Rush, the Space Race. We’ll take you to the events, the times and the people that shaped our nation and show you how our history affected them, their families and affects you today.
  • Womanica
    Thinking back to our history classes growing up, we had one question: Where the ladies at? Enter, Womanica. In just 5 minutes a day, learn about different incredible women from throughout history.
  • History This Week
    This week, something momentous happened. Whether or not it made the textbooks, it most certainly made history. Join the HISTORY This Week podcast as we turn back the clock to meet the people, visit the places and witness the moments that led us to where we are today.
  • Every Little Thing
    Why do we cry? Did cavemen really carry clubs? Can swearing make you stronger? On ELT, you call with a question, we find you an answer.
  • History Becomes Her
    Host Rachel Thompson speaks to women making change about the women of the past who paved the way for them.
  • The Experiment
    Each week, we tell the story of what happens when individual people confront deeply held American ideals in their own lives. We’re interested in the cultural and political contradictions that reveal who we are.
  • The Daily
    This is how the news should sound. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week
  • Kidsnuz
    Perfect current event podcast for the upper elementary and middle classroom. (With an handy quiz at the end of each episode.)
  • You’re Dead to Me!
    You get a comedian and historian on each episode discussing a specific historical topic. You also get two different versions of each – the original and the radio edit. (You’re gonna want to use the radio edits. Save the originals for yourself cause they’re long and inappropriate and not made for students but oh so fun.)
  • The Past and the Curious
    Think the TV show Drunk History but without the alcohol, this podcast features people telling interesting, little-known stories from history with an emphasis on fun and humor. With a fun song at the end!

Just for You

  • Mr. D Social Studies
    Comedian and elementary school teacher Dombrowski mixes humor with real-life stories from his own experience or from fellow educators across the country. Topics include mobile classrooms, teacher hairlines, the hunt for a kindergarten position, and the wildest parent emails he’s ever received.
  • Black Educators Matter
    Brooke Brown and Danielle Moneyham created the Black Educators Matter podcast to highlight the stories, challenges, and successes of Black educators around the country.
  • This Teacher Life
    How do we enjoy education “when it feels like a hot mess?” What does “learning” mean in 2022? These are the types of questions that Monica Genta, a middle school teacher and educational consultant, explores through her weekly podcast This Teacher Life.
  • Self-Care for Educators
    There is way more to self-care than simple suggestions to have another latte at Starbucks. On Self-Care for Educators, Dr. Tina H. Boogren welcomes you to join her on the road toward creating and sustaining a truly happier balance in your life.
  • Let’s K12 Better
    When the pandemic hit, Amber Coleman-Mortley came up with an idea – host a podcast at her kitchen table with her three school-aged daughters. You’ll get experts, teachers, and parents all sharing their best thoughts.
  • Educational Duct Tape
    A podcast focusing on educational technology as a tool to solve problems in the classroom.
  • Teaching Hard History
    Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries from Learning for Justice starts with the history of chattel slavery and continues through the Jim Crow era, sharing lessons many don’t learn in the classroom and advice for teachers who want to change that.

Wayback Wednesday: Likes and Wonders peer review works like a charm!

I’ve decided that it’s too hot to write something today. But not too hot to grab one of my fave posts from a couple years back. Today? A Wayback Wednesday post highlighting a great way to have your kids participate in a powerful peer review process.


I’ve always appreciated the idea of Likes & Wonders. Asking kids to think about art, for instance. Or during gallery walks of student products.

But I haven’t really thought much about the idea of using the same sort of thinking process during live presentations by students. So yesterday was a new learning experience for me when I got the chance to play a part in PBL guru Ginger Lewman’s two day Passion-Based Learning session.

Ginger was working with a small group of high school teachers, walking through some PBL steps and asking teacher groups to do sample presentations. Along with a few other ESSDACK folks, I sat in on one of the presentations as a “student” listening to the presentation.

And it was cool to see the Likes and Wonders idea applied to student presentations.

We’ve all done it. We ask for an oral presentation of some sort. A kid or group of kids get up. They do three or four or 15 minutes of a presentation. Chances are, the preso isn’t that good. And the classroom audience is completely disengaged. Kids in the audience have either already presented and don’t care anymore or they’re presenting next and are freaking out.

The whole point here is get kids to think historically and practice literacy skills. So what to do when presentations aren’t that good and the audience is nowhere to be found?

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Need some social studies strategies for back to school? How about seven?

After the last few years, there’s not much that surprises me anymore. It’s been such a weird two and a half years of school. (And for classroom teachers, an incredibly challenging and difficult time.)

But I’m always just a little bit shocked when I hear about districts that crank up during the first week in August. As in . . . next week. Seriously? I’m just now starting to figure out the Delaware beach system and you’re going back to school?

But maybe you’re in that same boat, shoving off with kids already in seven days. If you are, this post may be a little too late. But I’m hoping that for most of you, you’ve got at least one or two more weekends before your first student contact day.

To help energize your first awesome week with kids, here are seven great ways to kick off the school year. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t. Ignore the rest.

What not to do

But before we get too far along with what we know works, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t. I’ve mentioned Fourteen Things You Should Never Do on the First Day of School before but it’s still a great reminder of what it looks like when we’re doing it wrong. Mark Barnes suggest that your goal should be a very simple one during the first few days of school:

You have many days to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses. You have months to discuss high stakes testing and standards. You’ll spend weeks probing the textbook.

The first few days of school should be dedicated to rapport-building and to joy.

Your goal should be that students go home that night and tell their parents: “I’m going to love history class because my teacher is awesome!”

So what should we be doing the first week?

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Can the Chronicling America site get any better? Yes. Yes, it can.

Seriously. Other than somehow delivering their results with a large iced tea and delicious side order of hand-cut fries, is there any way that the Library of Congress Chronicling America site could get any better?

I mean, you’ve got almost 200 years worth of digitized primary source newspapers available for scanning, analyzing, printing, and perfect for use for all sorts of learning activities in your classroom. Searchable by keyword. By language. By state. And it’s free. What’s not to like?

So is there really any way that it can get better? Yes. Yes, it can.

Adding a map with an embedded timeline would make it better. So . . . that’s what the LOC people did. You now can search for newspapers by location and time visually using their new interactive map. So cool.

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Well . . . look at you, America! 246 and counting!

On June 7, 1776, the Second Continental Congress listened as Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed a resolution declaring the United States independent from Great Britain:

“Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

It was a bold move. Several states including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina were not yet ready to support this potentially fatal step. Failure to approve the resolution could lead to the collapse of the shaky alliance between the 13 colonies. An earlier proposal by John Adams on May 15 declaring that “it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed” barely passed. Four colonies voted against it and the delegation from Maryland stormed out of the room in protest.

Congress agreed to delay the vote on Lee’s Resolution until July 1. During that time, Congress appointed a committee to draft a formal declaration of independence to accompany the resolution. Consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson, the committee selected Jefferson to be the primary author of the document. A rough draft of the document was presented to Congress for review on June 28.

Debate followed. And on July 2, 1776, the Congress voted to approve the resolution that had been proposed a month earlier – declaring the United States independent from Great Britain. After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining their decision. Members debated and revised the wording of the Declaration, finally approving a final version of the document on July 4. (There is some debate on when the document was actually signed with the National Archives suggesting an August 2 date.)

We celebrate on the 4th but John Adams understood that it was the fateful vote two days earlier that is what we are really observing. In his famous letter to Abigail:

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“A tradition like no other.” 10 books to read this summer

To quote Jim Nantz and his love for the Master’s golf tournament, “it’s a tradition unlike any other.”

And just like the Master’s, the March Madness basketball tournament, the NCSS national conference, and the annual May collapse of the Kansas City Royals baseball team, my self-assigned summer reading program is something that’s been part of my yearly schedule for almost as long as I can remember.

An early mentor from my Derby Middle School teaching days, Mike Ortmann, was fairly adamant about the whole thing. “This is not a part-time job,” he said.

Don’t get lazy over the summer, he said. Read some books. Expand your mind. Hone your craft. Be sure to stay current, he said.

So . . . who was I to argue? The guy was a social studies rock star. And ever since, I’ve created a list of books that I plan to read during the summer months. It’s a great idea. Read some stuff. Take some notes. Get smarter. (Of course, it’s common knowledge that I’ve never actually finished one of these lists. And it’s not going to happen this year either, just saying. A used book store five minutes from my house? Yeah. That’s gonna be trouble.)

This year’s list is a mix of work-related and just fun-to-read books. In no particular order:

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