One of the projects I’ve been working on, one that is taking up an extraordinary amount of time, is finding podcasts for work.
I teach between 12 and 15 classes a week, all focused on either Public Speaking and / or Debating, Marketing, Business English, and Conversational English. It is classes in the last category that are the hardest to plan. In conversation classes, grammar and vocabulary are not as important as good listening skills, the ability to present and understand others opinions, the ability to circumlocute around unknown vocabulary and concepts, and the basics of interrupting, changing topics, and opening and closing conversations.
Accepted practice is to plan these sorts of lessons around common situations. An in-class assignment might be something like: Imagine you are at a ski-field. You’re waiting in line for the ski lift. The person standing next to you comments that it is a beautiful day. Please respond politely and find out two things about the person.
The students would then role-play the scenario, attempting to use all the skills listed above.
However, this semester, for my two advanced level conversation classes, I wanted something different. Many of the students seemed to be having problems listening at speed. Whenever I used a textbook accompanying CD, they were fine, but in the real world, accents, slang, and the speeds that native English speakers use everyday, they were unable to keep up.
So, I have decided to use podcasts as a listening focus for both classes. I have been designing classes around a given podcast (always one that is licensed under a creative commons license), creating vocabulary sheets and discussion questions. So far, after two weeks, the results have been very good. Class opens with general discussion for about twenty minutes, then we go over the vocabulary on the data sheet, listen to the podcast, go over any questions, listen again, then spend the last twenty minutes of class discussing the news story or advice or what-have-you that was contained in the podcast. As I said, it is working well, and I am quite pleased with the results so far.
However, finding appropriate podcasts is work.
I have been keeping track of podcasts that usually run for under five minutes per episode and contain some interesting content. And by interesting content, I mean, something that we can discuss. For example, I have come across numerous podcasts that are focused on teaching English as a second language, giving vocabulary and idioms and so forth, and they are excellent resources, but they do not really work for my conversation classes. I need something we can talk about. News stories are good, and some podcasts, like Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, are excellent, if difficult, fodder for discussion.
So far, I am using Slate’s Explainer Podcast, the previously mentioned 43 Folders, ABC News’ Daily Dish, New York Times Front Page, and NPR’s Business Story of the Day. (All are available via iTunes.) But I would like to have some more, like Explainer and 43 Folders that have interesting content, that is not necessarily news, and is under, or around five minutes in length. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. (Mighty Toad at gmail dot com).