Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Using Podcasts

Insects of Costa Rica | EOL: Learning and Education Group

Another great listening resource site. You can download the audioscript for further language study.


Going coursebook free means searching for alternative sources of input, and thanks to the internet, there is no end of fascinating authentic material just a few clicks away.

At the moment I am using science podcasts of the sort above to work with university Biology students who are anxious to  improve their English with the goal of studying abroad. 

Typically I choose a podcast full of wonderful, useful vocabulary; the very kind of thing the students seem to be passionate about.  Alternatively, I ask students to choose something themselves, having in class worked through the process of how to find podcasts of interest by typing some keywords and "PODCAST" into Google.

I might play the audio once and ask students to take note of interesting or key words and ideas.

Then I ask them, in pairs, to discuss what it was about, and elaborate a brief summary. Also share any interesting words or phrases they noted down.

Then as a whole group all these ideas are shared and discussed.

After this I hand out the transcript. Some important phrases may be highlighted by me for subsequent discussion.

Other key words may be blanked out for students to complete gapfill by listening. These are likely to be grammar structures we might have been working on, or vocabulary we might have seen before. The trick might be to catch the ending - what form of verb or adjective is being used (matured? mature? maturing? etc) If we have a time, I might ask them, to predict, in pairs, what the missing words might be.

Then with students reading along and completing the script, (if there was a gap fill activity) and circling important vocabulary, we will listen a second time.

And possibly then a third time, this time stopping to complete gaps, discuss the language in context, drill pronunication of individual words and connected speech, and comment on meaning.

New important words and phrases are noted down for follow up in a next class.

The advantages of this type of activity include
  • The subject matter itself is vitally important and interesting to the students, so the motivation is all there
  • The integrated practice of many different skills - listening, speaking, reading, and some writing.
  • Pronunciation can easily be focused on and drilled. This is important to me where I try to give my students a variety of accent input, and especially - since my own accent is Australian -  to model some kinds of 'standard American English' accents, which is expected of them in this region. 
  • Vocabulary is seen in context, and practiced also thus
  • Students are taught how to access podcasts on their own and encouraged to do so for outside class practice. The fact most sites provide transcripts gives them the opportunity to back up their self-study. Podcasts being downloadable maximizes their out-of-class practice opportunities, they can listen to them while commuting, exercising and so on.

And the extra added bonus; I get to learn a lot of new things too!

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