Using Podcasts to Cultivate Curiosity

Exposure to new ideas breeds new ideas. This is why we attend conferences, follow noted educators on social media, and read books to hone our craft. 

Consider this. The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, proposed a new alphabet for his country. This is all part of a strategic separation from Russian influences. The new alphabet will be based on Latin and apostrophes, lots of apostrophes, that will be used when there is not a clean translation to the new script. For example, the Kazakh word for cherry will be written s'i'i'e. (Click here for the full article.) Given that information, do you have questions? You should. I want to know if the U.S. President has the power to incite an alphabetic change. Also, why did Nazarbayev choose the apostrophe has opposed to the caret or, even more fun, the Sheffer stroke? Or, how does language evolve and where did it all begin?

Given a little information, you easily have some questions. It's the same for our students. While they are inundated with information through media, they don't digest a lot and they certainly don't take the steps necessary to turn that information into brain activity.

In our classes, we teach our standards like crazy, so there is certainly no shortage of information. However, our classes may not be the most interesting part of our students' day. (I know. I cried a little when I typed it.) Consider podcasts as a supplemental source of information for your students, but be sure to recognize that it's what you/your students do with that information that matters. Before I give you some ideas for podcasts, let's explore some ways you can use them with intention.

Now, if you are not a podcast listener, you will need to be if you want to try this with your students. There are podcasts for everything you could possibly be interested in and you are bound to be hooked. Pretty soon, you will be playing them in the car, while you exercise, and while you get ready in the morning!

Now, I know you're short on time and long on standards. However, we all have students who get through our content faster than others. A podcast could be a way to focus those go-getters with an additional learning opportunity. Podcasts can be listened to on a smart phone, tablet, or desktop computer, so you could set the expectation that students listen to one per week. You could also play a podcast as students transition from class to class or activity to activity. Now, on to some ideas for using podcasts to cultivate curiosity with your students...


Ask students to write at least 5 questions they have about the topic after listening. You could even challenge students to come up with the BEST questions related to the content of the podcast. Everyone can write them on the board to see which get the most "oh yeah" responses.

Have students imagine if the podcast were written for a different audience - how would the podcast need to be changed? (For example, if the only audience for Serial Season One was Hae Min Lee's family. What different choices might the producers make about the content and format?)

Ask students to come up with a connection from the content to the topic they are studying in your class. You could even pair students up knee to knee and then they have to go back and forth as many times as they can, stating connections until one person can't think of anything.

Have students create a drawing that hints at the content of the podcast. Tell them the goal is to intrigue their classmates to listen to a particular episode. You could post these images around the room as inspiration.


There are many lists that you can google to find podcasts for different ages. These are my recommendations, loosely organized by age. All of these can be listened to out of order, so students can choose based on their interests (or your designation).

Younger Listeners

Wow in the World. This podcast is produced by NPR and is hosted by Guy Roz and Mindy Thomas. It's all about finding the "wow" in the world. The topics are so interesting! You will love hearing about why horses have hooves and why chili peppers are so hot. 

Brains On. The creators describe this podcast as "science for your ears." From dinosaurs to static, there is so much to learn in small snippets of audio recordings. 

But Why. This is another NPR podcast filled with the answers that children ask. This is a great way for students to get engaged and in the habit of asking questions. They can even submit their own questions!

Older Listeners

How I Built This. Guy Roz from NPR hosts this podcast. (Clearly NPR knows what they are doing when it comes to podcasts.) From Starbucks to The Chipmunks, listeners hear the stories of how entrepreneurs started and grew their empires.

Criminal. Phoebe Judge tells a variety of stories related to crime. The podcast includes episodes about junk science, the "body farm" at Texas State University, and the photos of the children on milk cartons. 

The Memory Palace. Nate DiMeo created this podcast to tell the stories that are often left out of history books. Listen to learn about Elmer McCurdy, an infamous bank and train robber, or the 1926 hurricane in Miami. The episodes are short and fascinating. 

Happy listening!

Laila SangurasComment