Serial Podcast for ESL Students: Happy Times all ’round

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Serial podcast for ESL students
Using the Serial Podcast for ESL Students

If you teach very high-level students, consider using the Serial podcast. Although it’s a wee bit old, it’s still just as addictive and most students who don’t speak English as their first language will not have heard of it!

In the case of my Korean students, they loved it. It was their first time listening to an English podcast and they found it quite an interesting experiencing, even though it was a bit challenging for them, especially the slang.

Perhaps the best thing is that something like Serial is totally authentic. By this, I mean not designed specifically for English learners. If you have high enough level students, this will probably be your best option for them.

I’m all about using authentic materials whenever possible, except with low-level, or mixed level classes. It’s just more interesting for the students, and myself as well.

Serial: I Hope You’ve Heard of It

Last year, my serious addiction was the Serial Podcast. If you haven’t heard of it, you are perhaps not really living on planet Earth and you should definitely check it out, but be ready to binge listen because it’s crazy addictive. It’s the most popular podcast of all-time.

I personally lost some sleep, waiting for episode 10 which was a week late due to American Thanksgiving and had to start listening to podcasts about Serial (Slate Serial Spoiler) in order to get my fix. In other happy news, another season is coming out soon-ish, which I’m really looking forward to.

Using the Serial Podcast for ESL Students

When it came time to decide on something to study with my three, reasonably advanced and motivated students I decided to use the Serial Podcast. I wasn’t sure if it would be too difficult for them or not, but with a combination of the transcript (Episode 1 Serial Transcript) and the Podcast itself, they seemed to understand most of it.

They were pretty stellar at making little notes of things to ask me as well, especially with the slang and cultural stuff that they couldn’t find in their dictionaries. I actually felt quite proud of them for working so hard to understand what they were listening to! Of course, they were motivated because they wanted to know how the story ended.

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Results: Fabulous!

My students were hooked, right from the start and all their papers filled with various colors of highlighter and notes and translations of words into Korean. I seriously think that they’d studied 10+ hours in only the few days since I’d seen them last. Our discussion was really interesting and filled with insights about human nature and other good stuff like that. It was work that didn’t really seem like work and it made me feel happy to be a teacher.

Warning: Only High-Level Students

If you have high-level students, definitely consider the Serial Podcast. However, I can’t imagine anything more stressful or frustrating for everyone than trying to use this with low or intermediate level students. It’s just too difficult for them and even if you help out your students with grammar or vocabulary, they’ll still struggle.

I remember back to when I was taking a Korean class with a friend of mine. We were both high beginners and could read simple things, but that was about it. Our teacher brought in a very difficult reading for us one day that would have been suitable for an advanced level student.

It was like looking at a page of gibberish, and even with our teacher’s help, we felt so frustrated. Like she had to tell us almost every single word and it ended up being an entire waste of a class.

The key is to choose something that’s at the student’s level (to work on reading fluency), or just slightly above it (to help improve vocabulary for example).

More Serial Transcripts:

Serial Episode 2 transcript
Serial Episode 3 transcript

Listen to Serial, Season 1 on YouTube

What do you Think?

Have your tried using Podcasts in your English classes before? How did it go? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts. Would you consider using this kind of thing for online English teaching?

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself find this useful teaching resource.


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5 Comments

  1. Nina

    Awesome. I actually considered using this podcast when I listened to it last year I just couldn’t figure out how to find enough time to listen to it in class. Might consider og again.

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