Traveling the World with Podcasts: From Dollywood to Ghana to Selma and Beyond


Are you fresh out of ideas about what to teach next to your virtual students? Are you struggling to find engaging content that is free, easily accessible, understandable to students, and in the public domain? Tired of dredging your brain and the internet for content every week to teach?

Never fear, the blog post on podcasts as literature is here!

If you have yet to dive into the wonderful world of podcasts, now is a great time to start. For those who don’t know, podcasts are recorded audio segments, usually focused on particular topics or themes. It is a great way to share interviews, stories, and information in a format that is easily accessible and free for listeners.

I personally have become a podcast junkie over the last few years. So, in September when my school told me that I had to teach English all year to a group of all virtual students, but that the county was not going to pay for access to online versions of novel sets for classes, so we had to basically rebuild our curriculum ourselves with no resources and no guidance, so, have fun and go figure it out real fast, I panicked for a bit. Then, I started thinking about literature from an access perspective—what had the power to convey what is essential about great stories but in a platform that allowed free access for anyone? One of the venues I came up with was that of the almighty podcast.

Usually, I do a unit on social justice literature with my students, and this year before I realized that we had to teach English all year basically without books, I had been planning on steering my students towards non-fiction social justice books. When I started thinking about this content from the perspective of podcasts, I realized that many of the same overall goals I had envisioned accomplishing through a non-fiction social justice literature unit could also be accomplished through a social justice podcast as literature unit.

And because we as teachers in West Virginia and all across the world are #allinthistogether, I am going to share all of my resources with you so that you can use this podcast unit with your classes in any way, shape, form, or fashion (to borrow a Jim Justice-ism) that fits the needs of your students. This is a super adaptable unit, and you could totally use it as is, or you could substitute the podcasts I chose for other podcasts but keep the structure—whatever suits your style and students.


I chose to structure this unit like a literature circle unit in that I gave students a choice of several podcasts and let them rank them in order of preference according to which ones they would be interested in listening to (I used a Google form for this), and then I put them in groups based upon their feedback.

The reason why I chose to give students choice in which podcast to listen to is because a) choice is great and improves student engagement, and b) because some of these podcasts are about touchy (albeit, important!) subjects, and I wanted students to be able to self-select a podcast that fit their emotional and psychological needs the best.

If you are choosing podcasts for options to give your students, I would center them around a theme. This helps because all of the questions you ask them weekly about the podcast can be the same questions across podcasts, and some of the ancillary assignments that you give during the unit can work no matter which podcast students are listening to. Also, you know that students are accomplishing similar goals although they are listening to different content.

Here are the podcasts, along with general descriptions, that I gave as options for my students, all of which are either centered around or end up getting to social justice issues.

Podcast Option 1: Dolly Parton’s America

The Dolly Parton’s America podcast is about, well, the one and only Dolly Parton. The podcast starts out with a few episodes about Dolly’s growing up years and her rise to fame, but as the podcast goes on, it discusses Dolly’s perspective on female empowerment, political division, confederate emblems, and the many-faceted feelings about life in Appalachia, to name a few. Some episodes I felt were a bit racy for 14-year-olds, so I tried to choose ones that I felt were reasonably within the realm of school appropriateness.

Podcast Option 2: White Lies

White Lies

White Lies is about the murder of Reverend James Reeb in Selma, Alabama during the Civil Rights movement. His murderers were acquitted, and the collaborators of the podcast were pretty sure that one of his murderers was never caught. For fans of true crime podcasts, students can hear this mystery unfold through evidence and lots of interviews.

Podcast Option 3: This American Life

This American Life is a classic podcast with hundreds of episodes on intriguing topics. However, I chose to focus on issues of race, housing discrimination, and education in the podcasts I selected for this project. Students were introduced to the concept of redlining and how it impacts the quality of education which students receive, which in turn impacts the trajectory of their lives.

Podcast Option 4: The New Activist

The New Activist is a podcast hosted by the faith-based organization IJM (International Justice Mission). IJM is an organization which fights against human trafficking through both legal processes and rescues. The portion of the podcast which students listened to was about a girl who goes by Esther (not her real name for safety reasons) who was formerly enslaved in the dangerous job of fishing on Lake Volta in Ghana. IJM discovered and rescued Esther along with many other children.

Podcast Option 5: Displaced

The podcast Displaced is hosted by the IRC (International Rescue Committee) which is an organization that promotes the welfare of refugees and displaced people. Displaced interviews people who work to helped displaced people around the globe about their perspective on the best ways to help people displaced by conflict as well as how to de-escalate that conflict before people are displaced. The episodes I chose focus largely on how displacement affects children, their education, their development, and their future.

Below is a link to the fillable Word document that I gave to students to help them choose a podcast. It has links to short previews for each podcast in addition to the description so that the students could hear a bit of the podcast before choosing one.


I chose to have students listen to podcasts weekly and discuss with each other on the online platform FlipGrid. FlipGrid allows students to make videos and respond to each other’s videos in video form all on a secure platform. Because they are making videos back and forth to each other, they are essentially engaging in a slow discussion. Below is a screenshot of what the Week 3 Topic and directions looked like for my Dolly Parton’s America Podcast FlipGrid.

The document below gives an outline of which podcast episode(s) I assigned per podcast per week and also the questions I had students answer on their FlipGrid discussion videos and response videos each week. This was a document used for my planning purposes, and I DID NOT share this directly with students.


I made a go-to document which I shared with the class containing all info that they needed each week of their podcast unit. It had the FlipGrid code for each podcast, the names of the students in each group, the episode(s) which they were assigned that week along with links to those episode(s), and all due dates clearly listed for the week.

I removed my join codes and the names of my students and included that document here. This was the document that I DID share with students and is designed for their use. The only podcast not listed on here is the Displaced podcast because not enough of my students signed up for that as their first choice, so I ended up not doing that one. If you use this document, you will want to change the dates and some instructions, but it may be helpful to use this structure and the links in the document.


Of course, the best part of teaching is watching students grow and learn and discover. A unit like this does take a bit of work to set up on the front end, but throughout the unit, you get to watch your students connect with life-changing stories that will stick with them for years to come and will challenge their perspectives.

It may even inspire them to become the change that they want to see in the world, which is always a goal of mine as a teacher.

Liz Jorgensen (formerly Keiper) is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @LizJorgenTeach.

WVCTE is wondering…

  1. What are other venues for engaging, accessible content that you have used in the virtual education world this school year?
  2. What are some other podcasts which could work well with a unit like this?

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