How podcasts can improve literacy

Hello colleagues, Recently, we've been having an engaging discussion focused on defining reading and reading instruction here on LINCS. For instance, questions such as how is listening to an audio book and reading a book the same and different. Well known adult literacy researcher, Tom Sticht has contributed to the discussion to explain his concept of auding. If you haven't dropped in on this discussion yet, I encourage you to do so.

Audio books and podcasts have a lot in common. I'm wondering how many of you are as addicted to podcasts as I am. While I listen to podcasts almost every day, I have never drawn upon podcasts in my teaching. After reading this fascinating blog post, "How Podcasts can Improve Literacy," by high school language arts teacher Michael Godsey, I am eager to give this a try.

From the very beginning, the students in Godsey's class were totally engaged in listening to the podcasts. Even so, Godsey was concerned that the students were not "reading." However, when he started using the scripts from the podcasts, that all changed. Students were highly motivated to read these scripts.

Check out this brief blog post and share your thoughts. If you have used podcasts in your class, let us know how it has worked for you. Also, please suggest pods that would be good choices for adult literacy education classes.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP


O have used listening to a book while reading the same book very helpful with students who are dyslexic. They comprehend the story better this way. I also will assign the story to be independently after listening and following along. 

Development of reading (and writing and listening and speaking) must be enhanced through application (practice) of those skills to authentic, meaningful uses of English.  Such tasks require various kinds of background knowledge to perform those tasks.  Podcasts can help a learner to develop background knowledge on a range of subjects, while also giving them practice in vocabulary, pronunciation, note-taking, and other mechanics of literacy/language development. (See Equipped for the Future's breakdown of the components of basic skills and the EFF Research Notes that summarize research about how adults learn.)  For example, there are several podcasts that deal with challenges that current and former prisoners face, many of which feature the voices of inmates talking about their experience and strategies they've developed.  Listening to such podcasts could help learners who face similar challenges themselves (or whose family members and friends do) not only develop helpful knowledge and strategies, but develop positive motivation and listening and other basic skills through practice. Such issue-oriented podcasts can also be a great professional development tool for adult educators who want to learn about issues their learners face and strategies that their learners might use. Examples include "Latino USA" (immigrant issues), "Code Switch" (perspectives of people of color), and "Hidden Brain" (how our minds work). I'm sure there are lots of other podcasts that can be useful for various groups learners and for adult educators.  These are great, low-cost tools we can use -- on our MP3 players and phones -- at our convenience, when we are exercising or working or relaxing -- to continue learning.                                     Paul Jurmo                                 

Hi Paul, Thank you for suggesting these interesting podcasts. You mentioned that there are several podcasts that feature current and former inmates talking about their experiences. These podcasts would be especially relevant to some of us. Would you be able to tell us the names of these pods?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning and English Language Acquisition CoPs


Thanks for all of the comments made here regarding podcasting! I appreciate that the author's 5-year old daughter uses closed-captioning on her cartoons! Great idea!  For sure, matching "auding" to actual transcripts of the text provides a great tool for reading improvement! I'm not surprised that the blog author found that students really appreciated having transcripts to support podcasts.

Speaking of using listening as a path to improving reading, one of the most highly effective instructional reading practices that we don't often discuss is the Neurological Impress Method (NIM), Don't be fooled by the fact that very little is reported on using NIM among adults. I have done so and love the technique! It's easy and highly effective.   From Implementing Assisted Reading, by Timothy V. Rasinski (Scroll down the page to find NIM.)   "Neurological Impress Method is a form of assisted oral reading that has some similarities with choral reading (Heckelman, 1969). In NIM, a student reads orally and simultaneously with a partner [often an instructor] who acts as a tutor. Ideally, the text is at the student’s instructional reading level and relates to a personal interest or school subject. The more proficient partner, reading slightly faster and louder than the student, makes a conscious effort to direct his or her voice into the student’s left ear to “imprint” a sound-symbol match in his or her head. Reading one-on-one this way can be intense for students, so initial NIM sessions should be kept to just a few minutes. Even over time, most sessions should last no longer than 15 minutes.   "Research into NIM (Heckelman, 1969) reports some spectacular gains. One student, for example, made a gain in reading of nearly six grade levels after doing NIM with a tutor for seven and a quarter hours over a six-week period (approximately five 15-minute sessions per week for six weeks). Twenty-four students made an average gain of nearly two grades levels over the same period of time."   NOTE: Not mentioned in the process above is the fact that the tutors run their fingers under the line of text to keep up with the oral reading. If the learner hesitates too much, the passage is too difficult. If the learner skips only a few words, the tutor keeps going. As the student picks up the patterns, the tutor's voice drifts off and lets the learner continue, resuming should the learner run into difficulty.    Has anyone used this method with adults? What do you think? Leecy

I love using podcasts and I've got some of my learners to listen to some on their own. I have used a few in class: Civics 101, More Perfect, and Hidden Brain. We have listened to them in class, but usually not the whole podcast as some of them are longer. 

My only issue is figuring out how I can get transcripts of podcasts as not all of them are provided. Programs I've found are expensive and I don't have the time to transcribe on my own. Any ideas for that? I've used TEDTalks for this purpose because there are transcripts available on the TEDTalks website. TEDx generally don't have transcripts, but if they are under ten minutes it's usually fine for class. 


Hi Stephanie, Having the transcripts is essential in my view. I would love to know how to easily create transcripts for podcasts that don't provide them. I've spent many hours transcribing various video and audio files over the years, but who has time for that?!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning and English Language Acquisition CoP

Hi Leecy

Thanks for this post - I had not heard of NIM and am interested in following this up to understand more. I wonder how crucial it is that the learner reads aloud. This is where it appears to differ from 'audio assisted reading' or 'listening while reading' where the text is read aloud by another person or software while the learner follows with their finger (or follows highlighted text with their eyes). 

I would also think auding and listening to podcasts serve slightly different purposes than audio assisted reading. In my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong please!), we have been using the term auding in these discussions (I refer to the discussion about Defining Reading and I'm aware my ideas are crossing threads now, sorry!) to refer listening to text read aloud. I don't think there's a particular focus in looking at the text while auding. In fact I think Thomas Sticht's original model defined auding as understanding spoken language, distinct from reading which is to do with understanding written language. 

As mentioned above, all language input is going to ultimately have a beneficial impact on reading as reading requires a good knowledge of the world and the vocabulary used to talk about the world. However, assisted oral reading and audio assisted reading / listening while reading are both designed to encourage learners to engage with text, using the oral/aural mode to support their interaction with text.  This should have the added advantage of learners engaging with the visual representation of text. 

Perhaps we need to define auding and be careful to distinguish it from other approaches that combine reading with listening.

By the way, on the topic of closed captioning or same language subtitles (SLS),  there have been studies in developing countries looking at the impact of SLS on literacy (read e.g. works by Kothari, and check out e.g.   I think the most successful studies subtitled popular songs, and I do wonder if there was additional motivation to read in order to sing along that might be lacking in other types of TV programme.

The idea has also recently caught people's attention in the UK:


Jo :-)

Because it is a "neurological imprint" happening, and based on my scientifically insignificant  personal experience, I'm pretty sure that it's important that the learner be reading along ... and that it's a human being, not a recording.   

    I sing in a church  choir and everybody else is Korean.   When we sing the Our Father... we have music with an attempt at pronunciation under the notes.   I abandoned this because ... mimicking the person beside me is just too easy (especially for something that we sing every Sunday)    

   Hmmm... this also makes me wonder if NIM doesn't tap into the parts of the brain that singing does.   I've known occasions when children can sing words in chorus that they can't say in speaking... 


Hi Leecy and all, I have not used NIM, but I'm curious what you and others think about the possibility of using this method remotely. Might there be similar results if this were done remotely with learners listening and reading along with an audio file and text instead of in a face-to-face interaction?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning and English Language Acquisition CoPs

Susan, in my training, NIM would not work remotely unless, possibly, the tutorsr/coaches were using live-video interaction that would show a close up of their fingers running along the page. And even so, in my experience, there is often a short lag in sounds that might not accompany the reader's finger well. Good question. I think I'll try it over a distance next time I do a training on teaching through live video instruction. I'll come back and report here.

Maybe others have ideas. The trick to having NIM work is interaction. Tutors are very sensitive to how the learner is reacting. As soon as the learner begins to read independently, the tutor speaks lower and lower until the student is reading alone. Next, if the student starts tripping over words, the tutor reads more loudly again. It's a beautiful dance! Leecy

That is not to say that having text read while reading it at the same time is not useful. I think it's a fantastic tool for reading improvement in many ways.  However, the results are not likely to be as readily recognized or as powerful as using NIM in my opinion. Leecy

This is what came up when I googled "short podcasts with transcripts" --  It lists a TON of great podcasts especially for ELL students, many of which come with puzzles and quizzes.  I am an avid podcast listener, and I'm super excited to use some of these resources with my students!  Thanks for the topic!