Whether you’re pivoting to meet emergency remote teaching needs or building a new syllabus and want to include some interesting new assignments, you’ve come to the right place! Like any course materials, podcast episodes are most effective if you assign them with some purpose. You can just assign the content, but we like Podcasts + Something to deliver the most impact!

We’re also building a library of Lesson Plans to use with our podcasts. Check it out!

If you’re looking for some guidance for kick-starting your own podcast (or helping students to start a podcast), check our Launching a Podcast page.

Podcasts + ___________

+ Discussion

Assign 1-3 episodes (for one night of homework, or over the course of the week) and a guiding question, and then have students engage in structured online discussions. You can run these discussions using Slack, FlipGrid, or a similar tool. Require that students do a minimum of six posts: 2 “original” posts (comments, observations, or questions), 2 responses to classmates’ posts, and then at least 2 other posts of either kind.

Important note: Like reading a source critically, listening to a podcast is a skill that students can develop! Check out Abby Mullen’s fantastic guide for students on how to listen to a podcast for class.


  • Episode assignments: “Syphilis: Origin Story” + “Walking Corpses
  • Discussion starterHow did ideas about disease and sex shape the way people understood and talked about leprosy and syphilis from the medieval period and early modern period?
  • Episode assignment: “Witches Brew
  • Discussion starterWhat is ‘patriarchy,’ and how did it reshape beer-brewing in early modern England? Where else in our course have we seen the effects of ‘patriarchy’ in Europe/ the World?

+ Debate

For an assignment examining colonialism and the individuals–in this case, Joseph Conrad, Roger Casement, and Henry Morton Stanley–who carried out the tasks of empire, try this structured debate!

  • Assign the students “Hearts of Darkness” + Table of Contents, Chapters 1 (p 21-37) and Chapter 2 (p 38-47) in Burton, The Lake Regions of Central Africa
  • Divide the class into six small groups: one dedicated to the position that “Casement was an imperialist” and one dedicated to the position that “Casement was an anti-imperialist”, and so on, so that the three men each have a team dedicated to arguing one side or the other
  • Give the students 15 minutes to revisit their notes from the podcast and reading, and to do whatever research they need to
  • Make sure each student has a role – a Leader to deliver opening statement, 1-2 Researchers to take notes on and provide counter arguments during the other teams’ opener and rebuttal, and a Closer to deliver the closing statement
  • Bring the groups up two at a time, run the debate
  • The point was to show that every one of these Europeans (who at least, unlike the Berlin conferencers, actually traveled to west Africa) were complicated individuals, whose sometimes casual tourist, often economically self-serving efforts led to immense suffering in the Congo

+ Presentations

To mix up content delivery, let the students take charge! On a unit examining three theories of the cause of European witch hunts, Averill has the students break into three groups and prepare short presentations using assigned materials, a mix of podcasts and excerpts from more traditional readings:

  • Read Wolfgang Behringer, “Weather, Hunger and Fear: Origins of the European Witch-hunts in Climate, Society and Mentality” and listen to “Little Ice Age
  • Read Brian Levack, “State-Building and Witch Hunting in Early Modern Europe” and listen to “It’s Treason, Then
  • Read Marianne Hester, “Patriarchal Reconstruction and Witch Hunting” and listen to “Witches Brew

Students work together to create engaging presentations (with a visual aid) that clearly outlines: the main theory their sources presented for the cause of the witch hunts, and a brief discussion of the evidence that supports their theory.

+ Source Assessment

Students should be assessing and critiquing podcast episodes like they do any other secondary source! Options:

  • Write a review! Students pick 8-10 most recent episodes of a podcast and write a public history review using the National Council of Public History review guidelines.
  • For any assigned episode, have students identify the argument/thesis of the episode and the sources used.

+ Timeline

For this assignment, have students listen to an episode, then use the audio and transcript to build a timeline of the events in the episode using KnightLab’s TimelineJS. Students will gain digital history skills and apply what they have learned through the podcast by creating a timeline. Ask students to do research to find primary sources, images, videos, and audio clips to add to their timeline.  Or, have your students use the podcast as a starting point, then have them go in to greater depth researching a person, issue or event in the episode, then show what they found in their research in a timeline. You could even have students make timelines covering issues from a playlist of episodes, focused on a single subject, such as the Civil War era, history of medicine, women’s rights, or slavery. 

For an example, check out this timeline on Reconstruction and the Election of 1876!

+ Maps

After listening to an episode with a heavy geographical component, like Lost!, where students can track Cabeza de Vaca’s travels throughout the Gulf of Mexico coast and into northern Mexico. Use My Maps in Google to create a custom map of Cabeza de Vaca’s unfortunate journey through “La Florida.” Students can include images, descriptions, and excerpts from the original text. Students can work collaboratively – in small groups, or together as one class.

+ Write An Episode

Have students listen to an episode with a FURTHER READING section, like “79 and Counting,” “Papa Can You Hear Me,” or “Devsirme,” read one of the articles from the Further Reading sections, and then write their own podcast episode! This gets students to think about how they would need to say something to be interesting to listeners, rather than just readers. Writing for a public audience, while engaging research (and appropriate citation) skills are important for all Humanities students!

Check out these episodes researched and written by Averill’s students for her fall 2020 Sex in Modern History class: