The radio is a tremendous resource of listening material and the internet has suddenly opened this world up for classroom use. Instead of listening to the crackling and fading of shortwave transmissions, it’s now possible to save clear copies of programmes from all around the world. Here are some ideas for working with these in class.

Live radio reports

(For a classroom where all students can use headphones to listen to a PC)

  1. Research about six interesting English language talk or news stations and make a list of their URL addresses.
  2. Prepare a handout giving these addresses and a three to five minute time slot for each one, e.g. 10.15 – 10.19
  3. At the times given, students should tune into each station and make notes about what kind of station it is, what’s being discussed and whether they think it sounds interesting etc.
  4. At the end of the task, mix students into new groups to compare whether they had the same impressions.

NB: at lower levels, don’t expect students to understand much of what they hear; this is essentially a gist listening task.

Technical thoughts

If you are not planning to listen live in class, you will need a way of saving copies of programmes for later use by:

  1. recording from the earphone or line-out socket of a PC to a cassette recorder.
  2. using software that can record streaming audio directly onto the PC e.g.  Total Recorder from The resulting file can then be saved onto CD or flash drive for use elsewhere.
  3. using the free podcasts now offered by many stations.

Whatever method you use, bear in mind copyright restrictions for certain material and check that your use is legal! The website has a good list of UK internet radio stations.

Alternative listening material

Use a short radio extract of something relevant and up-to-date in just the way you would a normal coursebook listening text (with tasks or comprehension questions as you wish) – but with the added bonus that the topic is current and interesting. Phone-ins are particularly good, especially ones where people talk about problems. Let students listen to the problems and then discuss their own solutions before hearing what the presenter says.

Teacher’s Podcast

Become a Podcast DJ – but instead of mixing music tracks – make a selection of a few favourite radio extracts from the week (e.g. news headlines, a comedy sketch, an odd advertisement, a discussion etc) interspersed with your commentary and humour!  Making one 15 – 20 minute Podcast a fortnight might not be too heavy a burden. Make it available for download via a school computer, from CD or, if you’re keen, from your own website for all students to listen to at all levels. Make sure you select interesting extracts that are not too hard to follow with low-level English. Use your intros to help students orientate themselves to the recordings. Don’t worry about whether they’ll catch it all – it’ll still be great exposure to real English.