A Universe of Podcasts: A Summer Listening Guide for Elementary, Middle, and High School Students

New research offers compelling evidence that suggests we should make more use of podcasts, while a podcast search engine makes it easy. Here are three curated lists that dovetail with this year's summer reading theme. 

Imagine traveling with your students to the Moon or the Milky Way. Through stories, our imaginations can bring us to the far reaches of the cosmos—to discover what zero gravity would be like, to consider what it would take to build an outpost on Mars, and perhaps, to better understand how it might feel like to be a stranger in a strange land.

Stories, whether grounded here on Earth or in imaginary realms, are essential for learning and for building community. When we read about or listen to the experiences of others, we are empathizing; and as we learn about ourselves and others, we build narratives that propel us to act collectively and to solve complex problems.

This year’s Collaborative Summer Library Program reading theme, A Universe of Stories, offers unlimited opportunities to connect with students and to build community. This summer is also the 50th anniversary of the July 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing. As you include related fiction and nonfiction titles on your summer reading lists, consider adding a listening guide that explores the theme and anniversary through podcasts. New research provides compelling reasons to recommend them, and our curated lists will get you, your students, and their families started.

Listening together

Unlike oral storytelling, or the radio programs of the past, podcasts can be delivered on-demand. According to a March 2019 Edison Report, the number of people who have listened to a podcast just topped 50 percent, and podcast content for kids continues to grow as creators are learning more about the way kids and families listen. In a survey conducted by Kids Listen, a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting high-quality audio for kids,  responses indicate that when kids listen to podcasts, they listen to them over and over again. (Eighty percent reported listening more than once to an episode, while 20 percent listened to the same episode more than 10 times, vs adults who generally listen only once to an episode.)

But the most exciting findings are that 75 percent of the kids start a discussion about what they listened to, 58 percent quote or reenact a portion of the episode, and more than half request more information about what they learned.

Students interested in science, and particularly, space science, have hours of listening available to them. They can tune in to astronauts, scientists, and engineers talking about space exploration or listen to myths surrounding the Moon. Pique their and others’ interest by sharing a podcast episode or two. For example, try introducing middle school students to “Margaret Hamilton - Apollo Mission” from Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli’s Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. When they ask for more information, point them to the library shelves for Dean Robbins’s Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing or Dominica Di Piazza’s Space Engineer and Scientist Margaret Hamilton, then encourage them to find out if their public library or community offers summer coding classes.

Curated playlists

While more people are becoming familiar with podcasts, another recent Edison report revealed that 65 percent of non-listeners don’t know where to start. As teachers and librarians, we can help. A new search engine, Listen Notes, designed specifically for podcasts, is making it easier to create, curate, and share playlists for on-demand listening on topics from fictional stories and science to history and biography. Anyone can now put together and share a playlist based on topics covered in class or suggestions for summer (or anytime) listening .

Here are three curated playlists we've created using Listen Notes, inspired by this year’s summer reading theme.

Elementary –This playlist contains 13 shows and approximately four hours of listening. Specific episodes include “How Was the Universe Created?” (But Why); “Earthrise: The Picture of Our Planet That Changed the World” (Brains On!); “Space Junk with John Crassidis” (The Show about Science); and “Curious About the Moon” (Curious Kid Podcast).

Middle School—History, literature, music, science, and storytelling are some of the subjects featured on this list, which includes such offerings as “Kennedy Announces Plan for Manned Moon Landing” (HistoryPod); “Jupiter’s Moon Total Hits 79” (60-Second Science); “UFOs: What the Government Covered Up” (Science Vs.); and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Book Club for Kids). The full playlist contains 13 shows and approximately four hours of listening.

High School
Eight shows and seven hours of listening are offered on topics ranging from design and economics to history and technology. Episodes include “Apollo 8,” Parts 1 & 2:” (NASA’s Houston We Have a Podcast); “A Conversation with Dr. Mae Jemison” (StarTalk Radio); “Building 29” (Orbital Path); and “DIY Space Suit” (99% Invisible).

The importance of summer reading and learning can't be overestimated, and podcasts offer a powerful platform to help build bridges of interest and motivation for students that can guide their own learning after they leave the classroom. Step-by-step instructions on using Listen Notes, and tips on curating quality playlists follow.

Feel free to share our lists or to create lists of your own. Playlists can be created by teams or by students by using the “Contributors” function in Listen Notes. Enjoy exploring, curating, and sharing a Universe of Listening with your community.


Youth Technology Integration Consultant, Anne Bensfield, helps libraries and schools implement new models for innovation. Librarian and Buttons & Figs podcast creator, Pamela Rogers, inspires creative expression from elementary school kids by reading, writing and playing with words.


illustration iStock / Getty Images


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