Getting Emotional with Audio

In the summer of 2013, I made my first and only Cross-Country road trip to date. During that time RadioLab and This American Life became the staples of a pleasurable driving regime. As I drove, I would become completely engrossed with the podcast, and the driving time would just roll by. Hearing a narrative without seeing video was something I had not done in awhile (not including listening to music of course). I was surprised by how much listening to the podcast and visualizing the information felt like reading a book on paper. It was more engaging than watching TV, or listening to a song, because I had to do more of the work to interpret what I was hearing.

When I think about this experience today, I begin to understand that asking a student to engage in audible text can be more challenging than asking them to read traditional text. With printed texts students are able to go back to information and re-read. If their memory fails them, or they lose focus, the students can skim back through, rather than having to recall information. For students to fully engage with narratives through audio they have to gather information more quickly, and hold more information in their mind’s for longer periods of time.

While in some cases students will be able to pause audio, constant pausing may disrupt the fluency of the text, and sometimes a podcast may be listened to by the whole class at once. Therefore, we would need to help students gain annotation strategies to help students organize and remember information that they “hear”, rather than read (visually). . Visualization activities would also be beneficial for helping students comprehend the “text” as they listen.

Considering these aspects, engaging with podcasts could help students gain strength as readers, especially when considering more and more often media is being consumed audibly and visually, rather than “textually.”

On’s list of 60 Podcasts, three interested me immediately; The Moth– a storytelling podcast where people can listen to, and submit stories (personal narratives), Big Picture Science– where diverse issues are discussed and analyzed by scientists from different fields, and Killer Innovations– a podcast sharing and celebrating innovations and innovative thinking. While I plan to go back and listen to all of these, I decided to give Big Picture Science my immediate attention.

I was pleased by the vast amount of podcasts there were on the website, with a diverse selection of topics ranging from Black Matter to the rise of the Gluten Free Diet. I chose an episode titled “Happily Confused: Emotion Commotion”. I was drawn to the description which said, “[emotions are]  the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment.” It reminded me of an article my students and I had just worked with in class, which discussed how Emoji’s lead to miscommunication because people read expressions differently. I thought I’d check this podcast out because, one,  it sounded interesting, and two, I thought I might find some connections I could share with my students.Expression_of_the_Emotions_Figure_21

The podcast started off very quickly; with a lot of transitions. I would describe the first 3 minutes of the show as choppy , and a bit overwhelming. Because of the transitions, multiple speakers, sound effects, and topic changes within the podcast, I felt it might be more approachable for high school students. However, as the podcast went on, the pace did even out, and the speakers didn’t switch as quickly.

The podcast offered humor, alongside a wealth of information and perspectives on emotions within our brains, and within our society. Several scientists weighed in, and the hosts offered interesting discussion points along the way. This would be a fantastic podcast to play for teaching tone and mood, because the producers created clips to demonstrate how media plays on our emotions, and these were dispersed throughout the beginning of the show.

One of the main things I took away from this podcast was the idea that emotional intelligence is, in many ways, more important than intellectual intelligence. We use emotion to connect at a very basic level. Media is more successful when it plays on human emotions. Similarly, our teaching is more engaging when we invoke an emotional connection in our students. Audio may be a great gateway into striking that emotional chord.  Something to think about as we play this week.

As for how I think this podcast could be incorporated into student learning I do have a few ideas:

  • Students could listen to shows with topics that relate to a non-fiction article, or fictional story they are reading. They can use information from both texts to compare and contrast.
  • Students could choose a topic of their own and create a podcast that mimics the style of Big Picture Science This could be a summative assessment within an interdisciplinary unit of teaching. For example, the script could be produced in English class, while the research takes place in science and history and Math (depending on the topics), the production could be done both in the library, and within classes! Podcasts could be shared virtually with the community.
  • Students could use podcasts strengthen ELA skills. For example students could identify the text structures used within scientists’ narratives. They could also analyse how both voice and other production elements fit together to create a specific mood and tone. 
  • Big Picture Science can be used to supplement taught curriculum within any of the core classes, because the topics and applications are so vast.

Link to Big Picture Science

Image Credit:

Guillaume Duchenne. Figure 21, horror and agony.  Scanned from 1965 version with foreword by Konrad Lorenz published by University of Chicago Press, Public Domain, retrieved at:


Getting Emotional with Audio

4 thoughts on “Getting Emotional with Audio

  1. I found The Moth too and loved it! Visualizing is something that all readers need to be able to make inferences and draw conclusions. Listening to the rich language these podcasts can provide is just one more way to engage students in purposeful learning. I love your image. 😉


  2. The wide variety of topics that the podcaasts offer allow them to draw in everyone. I found the information you shared about facial expressions around the world to be fascinating. I think students would be enthralled with something like that, and I love how you tied it in to something that they can really relate to-emoticons.


  3. Yea, my students love emojis. They have emoji stuffed “animals”, emoji fashion accessories, everything emoji! So when I found the article about emojis, I thought it’d be perfect for my class. I’ll find the link to it and post it here when I have time!


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