Listening Comprehension with Encounters Podcast By Richard Nelson


We are currently enjoying the wonderful stories and studies of animals in their natural environment by cultural anthropologist Richard Nelson of Encounters. Richard’s work is broadcast across the nation on public radio and it is only with Richard that you can hear polar bears growl, peregrine falcons cry and killer whales splash! His podcasts are available for free on iTunes and also listed on his website. I really appreciate his explorations of the animals in their natural habitat and how he presents to the community in a calm, gentle and intelligent way. His narratives are delightful engaging, with a wonderful vocabulary. I find his voice and delivery of the information really positive, and like with the food I choose for my children to digest, when it comes to listening, I want it to be real and good quality too. Richard’s podcasts are enthralling and nourish that part of your soul that craves knowing wild animals living free.

You can scroll to the bottom of the page to read details of how I am implementing Encounters into homeschooling routine with a listening comprehension exercise, or if you are interested in my rambles… here is the back story… of how it all happens…

Many years ago I lived on a small Island in South East Alaska in a very special community called Sitka. Some of you may know of Sitka for the magical people who live there seem to attract as much attention for their goodness as the island itself does for the environmental beauty. For almost three years Sitka was my home, and during this time I had all variety of jobs, from waitressing at Van Winkle & Son’s and Ludvig’s Bistro to selling float plane rides at Harris Air family. In my spare time I hiked, made art and volunteered at the public radio station Raven Radio. I attended the University of Alaska South East briefly studying video production and contributed to a short documentary on waste water management. Now I could talk and talk of all those ‘Sitka Days’ but the reason for a Sitka connection in this moment is that it brought me this connection to Encounters, and David Nelson the anthropologist because he lives in Sitka.

When my friend Anne Elise Pollnow of Sea Level Consulting, heard we were focusing on { Sound } she wrote to me saying, “Do you know Anthropologist Richard Nelson from here in Sitka? He also concentrates on sound and nature, it is beautiful work.” Now I have not connected closely to Anne Elise Pollnow for years, but she popped up in my feed on this day in such a timely helpful manner. Memories surfaced of young wild days in Sitka, and then later, the time she stayed with us in Byron Bay on her Australia travels. I love how life works like this now, with social media we can all weave our magic, and share our energy, when it is needed or meant to be.

Anne Elise’s suggestion was just the gift I was looking for, and as Maya and I browsed through the extensive list of the animal documentation in the Encounters podcast we became very excited for what was to become a new weekly lesson, “Oh yes! This is good listening!” I thought to myself after less than a minute of the podcast. “We can definitely listen to this!” Maya and I agreed. As we sat there listening, I picked up my pencil. I am always aiming to make homeschool out of anything. Inspired by the quality of the words, to make sure Maya is listening, and to make sure I was being present too, I declared “I know! I will make this a listening comprehension exercise!” Truth be told, I need as much discipline with homeschooling as my children do and so if I set myself a task too, then we are all there, “Doing it together!” and then, like magic, it is homeschooling at it’s very best.

I have found it is working very well for us to be living learning in block. Choosing a learning focus block and then exploring it in a variety of ways over numerous weeks. First it was bees, then it was water, and now we are onto sound. I let everyone who loves us know where our focus lays, and then see where it takes us and what our community puts on our plate. I was so grateful to Anne for popping in at that moment, because after following her lead, the idea just popped up, it just came to me like a light bulb moment you know… “Oh this is all so fitting for sound! Encounters is perfect audio to practice listening comprehension! It is factual, not too long, about animals, and done in a really good way.” I mused to myself. “Ah, this is the America I love!”

Maya insisted we start with the podcast about Snakes, and once again the beauty of one-on-one tailoring of home school shines. Maya was able to choose what she wanted to listen to, from the Encounters selection, and I see having options so good for increasing engagement.

So together Maya and I sat and listened to the podcast. As I said, it really all only struck me then and there. As Richard Nelson spoke, I wrote down questions based on what we were hearing. Now and then I could see the facts that caught Maya’s interests because her eyes would light up, or she would straighten her spine, or she would start talking to me, wanting to know if I had seen that snake on the farm? I would gently hush her and reminder her we were listening quietly. I wanted her to be able to answer the questions! I took note of when she was really taking in the words in a deeper way and was sure to sculpt questions around her inclination, but I also included harder questions to make sure she was learning the art of remembering facts and other valuable information that is important to know – which in this instance, what do you do if a snake bites you?

I was so very very impressed with Richard’s relationship and appreciation of nature all through the podcast. It was very encouraging that he recognized that Australians are culturally trained/raised not to touch or kill snakes, despite having all of the top 10 deadliest snake in the world. Having grown up on a coastal country farm in Australia, I met a lot of snakes, that is a whole other story, but I just want to say that snake energy is great, it is often linked to respect. If you meet a snake, there may be a message in it, a snakes will teach you all about manners. I wrote this little poem so children can understand.

When you meet Mr Snake,  
bow politely, say good day,
tip you hat, and be on your way. 

When the ‘Snake’ podcast was over, I handed Maya her work book with 12 questions spread over a double page (questions below). I made a point to commit the answers to memory myself, so I could mark her work afterwards. I also explained to Maya “It doesn’t matter if you know the answers or not, if there are any you leave out, we will look up the answers together!” This pleased Maya to hear me say that, and the smile was back on her face. I purposely said this to diminish any pressure, anxiety, or fear of failure. I feel it is really important to be encouraging and provide supportive learning without the focus being about getting it all right, but of course I hope she at least is able to retain information. I believe she is capable, but I know my sweet souled daughter, and being put under test pressure was not good for me, and I doubt it will be good for her either. At the end of the day, we will know what we know… and we will go on to live a good life, and help other’s to do the same.

Sample Lesson Plan

Listen to an Encounter’s podcast of your choice.

The top of the work book write the title, eg: “Listening Comprehension – Encounters – Snakes.”

While listening, to the podcast, write out questions for your child to answer afterwards.

  1. What type of snake was being described?
  2. How long was the full-grown snake?
  3. What does the snake eat?
  4. Name three other animals that were mentioned.
  5. Do snakes have external ears?
  6. How many species of snake does Australia have?
  7. How Many species of snakes does Alaska have?
  8. It is thought that snakes evolved from what other reptile?
  9. What is snake venom?
  10. What do you do if you are bitten by a snake?
  11. What is the first symptom of a tiger snake bite?
  12. Do tiger snakes give birth or lay eggs?

If you are looking to developing listening in younger children (under 7) as a prelude to factual listening comprehension like this, I suggest starting first with listening to Sparkle Stories, and then having an inquiry conversation about it afterwards.

There is also an education link on the Encounters website for students and teachers.




4 thoughts on “Listening Comprehension with Encounters Podcast By Richard Nelson

  1. This is so great, I passed it on to my homeschooling friends in Colorado and also will be sure to check it out with the boys— love you!!

  2. Hi Kirsten,
    Thank you for this discovery! I will listen to this podcast with a lot of interest. Unfortunately my girls are not good enough in english to understand.

    I would like to present you this site (the web site of a wonderful nature mag) which publishes each week a new sound recording about nature and animals. There is no words, just sound. So you don’t have to know french.

    Thank you for all you are sharing about you homeschooling, it is very helpful.

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