Embodied Listening: Engaging Students to Build The Peace Process Through Their Own Self-Reflection

Content: Embodied Listening is an intensive communication activity developed by Dr. Chris McRae, a performance studies professor in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida- Tampa. It was originally published in Listening Communication Journal in 2012. Using basic performative techniques, Embodied Listening has a two-fold effect on its participants: first, it teaches active listening to students; and second: it opens up opportunities for dialogue and interpersonal communication between participants.

Context: This activity is applicable for students at the primary, secondary, and undergraduate levels. However, it should be noted that the level of intensity must be applicable to the age of the students. It gives participants opportunities for gaining awareness of their bodies during the active listening process, the generation and utilization of descriptive language, teaches students to accept the power of the listening process, with an end goal of accepting listening as a practice that can shape experience. Through this, a sense of empathy is cultivated, teaching students to respect the opinions and narratives of others.

Implementation: Listening is itself an embodied and imperative act of communication. Embodied Listening teaches participants the importance of active listening through an experiential and performative lens. Essentially, participants are asked to consider how their bodies react and feel during the listening experience. In addition, it teaches students the importance of using descriptive language to describe their experiences with active listening.


Stage One/Preparation (3-5 minutes): The instructor should begin with a short dialogue about what the participants think about the act of listening and/or being an audience member. The activity leader should create an open space within the classroom. Furniture such as chairs, desks and tables should not prohibit the opportunities for students to move.

Stage Two/Body Awareness (2-3 minutes): The instructor will then ask the participants to move around the room, encouraging the students to “fill the space” (McRae 16). Carefully ensure they don’t follow each other in a line. As the participants move about the room, ask them to think about their bodies: the way they place their feet on the ground; the way they use their hands; to be aware of their posture.

Stage Three/Exploring Listening (3-5 minutes): The instructor will then inform the students listening will be explored by stimulating reactions to common sounds. The participants will “freeze” after hearing the prompt (e.g.: “Freeze as if you hear a dog bark”; “Freeze as if you hear an alarm going off”; “Freeze as if you hear glass breaking”). After each prompt is given, the instructor will ask the participants to notice their posture, tension, hand/arm placement, etc. After each moment, the instructor will choose one student to “tap out”. The “tapped out” student will go around the room and tell the instructor what they see in terms of the other participants’ body language and other forms of non-verbal communication. Then the instructor should ask the student what they felt when they were “frozen” compared to what they see. The instructor should clarify before they begin this portion of the activity that if a student feels uncomfortable at any point within this part of the activity, they are welcome to step out and observe.

Stage Four/Dialogue and Debriefing (10-15 minutes): The final stage ends with a dialogue between the instructor and the participants. The dialogue should be open with emphasis placed on the participants’ responses and the instructor facilitating.

Goals: From this activity, students should comprehend an innate awareness of their embodiment during the active listening process. The experimental aspect asks students to reflect on prior knowledge about listening in order to build upon their pre-existing foundations. Empathy and active listening are crucial to the dialogue process when it is chosen to be implemented in conflict resolution. By fostering a stronger sense of these two elements, the peace process will be stronger and listening will become a more omnipresent force.

Audience: Because this activity is so applicable and can fit a multitude of populations, Embodied Listening can be used in a variety of academic settings. However, middle school (grades 6-8) students and secondary (grades 9-12) students may be the most absorbent groups for this activity. Students in Fairfax City Public Schools could easily implement this into any sort of advisory programs. Peace education can only be effective when active listening and empathy are mastered. Using embodied listening can help to originate establishing this.

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