Posted in Conversation Classes, Listening Classes, Proficiency

Proficiency Podcasts: Radiolab, Darkode

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This is the first of a new series of lesson plans based around different podcasts for proficiency and post-proficiency students. They’re appropriate for high C1+.

These lesson plans work in a similar way to the Proficiency Book Club series; set the podcast as homework so that students can listen to it at their leisure and then discuss it in the following class. For this lesson plans students will need to listen to the first part of the Darkode podcast by the amazing radiolab team of Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad. Download the plan here:

Proficiency Podcast Darkode LP

Lead in

How computer literate are you?

How often do you use a computer?

Could you live without one?

What would you lose if your computer suddenly died or was stolen?

Have you or anyone you know ever been hacked?

What do you do to stay safe online?

Darkode Discussion

What happened to Ina?

Russian hackers hacked her computer and held all her files hostage for 500 dollars.

Where does she suspect the hackers are from?

Russia or the Ukraine

Why did she decide to pay?

Her husband’s tax receipts are worth more than $500.

What does she have to do?

Get $500 in bitcoins to pay the ransom

What happened when she decrypted one file?

A timer started counting down until the files would be permanently deleted.

What are bitcoins?

An unregulated, untraceable online currency.

What did she have to do to get the bitcoins?

A lot of paperwork, take a photo of her husband holding his driving licence, get in contact with and send them the $500 from the post office.

What different problems did she encounter?

A snowstorm, thanksgiving holiday, the change in exchange rate.

How did she overcome in the problem of the exchange rate?

Contacted her daughter in Brooklyn to get her to go to the Bitcoin ATM.

What happened next?

She paid the ransom but she was 2.5 hours late, she received a message telling her she now had t pay $1000.

How did she solve this problem?

She wrote to them in Russian explaining all the problems she had encountered and the hackers took pity on her and decrypted her files.

Who else has been a victim of cryptowall?

Police departments, universities and normal people.

How many people have been a victim of cryptowall?

1 million.


What would you do it this happened to you? Would you pay?

How much are the files on your computer worth to you?

If you could save 1 file from your computer which would it be?


Here are some phrases and words taken from the podcast:

top it up/off – to refill something to the top. I topped up my wine glass.

pay a ransom – to pay a criminal to return something or someone they have taken

playdate – US, when parents meet up so that their children can play together.

speak in airquotes – to make quotation mark gestures with your fingers while speaking to show that you’re not speaking literally.


Barcelona based English Teacher, blogger and sometime actor and director.

11 thoughts on “Proficiency Podcasts: Radiolab, Darkode

  1. I’m always looking at how to incorporate podcasts – especially Radiolab – into my students’ English lesson. I had just listened to Darkode recently, and then saw an episode of The Good Wife which also addressed the same topic. It could be something to recommend students for further viewing after this Darkode lesson.

    Have you listened to Serial? I can only really recommend it to my super advanced students – and I’d love to make a lesson plan around it… I’m just not a good planner. That’s why I come to your page all the time. Have you thought of adapting a lesson plan around Serial (if you’ve heard of it).

    Thanks again! Your site rocks and I my students always enjoy the classes I adapt from your posts.

    1. Hey Sharon,

      I loooved Serial, you’ve just given me a great idea for a series of posts! Thanks! I do two classes a week of “post-proficiency” level, basically students who want to maintain a high level of English, and podcasts work really well with them.

      I love radiolab but the problem is they don’t do transcripts so I have to be more selective about which ones to do. Have you listened to “This American Life”? They do transcripts for all their episodes and they are generally broken down into shorter stories so they work really well. Going to try out some more of their podcasts this year.

      Thanks for the comment!


      1. All I do is listen to podcasts in my spare time (commuting time/brushing my teeth time)… I know the first 2 episodes of Serial are transcribed and available on the This Am. Life website. (I kinda have a crush on Ira Glass’s speaking voice). I’m always looking (listening) for interesting segments to use for classes. Do you have an email that I can send you one of my not-so-good lesson plans involving Radiolab & Old trees? I’m sure you’d make a better lesson than mine, but I want to share something with you since you’ve shared so much here.

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