Medical students graduating in Belarus

Medical students graduating in Belarus

This activity invites students to think about the physiological manifestations of basic emotions like anger/fear/sadness and exhilaration/pleasure.

Laughter and weeping, and ongoing drives like hunger and sex, are “tension and release” phenomena. This unit explores some other aspects of the human experience that are governed by tension and release.

“Tension and release” seems to be an important characteristic of pivotal learning moments. What emotions tend to shut down learning? What emotions tend to optimize acquiring new knowledge and building understanding?


Students are arranged randomly in pairs. They are asked to examine the following table and have fun filling in the blanks. They must add three examples of their own in the numbered spaces provided according to the following criteria:

  1. Based a biological appetite or drive

  2. Literary, musical or otherwise artistic

  3. Refer to some kind of social ritual.

The teacher should play a recording of Ravel’s Bolero during this activity. The opening moments of Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog and the "drop" of almost any Dubstep recording offer different tension and release frames and timings. 

Printable pdf.

The climactic ending Ravel’s Bolero can mark some whole class discussion based on the following guiding questions: 

  • What do all these scenarios have in common? Is it reasonable to connect biological and emotional “tension and release” with the “tension and release” found in artistic and social phenomena?

  • How does your school schedule and calendar reflect the notion of tension and release? Does this detract from or enhance learning and knowing?

  • Have you ever personally experienced an “Aha!” learning moment? Explain this.

  • Is “tension and release” ever applicable in science, math or logic?