Audiobooks in the Classroom

The Benefits of Audiobooks

My first experience with using audiobooks in the classroom was while doing a novel study with my 4th grade class.  We read The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis during our study of the Southern Region of the United States and I decided to try something new.  I had heard from another teacher about the fantastic audiobook, read by LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow and Star Trek fame, and thought we could use it for part of the book.  My students were immediately so enthralled with the story that we ended up listening to it throughout the entire story.

As we read, I noticed something I had never seen before.  My reluctant readers were hooked.  They couldn't take their eyes off the book pages as they listened.  When it was time to stop for the day, they begged me to keep going.  They talked about the story the rest of the day, and when they took comprehension quizzes, they got 100% of the questions correct for the first time ever.  For months after our novel study ended, they found a way to weave the story into ordinary conversations as often as they could.  For the first time, they felt confident about reading and couldn't wait to read something new.  As a teacher, it felt like a breakthrough.

The next year, I wanted to repeat what we had done the year before, but I knew it was time to integrate something more into my classroom.  I scoured library sales and garage sales for used, unabridged audiobooks of my students' favorite books.  I started researching the effects of using audiobooks with struggling and reluctant readers and found that many other teachers had found the same results that I had.  I knew I was onto something.  But how would my students have access to these audiobooks when I clearly didn't have dozens of CD players in my classroom?

My first haul of audiobooks after a library sale

Integrating Audiobooks into the Classroom

I turned to online sites like amazon and ebay and bought as many cheap mp3 players and SD cards as I could afford.  I transferred the audiobooks onto the players and provided them as part of my ever-growing classroom library, available for check-out along with the thousands of books.  The only rule was: the students had to read along with the book as they listened.  We talked often about the many ways this can help their reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension, and the novelty of using mp3 players to read really started the process of them finally buying-in.

I decided to put one audiobook on each mp3 player so that they could easily be checked out by individual students.  I labeled each player with the name of the book and kept them in an organizer with small plastic drawers, which were also labeled.  

The audiobooks are available to any student of course, regardless of reading ability.  While I have talked about the benefits for struggling and reluctant readers, there are certainly benefits for our advanced and motivated students as well.  Here is just a sampling of the potential benefits of using audiobooks in the classroom, for all readers:
  • Increases engagement through the novelty of using technology
  • Supports progress in reading fluency by modeling fluent, expressive reading
  • Introduces students to new words they were not previously able to read
  • Increases comprehension of the story by both listening to and reading it simultaneously
  • Stimulates confidence in students that previously felt unsuccessful or unmotivated in reading
  • Creates excitement in the classroom through shared experiences and trying something new
  • Provides students with access to books that they would have previously been unable to read independently
  • Encourages students to try new books that they would not have tried otherwise
As teachers, we are always looking for new ways to engage our students in reading and to improve their fluency, accuracy, and comprehension.  In my classroom, I have found audiobooks to be an invaluable resource that addresses all of these common concerns and more.

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