Audiobooks in the Classroom: A Field Guide

When striving to address the various learning modalities, Auditory Learners sometimes get shortchanged. After all, we “talk to” students during every lesson, doesn’t that serve their needs?

No, not really.

Like their visually or kinesthetically-oriented classmates, auditory learners benefit from rich materials designed for their preferred learning method. And, for an auditory learner, few things can compare to an audiobook.

Before engaging in lessons geared toward any one particular learning modality, students tend to benefit from a preparatory meta-lesson about Learning Styles themselves. The University of Minnesota published this wonderful self-assessment that can be adapted to work in many classroom situations.

Getting the students to think about learning, and beyond that to investigate how they — themselves — learn, helps them to see their own strengths in a new light. It can be quite empowering.

So, assuming that you have already explored and discussed learning styles with the class, let’s prepare for a lesson centered around audiobooks.

Back in the day, a tape recorder, or CD Player loud enough to be heard was the basic tool. These days, with digital downloads being the way most people buy audiobooks, a book can be played from a classroom computer or a cellphone.

If your cell phone isn’t loud enough, plugging the external speakers, like the ones connected to a typical classroom desktop computer, into your headphone jack will help. If you don’t have a set in your classroom, check with whomever manages computers for your school. Old speakers tend to last for a long time and can often be salvaged when the computers they were connected to are no longer useful.

On the board, write 3-5 questions that can be answered by the material to be shared that day. Review the questions to be certain everyone is on the same page. Feel free to say something along the lines of, “that part will make more sense after you’ve heard the story.” Also make clear that they will have time after the story completes to finalize/change/clean-up their answers to the questions.

Provide the students with 1 sheet of lined paper and multiple sheets of unlined paper along with pencils, markers, colored pencils, and crayons (if they won’t consider crayons to be “too babyish”).

The purpose of the lined paper and pencils is obvious. As the students feel that they have come to the answer of any of the questions, they can make notes, write down quotes, etc.

The other paper and supplies are actually crucial to the lesson. They are for the students, not the class, not a grade. They do not need to be shared with anyone.

Encourage the students to draw/sketch/doodle while listening to the story. Ask only that they avoid writing words on the unlined paper. In this lesson, they interact with words via their ears. Their eyes (visual) and hands (kinesthetic) are to be occupied with other things.

While the audio is playing, the teacher should circulate around the room. Avoid talking whenever possible. Look, but don’t comment at how the students use the unlined paper.

If a student becomes distracting or disruptive, ask them to hold on for a moment. Head over to the unit playing the audiobook. Stop the recording. Wind it back a few seconds (preferably to the beginning of a paragraph, page, or even chapter). Explain to the class as a whole how important it is to experience the whole performance. Apologize to the class for the disruption. Then, address the original student as quickly and quietly as possible. Addressing the disruption of the content before addressing the disruption by the student stresses the importance of the central lesson.

Once the audio completes, ask the students to put the unlined paper aside and focus on finishing up the answers to the questions on the lined paper. While reviewing their answers to the questions, if possible, replay bits of the audio that reinforce the answers.

Once this is finished, ask the students to put everything aside and ask one more question. Have them evaluate the narrator as a storyteller. If you don’t have a rubric that you have previously developed with your students, this one from Story Arts offers a good starting point. Rubrics tend to mean more when developed by the class themselves. If you have the time to devote a lesson to that activity, I am sure you will find it worthwhile.

Any questions? Post them in the comments below.

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Note: Beyond my experience as an audiobook narrator, engineer, and producer, I have a Master’s Degree from New York University’s School of Education focusing upon Theater as a teaching modality which I then applied in various schools in both New York and Massachusetts. I am also a member of the Audio Publishers Association and support their Sound Learning Initiative.

3 Replies to “Audiobooks in the Classroom: A Field Guide”

  1. This is a beautifully considered plan for using audiobooks in the classroom, in a way that benefits auditory learners, especially given your own work in the industry. Great resource for teachers, and librarians!

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