Audio Intensifies the Reading Experience for Teens

April 20, 2007 by

Teacher: Christine Settino

Students: Grade 11 English, ages 16-17

Audio Content: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Location: Springfield Township High School, Erdenheim, PA


English teacher Christine Settino’s 11th grade class was reading Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel about a turn-of-the-century husband and his sickly wife. Ms.Settino thought that an audio book would be fun to listen to in class, and she thought that her students would enjoy the novelty of the experience. She and her teaching assistant, Nicole Greaves, played the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” as a complementary text. They were surprised to find how well students, especially special needs students, responded to the listening exercise.

Use of Technology/Experience in Class

Ms. Settino played the story on a stereo for her class. To help students make connections between the short story and the novel, she handed out a set of discussion questions about the short story and its relationship to the novel. She also handed out a story grid to help students take notes. The students listened to the story from beginning to end while following along on a printed copy. After listening, students sat together in groups of two or three to discuss the story’s relationship to the novel. Ms. Settino and her assistant teacher circulated among the groups, commenting and answering questions where needed. Some students talked about the language of the story; they found resonance between the main character’s constant reference to “creeping” and horror movies. Others commented that listening to the story made the characters and events more vivid to them. As a complement to Ethan Frome, the story painted a picture for the students of turn-of-the-century life, especially the stiff social rules and gender roles of the upper middle-class.


Ms. Settino was surprised at how well her students reacted to the audio story. “I thought it would be a novelty to hear the story and have a different kind of experience with it,” Ms. Settino said. But the real surprise was that some of the students who usually had a difficult time with literature were absorbing the story and were more engaged in discussion. They were able to see clearly themes common to the two stories such as sickness and how it reflected women’s roles in turn-of-the-century America. They also noted the similarities in how sickness was treated in that era. Ms. Settino was glad to see that listening to the story engaged students in a new way. “Kids that were normally not responsive were more involved. That was unexpected and great,” she said.

Teacher Quote

“Kids don’t all engage with literature in the same way, and this way of engaging with literature seemed to make meaning, especially for special needs kids.”


Listening Engages all Students in Learning

April 9, 2007 by

Teacher: Lynne Greenberg

Students: Grade 6, ages 11 – 12

Audio Content: From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools


Lynne Greenberg’s 6th grade class at Carnell Elementary in Philadelphia includes a mixture of successful and struggling students. Attempting to engage both, Ms. Greenberg went to and downloaded E.L. Konigsburg’s: From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler to teach valuable listening skills while also connecting the story with vocabulary and art lessons.

Use of Technology

Ms. Greenberg logged onto, downloaded From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler and burned it onto a CD, which she played for the class on a stereo. Ms. Greenberg learned that she would have to burn multiple CDs at a lower speed setting—much slower than her computer was capable of—for the CD’s sound quality to be at its best. One notable frustration was the infrequent tracks, which would stop only every 4 chapters or in the middle of a chapter. She had no way to mark the place and would have to scan through the CD to find where they had left off.

Experience in Class

Ms. Greenberg conducted audio listening lessons over a series of days. Each session began with a student volunteered recap of the previous day’s action. The class would listen to the book in 15-minute segments and stop to discuss, clarify, and reiterate the action. Ms. Greenberg tried to foster a place for open discourse, challenging students to relate what was happening in the story to modern day life. She would ask, “Could this happen today? Why or why not? If you were in this situation, what would you do? What kinds of events have you seen in the news that makes you think this would be unlikely?” She explained what an “aside” was and would challenge the students to discern when particular people were speaking and in what time frame. (The story shifted between past and present tense; a dialogue taking place in the present, and acted out action in the past.) “Who is the I?” she asked. “Who is telling the story?” Ms. Greenberg also often pulled out vocabulary words to discuss in between listening sessions including words such as miser, as well as more dated words like automat, petticoat and sissy. She also used the story to help students identify homophones. Ms. Greenberg asked the class to explain the phrase, “The quiet seeped from their heads to their soles and into their souls.”


At first, Ms. Greenberg’s shy students were reluctant to participate. But as the lessons progressed, the students became more and more involved. “I never expected my typically quiet kids to participate,” she says of her class. “But they did.” After listening to several chapters, students volunteered answers more readily than they usually did. When Ms. Greenberg asked what words could be used to describe characters in the story, a sea of hands shot up. Students called out suggestions like “determined,” “adventurous,” “brave,” “resourceful” and “clever.”

Ms. Greenberg began each lesson with a short recap of the story so far and asked students what they thought would happen next. She was surprised at how intently they listened to the story and especially at the astute observations they were making. She was especially pleased to see how some of her more challenged students responded. “One of my students has a processing problem and [during the study] he participated all the time.” Overall, Ms. Greenberg was very pleased with how the students took an interest in the audio books and especially in their desire to learn more about the topics discussed in the stories.

Teacher’s Quote

“The most rewarding part has been seeing that the kids enjoy as much as I do… and to get them to love listening!”

New audio: Biographies, classics, YA, and popular kids’ titles

April 5, 2007 by

We have a big collection of new digital audio, so we’ll dive right in. This week, I’ll group titles by their respective age ranges.

Read the rest of this entry »

Emotional Connection to a Story through Listening and Guided Visualization

April 3, 2007 by

Teacher: Kristina McGuirk

Students: Grade 3, ages 8-9

Audio Content: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh

Location: Woodlynde School, Strafford, PA


Ms. McGuirk’s 3rd grade class had been working on their Iditarod Unit. Hoping to integrate audio into the classroom that would complement her curriculum, she logged onto and perused their books featuring dog themes. Having read the book a number of years ago and believing that her students would enjoy it, she selected Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh, a classic children’s story about an 11-year old boy and his dog in rural West Virginia.

Use of Technology

Ms. McGuirk faced difficulty in downloading the Audible content due to the firewall in the school server, but discovered she could access content from her personal computer. She downloaded Shiloh, burned it onto a CD and broadcast the story to her class with a CD player. But with the track selection, it was difficult for Ms. McGuirk to find where she had left off on the previous day. There was also slight feedback, compromising the sound of the audio. On the second day of listening, the CD seemed to be scratched and would periodically skip. This proved to be distracting to most students, along with an inexplicable clicking noise coming from the CD.

Experience in the Classroom

Since Shiloh is a longer chapter book, the listening activities continued over a series of days, as the class listened to one chapter a day. Each day, a student-volunteered recap of the previous action would provide a framework for the students to begin listening. They would reiterate the action, setting and background knowledge. The students were given blank sheets of paper to draw scenes from each chapter, and they wrote about the story. The students listened to the story and seemed very absorbed in it, obviously connecting to it emotionally. As they listened, Ms. McGuirk wrote key words on the board; concepts, characters and vocabulary words.

At the end of the listening segment, Ms. McGuirk asks the students to help her define the various words on the board. “What qualities and characteristics do you know about Judd Travers?” she asked. Students volunteer answers such as, “He cheats,” “He hunts deer out of season,” and “He spits tobacco.” They also went over vocabulary words such as veterinarian, cornmeal mush and shrug. Students also made connections between the book and other media, as one student compared a tobacco-chewing character from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” to a character in the book, Judd.


After the students finished listening to Chapter Two, they were vocal about their distrust and hatred toward Judd Travers, the story’s antagonist. One student says he wants “to kill him,” while another says he wants to “throw a pencil in his eye.” Students also reacted emotionally during the part where Shiloh’s owner eats a rabbit – “eww!” Their passionate reaction clearly suggested that they were engaging with the story. The students also sympathized with the story’s protagonist, Marty. They were able to understand some of the conflicts that he was going through and identify with him. The students reported that they didn’t like the book because they had trouble connecting to a different culture than their own and thought the book was “weird.” When asked how this experience differed from more conventional reading, Ms. McGuirk says that the narrator’s accent made it more real and helped transport to listeners to another world, though it also was a hindrance.

Teacher Quote

“Many of my students have auditory processing issues and it was difficult for them to understand parts the story. Even so, I believe that hearing the dialect, along with guided visualization, helps to bring the story to life and strengthen the students’ listening skills and comprehension.”

Developing Imagination through Listening and Diversifying the Teaching Experience

April 3, 2007 by

Teacher: Barbara Begelman

Students: Grade 6, ages 11 – 12

Audio Content: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools


Barbara Begelman, a 4th grade teacher at Carnell Elementary in Philadelphia, longed for a curriculum that encouraged creativity. Wanting to engage the student’s fertile imaginations, she chose to download C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from and gave her students creative assignments that would spark their imaginations.

Use of Technology

Ms. Begelman logged onto and downloaded the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, burned it onto a CD and played it on a stereo for class. Ms. Begelman commented that the CD often sounded “fuzzy.”

Classroom Observation

The narrator’s distinct voice drew the students into the story and helped transport them to another time and place. She also distributed blank sheets of paper and crayons, encouraging the students to draw as they listened. Their task was open-ended: Draw scenes and characters from the book or draw whatever you feel. Ms. Begelman played the book in ten-minute segments, pausing to ask questions about the plot and characters in the story. There were often several eager hands waving in desperation to answer her questions. Ms. Begelman asked the students questions like: “What new developments have occurred? What kind of person does Edmund seem like? Why do people make up stories? What do you think will happen next?” To gauge their retention skills, she also asked select students who struggle with conventional reading to retell parts of the story. As the audio played, she would walk around the classroom encouraging students to create mental images based on the descriptions in the story.


Ms. Begelman was impressed with how some of her usually inattentive children were not only interested in the story and assignments, but were often times begging for more. She reports that the kid’s drawings showed a creativity that’s often lacking in other assignments. “They drew very graphic facial expressions,” she said, adding that “they really seem to be listening.” Students who struggle with retention in conventional reading also seemed to benefit from listening to the audio books. When Ms. Begelman asked particular students to retell the story, students who normally have trouble speaking in front of others or have a hard time recalling details gave intricate retellings of the plot. Ms. Begelman found that it worked best to play the audio in ten-minute segments, and then to stop and discuss. She reported: “I couldn’t play more than ten minutes at a time without the kids losing attention. My questions helped them stay on track.”

Teacher’s Quote

“It was like having a second teacher in the classroom. The kids enjoyed the activity and many would come up to me and ask for it. I think it was also useful because it gave students the chance to listen to a second voice instead of mine all the time.”

Making History Come Alive Through Listening

March 26, 2007 by

Teacher: Renee McQuade

Students: Grade 4, ages 9 – 10

Audio Content: The Magic Tree House: Tonight on the Titanic by Mary Pope Osborne

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools

Renee McQuade faced an interesting challenge as she approached her social studies lesson on the Titanic. Her predominately urban, working class students often have trouble connecting to material. Getting them to build connections to an almost century old, luxury cruise ship seemed like a stretch. How could she make this historical event relevant and relatable, and make the story come alive? To help her students grasp the event and share in the experience, she downloaded Tonight on the Titanic from

Use of Technology. During the first lesson, McQuade used her own iPod and speakers to broadcast the audio to the class. However, her speakers were not quite loud enough for everyone to hear. Students were forced to move their chairs closer and gather around the iPod and strain to listen. For the second lesson, McQuade put the audio book onto a CD and played it through a stereo. It took her almost three hours to download the audio book from’s website because her computer told her that a file which was already on her iPod had to be deleted. She hadn’t been properly instructed how to deal with that obstacle.

Classroom Lesson. McQuade played Tonight on the Titanic over the course of two lessons. The listening activity occurred between her reading and social studies lesson, thereby merging the subjects’ concepts. She incorporated the audio as a read-aloud activity, a social studies lesson, a writing activity and a review of the assigned reading strategy for the week. Her usually rambunctious class of 34 students quickly fell silent and listened intently as the book played. The students often laughed and gasped in unison, evidence that they were paying attention and were engaged. Every ten minutes, Ms. McQuade would stop the book and open the room up to discussion, giving the students a chance to share their reactions and to discuss questions such as “What problems are present in the story so far?” “What elements led to the sinking of the Titanic?” “What was the Titanic like?” and “Who can describe what has happened up to this point?” During English lessons, McQuade had been teaching her students how to recognize persuasive language and write with the purpose to persuade. She thought of a unique way to reinforce the concepts they had been learning and exercise them in a social studies activity. Following Tonight on the Titanic, the students were given broad instructions to write a letter to the White Star Company, urging them not to send the Titanic on its voyage. Students were to cite specific examples from the audio to support their case.

Summary/Results. Because of the lessons they learned from the audio book, students were able to include specific reasons and details in their letters to the White Star Company. Dating their fictional correspondence April 10, 1912, the students wrote emphatically, expressing themselves in a creative fashion and making each letter uniquely their own. One student wrote that they were from the future, sent back through time to prevent the ship from its tragedy. Most importantly, they were able to exercise their persuasive writing skills and successfully reiterate the elements present in the story, Tonight on the Titanic. McQuade described how pleased she was with the way her students were drawn into the story and the way they retained the information. Many students who do not usually participate in class were excited about their assignment, including a number of rich details from the story in their letters.

Teacher’s Quote. “It was definitely a worthwhile experience. [The students’] letters really showed they were listening.”

Developing 3 new readers… at once

March 22, 2007 by


My wife Amy and I very much feel that reading needs to be a top priority for our children. We have three boys, Alex (6), Andrew (4) and Gregory (2) who love to have us read to them. We have found that reading allows our kids to step out of the chaotic schedule of the day and focus on learning letters and words, enjoy stories and learning some cool facts about several topics including animals, nature, outer space, planes and trains. Each of our children’s interests are of course different and their reading and comprehension level is very different. Coupled with the fact that our time is limited at night after the hustle and bustle of dinner, baths, etc, and the kids’ bedtimes are all close together, we often find ourselves unable to find the time to read to each child, or spend a very short stint of time with each child. has opened a new opportunity for us. While we do enjoy “reading time” with our children, my wife or i will now work with 1 child at a time on reading from a book while the other 2 listen to audible on my laptop. For example, I recently had one of them reading Charlotte’s Web while the other two listened to Cat in the Hat. After the oldest had read for a while, I had him listen to some passages from Charlotte’s Web (which helped the story sink in), and gave the Cat in the Hat book to my middle son (who had just heard the professional narrator reading the same words). This way, each child got a longer and varied exposure than they normally would.

In addition, our family travels frequently long distances by car and plane, and having these books available in this format provides them a productive, fun and quiet (for the adults) activity for those long hours of travel.


New audio: Catch-22, Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, and others

March 22, 2007 by

Each week, Audible adds to its catalog of children’s content. Since it can be a little difficult to hear about great new titles, each week, I’m going to post a “great listens” tour of our new and notable releases. This week, we’re adding to some series, and (finally) we’ve gotten the Joseph Heller classic. After the jump, check out the list (some with a bit of commentary). Read the rest of this entry »

My students seem more engaged in audio

March 21, 2007 by

Through a grant, I was able to get a set of mp3 players and my middle school science students listen to and discuss audio content several times in my class. In addition, I show several videos throughout the year. I have been amazed that, although my kids seem to agree that the film and audio media I select is engaging, accessible and relevant to the class, the kids seem to be more actively engaged when they are asked to listen than when they are asked to watch. As long as I keep the audio segments short enough, kids generally sit upright, nod, take notes and work at listening. In contrast, they seem more passive when they are watching video. A similar difference is evident in their notes. I create note-taking guides for both video and audio, and kids tend to infer and write more when we listen than when we watch. I am curious if other people notice the same and, if so, why do you think that might be the case?

Discussion about Predictions and Inferences Builds Students’ Love of Books

March 21, 2007 by

Teacher: Margaret Koch


Students: Grade 4, ages 9 – 10


Audio Content: Kate Dicamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie

Location: Woodlynde School, Strafford, PA Introduction

Margaret Koch, a fourth grade teacher at the Woodlynde School, has a class of eleven students who are learners with mild to moderate learning differences, requiring careful and strategic instruction to meet each of their individual needs. Having always advocated technology as a tool for teaching in her classroom, she welcomed the use of audio books in the classroom. Since Koch reads out loud to her students on a daily basis, she also welcomed the break an audio book brings. She chose Kate Dicamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie in hopes that her students would be able to understand, respond and enjoy it as a work of literature.

Use of Technology. Like other Woodlynde teachers, Koch found the downloading aspect frustrating due to the school’s firewall interfering with their access to Audible content.  Koch was able to adapt and burned the audio book onto a CD. But after the first day of listening, Koch discovered that due to the odd track list, it was difficult to stop the story in specific places and resume listening again. She decided to record the CD onto an audio tape, giving her freedom to stop the story and leave a specific place over night, as opposed to keeping the CD player on pause for 24 hours. One issue of concern was the speed of the audio. Since the students were reading along with the text in front of them, many reported that the audio was too fast for them. Koch remarked that if it was possible to change the speed of the audio without affecting its quality, perhaps some students would benefit.
Classroom Lesson. Prior to listening, Koch asked the class about friendship. Students broke into three groups to discuss the characteristics of a friend and write down their findings. The groups brought their lists to the big group and, as a class, created a large master list. Koch then asked, “Based on this evidence, can a pet be a friend?” Then Koch played Because of Winn Dixie, using the audio in place of a daily read aloud activity and featuring more teacher-led discussion. The discussions were designed in respect to comprehension, making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. She would also call on specific students to make predictions and inferences, and students assumed the point of view of the main characters in order to demonstrate understanding.

Summary/Results. After a few chapters, students didn’t want to stop listening. But even with the excitement, Koch felt that the students missed her reading to them. She felt that there is no emotional connection with audio books and that the students missed the human connection of being read to. The cultural gap between the students and the story also proved to be an obstacle. Koch often had to stop and explain phrases like “Fixin’ to pitch a fit.” As time went on and students became more acclimated to the story, the need for explanations dwindled. Some students were also initially distracted by the narrator’s thick southern drawl. The students found themselves trying to adjust the way they listen in order to understand. Koch reported that some of the students had great difficulty with the voice, but others didn’t miss a word and loved that the accent gave the story an authentic feeling. Overall, Koch found that the understanding and comprehension of the audio increased over time and many students were showing signs of beginning to master the material. A content quiz that she had conducted in class showed a high level of command and—subsequently—high grades.

Teacher Quote.  “My goal was to introduce a wonderful piece of literature in a new and different way to motivate students and increase their enjoyment of literature. That goal has been met.”