For Teachers

The Case for Audio Books and Virtual Teaching

Welcome to Virtual Teaching!

by Robyn Gioia, MEd

The COVID-19 virus is ravaging S. Korea. We were in school one day and told to stay home the next. Classes would be taught virtually until further notice. Students didn’t have their text books, reading books, or school supplies.

My team and I decided to assign our 240 fifth-grade students audio books for reading. Fortunately, we are living in the age of digital text and audio. There are many resources and books available online. And there is YouTube, with its sea of readers bringing books to life.

Why Audio Books?

Remote learning is enhanced through the use of audio books. Audio books build listening and comprehension skills while teaching fluency. Students develop their imaginations. It helps many students make sense of the story because they can hear the emotion in the reader’s voice. I’m always delighted to hear them recall the smallest detail from previous chapters.

Virtual Activities That Work Well With Audio Books

  1. Summaries. I have my students look through the eyes of the protagonist when they write their summaries. This helps them to zero in on main events, and tap into the characters feelings and actions. It also reinforces their knowledge of the first-person point of view.
  2. Assign comprehension questions. This can also be tiered to the different levels of readers.
  3. Have students use graphic organizers to organize events and characters.
  4. Write a diary entry of specific events.
  5. Research interesting topics in the story. When we listened to The Cay students were intrigued by the German U-Boats and how they hunted like wolf packs.
  6. Make collectible trading cards. Students researched the tropical animals surrounding the island in The Cay. The collectible cards display an illustration of the topic on one side and lists eight detailed facts on the backside.
  7. Meet with small groups in an Internet Chat to discuss the story. Let students come with their own questions to ask. I generally ask them to bring one factual question and one higher level thinking question. I have also been successful with students discussing books on Google Docs.
  8. Make Slideshows with small groups collaborating in Google Docs.
  9. Give students the opportunity to design quizzes.

While nothing can really replace face-to-face learning, virtual teaching offers unlimited opportunities in a whole different field.

Middle Grade Student-Produced Book Trailers

***When I thought about sharing this middle grade learning project with you all just a few weeks ago, I really wasn’t thinking I’d be opening with the following paragraph. Hopefully, everyone is weathering necessary school closings as best we can. Teachers, librarians, and parents have such a critical role to play in our world’s response to this pandemic; let’s keep teaching our kids that we all learn amazing lessons from books, both fiction and non-fiction, and that sharing good stories benefits all learners. I hope this book trailer project idea might work for your classroom situation in the coming weeks, whether you’re face-to-face with your kids or working remotely with them.***

In school? Teaching from home? Need an extra project idea to supplement your kids’ online academics? Whether you are a middle grade teacher, a librarian, or a homeschooling parent, it may be a good time to try a project that employs a little freedom and a lot of creativity: middle grade student-produced book trailers.

Student-produced book trailers are a fantastic way to inspire readership of new books, incorporate technology into learning, employ writing skills, and practice project planning and organization. If your school is in session, this is the kind of project that will energize your students despite the springtime sluggishness that tends to set in around now, or to regain the attention of those who’ve grown hard to hook. Or, if your school is among the many closing for several weeks and suddenly implementing online learning, your readers may need a project with wide parameters to which they can bring a highly individualized amount of knowledge and expertise.

A book trailer project addresses multiple areas of standards for learning, as well: reading, writing, speaking, listening, technology…and depending on the content of the book for which the trailer is produced, possibly history, science, world studies/cultures, and others!

Here’s a step-by-step that worked with my students recently:

  1. Ask students to think about movie trailers out there right now, and trailers they can recall from recent years. Students’ contributions  can be listed on the board, in the virtual classroom collaboration space, or on a group email. Have the class brainstorm and share characteristics that made those movie trailers memorable.
  2. Introduce the concept of a book trailer via discussion or info sheet. Depending on ages and interests, some students may not realize the wealth of beautiful book trailers available online that pique attention and provide visuals for a new book or series. Professionally-created book trailers by authors and publishers employ graphics, video, animation, words, music, and dialogue to craft cinema-worthy advertisements, and you can share wonderful examples with a few links.
  3. You will also find many student-produced book trailers, created for the classroom or out of fandom. Watching a variety of both professional and student-produced trailers will give you a clearer idea of the capabilities of your readers, and will allow you to generate a list of required or suggested elements for their student-produced trailers. For example:
  • Book choice (class novel, or independent read?)
  • Video footage, with or without dialogue
  • Still images, saved and cited with source, or taken by the student photographer
  • Labels, captions, and hooks written by the student
  • Quotes from the text, with chapter and page cited
  • Author info
  • An image of the book cover with author’s name
  • Music
  • Voice over
  • Reviews, either borrowed and cited or collected from classmates
  • “Coming Soon” list of similar titles or other titles by the author
  • Color, style, length, pace of the trailer
  • Questions or statements to hook the potential reader
  • Revelation of a certain number of plot points and characters…but don’t reveal the ending!
  1. What about books with characters, situations, or settings that students can’t portray in actual video footage, for whatever reason? Instead of live actors, students might try models or toys for a stop-motion process. Just as effective as costumed actors, isolating symbolic props in interesting scenes or lighting for close-up shots can be mysterious and thought-provoking. There are many more components to a book trailer than the video footage, so if your students don’t have the resources, scrap that part.
  2. Technically speaking…. On what software or web-based design program can your students produce the book trailer? If your students have dedicated laptops, they may have video-producing software at their fingertips. My students made excellent trailers using their laptop camera for video, then easily imported the segments into the video editor. Special effects and music made the video-making experience fun and frustration-free. For those with no laptop or software, kids who have hand-held gadgets (phone, tablet, iPod) will probably already be quite adept at recording video segments and emailing them to themselves for use. iMovie offers templates and tutorials as do free accounts on Animoto, Powtoon, and other web-based presentation programs. A slideshow book trailer is another great option for still images, original text, and presentation effects.

Once book trailers are completed and edited, you can think about ways to use these great middle grade projects in the future: library contests, summer reading program activities, back-to-school night for new students, or homeschool network or coop project sharing.

Thanks as always for reading, and I hope a book trailer project might work for your readers!

Celebrating Girls in Sports

March is Women’s History Month, celebrating women of all ages, and it happens to be National Nutrition Month, which encourages healthy eating and being active physically.

So, let’s talk sports and sports books for middle-grade girls.

The Women’s Sports Foundation, established by tennis icon Billie Jean King in 1974, closely tracks and reports on girls’ and women’s involvement in sports. Their research is concerning.

Only 1 in 3 girls between the ages of 6-12 participates in sports. 40% of teen girls are not participating in sports. 43% of girls have never played a sport.

Although there are many factors that come into play (sorry!) in these statistics, I might suggest that if we can continue to provide young girls with stories of female athletes, both in fiction as well as nonfiction, we might inspire them to consider participating in athletic endeavors.

To that end, I’ve discovered several great titles that might just be the ticket in opening up the world of sports for the aspiring athletes in your life!

Shred Girls Lindsay’s Joy Ride by Molly Hurfurd (Rodale Kids, 2019)

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An empowering new series from the cyclist who runs Shred-Girls.com is guaranteed to give readers an adrenaline rush–and the confidence girls gain from participating in sports!

It’s time to ride and save the day!

Lindsay can’t wait to spend her summer break reading comics and watching superhero movies–until she finds out she’ll be moving in with her weird older cousin Phoebe instead. And Phoebe has big plans for Lindsay: a BMX class at her bike park with cool-girl Jen and perfectionist Ali.

Lindsay’s summer of learning awesome BMX tricks with new friends and a new bike turns out to be more epic than any comic book–and it’s all leading up to a jumping competition.

But some of the biker boys don’t think girls should be allowed to compete in BMX. Now it’s up to Lindsay, Jen, and Ali to win the competition and prove that anyone can be great at BMX.

Women in Sports by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ten Speed Press, 2017)

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Illustrated profiles of fifty pioneering female athletes, from the author of the New York Times bestseller Women in Science.

Women for the win!

A richly illustrated and inspiring book, Women in Sports highlights the achievements and stories of fifty notable women athletes from the 1800s to today, including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than forty sports. The athletes featured include well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone Biles, as well as lesser-known champions like Toni Stone, the first woman to play baseball in a professional men’s league, and skateboarding pioneer Patti McGee. The book also contains infographics on topics that sporty women want to know about such as muscle anatomy, a timeline ofwomen’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams. Women in Sports celebrates the success of the tough, bold, and fearless women who paved the way for today’s athletes.

Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit (Dial Books, 2020)

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In this perfectly pitched novel-in-letters, autistic eleven-year-old Vivy Cohen won’t let anything stop her from playing baseball–not when she has a major-league star as her pen pal.

Vivy Cohen is determined. She’s had enough of playing catch in the park. She’s ready to pitch for a real baseball team.

But Vivy’s mom is worried about Vivy being the only girl on the team, and the only autistic kid. She wants Vivy to forget about pitching, but Vivy won’t give up. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone, Vivy knows exactly who to choose: her hero, Major League pitcher VJ Capello. Then two amazing things happen: A coach sees Vivy’s amazing knuckleball and invites her to join his team. And VJ starts writing back!

Now Vivy is a full-fledged pitcher, with a catcher as a new best friend and a steady stream of advice from VJ. But when a big accident puts her back on the bench, Vivy has to fight to stay on the team.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages (Puffin Books reprint, 2019)

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A story about the fight for equal rights in America’s favorite arena: the baseball field!

Every boy in the neighborhood knows Katy Gordon is their best pitcher, even though she’s a girl. But when she tries out for Little League, it’s a whole different story. Girls are not eligible, period. It is a boy’s game and always has been. It’s not fair, and Katy’s going to fight back. Inspired by what she’s learning about civil rights in school, she sets out to prove that she’s not the only girl who plays baseball. With the help of friendly librarians and some tenacious research skills, Katy discovers the forgotten history of female ball players. Why does no one know about them? Where are they now? And how can one ten-year-old change people’s minds about what girls can do?

Set in 1957—the world of Sputnik and Leave It to Beaver, saddle shoes and “Heartbreak Hotel”—Out of Left Field is both a detailed picture of a fascinating historic period and a timelessly inspiring story about standing up for equality at any age.

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien

Takedown by Laura Shovan (Wendy Lamb Books, 2018) ***Note: Takedown comes out in paperback in April!

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Handpicked by Amazon kids’ books editor, Seira Wilson, for Prime Book Box – a children’s subscription that inspires a love of reading.

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people object to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.

Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.

“Kids struggle every day with the dynamics of high expectations, performance standards, and social relationships. Takedown is a great example of how the sport of wrestling can help everyone involved conquer these challenges and appreciate some of life’s most valuable lessons.” –Kyle Snyder, Olympic wrestling gold medalist

Rising Above: Inspiring Women in Sports by George Zimmerman (Philomel, 2018)

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Behold the power of women! These are the inspirational real-life stories of female superstar athletes Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Carli Lloyd, and more — role models all. For sports fans, aspiring athletes and readers of sports biographies.

Growing up in a crime-plagued, gang-infested neighborhood, Venus and Serena Williams were led to believe their environment was not a place where dreams could come true. It took a relentless determination, a burning desire to be the best, and a willingness to conquer racial barriers for them to emerge as tennis legends. Simone Biles was raised by a single mother with addiction issues, forcing her grandparents to intervene. But Simone soon discovered balance beams and gymnastics mats, setting her on a path toward Olympic greatness. Carli Lloyd, meanwhile, believed her youth soccer career was really starting to take off, only to be cut from her team. Instead of quitting the sport she loved, Carli rebuilt her confidence from the ground up, ultimately becoming one of the leaders on the World Cup Champion US Women’s Soccer team.

The athletes featured in this book met earth-shaking challenges head on, and through hard work and perseverance, went on to conquer the sports world. This collection of mini biographies, complete with first-hand content drawn from interviews, is a source of inspiration and self-empowerment for kids and sports fans of all ages.

Also included in the book: Wilma Rudolph (track and field), Mo’ne Davis (Little League baseball), Swin Cash (basketball), Elena Delle Donne (basketball), Bethany Hamilton (surfing), Ronda Rousey (mixed martial arts), and Kerri Strug (gymnastics).