Posts Tagged audio books

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.

Good Reads for the Road

imagesOne of my favorite things about family road trips has been listening to audio books all together in the car. My family often drives from Portland to Spokane to visit the zillion Parry cousins. It’s about a 7 hour trip in good weather and although we all love to sing in the car and engage the time honored traditions of the alphabet train game and counting railroad cars passed and rivers crossed, there is really nothing  like settling in for a good hour or two of stories read aloud by an expert reader.

We had our favorites over the years. The Jim Dale readings of the Harry Potter stories are masterfully done. In a series with more than a hundred named characters Mr. Dale does an astonishingly good job with making each voice distinct.  Emperor_Mage_TNWe listened to audio books for the Chronicles of Narnia and the wonderful Full Cast Audio productions of Tamera Pierce’s stories. What is unique about the FCA recordings is that each book is recorded by a full cast and is very often narrated by its author. Bruce Coville is the founder of this project and the results are unique and very engaging. My kids particularly loved it that the child’s parts are almost always read by children.


We also enjoyed the work of a story teller called Odds Bodkin who has a broad collection of stories for all ages. Long before the Percy Jackson series my kids were enthralled by mythology from Odds Bodkins renditions of the The Odyssey and The Iliad. My all time favorite of his is a Celtic justice tale called The Winter Cherries. And I’ve recently found the resource Open Culture media which has a huge library of the classics in audio. Most of the titles are adult books but there is plenty there for a young reader to enjoy including The Wizard of Oz, Sherlock Holmes, The Three Musketeers, Neil Gaiman reading his own Graveyard Book and also Green Eggs and Ham, Anne of Green Gables and short stories from Rudyard Kipling and Jack London. Best of all these audios are free! Your library most likely has audio books and your local librarian no doubt has great books on tape to recommend. How about you? Does your family have a great read for the road? Let us know in the comments!Winter-Cherries


Road Trip Books

I am delighted each summer by the number of people who come to my library looking for audio books that will make a long drive much more enjoyable. There may be no other time during the year that these adults (both adults in a two-parent family) listen to an entire book with their children. That powerful shared experience is something that will be remembered for years to come.

So, what to choose? How about books where the characters are on their own road trips and summer adventures? Three — one new, two older and consistently reliable — are featured here to get started. But before we get to the list, I’d like to say how much there is to take in as a writer when listening to a book’s pacing, dialog, and how descriptive beats reveal so much about a character. Try listening to one you’ve read and see how you absorb it differently. Okay, now three books:

Road Trip by Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen:
Perhaps it seems a little uninspired to write about good audio books for family road trips with a book called Road Trip. But the thing is, this new book is just too perfect to ignore. Ben and his dad are two men on a mission: to rescue a border collie puppy. They set out on their journey with Atticus, their family’s 15-year-old border collie — just the three of them. By the time they get to the animal shelter, they’ve abandoned their truck for an old school bus, and the party of three is now a party of six. This book has a lot going on under the surface: father/son tensions and, later, mutual respect; unlikely people coming together for a common purpose; random characters who become close friends; and dogs. This is on the older end of middle grade books and has young teen appeal, too. As a writer, I especially enjoyed it for the dialog. (Length: 2 hours, 48 minutes.)

 A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck:
A Newbery Honor book back in 1999, this historical novel (set in the 1930s) is actually connected short stories. Joey and Mary Alice, Chicago kids during the school year, spend their summers with their grandmother in a tiny town. “We could hardly see her town because of Grandma. She was so big, and the town was so small,” Joey tells us. Each story covers a different summer for the siblings, and the episodic style makes it ideal for car travel. You can take it in pieces or be eager for the next one. Richard Peck is a folksy, big-hearted and humorous storyteller who appeals to a wide range of ages, including multigenerational. I’ve often wished that we didn’t have different age sections in my library because there are many adults I’d love to hand his books, but many adults also aren’t as privileged as the rest of us to know how great middle grade fiction is. The writing lesson in this one is in the tight stories, each with a satisfying middle and end. (Length: 4 hours, 18 minutes.)


The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: The Watsons’ road trip starts in Flint, Michigan, with the family heading to Alabama at a most precipitous time. I’m sure I’m not alone in considering this a classic in children’s lit. And I’m sure you’ve all read it. But have you had Levar Burton read it to you? Audio is a great way to take in the dialog and transitions of this beloved book. (Length: 4 hours, 57 minutes)

Readers of all ages often ask librarians if audio books “count” in their summer reading logs. Of course they do. Still, in our conversations we say “I listened to this book” rather than “I read …” I totally get that, as I phrase it that way, too, and recognize that I take in different things if I hear them or if I read them. But just as children benefit from seeing their parents reading books, perhaps they also grow by seeing their parents listening to books — enjoying books on various levels.

Journalist and essayist Judith Shulevitz’s piece Let’s Go Reading in the Car in the New York Times last spring talks about audio books as her family’s way of gathering around a campfire for a story. Fire was an important part of human evolution for many reasons. Perhaps it’s also important, Shulevitz says for “the moment someone first got up in front of the fire and told a story that showed the others — especially the children — the magnificence of the universe around them, and made them want to be bigger-souled than they’d been so far.”