The Reasons and Ways to Use Audiobooks

What makes the written word come alive? What opens a window into the wonders of reading? What provides a literary experience for the child who can’t or won’t read?

The answer is audiobooks and Bound to Stay Bound is your source for a wide range of critically-acclaimed, award-winning audiobooks via the user-friendly self-contained Playaway format. Listening comprehension comes before reading comprehension so audiobooks–with their ability to transport and draw in the listener–can be the key to success for children who won’t or don’t read.

Engaging with the narrative

It is well documented that a love of reading can help kids throughout their lives. However, the child who does not engage with a book misses out not just in future entertainment, but also on building their comprehension skills and eidetic faculty. Making pictures in their heads from the words on a page becomes more possible if they first begin with the words in their ears. That “theatre of the mind” takes shape through the help of accomplished narrators who convey much through their tone, accents, and phrasing.

Take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a prime example of the benefits of audiobooks. A child who enjoyed the films may be motivated to read the book but be intimidated by its length. With the incomparable Jim Dale bringing every word of the story to life, that child is introduced to a richer, deeper experience of the story. As the listener is swept along by Jim Dale’s famous facility for characters, J.K. Rowling’s story becomes less about the length and more about the experience so that the child independently can reach the (logical) conclusion that the book is better than the film. Audiobooks help ignite the imagination and inspire more listening and reading.

Differentiated Learning

It’s a given that students learn in different ways and are in different places on their educational journey. They may not all be ready to read a book like Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 at the same time. Offering the Watsons Playaway in a school library can be an important way to ensure that all students access the powerful story and even the most reluctant readers will be enthralled by Levar Burton’s masterful narration. By following along with the text, they can have the benefit of Burton’s nuanced performance and build up reading skills.

Love that Poem

Once beyond the magic of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, poetry can be especially daunting to children. Love that Dog by Sharon Creech is a perfect way to meet the poetry-resistant student head-on but if that same student won’t even open the book, then use the audiobook to intrigue the listener into becoming a reader. Jack’s poetry journal is punctuated by classics from William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, William Blake and, of course, Walter Dean Myers. Over the course of a little under an hour, the listener unwittingly learns the different forms of poetry, how words paint pictures, how a poem is constructed, and makes the connection between Jack’s early attempts at poetry and a turning point in his life. The magic that comes from reading a poem aloud is on full display with Love that Dog.

Audiobooks in Action

Now you know the reasons to make audiobooks available in your library so let’s talk about how.

    1. Be a tease. Play the first chapter or an especially exciting scene when a class or group visits the library. This will jumpstart their comfort with the material and motivate them to keep reading.
    2. Multitask. Play the audiobook while the kids work on projects or assignments that don’t require their full attention. Use a familiar story so they can follow the gist of the events and learn that there is more than they expected.
    3. Audiobooks as rewards. Did a class behave exceptionally well during testing? Did a child read a huge number of books for summer reading? Find a reason to celebrate and present listening to an especially engaging audiobook–The Lightning Thief is a great choice–as the reward for good behavior and special achievements.
    4. Jumpstart your drama. You know kids will tackle Romeo and Juliet at some point in their academic life. Play the opening scenes with kids reading along in an annotated edition. Then, invite them to let out their inner hams to do a scene themselves. If nothing else, hearing Kate Beckinsale ask “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” will rock their understanding of what “wherefore” actually means.
    5. Connect with kids who will be missing several days to the classroom or, if you are in a public library, work with your Friends group to do emergency book and audiobook drops. Is a child having an operation with a lengthy recovery period? Perhaps a family trip that necessitates lots of travel and time spent in a car or plane? Audiobooks can provide a vital link to keep the student connected to the classroom during time away or help a child escape into the world of a book during travel or recuperation.
    6. Summer reading. Summer reading lists can be daunting and a Playaway edition of Number the Stars performed by Blair Brown can make a story about a family in World War II Denmark an immersive experience.
    7. Building empathy. There is an unmatched power in the human voice. Because the listener connects to the story through the intimate medium of audio, empathy is readily accessible even when the story is from a different time and place. Especially when the story is from a different time and place.
    8. Multisensory learning. The more senses are engaged, the more a child remembers. Reading and listening together pack a powerful punch when it comes to comprehension.

These are just a few of the advantages and strategies of using audiobooks in the classroom or library. Discover the whole story for yourself.

About the author: Ellen Myrick narrated Stop the Train! which was honored by YALSA as a notable audiobook in 2006. She served five years as Judging Chair for the Audie Awards given by the Audio Publishers Association to recognize excellence.