When I was a student, far too many teachers considered listening to audiobooks cheating. Fortunately, as audiobooks have become readily available and more listening accommodations are being made for students, educators are starting to understand the powerful benefits audiobooks have on young readers’ developing literacy. We’re finally understanding that not only do audiobooks count as reading, but also that they help kids become stronger readers.
Here are some of the ways you can use audiobooks in your home or classroom to support emerging readers, build reading confidence, and promote a lifelong love of books. You can also find playlists of great audiobooks to get you started for each range!
Tips for Early Readers
Audiobooks build decoding and analysis skills.
Simultaneously listening to an audiobook while following along on the page helps early readers match the letters they see with the sounds of the words they hear. This practice builds decoding skills, or the ability to sound out unfamiliar words.
Even if your kids aren’t decoding yet or don’t enjoy actively reading along with an audiobook, try listening to a great picture book while encouraging them to explore the images on the page. Connecting the illustrations with the author’s words is an early strategy that helps kids develop the ability to pick up context clues and closely analyze language.
Pair audiobooks and play to enhance retention.
Readers don’t need to be looking at the pages to benefit from audiobook listening. Encourage kids to color or build while listening to a story. This is a wonderful way for children who struggle with attention to become confident readers. Plus, linking movement with literacy development cements the learning that kids are doing.
Use audiobooks to introduce longer reads.
Once young readers become comfortable with audiobooks, you can start introducing longer books into the rotation. Try listening to a chapter book like James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl or Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon as a family. Ask kids to make predictions about what’s going to happen next, or have them recall their favorite moment from their last listening session to foster an understanding of narrative and strengthen reading comprehension.
Tips for Middle-Grade Readers
Audiobooks build fluency.
Reading a physical book along with an audiobook is a fantastic way for middle-grade readers to build fluency (the ability to read quickly and with intonation) because audiobook narrators model dramatic and articulate reading. Ask kids to mimic their favorite narrator while reading a familiar book aloud so they can practice their own expressive reading.
Audiobooks reveal new insights into beloved books.
Middle-grade readers may find simultaneously listening to the audiobook and reading the physical book to be a burden; however, many kids will be up for re-reading a favorite book or series on audio. Ask them what they notice about the choices the narrator makes, or if listening to the book reveals anything about the story they missed the first time around.
Use audiobooks to teach about characterization and point of view.
Seek out middle grade books with multiple points of view like Wonder by R.J. Palacio or The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg to add to your Libro.fm queue. Audiobook narrators are incredibly skilled at emphasizing character traits through their intonation. Ask your kids if the narrator’s voice for each character sounds like what they imagined, and how the narrator’s style helps them understand the characters better.
Tips for Young-Adult Readers
Audiobooks are read-alouds for big kids.
This may be surprising, but as a high school English teacher, I’ve learned that teens love being read to just as much as younger kids. Listening to an audiobook is a way to remind growing readers why they fell in love with books and stories in the first place.
Audiobooks make the classics more accessible.
If teens are assigned classics in school, listening on audio can be a great way to bypass decoding difficult language, and allows them to enjoy the story. Listening to classics also allows young readers to focus on the more important elements of the book such as characterization, literary elements, and themes.
Use audiobooks to help readers interpret tone.
Subtle literary qualities like tone and mood are often difficult to pick up from the writing itself. Encourage young adult readers to begin a book on audio before moving to the physical copy to develop an understanding of the author’s tone, especially if it’s a book with a lot of humor like When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, or one that relies on irony and satire like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Switching between audio and physical books will help teen readers understand the linguistic and structural strategies that create tone and mood.
Tips for Any Age
Explore new genres with audiobooks.
Encourage the young readers in your life to try a new genre like nonfiction or sci-fi on audiobook. Listening to a book they aren’t sure about is often less daunting than picking up a physical copy. Plus the right narrator can make even the biggest stretch more accessible to young readers.
Audiobooks build confidence and create lifelong readers.
Of course, the best reason to introduce young readers to audiobooks is to remind them of the joys of reading a great book and help them to become avid readers. The skills aspect of reading is important, but so is celebrating the pure pleasure of a good story.
Be sure to also encourage your kids or students of any age to listen to books they’re excited about, without any pressure to think about tone, characterization, or vocabulary words.
Studies show that when kids—even reluctant readers—start listening to audiobooks, they begin to identify as readers. Building that confidence and framing reading as something to enjoy is the best way to ensure the young people in your life will grow up to be lifelong readers.