5 Ways to Use Audiobooks in the Classroom

Teacher Appreciation Week (May 3–7) means more this year than ever. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, teachers across the country have gone so far above and beyond that a mere week of appreciation feels insufficient. As teachers have worked to overhaul their classes and managed to build relationships with students through screens, we wanted to offer some ways audiobooks can be used to increase reading joy for both students and teachers.

As a middle and high school English teacher, I frequently brought audiobooks into my classroom as a way to bolster engagement and build reading skills. And when my school went virtual last spring, making read alouds and full class discussions a struggle, I encouraged audiobook listening as a way to keep my students reading while giving them a much-needed break from their screens.

While there are many ways to use audiobooks for both pleasure reading and instructional time, these are some of easiest and most effective strategies I’ve used to help students develop essential literacy skills while reinvigorating their love of books:


1. Sit back and listen.

Who doesn’t love to be read to? Although read alouds are a foundational aspect of the classroom for younger kids, we often fall out of the practice as students get older. But kids genuinely love being read to, no matter their age. Bonus: they see it as a break from “real work” when it’s actually an easy way to assure that they’re actually reading! While reading out loud to my students was one of my favorite parts of the job whether I was teaching kindergarten, middle school, or high school, reading aloud class period after class period was draining, and I found audiobooks to be a great supplement. Not only did it give my voice a break, but it’s helpful for students to hear professional, fluent readers performing the written word. 

I know it feels strange to hit play on an audiobook and simply sit and listen with students (what if an administrator walks in?), but there are so many benefits to it. Listening to an audiobook is an excellent way to take a break from screen time. It’s also an easy way to build listening retention and comprehension skills, which are just as essential as reading comprehension and allow students who struggle with decoding to demonstrate mastery. If you’re currently teaching in person, my advice is to pause your book every 5 to 10 minutes to allow for questions and discussion, and to help students build their listening stamina. If you can’t just sit back and listen or are teaching remotely, giving students a few questions to answer while listening can also help them focus on retaining key information.

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“Kids genuinely love being read to, no matter their age.”


2. Discuss characterization.

A fantastic benefit of audiobooks that I certainly couldn’t bring to my own read-alouds is the way professional readers craft fully developed characters with their voices. Whether the recording uses a full cast or one highly skilled narrator, listening can be a great way to tap into the nuances of characterization.

Before listening, ask students to find some passages and quotes from their book that reveal essential details about the characters such as where they’re from, their states of mind, and their attitudes towards other characters. Have them discuss or write about how a reader might convey these details with their voice. What would the character’s voice sound like? How would their voice change depending on whom they are addressing? Then listen to a section from the audiobook. This could be a section that closely examines a single character or one that involves many characters. You can have kids take notes on what they notice or just let them listen a couple times through. Afterwards, ask them to discuss or write about whether the narrator’s choices matched their own understanding of the characters. 

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“Whether the recording uses a full cast or one highly skilled narrator, listening can be a great way to tap into the nuances of characterization.”


3. Analyze tone and mood.

One of the hardest things for young readers to master is understanding tone and mood. Even the most fluent of readers can struggle to pick up an ominous mood or sarcastic tone from the words on the page. Particularly in classrooms where we read so many solemn works of literature, kids become conditioned to read everything seriously and literally. Audiobooks are a great way to help build a deeper understanding of tone and mood for readers of any age. You can initiate conversations about tone and mood by listening to clips from audiobooks with varying tones and introducing tone words to describe each passage. If students are already familiar with the concepts, have them analyze the tone or mood of a passage first, then play the audiobook to see if the narrator’s interpretation matches with theirs.

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4. Give listening homework.

It’s common for busy students to put reading homework on the back burner and save it for the last thing they do each night. That is, if they get to it at all. Encouraging students to take the option of listening to their assigned reading or even assigning some reading in audio format can help students find the time to fit in their reading. Of course, this is entirely dependent on school budget and families’ access to the internet and listening technology, but I found students were willing to help come up with creative solutions because they enjoy the listening experience.

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Libro.fm can help with their bulk purchasing program, which still supports independent bookstores while offering audiobooks to classrooms at a discount. To learn more about this program, email sales@libro.fm.


5. Download something just for you.

Audiobooks are a wonderful way to bring increased engagement, deeper understanding, and a greater love for literature into your classroom. But just as importantly, they’re a great way to reinvigorate your own reading life. Maintaining an avid reading life with the demands of teaching is a real challenge, but audiobooks and Libro.fm can help. If you’re still commuting, audiobooks are a great companion for your drive. I also loved plugging into my audiobook for part of lunch or an off-period while teaching from home. It was the perfect way to step away from my screens and build a short break into my day.

You can make the most out of your Libro.fm membership by also signing up for their Educator ALC program. Teachers are welcome to apply for this program and, once accepted, you’ll receive a monthly email with free Advanced Listening Copies of books for you to download and enjoy. In addition to fostering your own reading life, the ALC program is a great way to discover new books to bring into the classroom.

Looking for more tips?

Find 11 ways audiobooks can enhance literacy for early readers, middle graders, and young adults on the blog.

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Sara Hildreth is a reader, writer, and educator who has taught kindergarten, high school English, and nearly everything in between. After studying the social, emotional, and intellectual benefits of reading fiction in graduate school, Sara began the project FictionMatters, an Instagram account and weekly newsletter where she shares what she's learning about the world through books. Sara is also the co-host of Novel Pairings, a bookish podcast dedicated to diversifying the canon and putting contemporary literature into conversation with the classics.

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