Using audio books when teaching a novel

I am a big fan of audio books and podcasts. They are a great way to pass time in a car or on a plane, especially for those who suffer from extreme motion sickness like me! I also love using them in Spanish class at all levels. TPRS Publishing now has audio books available for almost all of their Spanish novels and I am experimenting with ways to maximize these awesome resources! Here are some things that I have tried. Please comment with ideas that you may have!

1. Doodles

Have students listen to a chapter they have already read, or a chapter you are confident that they will be able to comprehend. As they listen, have them doodle little sketches of what they are hearing.

2. Talk to the Text

Talk to the text is a technique we have learned about at my school as part of our Reading Apprenticeship training. Basically, the gist is that you take a text that you are reading and mark it up, making your invisible thinking visible. Since in this case, the text is audio, student just write anything they want on a blank paper as they listen. They can doodle, write English or Spanish, make connections, etc. Any thought they have can be recorded.

3. Cold intro to a chapterillinoismap

Sometimes I have students listen to an audio recording before reading the chapter. I call this a “cold listen” if they have NO preparation at all. Normally I don’t like to do a completely cold listen, so I will have an intro conversation prior to the listening. I will often write things on the board and leave them up during the listening.

For instance, this week we prepared to listen to Chapter 3 of La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth. I had traced a map of Illinois on the white board and we discussed where Carlos was born (Chicago) and where he lived currently (Carlyle) and where St. Louis was located. We discussed how one would travel to Chicago from Carlyle and we also discussed the various ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago. These visuals were helpful to the kids as they listened. We then did a “cool listen” (not cold because I had them a little warmed up to the topic) and did a Talk to the text (see #2 above).

4. Post reading

I often will have students listen to a chapter the next day after we read it. Sometimes I will periodically pause the recording and ask questions while other times I will give the students an activity to complete. This is generally a really satisfying activity for them because they really understand!

5. Assessment

I like to include listening assessments on my tests. What I do is pre-select some segments of the audio CD (just mark down the track # and the time stamp where the segment begins and ends). I make up some “main ideas”


In this section of the audio book, which is the main idea:

A. A letter explaining that they have an appointment to apply for political asylum

B. Alberto is in trouble for organizing a workers’ strike

C. Aunt Tete helps Esperanza

D. Esperanza is about to cross the border at the beach

Students listen as I play the section of the audio recording and select what they believe is the main idea of that section. I usually have them listen to 5-10 segments on a test.

6. Listening for specific items

Make a list of PLAUSIBLE facts that the students may or may not hear in the audio recording. As they listen, have them mark the items that they actually hear.

7. Paper dolls

I got this idea from Cynthia Hitz and Krista Applegate. The basic idea is to use this activity when you have a chapter with a lot of movement. On a paper, make a “map” or layout of the area(s) where the movement takes place. For instance, the second half of my novel Robo en la noche really lends itself to this. For Chapters 9-10, sketch out a map of Costa Rica. Label the hacienda in Alajuela, the soda, and Curu in the Nicoya Peninsula. In Curu, make a little more detail and show the various areas where action takes place in that chapter. Copy enough of these maps for each pair of students (or for individuals if you prefer).

Now, make little stick figure “dolls” of each character. Either sketch them or trace them out of the novel. Make a little “minivan” also. Copy these figures for each pair as well.

Now, give each pair some scissors to cut out their little paper figures. As they listen to the chapter, have them move the figures around accordingly. Observe the students as they move the figures to see how well they are comprehending.

Have YOU discovered a great way to use audio books in your classes? Please share in the comments!


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