The audio experience: why and how to listen to graded readers

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Illustration from The Time Capsule by Robert Campbell, illustrated by Arianna Operamolla. © Helbling Langauges

Have you ever listened to a good story? Most of us will say, ‘yes, of course’, and we will probably think about bedtime storytelling, something we much enjoyed as children. However, there’s another way of listening to stories, and even whole books. Audiobooks give us a similar experience to listening to bedtime stories, but apart from this emotional engagement they also have a series of educational benefits, which are particularly helpful in the language classroom.

Why use audiobooks?

Most graded readers come with audio recordings on a CD or in mp3 format, and some students might forget about them if teachers don’t direct their attention to them. But why are they such useful materials? Firstly, as several research studies indicate, they help reluctant readers with reading as the narration not only scaffolds their learning,  it also creates a special and memorable experience. The narrator’s voice and intepretation of the text helps break the text into chunks, indicating the differences between descriptive passages and dialogues, as well as adding valuable emotional meaning. Secondly, listening to the recordings helps with pronunciation and intonation, and listening activities support text comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation development.

Some readers are great fans of audiobooks, while some are against it, saying that listening to a book is not the same as reading it. Several articles (Time Health, The CutDaniel Willingham on his blog) defend audiobooks by saying reading them isn’t cheating, they simply provide a different experience of the story.

Indeed, audiobooks create a very different experience from reading a story, and this difference can be important in the language class. Language learners often have different reading and listening proficiency levels, and they rely on different language skills when processing aural and written texts. By finding ways of incorporating the audio in our students’ reading experience, we integrate these key skills thereby making the process more engaging and memorable.

Some practical tips on using the audio recordings

Home and individual reading

1 Relax and listen

Some students will find it comfortable to listen to a story at home. So they can do the simplest thing: just sit back and listen. In adults this might evoke good memories of childhood reading, or they will simply feel satisfied about practising English while relaxing. Teens might find it easy to get started with reading.

2 Listen on the go

Teen and adult learners often commute or spend a lot of time on the move. Why not take advantage of shorter and longer trips and listen to books on the go? It is often easier to listen to an audio book while travelling. We do not recommend asking the students to listen while doing homework or doing something that demands their attention.

3 Listen and write

There are students who keep a learning journal or like taking notes while reading. Why not ask your students to listen to a chapter and then write or record a summary of the plot? They can also write or record a review or their feelings after reading.

4 Stop and repeat

Instead of reading along with the narrator, students can try repeating full sentences.

5 Listen and read

After the first listening (or right from the beginning), students can listen and follow the text. It will help them with the comprehension of difficult words, grammatical structures and pronunciation and spelling.

In-class and group reading

1 Act it out

Short passages are more practical in class. Listen to a dialogue, and then act it out in groups.

2 Listen and visualize

Listen to a short passage and ask the students to write down how they feel about the characters. What are they like? How do they feel?

3 Listen and find the illustration

You can play a short excerpt, and students can find the matching illustration. They can also find and identify the characters and the setting and describe them.

Here is a sample from the original reader Dan and the Village Fête by Richard MacAndrew, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola. Experiment with the three activities above using this sample.

Here you can download the first chapter of the book.

4 Listen and take notes

Play the first two-three minutes of a recording while the students write down as much important information as they can. It is a bit like listening to a radio show or talk.

5 Listen and write questions

Ask the class to listen to the first three minutes and write comprehension check quiz questions for their partners.

Here is a sample from the classic reader Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Valentina Russello. Experiment with activities 4 and 5 using this sample.

Here you can download the first chapter of the book.

Illustration by Valentina Russello from the reader Great Expectations. © Helbling Languages

 

Exam practice and language practice

In every Helbling Reader there are Before Reading and After Reading activities, which often contain listening exercises. The audio materials come from the story, but you will find exam-style practice and other comprehension and vocabulary development exercises.

The audio in Helbling Readers is available in an audio CD format or in some cases on our educational platform, Helbling e-zone.

Read more about listening and reading on this Blog:

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