Get Your Headphones On: Everything You Need to Know about Using Audio Books in Class

Get Your Headphones On
Everything You Need to Know about Using Audio Books in Class

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 4,659 views |

They’ve read the text.

They have watched the movie. But have you ever though to let them listen to the book on audio? Every ESL class includes listening activities for their students, but few teachers attempt using audio books in class. They are a great resource – they are interesting, have quality recording, use different voices and accents, and are easy to use. So why are they so underused in the ESL classroom? Perhaps it’s because teachers aren’t sure how to put them to the best use in class. Here is the information you need if you are ready to use audio books in class.

What Are Audio Books Good For?

Audio books have many advantages. Perhaps most obviously, they are interesting. People enjoy listening to audio books. That holds true for native speakers as well as ESL students. It’s easy to get lost in the plot and characters when you have a good book set on play. Audio books have risen in popularity in many schools in recent years. For students with reading difficulties, audio books are easier to understand. For ESL students, aural learners will flourish from the audio input rather than the typical visual input, and giving aural learners the right input isn’t always easy to do. And while only one voice actor actually reads an audio book, they use distinct characters and voices as they read, so ESL students will be challenged with accents, pitch, and individualized style and vocabulary choice.

Now that you know the value of audio books, how do you introduce them to your class? Here are five simple steps for giving an audio book lesson.

Try These 5 Simple Steps of an Audio Book Lesson

  1. 1

    Give Your Students a Visual

    Now that you have decided to use an audiobook in class, where do you start? With a visual. You can make your students’ first glimpse of the book as simple or as complicated as you like. For a simple approach, simply show the cover of the book. Have students discuss what the cover makes them think and what they predict will be in the book. For a more complicated visual, try creating a book box. Get a shoe box for your book and put a few items inside that relate to the book as well as a copy of the book itself. For example, if you were going to present E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, you might include a plastic spider, a picture of a spider web, and some words torn from magazines along with the text. When you present the box to your students, show them each item and as them to share any thoughts they have or any predictions they would like to make about the book.

  2. 2

    Give Your Students a List of Characters

    Complicated novels such as the Game of Thrones series come with a list of all the characters in the back of the book. Likely, the book you choose for your ESL class won’t come with such a list (or be as complicated), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a list for them. Your students will greatly benefit from a list of the characters they will be hearing about as well as a short description of each and how they are related to each other, if applicable. If you can, write your list on a bookmark style slip of paper that students can keep handy as they listen to the audio.

  3. 3

    Listen to the Passage

    Now your students are ready; it’s time to press play. You can start at the beginning of the book, but understand that your class may not be able to ingest more than a five minute lesson. Take it slow and repeat when necessary. Most likely, your students will benefit from a second or third chance to listen to the same passage. Don’t be afraid to hit rewind and play the passage again for your students, and don’t feel like you have to finish the book in a specific amount of time. It’s not unusual to take the entire semester or even the whole school year to go through a novel length recording.

  4. 4

    Have Students Review What They Heard

    You might want to give students a few minutes after the final listen to write a short summary of what they heard. This is especially useful when you will be listening to your book over a long period of time. Having a short summary of what they have already heard will give students a chance to get their minds back in the story before listening to the next section. Give your students a minute or two at the beginning of each listening session to review their last few summaries and remember what was happening in the book. While students write their summary, they can also look up any words they are confused about and that they marked as they listened.

  5. 5

    Follow up With Typical Reading Activities

    Just because your students listened to this book doesn’t mean they can’t do follow-up activities. If you have favorite lessons on character, plot, setting, etc. do them with your class. Book analysis is valuable even when students are listening rather than reading.

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when using audio books in class.

  • Try opening class with a short passage from an audio book. It will serve as a nice warm up to class and, once the story gets really interesting, give students a reason to be on time and in their seats when the bell rings.
  • Think about giving students a transcript of the recording to follow along with. This is simple to do if you are using an unabridged audio book. Simply copy a few pages for your students to follow along with. Having the words in front of them will give your students visual input as well as aural input and give them a boost for comprehension.
  • If your students are following along with a transcript, have them circle or underline any words they don’t recognize or want to come back to. Since the book will be playing aloud, they won’t be able to stop and check a dictionary right away. Your students may find that they understand enough of the unfamiliar words that they can still comprehend the passage even if they do not have an exact translation to help them through it. This will also develop their skills of determining meaning from context since they will not be able to stop in the middle of the passage.


Are you ready to hit play? Here are some books you might want to bring to class and share with your students.

  • Where the Red Fern Grows is a good book for students in middle school and older. It deals with the timeless experience of coming of age, this time with a boy and his hunting dogs.
  • Harry Potter and the Scorer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is another book written for a younger audience that appeals to kids of all ages. If your students are full of imagination, welcome them into the world of Hogwarts and the boy who lived.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold is an engaging read that will appeal to students in high school or adult learners. Readers will follow Mim’s journey (literally and figuratively) to find herself and her mother. Keep in mind this book is not appropriate for all audiences, so you may want to give it a read (or a listen) to determine if it is appropriate for your class’ maturity level.
  • The Book Thief by Mark Zusak looks into the life of a young German girl in the middle of World War II. Depending on where your students hail from, they will enjoy this intensely personal look at war and loss.
  • Any book you would normally read with your students is likely available in audio form. Check your local library or

Now you know how to use audio books in class and which ones are good to start with.

What are you waiting for? Get your hands on a CD or MP3 and hit play.

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