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Benefits of Audiobooks for Middle School Students

Learn why teachers should use audiobooks for middle school students.

Between the demands of school and those of extracurricular activities, getting the attention of middle school students can be tricky, especially when it comes to reading. However, incorporating audiobooks for middle school students can be beneficial in this situation. 

As adults, we can choose not only what we read or when we read but how we read. Gone are the days of only having the print option of a book available; now there are print, digital, and audio formats, and even then, there are more options – hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook (which can be read on e-readers, tablets, computers, phones, etc.), audiobook, etc.  

So why don’t we give our students a choice regarding how they read? 

Can giving students the option of audiobooks be beneficial? 

Benefits of Audiobooks for Middle School Students

The benefits of audiobooks for middle school students are vast. Mainly, they offer students a learning experience that accommodates their diverse needs and schedules. 

But that’s not all – audiobooks for middle school students can enhance comprehension, nurture a love for reading, and contribute to overall academic success. Read the blog post 10 Ways to Cultivate a Love of Reading for even more ways to cultivate a love of reading. 

A Brief History of Audiobooks

Audiobooks may not be a recent phenomenon, as the tradition of orally sharing stories within communities has a rich history. Consider the oral traditions ingrained in numerous cultures, where stories are passed down from generation to generation, relying on collective memory and the bonds of a community to ensure their continual retelling.

Compared to print books, audiobooks are relatively new. However, what started as a slightly awkward reading experience using multiple cassette tapes or compact discs is now sleek and usable as the popularity of audiobooks continues to rise

In many ways, audiobooks are no longer a second thought by publishers worldwide; creating and distributing audiobooks is vital to publication plans. Audiobooks account for significant growth in publishing while printed book sales are declining.

A rise in podcasts has also accompanied this rise in audiobook sales. With significant numbers and a diverse array of fiction and non-fiction options in both formats, their inclusion in classrooms makes sense. Audiobooks for middle school students should be an option. 

Why Audiobooks for Middle School Students?

The debate arises for audiobooks about whether they are the same as reading a traditionally published text. 

This is where reflection might be needed to ask: What is the goal of reading in your classroom? Is it simply to read a printed text, or is there more to be done with any of the texts you use in your classes? 

The reality is that in ELA, a novel study includes so much more! Students analyze characters, discuss plot and story structure, and hopefully make connections to issues beyond the text (self-to-text, text-to-text, and text-to-world). 

If that’s the case, does it matter how a student ‘reads’ a story? The goal is to understand what is happening in the text so they can do the next step of work with it. Using audiobooks for middle school students shouldn’t be something that takes away from learning but something that enhances it. 

The Benefits of Audiobooks

Better Retention Of Material

The best audiobook option is reading the printed text and listening to an audio version simultaneously. 

A study by Moreno and Mayer (2002) found that combining modalities (reading and listening) led to better outcomes for people to understand and remember what they’d read.

Not only that but listening to audiobooks in middle school can expose students to new words and increase their vocabulary

Student Choice And Voice

Audiobooks allow students to read as they need or want to in and out of class. 

So many students have IEPs with audio as an accommodation that it’s just best practice now to provide the option for all. As the research shows, the combination of modes for reading often leads to better retention of material for all students, not just those with exceptionalities.

Plus, we all have those days when even the simplest tasks can be challenging to complete with a high degree of focus. This is where the option for a student to listen to an audiobook can make a difference in productivity and focus.

Kinesthetic Opportunities

Listening to audiobooks means students are not necessarily tied to their books or desks. This can present negative and positive scenarios, but it can provide a favourable reading option for students who have difficulty sitting and reading. 

You might need more space for students to wander while reading in class, but they can take more frequent breaks to stand and stretch. Students could also complete doodle notes or colouring pages, supporting their focus on listening.  

Whole-Class Audiobooks

Short Readings

If you read articles and essays, try to have audio available for students. Many online sites now provide audio versions directly tied to their articles. Or use the Article of the Week format. All 2 Peas and a Dog non-fiction article resources include an MP3 reading for students. The Article of the Week Full Year Mega Bundle is designed to captivate your students and enhance their reading comprehension and thinking skills with an engaging non-fiction article every week of the school year. 

Or jump right into podcasts. This article explains how to use podcasts in your middle school classroom. And if you’re ready to jump in, here’s a free activity to get you started, or you can use these lessons as a set to make podcasts a regular part of your lessons.

Novel Studies

For whole-class novels, the best option is to play the audiobook for everyone. As indicated above, use printed texts and audio to meet your students’ needs. 

Another way is to include a podcast series as a “novel study” for your middle schoolers. This complete unit featuring the Mars Patel podcast is an excellent option for audio and different activities, choices, and questions.

Or, try the Six Minutes podcast, which comes in short 6-minute episodes, perfect for both warm-up activities and as a novel study. This complete unit featuring the Six Minutes podcast uses quizzes, journal entries, and comprehension questions to assess student listening. 

If audio is not readily available for a text you want to use, try a text-to-speech reader. Check to see if your school or board already has a subscription to a program such as Read & Write

There are also free online options, such as TTSReader or Free Text To Speech Online: Best HD Voices | Speechify

Audiobooks For Independent Reading

For independent reading, students can choose their format.  For whole class or small group instruction, some students could use the audiobook, and others could use the ebook or paper option. 

Ensuring audiobook options in your classroom or school library is integral, but it doesn’t have to happen immediately. Use your budget wisely to add options slowly. 

Here are some ways you can start to accumulate audiobooks: 

  1. If it’s an older book, there might be a free audio version in the public domain; a quick online search will reveal options. LibriVox is a non-profit organization that offers public domain books read by real people. 
  2. Most public libraries have a variety of audiobooks available for download, too. There are entire sections devoted to middle grade and YA for middle schoolers.
  3. OneDrive Education helps bring audiobooks and ebooks to the classroom and can be used for leisure and class-assigned reading.

Ultimately, how you teach your lessons should be up to you as long as you cover content in a way that works for you and your students. 

But whether you use audiobooks in your classroom or not is your decision. The benefits of audiobooks are clear in that they help support students in various ways. 

If you face push-back from your department or school, but you’re not beholden to a curriculum that specifies text-only, then the best advice might be just to shut your door and teach the best way for the students in your room. You know your students and should teach them in a way that helps them learn the best.

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