How to Enhance Student Reading with Audio Books

Smiling, young boy with headphones.
Listening to Audio books can build comprehension and vocabulary.

Reading is a Participation Sport

Our students don’t always have the best listening skills but helping them strengthen listening skills can also benefit their reading skills. 

Summer is a good time to encourage students to now only read but to also listen to audible books when they are looking for something to do during those long, hot summer days.When school is not in session, it is likely that if your students don’t “use it” they will “lose it” – their reading skills – that is. 

Reading is a “participation sport” and like any other sport – basketball, hockey or swimming – the more you practice, the better you become.

One of the first suggestions to give parents to maintain and develop student reading skills over the summer is to encourage their children to keep reading. 

While many students can’t wait to go to the library and select summer reading books, many struggling readers do not share their enthusiasm.  A fun way to grab their attention is to get children busy with exciting audio books over the summer vacation months. They can provide many hours of entertainment as well as educational development. 

Audio books can be listened to at home or even taken in the car on summer road trips.

With the right audio book selections, the whole family may even be able to listen to the presentation while traveling in the car, hiking or even relaxing at the beach.

Audio Books Strengthen Reading and Listening Skills

Audio books may be the perfect solution for struggling readers who have not yet developed reading proficiency.

We all listen at a higher level than what we may be able to read on our own. As a result, listening to interesting audio books helps students develop a stronger sense of story and it also builds vocabulary by exposing students to a wide variety of words in context. By listening to audio books on topics that students enjoy, many are astonished to find that books contain interesting information.

By listing to entertaining audio books, students realize that books can be enjoyable, entertaining as well as informative.

When struggling students are learning to read, they often have difficulty with decoding what they are reading. When that happens, they spend most of their cognitive energy simply trying to figure out what the words are. Spending so much mental energy on decoding may prevent students from being able to process textual meaning. That is why some struggling readers finish reading yet have no idea what they have read.

Audio books allow students to listen to the story without stumbling over decoding.

Listening to audio books allows students to put their mental energy toward making sense of what they are reading. It improves their listening skills and helps them see how stories are constructed. By listening to a story rather than struggling to read it, students retain more of the information from the text.

Another benefit of listening to audio books is that it expands vocabulary.

This can be a huge plus for struggling readers who may need more work on growing their vocabulary storehouse. They can also help English language learners strengthen their English skills as well as listening skills.

Student listening to headphones while walking in a forest with yellow leaves on the trees.
Stories are Easy to Use On-the-Go

Where to Find Audio Books to Build Listening Skills

The public library in most cities is a great source of free audio books to enhance listening skills.

Talk to the librarian to see what resources you might be able to find that will interest your child.

There are also many websites that offer audio stories. Some examples are: for younger children or Audio Book Sync for teens. Spotify offers streaming of some good books for times when students are sticking around the house or want entertainment to take with them. Amazon’s Audible runs summer specials and offers free books for students so be sure to check with them as well.

Audiobooks are not just for struggling readers.

Students who are college-bound can build their background knowledge of classic books like Pride and Prejudice or Othello to prepare themselves for college. Teachers working with students during summer school can also take advantage of these online audio selections for their students.

If students have access to the book being read aloud, encourage them to follow along with the words printed on the page. This helps struggling readers link the words on the page to what they are hearing. By connecting the words on the page and the words they are hearing, struggling readers can strengthen their reading skills.

As parents and teachers, we are all aware of those “I don’t know what to do with myself” summer blues.  Encouraging our students to Listen to inviting audio books may just be the answer. 

You May Also Like:

Helping Struggling Students Meet Reading Standards

Why Students Struggle and What to Do About It

How to Help Struggling Readers Understand Difficult Text

Effective Vocabulary Instruction

Learning vocabulary involves two concepts. The first is adding new words to one’s personal lexicon but the second is learning new meanings for the words with which one is already familiar. We must not only help students add new words to their vocabularies, but also help them expand their knowledge about word meanings. Words have connotative as well as denotative meanings so to really understand what we are reading, requires an extensive background knowledge about language and word meaning. For this reason, good vocabulary instruction includes not only exposure to totally new words but also instruction that deepens student’s understanding of the meaning of words they already know which may be used in many other conceptional ways.

We learn words most often during our every day life experiences. For example, a young child learns the word and the concept of “hot” by touching a hot surface and hearing his mother say, “No! Hot!.” After the tears subside, the child has a clear and memorable link to both the word as well as the concept of “hot.

People also learn words through movies, television, listening to conversations and by extensive reading. This is the reason that we need to have students read as much as possible. The more they read, the better they become at reading and the larger their vocabularies become. Snow, Burns and Griffin (1998) state that from elementary through high school, students learn approximately 7 words per day or somewhere around 2,700 to 3,000 per year. Reading aloud to students is also a good way to expand student vocabulary since students can listen to text several levels above what they might be able to read and comprehend on their own. Reading to our students in all content areas should be a daily experience. This will not only help our good students but is absolutely vital for our struggling readers or English-Language Learner students.

As adults, we often use our knowledge of word parts such as prefixes, suffixes and root words to analyze a new word that we encounter. For this reason, it is helpful for students to study and learn the meaning of affixes. Content area teachers should identify the important affixes that belong to their subject area and help students learn the various word parts so that they develop a greater understanding of how to analyze new words they encounter while reading. For example, knowing that “hydro” means water would help students unlock the meaning of many scientific words dealing with water that they might encounter.

Another good way to encourage vocabulary development is to pique student curiosity and interest in new words. Word walls in all grades and content areas can help call attention to special vocabulary that students need to be successful in the classroom. Gathering interesting words and playing with words can also be great ways to help students build a large storehouse of vocabulary. The more students can connect to, visualize and enjoy adding new words to their vocabularies, the stronger and more competent readers they will become.