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 so helping them strengthen listening skills can not only benefit their listening skills, it 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 identify the words.

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

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How to Help Struggling Readers Understand Difficult Text

Effective Vocabulary Instruction

If we want to know more about effective vocabulary instruction, there are two important concepts to understand.

The first is how to help students add new words to their personal lexicon to increase the size of their overall vocabulary. Readers will not understand what they read unless they can recognize and understand the words they are reading.

According to Biemiller (2005), “Teaching Vocabulary will not guarantee success in reading, just as learning to read words will not guarantee success in reading. However, lacking either adequate word identification skills or adequate vocabulary will ensure failure.”

Word cloud of vocabulary words
Words All Around Us Increase Vocabulary

Helping Students Grow their Vocabularies

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. They have added a new word to their vocabulary.

People also learn words through movies, television, and listening to conversations in their daily environment.

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.

People also learn new words by listening to and reading books. Researchers found that repeated reading of a story resulted in higher averaged gains in vocabulary in young children.

When a story was read more than once, the students made an average gain of 12% more vocabulary words than children who only heard the story read once. (Biemiller & Boote, 2006; Coyne, Simmons, Kame’enui, & Stoolmiller, 2004).

While rereading texts take additional time, the researchers say that the additional learning that takes place with repeated reading is worth the time – especially for students who struggle with learning to read.

The more our students read, the better they become at reading and the larger their vocabularies become.

What are Other Effective Vocabulary Instructional Methods?

Reading aloud to students is also a good way to expand student vocabulary. When listening to someone read, students are able to process vocabulary several levels above what they might be able to read and understand on their own.

Reading aloud to students in all content areas should be a daily experience. Not only is this good for our higher performing students but this oral language exposure is absolutely vital for our struggling readers or English-Language Learners.

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.

Collecting and featuring interesting words on a bulletin board can be fun for students and will also build vocabulary. Playing with words can also be great ways to help students have multiple exposures to words in the classroom.

The more students can connect to, visualize and enjoy adding new words to their vocabularies, the stronger and more competent readers they will become.

Vocabulary Instruction to Expand Student Understanding of Words

The second important concept is how to help students learn new meanings for the words with which they are already familiar.

Effective vocabulary instruction includes not only exposure to totally new words but also instruction that deepens a student’s understanding of the meaning of words they already know which may be used in many other conceptional ways.

Homonyms which are words that sound and are spelled the same but have different meanings be very troublesome both for beginning readers and also for English-language learners.

One effective vocabulary instructional approach for words with multiple meaning is to teach students to look at the surrounding sentence for context clues. Teach them to ask themselves, “Did what I just read make sense?”

For example a student might read, “The airplane banked left to fly north.” By asking “Is this sentence making sense?” students can the meaning of “banked” in this sentence is not the same as “bank” meaning a financial institution or “bank” meaning the side of a river.

Effective Vocabulary Instruction Also Includes Word Parts

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 and root words.

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.

Learn more by reading What Works in Primary Vocabulary Instruction or

Inspiring Vocabulary