Teaching Tips for Using Audio Cassettes or CDs

by Rose Reissman

Page 1 of 2


As teachers, particularly language arts, literature, and writing specialists, we fear that "hearing" classics on cassettes or CDs will discourage young readers from savoring the written words of the world's literature. As librarians, we often reluctantly stock up on these audio resources, feeling that in promoting their circulation and classroom use, we are going against our key missions: the development of lifelong literacy and an appreciation of literature.

Administrators, too, often mirror our concerns as to whether the use of audio resources does indeed assist students in developing reading comprehension skills needed for successful participation in today's' global society.

Fortunately, with the advent of Howard Gardner's studies of multiple intelligences, teachers have begun to understand how using audio cassettes or CDs in the classroom can increase the circle of readers by engaging learners with auditory and spatial intelligence learning styles. Through the use of audio cassettes or CDs in literature classes, these students can use their own learning styles as a catalyst for in-depth study of masterworks. With the broad implementation of whole language literacy approaches, which encourage both the classroom teacher and the librarian to teach reading in a rich multisensory environment, librarians justifiably include audio cassettes or CDs as part of their 21st-century literacy mission. Collaboration by librarians and teachers in integrating audio experiences into critical reading and writing instruction can measurably enhance these skills.

Indeed, audio projects, radio broadcasting, and student community audio events can become integral parts of the reading, writing, and oral fluency portfolio assessment process. Through independent audio projects, students will also develop and enhance valuable personal and marketplace skills. In addition, teachers who wish to individualize instruction for gifted students as well as physically challenged students can use cassettes as tools for learning centers and individual student projects. The librarian running a neighborhood literacy project, the adult literacy teacher, and the school-based parent/child family literacy program can also use audio cassettes or CDs as initial starting points for developing multiple literacies (cultural, global, science, and mathematics) reading habits, and discussion skills.


With the growing body of research in learning styles and multiple intelligences, teachers can confidently begin exploring audio sources. Public libraries have special cassette/CD collections and catalogs. Audio resources are prominently features in major bookstore chains, bookstore catalogs, and video mail catalogs.

Specific audio resources of classics can be used with the appropriate grades and courses. Since they can spark writing, contemporary nonfiction and issue-themed audio cassettes or CDs are appropriate for use with any secondary level reading, literature, or journalism class, as well as in discussion, critical thinking, proactive citizenship inquiries, personal development, and critical reading activities. Librarians and adult literacy teachers can make varied selections from the full range of fiction, nonfiction, and issue-themed audio as well develop individualized programs to meet the unique needs and space of adult students. Within any structured regents or state mandated course of study, as well as the necessary routinized high school equivalency and basic literacy courses, audio experiences provide a multisensory experience.


Strategy One: Students Explore the Elements of an Audio Production

Before the playback of CDs

  1. Teachers should listen to the complete CD or CD prior to using it in the classroom, even if only a short excerpt will actually be played. To use the audio as a motivation for close textual analysis, select a key excerpt from the text to be taught which is also part of the CD rendition.
  2. Share copies of that excerpt (should be no more than two to three pages) with the students.
  3. Ask them how an audio producer would record this text.
  4. Have them consider the following aspects of audio production: sound effects (SFX), music, tonality/character voices (accented, throaty, deep) narrative voice selection (if in text), insertion of narrative voice over to move action along or explain elements not easily understood by the listener (if not in text), and necessary textual omissions of material not suitable for audio.
  5. Give the students ten to 15 minutes to come up with ideas for potential audio text production. Request that they record their concepts. You many have students work individually or in cooperative teams for this or any of the suggested strategies. Give them time to share the concepts they have developed.

During the playback

  1. Allow the students to listen to the actual recording of the text excerpt. While they are listening, have them compare and contrast the audio CD with their own preconceptions.

After the playback

  1. Have students discuss the ways in which the actual audio recording compares with their projected preconceptions.
  2. Students may decide that their production treatments are superior to those of the commercial audio. Allow them time to collect their own sound effects and music, as well as cast the audio. Then have them record the audio.
  3. Class produced audio productions can be shared with parents, parallel subject classes, friends, hospitalized teens, and seniors.

Strategy Two: Students Develop Listening Skills

Before the playback

  1. To use audio CDs to develop listening skills and promote appreciation of particular genres, have the students open their notebooks to a blank sheet. Tell them they will be listening to an excerpt (of 2-3 minutes duration) from a piece of literature (or nonfiction) they will be studying, and challenge them to transcribe the text from the recording.
  2. Assure them that the excerpt will be played twice. Ask that they leave a blank space on their sheet where they will guess the genre of the text in the recording.
  3. Have the students note the words, information, music, or sound effects that signal a particular genre, be it mystery, horror, adventure, or comedy.

During the playback

  1. After the first play of the excerpt, have the students read their transcripts aloud. Then ask them what genre they feel the excerpt is from and what aspects of the production characterize that genre.

After the playback

  1. When the second play of the excerpt is completed, have the students share their transcriptions of the piece. Ask them what final decisions they have made about the genre of the work and in what ways, if any, the second play of the excerpt affected their judgment.
  2. To provide students with the ability to measure their own listening skills, offer them regularly scheduled listening skills sessions, followed by regularly scheduled audio genre listening sessions. Have the students maintain a portfolio of their listening skills transcriptions, and genre predictions. After several exercises, have the students write and/or share their own self-evaluations of the ways in which their listening and genre skills have been enhanced.

Strategy Three: Students Develop a Prequel

(Particularly recommended for mystery and horror genre study)

Before the playback

  1. To develop sequencing, listening, and creative writing skills, tell students you will play an excerpt of three to four minutes from the middle section of a work they have not yet studied in class. Depending on the class's achievement level, grade, course, and past experiences in literature, you may also be able to use an obscure excerpt from the middle section of a work already studied. Use of a familiar work will give this strategy an additional edge and provide the students with an evaluative tool for measuring their own comprehension and recall of previously studied literary works.
  2. Explain that as they listen to the excerpt, their job is to develop a logical prequel to the text.

During the playback

  1. Walk around as the students are listening to the CD.
  2. Play the CD once, then give the students 3-5 minutes to jot down or sketch out their ideas of what would be an appropriate prequel of the narrative. Then replay the excerpt so the students have an additional opportunity to further detail their prequel.

After the playback

  1. Once the excerpt has been replayed, ask the students to share their verbal or visual prequels. Have each student explain what elements of the excerpt lead to the prequel developed.
  2. Then play the actual recorded prequel of the excerpt and give students a chance to compare and contrast their prequels with that of the actual text.
  3. Students may want to develop their own audio CDs of their own stories including both the excerpt of the classic text and their invented prequel. They can become audio collaborators with the author of the CDd work.
  4. The diverse audio CD projects which were generated by the initial excerpt plus the different student prequels will form a concrete product demonstrating the infinite variety of stories that can evolve from a plot germ.

Strategy Four: Students Compose Storyboards to Understand Plot

(Particularly recommended for challenged, adult literacy, ESL, and visual learners.)

Before the playback

  1. To engage students to apply their multiple intelligences, diverse learning styles, and pluralistic experiences to a given text, provide students with blank storyboard sheets and markers.
  2. Tell the students that they are to fill in the panels with words and images that convey the narrative being told on the video CD. You may want to model the storyboarding process by reading the students a brief selection from a familiar text.

During the playback

  1. Encourage students to work in small, informal teams and "let themselves go" as they listen to the audio CD excerpt, which should be no more than three to five minutes of work. Have students note the difficult words or symbols, if any, within the excerpt.

After the playback

  1. Give the students a chance to first visually display their varied storyboards. Then ask what was the image or combination of images and words which prompted their initial storyboard panels.
  2. Ask the students to discuss the ways they interpreted the spoken word. Through the storyboard too, students reinforce their comprehension skills. You can use the storyboard to make more difficult works accessible for students with divergent learning styles and experiences than they might otherwise be prepared to tackle in print.

Strategy Five: Students Transform the Work to a New Genre

Before the playback

  1. To involve students in critical thinking, reading, writing, and collaborative learning experiences, challenge them to listen to a five- to ten-minute audio CD with the object of transforming it to another media format (i.e., television feature film, music video, opera) or a new genre sketch (i.e., from a mystery to a comedy, or drama to a chiller, a chiller to a comedy, etc.).

During the playback

  1. Instruct the students to take notes on potential new formats during the initial CD play. Then give them a chance as a group to share and pool some of their original ideas. Replay the entire audio cassette for them.

After the playback

  1. Students should have at least two to three class periods to develop a new media format and/or genre switch for the audio CD piece reviewed.
  2. Allow individual students or teams of students to share their media format and genre-switch choices. Give the presenters a chance to explain why the selected piece was suited for a particular media format or how it lent itself to a new genre.
  3. Students can develop their media formats into full scale productions by printing their original genre text side-by-side with the new text of their genre switch.

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