CSI Literacy NZ

Listen up! Audio texts and how they enhance literacy

Boy reading and listening to audio text

How often do you use audio in your literacy programme? 

Our students engage with a crazy amount of media every day. And, as exciting and innovative as these learning tools can be, none come close to the literacy experience that a good old audio text has.

Don’t believe us? Audio-assisted reading continues to have huge benefits for readers across all year levels – especially those who are struggling or learning the English language. It’s a literacy boost that supports the development of reading fluency and comprehension. 

Of course, you probably already read aloud to your class (here are a few reasons that’s awesome, too), but here we’re talking about recorded audio texts that your students can listen to as they read.

In this article, I want to highlight the benefits of audio texts, give you a few tips on what to look for in an audio recording and how you can use them day-to-day.


Why should audio be in my literacy programme?

Research has proven that audio-assisted reading improves not just the reading skills of struggling readers and ELL students, but all readers. 

Why? Audio texts model good reading.

Having an audio recording provides a model for how fluent reading sounds, and it demonstrates accuracy, pronunciation, pace, expression and phrasing – which students can then emulate.

Audio also gives students access to more difficult material than they might otherwise be able to read, allowing them to focus on meaning and comprehension rather than simply decoding what they see.

Audio texts:

  • Assist teachers in catering for a range of skill levels (both reading skills and English language skills) and interests.
  • Allow students to learn subject matter across the curriculum at an age-appropriate level.
  • Scaffold students as they hear and read new vocabulary in context.
  • Develop student’s skills in questioning, visualising, making inferences, determining important ideas and synthesising information.
  • Provide supported practice in thinking about text in important ways at an age-appropriate level (rather than simply their reading level).
  • Let students experience success in reading – motivating otherwise disinterested, reluctant, or nervous students.
  • Create an expectation in students that reading makes sense.

What should I listen for in an audio recording?

Audio-assisted reading can lead to significant improvement in reading performance, but it helps to pay careful attention to a few factors.

For instance, across the audio recordings you use, make sure you have a range of both male and female voices, so students have the opportunity to get used to both models.

Here are a few simple checks that will help you sort the good from the bad:

  • The reading is a real human who reads fluently with good prosody (patterns of rhythm and patterns of stress and intonation).
  • The reader pauses at punctuation so readers can follow along.
  • The pace of reading on the recording varies and is appropriate for a specific age group.
  • The recording is professionally produced – that means it has a clear sound (uncluttered by distracting noises) and has been carefully checked for accuracy.

How should I use audio texts in my reading programme?

All students can benefit from listening to an audio recording of a book – but it’s particularly rewarding for readers who are reluctant or struggling, readers who read below their age level, readers who aren’t fluent or are nervous, and English language learners.

Have groups of students listen to an audio recording together at a listening station (installed or portable), or have individual students listen to the audio recording on whatever technology you have available – CD player, mp3 player, or computer.

One listen of a recording is often enough to make the text accessible to students, especially if they follow along with the text as they listen. If it’s not, give students the opportunity to revisit the text along with the audio support.

Audio texts and repeated reading are a great combination. A study by the Centre for the improvement of Early Reading Achievement (2000) examined assisted and unassisted forms of repeated reading practice (repeated reading with and without audio support), and found clear differences in favour of having a recorded model to assist with the text. Students should have enough repeated practice that they become fluent, but aren’t ‘learning it off by heart’. 


CSI Literacy and audio texts

Audio is a big part of CSI Literacy's resources, because it enables students to "read more difficult material than they might otherwise be able to read". It’ll improve the reading performance of every student in your class!

Enhance Literacy

Enhance Literacy is a targeted intervention programme to help you bring students who have fallen well behind up to speed.

The Fluency kit uses audio texts as the foundation for each lesson – audio texts work alongside short texts and targeted activities to help students focus on improving their pace, phrasing and expression.

Want to try a audio text activity? Here’s a free lesson from Enhance Literacy.

CSI Literacy kits

CSI Literacy kits are designed for teachers who have a range of levels in their class and want to teach reading strategies everyone can use, no matter their level. 

The second part of CSI Literacy kit lesson, a co-operative activity, is fully supported by audio. What does this look like? After learning a reading comprehension strategy (using a whole-class shared reading text), students pair up with a new text to practise the strategy. Each text is accompanied by audio to scaffold students through the text.

Check out this example, ‘You’d better look twice’ from the year 5 (purple) kit. 


About the author: 

Meryl-Lynn Pluck is the founder of Rainbow Reading, an audio-assisted reading programme for students with literacy needs. Originally a Resource Teacher of Reading in Nelson, New Zealand, Meryl-Lynn trained under Reading Recovery pioneer Marie Clay.

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