December 20, 2012

The Power of Audio Books

Most kids love to listen to audio books, but did you know that this practice is also extremely effective for improving reading comprehension and fluency? I discovered this well-kept secret a few years ago when I started using audio books with my struggling readers. I was using Classroom Book Clubs in my classroom on a regular basis, but I was experiencing a problem when it came to book selection. Many of my 5th graders were signing up to be in groups with difficult books that I knew they couldn't read on their own. What to do? Require them to choose an easier book that didn't interest them? Or let them choose a difficult book, knowing that they would probably drop out of the group later?

Fortunately, I discovered a simple solution to this problem: audio books. I located audio versions of some of my favorite student books like Hatchet and Shiloh, and I allowed students in those groups to listen while reading their books each day. To manage the problem of multiple users needing the same audio player, I figured out how to connect several students via headphone adapters connected together. I assigned one student in each group the role of “Audio Captain” who would start and stop the audio player as needed. All students were expected to have their own copy of the book open and follow along, tracking the text visually as they listened.

Reading Comprehension Improved 50%
My students were very excited about the program, and the audio materials were constantly in use during reading class. After just a few weeks, I noticed something amazing. I could tell that the students who were using these audio materials regularly were becoming better readers! They weren't just becoming better listeners – their reading comprehension and fluency skills were improving, too!

These results intrigued me and I wanted to know more. I was in graduate school at the time, so I conducted an action research study to gather data about what I was observing. I selected eight struggling readers for my study, and I provided audio materials for every book that they read over a two-month period. I compared their reading comprehension test scores before and after the study, and every single student made significant gains. The average score rose from 41% of their reading comprehension answers being correct in September to 60% correct in December, a 50% increase!

I know it was just a small, informal study, but the results convinced me that I needed to continue using audio books. I began to wonder how listening to audio books could translate to improved reading skills. I finally realized that audio books can introduce students to a world of reading they've never known. Fifth graders who can’t read well probably aren't motivated by a steady diet of picture books and easy chapter books. But hook them up to an audio version of Hatchet, and the words begin to work their magic. As students track the text with their eyes and listen with their ears, they see words they've heard before but were not able to recognize in print. They can apply the strategies that good readers use, from visualizing the events to making predictions. In the process, they discover the joys of a great book!

Time Saving Resources for You
Another reason you might want to obtain audio books for Literature Circles or Classroom Book Clubs is that you can listen to them to preview them or to keep up with what your students are reading. I always recommend that teachers read books first before using them with students, but it can be difficult to find time to do so. If you purchase the audio version, you can listen while driving or doing something else.

Where to Find Audio Books
You can find audio books in many places, including your public library and yard sales. However, the easiest way to find them is to go to and search for them there. I've created a collection of Literature Circle resource pages on my website that include book recommendations in many categories, including Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, and Realistic Fiction. Each book includes a link to where you can find it on, and most of those books have audio versions that you can purchase. I recommend purchasing the CD versions because then you’ll always have one master copy, but you may want to transfer the audio file to a mobile device, computer, or Mp3 player.

How to Obtain Audio Materials
Does the idea of using audio books intrigue you? I’ll bet you can think of several students right now who would benefit from listening while reading. However, you may also be wondering how and where you can purchase these materials since they can be a bit costly. That was my concern, too, but I solved that problem by setting up an Audio Book Fund and asking for donations to our classroom audio book collection.Here's a copy of my letter to parents in Word format so you can adapt it and use it yourself. In the letter I explained about the importance of audio books and how my students would benefit. I was thrilled to receive over $100 in donations within a week! When the money started rolling in, I ordered audio materials to go with all of my favorite titles to use with Classroom Book Clubs.

If you haven't used audio books in your classroom, I hope you'll consider giving them a try. I think you'll find audio books to be powerful tools to improve comprehension and fluency. Best of all, listening to audio books will allow your struggling readers to discover the magic hidden inside every great book. Soon their reading skills will improve and they won't need audio books. When that happens, a whole new world will open up before them, the amazing world of literacy!

December 16, 2012

Day of Silence for Sandy Hook Elementary

My heart aches for the families and friends of those involved in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. When I watch the news stories, I can't even begin to imagine how horrific it must have been for those who were there. So many innocent children and adults lost their lives on Friday, and those who survived will carry the scars of that day with them for a very long time. I pray for the survivors to find the healing strength needed to face the challenges ahead. Today I'm joining other bloggers with a day of silence to honor and remember the victims and their families. They will be in my thoughts and prayers today as I give thanks that my own family is healthy and safe.

December 13, 2012

Tips for Teaching with Math Games

Who doesn't love a game? In the math classroom, games offer an engaging alternative to worksheets, allowing students to work with others and have fun while learning. They’re perfect for practicing new skills or reviewing previously-learned content. Math games are extremely versatile and can be used in cooperative learning teams, in small group instruction, or in math centers.

The key to using math games effectively in the classroom is to develop clear and specific management systems and procedures. Students need to know when they can play the games, where to go to play them, how to choose a partner, and a host of other procedures.

I've shared some tips below, and you can download the entire set of tips as a PDF file by clicking the Tips for Teaching with Math Games link or the cover above.

Using Math Games in Cooperative Learning Teams
Math games work well in cooperative learning teams during whole group instruction. After you introduce a skill, demonstrate it, and check for understanding, you can have students play a game to practice the skill. When you use games in cooperative learning teams, each team will need a copy of the game materials, and all teams will be engaged in playing the games while you serve as a facilitator. This gives you the opportunity to walk around and work with individual students who may need extra help. Another way to use games in cooperative learning teams is for reviewing several different skills the day before a test. If you choose to use games this way, you’ll need a different game for each skill and rotate the games from team to team every 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes you can use the same game but simply create different problem cards or task cards for each skill.

Using Math Games in Learning Centers
Using math game centers is a way to help students keep skills sharp throughout the year. You may want to set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day for students to work in math centers. Having them play the games first thing in the morning as other students arrive can keep them on task and energize them for the day. You can also encourage students to use these activities when they have completed other assignments or while you are working with a small group. To learn more about how to use games in centers, watch my free webinar, Motivating Math Stations, on Teaching Resources.  In that webinar I explain how to choose and develop games for math centers.

Where to Find Math Games
You can create your own math games quite easily, or you can find them by searching online. I've created quite a few math games that are appropriate for grades 3 through 5, and most of those can be adapted for younger or older students by changing the problem cards. Many of my games are free on my online Math Centers page and in my TeachersPayTeachers store, and others are priced reasonably considering the amount of time and energy you save by not having to create them yourself.  The games shown here include complete directions, student printables, and answer keys if needed. You can also find math games in my ebook, Math Stations for Middle Grades, available in my store.

Using Games to Teach Social Skills
The younger your students, the more help they will need with developing social skills for games. However, even older students may need to review these skills. Remind your students that although they might not win every game, they are all winners because they are having fun while they learning. One way to work on social skills is to teach a mini-lesson on what “sportsmanship” means. Display this chart, which you can find in the Tips for Teaching Math Games packet, or create a similar chart on chart paper. Ask students what it means to be a “good sport” versus a “poor sport” when playing games. During the class brainstorming session, remind them not to name specific people or incidents that have happened in class.  Just list behaviors such as bragging, taking turns, congratulating the winner, smiling, grabbing the materials, not following the rules, pouting, etc. Remind students that it’s no fun to play with a poor sport! Also, be sure that students have strategies for common game tasks such as deciding who goes first. Rather than arguing, they can flip a coin, play Rock-Paper-Scissors, or toss a die. After you address these issues with mini-lessons, you’ll find that your students enjoy playing games more and get along better with their peers.

How do you use math games in your classroom?  Do you have any tips of your own to share?

December 8, 2012

Celebrate 12-12-12 with Race to Write 12

Wednesday’s date is December 12th, 2012, otherwise known as 12-12-12. What a unique event, and certainly one worth celebrating! Okay, maybe not a big celebration, but how about taking a few minutes for a cooperative learning game based on the number 12?

The Race to Write 12 game is a fun, fast-paced team builder that you can use this Wednesday or any time of the year when you need an engaging activity that fosters creative thinking and collaboration. You can download it for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store or from the Caring Classroom page on Teaching Resources.

Race to Write 12 involves students working in teams to write a list of 12 items as described on a topic card selected by the teacher. Each group races against the other teams to be the first to complete this task. The team that lists 12 acceptable items first wins the round and collects the topic card. This freebie comes with 10 prepared topic cards, and I included a template you can use to create your own to modify the activity for your own students. You can also adapt the game to a specific subject area by creating cards with topics related to that subject. For example, in math, your topics could include, “Units of Measurement,” “Polygons,” or “Multiples of 12.” In science, your topics could include “Mammals,” “Landforms,” “Examples of Liquids.” The possibilities are endless!

Race to Write 12 is a simple game that your students will love. Taking time for special activities like this one will foster a sense of classroom community among your students. Visit the Caring Classroom page on Teaching Resources for more cooperative learning activities and classroom management strategies. Hope your class finds 12-12-12 to be a memorable and fun day!