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Blog post

Learning to listen: the power of audio in the classroom

23 Apr 2019

Headphones for audio in the classroom

When Lord Reith set up the British Broadcasting Company in 1922, his vision was, above all, to educate. Luminaries of the day would show up at Savoy Hill to discuss and debate politics, art or whatever other issues would excite the national interest.

Over the next two decades, the number of wireless licenses grew and by the time Neville Chamberlain made his infamous declaration of war announcement in 1939, the domestic radio was, quite literally, part of the furniture - in the classroom as well as the home, with everything from the Schools Programme (still broadcasting today) to Listen with Mother and Singing Together.

In 2019 the world sounds very different. Audiobooks, podcasts and digital and internet radio stations accompany the old familiar analogue stations. As a teacher, this means a wealth of opportunities to use audio in lessons, tutor time and assemblies. Here are just some of our ideas for how to get your pupils listening.


Research shows that there are huge rewards to be found by listening to audiobooks, particularly for reluctant or struggling readers. Not only can students access stories that may be beyond their reading level, they can hear them in a range of exciting voices and accents and understand expressions and nuances not necessarily clear from printed books. Audio may be the key that unlocks their love of reading.

Regular storytime

Read a whole book aloud over the course of a term, or read individual short stories or even play extracts to introduce new books to pupils and get them excited about reading. Just ten minutes a day will give you the chance to create shared story experiences that everyone can access. And if you are not confident reading aloud, you can use audiobooks read by professional actors as a great alternative. While everyone now knows Stephen Fry to be the voice of the Harry Potter audiobooks, why not also try Dracula performed by Alan Cumming and Tim Curry, The Twits read by Richard Ayoade or Timeless Tales for Kids with an all-star cast including Olivia Coleman and Russell Tovey. Or, visit your local library to see what they have on CD!

Parental engagement

Consider holding a storytime session and invite parents in to listen to the story with their child. You could share ideas for using audiobooks in the home (particularly if they have smart speakers) to encourage parents to make use of them, particularly where there could be adult literacy issues. Remind parents audiobooks are a great way to keep children entertained and are a really positive alternative to screen time.


Use podcasts as background in tutor time to get children into the habit of listening while carrying out other activities that don’t carry too much cognitive load, for example sorting their books for the day or getting registers signed. Also, subject-specific podcasts are a great way of getting students into the habit of “reading” around a subject and fostering a wider interest in an area and extracts can be used as a focus in lessons. Here are a few to consider.

There is a health warning, though – as with many non-fiction books, many podcasts are not necessarily designed with children in mind so do listen in advance to ensure they are age-appropriate. Most shows will include a note at the start if not suitable for younger listeners.

For younger listeners:

For older listeners:

Of course, there are many fiction and drama podcasts out there too. As an example the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold (technically not a podcast as you have to stream it) is a great way of introducing students to the themes and issues of a play.

Don’t forget old-fashioned radio!

Speech radio such as BBC Radio 4 and Resonance FM (who also do a brilliant show called Down the Rabbit Hole, a weekly discussion of children’s books) have a wide range of shows playing throughout the day, which you could listen to on an analogue or digital radio, or you can listen to a particular show through catch-up services such as iPlayer. You can also find local community radio stations, largely run by volunteers, which often play shows about local history and culture.

For a great writing opportunity, consider making contact with your local radio station. You could get them to:

  • Broadcast poetry written by pupils
  • Invite students on to discuss their research into local history, or to interview a local celebrity
  • Make some recordings of your local environment and put together a soundscape to broadcast

Visit the Community Radio Association to find out more.

Some of these ideas also feature in our fabulous Puffin World of Stories programme, with a range of resources on how to use audiobooks in the classroom.

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