Create Audiobooks for Your Students with Explain Everything
In a previous post about supporting students to read challenging literature, I mentioned that I find or create audiobooks for my students to use as they read the required novels in the curriculum I teach. Today, I’m going to demystify this process for you, so that you can make your own! Here are the steps I follow when I’m putting together a literature unit for my classes:
Search for a free version of the book first.
If the novel or short story your students need to read is in the public domain (written before 1923, with no copyright restrictions), there’s a good chance that an audiobook of it already exists.
If I were searching, I’d type in something like free audiobook Huck Finn to see what comes up, and then I’d start listening to samples.
Another good place to start is LibriVox, which is a site dedicated to creating free audio recordings of every work in the public domain.
I will caution you: not all audiobooks are equal in quality, so you should certainly listen to quite a bit of any you find before recommending them to your students.
Another consideration is, is the book your students must read something you enjoy reading? If it is, maybe you want to skip this step and go straight to recording. If it isn’t, search high and low for the best free version you can find. In the case of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I wasn’t too keen on recording myself reading that particular novel, due to the harsh racial language used in it. I didn’t want to censor that language for my students, but I felt uncomfortable recording it myself.
If you decide to record your own audiobook:
Set up your iPad for recording:
I use an iPad because it’s the technology with which I’m the most familiar. I am sure you could adapt this process to another device, using different apps, so feel free to take this process and run with it.
Download Explain Everything Classic - $7.99
Since the time I started using this app, the company has pivoted and created a more full-featured product that includes real-time collaboration and a bunch of other whizbang stuff. It’s also now a subscription service (feel free to check them out here). However, the original version of their app, which works just great, is still available as a one-time purchase.
Download the novel in your Kindle app
In addition to being an Apple product kind of gal, I’m also an Amazon Kindle kind of gal. When I’m getting ready to record an audiobook for my students, I purchase that book via the Amazon Kindle store, and load it into the Kindle app on my iPad. If the book is in the public domain, the Kindle store will usually have a free or $0.99 version. If the book is still under copyright, I just go ahead and pony up the 6 or 8 bucks to buy it.
Open the novel in your Kindle app - screenshot each page spread (do this a chapter at a time, so you don’t go crazy)
This is probably the most tedious part of the project, and I usually take it a chapter at a time to save my sanity. I open up the Kindle app on my iPad, open the novel I’ll be recording, and -- one page at a time -- screenshot every page in the chapter I’m going to record. Yep, it’s a little annoying. Just think of how grateful your students will be for all your hard work…
Create a new project in Explain Everything - load the pictures into the app, a chapter at a time
Hop on over to your Explain Everything app that you’ve downloaded, and create a new project. I usually come up with a really creative title, such as “Huck Finn - Chapter 1.” Now, load those screenshots you just took of the novel, which are now stored in your iPad’s photos, into this project. If you want to get really fancy, you can even screenshot the “cover” of the book in your Kindle app to put as the first image in your Explain Everything project.
Essentially what you’re doing here is creating a glorified slide show that you can record a voiceover for.
Record yourself reading each page spread
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Now you can show off your skills as a narrator. Press that record button, and let ‘er rip.
My thoughts on narrating are as follows:
This is not a professional audiobook, so I don’t spend a huge amount of time preparing. I might skim over the page I’m about to read, but I don’t practice ahead of time. That being said, I’m a pretty fluent reader, so if reading aloud isn’t as comfortable for you, you may want to spend a little time practicing.
I do not do accents or character voices (well, not really). My feeling is, if I try to do accents (think all those British schoolboys in Lord of the Flies), I will most likely embarrass myself. I just don’t even make a serious attempt at it. I might vary the tone of my voice slightly for male or female characters, but that’s about it.
It’s okay to mess up a little bit. If you biff it on a word, just say the word correctly and keep going. You don’t need to acknowledge it any more than that.
Download to your file storage method of choice, and disseminate to your students
From Explain Everything, you can download (or upload) your finished video file to any number of services, including Google Drive and YouTube. From there, you can decide how best to give access to your videos to your students. If you’re using Google Classroom as a learning management system, you can post the videos to your digital classrooms for students to access from anywhere. But this is definitely not the only way to provide access. Your method will depend on your district’s choices about student devices, your LMS of choice, and other factors. If you work with students who don’t have internet access at home, you may end up asking them to bring a thumb drive in so you can load the videos onto it.
When and how will students listen to these recordings?
Now it’ll be up to you as the teacher (facilitator) to make some decisions about how you recommend students use these recordings. Things to think about:
Will you strongly suggest that students always have the book open in front of them while they listen, or is just listening okay with you? I don’t mind how students are listening. I tell my students that they will get more out of the book and be better served by focusing their attention on it. They should not listen to the book as they try to do other homework or cognitive tasks. Some students will choose to ignore these guidelines, but I just make my peace with that and keep encouraging them to make good choices.
Will you let students listen in class, or will you require them to do their listening/reading at home? I prefer to provide my students with substantial reading/listening time in class. This allows for a few things:
If they are stuck on something -- understanding a certain passage, a character’s actions, a plot twist, etc. -- I am there for them to talk to.
If they prefer to collaborate, a group of students can listen and take notes together, stopping to discuss as they go. I had a group of sophomores do this of their own volition last year, and they kept it up throughout the school year. It was very effective for them.
It gives me a better window into their reading habits, and their strengths and weaknesses.
What will you expect them to do while they are reading/listening? I tend to give my students some kind of note-taking task to do throughout a novel. Typically, it tends to be study questions, although I try really hard to make sure these questions are beyond just basic recall and more on the level of describing a character, reacting to an event, making a prediction, etc. -- all backed up with specific examples and quotations from the novel.
One more thing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, beyond this being a way to provide a useful support for my students, I like recording these audiobooks. It’s enjoyable for me, and on top of that, it reacquaints me with the work of literature we’re studying, forcing me to slow down and read carefully. Sometimes, I deliberately record chapters only a day or two ahead of when I expect my students to be ready for them, just so the material is fresh in my mind.
This strategy may not be right for you. You may not like reading aloud. But I encourage you to think about finding a way to offer some kind of audio support for your students -- it has made a world of difference for many of mine.
Please reach out to me if you’re needing help with this process; I would be more than happy to talk you through it!