by Becky Palmer-Scott
There’s nothing like the joy of being read to, to strengthen reading skills and enjoyment of books. Providing audio books for your classroom benefits nonreaders, ESL students, and students are are visually impaired. Thankfully, there are many resources available to teachers, including ways to allow immobile students to turn pages with switches. These were highlighted at a recent MCEC (Michigan Council for Exceptional Children) conference. The solutions include online books with built-in audio, resources which you can combine with a text-to-speech tool, and methods for adding speech to a paper book.
Online books and lessons with audio built in
TarHeelReader.org has books for beginning readers of all ages. Most of the books are nonfiction, and all are in slide format. Many of the books are created by the community using the website, and user contributions are welcome. The audio voice is computerized, but you can change it to be child, male, female, or the voice built into your computer. Each book can be accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, IntelliKeys with custom overlays, and 1 to 3 switches. In addition to English, the site is available in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Norse, Turkish, and Portugese.
kizclub.com offers audio books, printables, and other interactive activities for grades K-8. Go to the Stories & Props tab to see audio books in Levels 1 through 3. The audio voice is more pleasant than most audio playback since it does not sound computer-like. In addition, the clickable area for slide progression is large, which makes it easier to use with a switch, or by students with less motor control.
StorylineOnline.net shows Screen Actors Guild actors reading books. Captions are included, and the presentation switches between views of the actor and of the book pictures. As of this writing, there were 38 books, all for early elementary levels.
UniteForLiteracy.com has a wide variety of high quality audio books in 31 languages. The audio is a real person’s voice, not a computer. Most of the books are nonfiction and are levels K-3. You can filter the books based on topic.
LittleBirdTales.com offers a collection of student-created books, most of which have narration by the author. The site welcomes additions by students and offers easy-to-follow instructions for creating books.
Crick Software Clicker books and tools work on Windows and Mac devices. You can download the Clicker software onto your computer from the Crick website and/or add the Clicker Docs and Clicker Sentence extensions through the Chrome Web Store. All offer a free 28-day trial. Crick Software costs $495. There are a variety of Clicker student and classroom resources on the SET>BC website (w3.setbc.org). These include many lessons designed specifically for students with special needs, and some are on higher-level topics. The audio voice is childlike but computer-like. Of note — the ‘play audio’ button changes position frequently, which may make it harder for a student with mobility impairments to use.
Online books & sites with audio from a speech-to-text tool
You can make websites speak using speech-to-text tools. SpeakIt! and Read&Write are free Chrome extensions, which you install through the Google Web Store. To reach the Google Web Store, click the App icon in the top left of the Chrome menu bar. Once you find the extension, simply click its Add to Chrome button. It’s good to install both tools, because they have different strengths. SpeakIt! works well on websites and Read&Write works well on Google Slides.
Google Slides is a great tool for creating audio books. Layout templates are available for book creation, and you can insert images, shapes, videos, charts, hyperlinks, and more into your slides. The Read&Write extension works best to generate speech from Google Slides.
CK12.org contains online lessons and videos for grades K-12, and allows teachers to create lesson plans, organize classes, and assign due dates. SpeakIt! works best with browser-based material like this.
Storybird.com is a website where visitors can find, and are encouraged to write, browser-based books. The site offers beautiful artwork and a wide variety of categories and reading levels, although most of the books are fiction. SpeakIt! works best with browser-based material like this.
Adding audio to paper books
When adding audio to paper books, you must provide the audio. Having parents make recordings can provide emotional comfort to students..
One way to do this is to tie the recording to a QR code, then print out the QR code and paste it on the book. Vocaroo.com enables you to make a recording and tie it to a QR code. If you right-click on the QR code displayed by Vocaroo, you can save it as an image, which you can then name and print. The student would use an app such as QR Reader to scan the QR code and listen to the recording. If you use this method, you will want to have the recording say when to turn each page, or put a QR code on each page.
Anybook Reader, which costs between $35 and $75, allows you to associate your audio recordings with stickers. You put the stickers on book pages, and enable playback with a large stylus. Each stylus comes with 200 to 520 reusable stickers. The stylus can only play the stickers it came with, so it’s important to identify which stylus goes with which book(s).
BookWorm, created by AbleNet Inc., can transform paper books into switch-adapted audio books. The unit costs about $220.
Do you know of other audio book solutions? Write them in the comments!