As an ELA teacher teacher, one of my favorite times of the school year is October. Not only is it the point of the year where you finally feel like you are settled in and have routines finally figured out, but it’s also the time of the year that I get to introduce my students to some of my favorite authors and spooky short stories! While my excitement always grew over thoughts of introducing a new group of students to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, W.W. Jacobs, and Ray Bradbury, a slight nervousness also crept in when I thought about how complex these texts can be for both proficient and struggling readers. What could I do to help bridge the gap and help my students to successfully navigate these stories?
Searching For the PERFECT Audio Version...Does It Even Exist?
Obviously, I knew that I would incorporate close reading strategies to help my students tackle these stories. In my classroom, our first read was always focused on answering the question “OMG! What happened?!?” so that I could see which students got the gist of the story and which students were struggling to comprehend the big picture. In addition, the majority of the time we would listen to an audio version of the story during our first read while students had a copy of the text in front of them. I always tried to find the most interesting audio version that I could because let’s face it no one, including me, wants to listen to a monotone voice tell a story let alone one as thrilling and suspenseful as “The Cask of Amontillado” or “Monkey’s Paw”.
In September 2013 as I was preparing for my upcoming unit, I was browsing through the audiobooks on iTunes and listened to several previews that bored me to tears. It seemed like my mission to find an engaging audio version for “The Cask of Amontillado” was going to be unsuccessful until I clicked on an audiobook entitled “Nightmares on Congress Street, Part IV” by Rocky Coast Radio Theater. Within seconds of hitting play on the preview button, I knew that I had found a winner! Everything about this recording, from the intense and spooky music to the performance of the actors, was perfect. It’s like the stories that I loved so much had truly come to life. Once I purchased the file, I sat mesmerized as I listened to both “The Cask of Amontillado” and “Monkey’s Paw”. What was even better than how these actors brought these tales to life was the fact that they did not change the source material and make any major deviations from the original text. Talk about an English teacher’s dream come true!
Introduction to Edgar Allan Poe + Rocky Coast Radio Theatre = HUGE Success
I was so excited for the first day of reading “The Cask of Amontillado” and letting my students hear the radio theater audio version of the story for the first time. As it began playing and the mysterious music began playing, my students started looking around and I saw smiles already on some of their faces. By the time that we had got to out first stopping point in the story, I knew that I had found a winner. Each time I asked a question, there were tons of volunteers who wanted to answer my question or ask one of their own. Many of the students kept begging to start the story again. The level of student engagement and enthusiasm was absolutely unbelievable and it remained that way throughout the entire first read of the short story. This trend continued through every class that I taught that day and I could not wait to read through my students’ exit tickets to see their answers to “OMG! What Happened!?!”. Normally, when I shifted through the exit tickets after a first read, there was a good majority of students who were not only struggling with the big picture, but they had difficulty even piecing together small parts of the story; however, I began to notice that about half of my students were able to give me a general summary of “This guy Montressor was mad at Fortunato and decided to brick him into a wall to get back at him” or “The narrator is crazy because he killed Fortunato just because he was jealous of them”. Even my struggling readers, many of whom were my SPED students, were able to piece certain scenes together and show the smallest glimpse of comprehending this difficult text. My inclusion co-teacher and I were simply amazed by how big of a difference the radio theater audio had made in our student’s comprehension level. The excitement and progress that my students had made on day one continued throughout the entire unit.
This positive learning experience was an eye-opener to the power of engaging audio versions of literature. I set a goal for myself that no matter how long it may take me or how many different Google searches I had to do that I would do everything I could to find the most entertaining and student friendly audio files that I could. Not only would it help break up the monotony of reading the same story six times a day, but it would also motivate my students into becoming better readers. You are in luck because I'm about to share links to my favorite audio versions of some amazing short stories.
Here are just a few of my FAVORITE audio versions for some spooky short stories:
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Don't forget to check out the other Secondary ELA Teacher-Authors' blog posts to get more tips and tricks to make this Halloween the best year yet!