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Using iPods as Listening Centers

Like many others, I’ve used Listening Centers in my classroom for years.  Not only is listening to a fluent model an important part of a balanced literacy program, it is also one of the few times you can get a first grader to be quiet!

For years, I spent countless money and burned through Scholastic points to curate a collection of Listening Center books and tapes.  Fast forward to 2014 and kids have no idea what a tape is, making those expensive Listening Center sets near obsolete!

I always chuckle when I see this picture on Pinterest because it’s so true! 

Since the dawn of iPods, kids seriously have no idea how to use a Walkman! I felt like I spent a great deal of my Daily 5 time showing kids how to press play, stop and flip the tape over to rewind {which is a totally strange concept anyway!}

Well one day…genius struck! I realized I needed to get iPods into the classroom because kids are so familiar with them! So, I begged asked my principal to buy me some iPods. He was able to order one, which is awesome, but definitely not enough to keep those little ones quiet!

Genius struck again…I asked parents to donate their old iPhones so we could use them as iPods during Daily 5 time! I strategically campaigned for these old iPhones just as parents were upgrading to the iPhone 5.  🙂

Here’s how I store my iPods for Daily 5 use. I found these adorable mini-caddies in the Dollar Spot at Target and fancied them up with the Silhouette.  Run NOW and get these mini caddies.  They are incredibly hard to find.  I was at Target on Friday and loaded up with 10 extras {just in case!}

We had a big lesson on how to take care of the iPods.

This year I splurged {at the Dollar Tree!} to get everyone their very own pair of earbuds.  They’re very fancy!

Did you know that you can order online at the Dollar Tree? These sparkly little gems came in their very own cases.  So, we had a lesson about how to properly take care of your earphones.  I warned the kids that if anything happens to their earbuds, Listening Centers are off limits for them! Harsh, I know.  However, every single one of the earbuds are still in excellent shape!

Now, I’m not gonna lie – it was a HUGE time commitment to convert all of my tapes to mp3s, but it was SO worth it! It’s a super simple process, just time consuming.  Really, all you need to do is plug the converter into your computer, press play on the tape, let it play out and select “convert to mp3” once it’s done. It then automatically loads it into iTunes!

To do this, I bought the ion Tape Express.  Oddly, I found it at Kohl’s, but they do sell it on Amazon. Click the picture to see it on Amazon.

I also spent a little time organizing my library on iTunes in the hope that it would make using the iPods a little simpler for the kids.

To keep track of the iPods, I added a numbered screen! Grab the freebie by signing up with your best email below!

At this time, I only have numbers 1-6 available

I only put the Music app on the dock so the kids wouldn’t be distracted by anything!

For each story, I added the cover photo so it would be easier for the non-readers to find!

When they find the story, they simply tap the title and snuggle up with the book!

As I said, it was a laborious project, but it was totally worth it!

Occasionally, I ask my students to fill out a response to the book using these Listening Center Response Sheets you can find at the Lucky Store.

55 Responses

  1. Hi Brittany! I moved all of my apps into a folder and dragged them onto the last page so only the Music showed up. Hope that helps!

  2. What a great idea to ask parents to donate their old phones! I also record them but I use mp3 players-I didn't realize you could transfer cassette tapes so easily. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Such a great idea to ask parents to donate! I asked parents to donate old walkmans this year for my listening center. But even Scholastic doesn't sell audiobooks in tape anymore either! So we are using good old cds now. But I think ipods would be GREAT! So many more book possibilities! 🙂

    Diary of a First Grade Teacher

  4. O.M.G. I have heard of teachers using iPods and MP3 players in the classroom for the listening center, but I never really understood how it would really work. You explained it so well! What a process you went through. I saw those converters at Kohls after Christmas. You could probably get one for practically nothing with coupons and Kohls cash! I wrote a grant last year for wireless listening centers for my whole team. We got stereos that play cassette and CD. Now I'm regretting not just going straight for the iPods. I could never figure out what to do with my awesome Books on Tape collection and thought I would have to start from scratch. Oh well, maybe next year…
    (although I am liking my wireless headphones much better than my old system!)
    My First Love

    1. Yay! I hope you get some. They're SO much easier to deal with than tapes or CDs. And since the recordings come on CDs now, it's super easier to add to those new books to the iPod too!

  5. I love iPods but I'd be worried I'd have to put it in for iPod repair if I received it for free. Maybe I'm just super paranoid,haha!

    But this post is a great resource. I do love iPods. They're so great to play music on; definitely better than the dark ages of using tapes.

    1. I had a VERY long discussion with my kids on how we treat the iPods. Next year, I'm thinking they may need to earn the privilege so they really appreciate it!

  6. Molly
    Will you fly to Massachusetts and do this for me? Thanks!I use discmans and my kids manage them ok. I'd love to do it with ipods though! Thanks for visiting my blog. Your blog is super cute! Great freebies! Thanks- I'm your newest follower!
    A Burst of First

  7. What a great idea! I was trying to get my mom to toss a pink tape deck player and her tapes from when I was younger. She kept saying she was going to use them with my niece – which I said that you have to teach her the new technology! I won't even go into the fisher price record player and records she had (thought those were kinda neat though)

    1. I HAD that pink tape player – did it have a strap? Man, that was cool! And I think I had the fisher price records, too!? Were they super thick plastic? RAD!

  8. Thanks for sharing. I'm using iPods in my classroom as a listening center too. I had tons of books on CD, so I was able to just enter those into iTunes and sync to the iPods. So cool about the converter though- I never knew there was such a thing. So one question….. the cover art hasn't been magically appearing for me. How did you get the book cover art (did you have to take a picture of each, copy/paste from elsewhere)? Thanks!

    1. Aren't the iPods a lifesaver?! Sadly, the pictures won't just appear. You need to manually add those. Simply do a google image search for the book title. Right click and copy the picture. Then, once you're in iTunes, right click on the "song" & select "Get Info." You can simply pate the graphic into the Artwork tab. Hope this helps!

    1. I do use earbuds. I have a large set for the classroom, but I'm thinking of asking parents to bring in a set for their own child next year. You can also pick them up at the Dollar Tree, so I may just try that instead!

  9. How did you change the donated iPhones into "iPods" without using a data plan? I was trying to change my old iPhone, but it just comes up no service…just wanted to make sure I could get it switched over before I asked foe donations. Thank you!!

    1. Hi Sheila – Thanks for stopping by! The old iPhones will still have the "no service" symbol in the top left. Just ignore it! The apps that don't require the internet will still work (Music, notes, etc). I was actually able to ask our Tech Teacher to add our school's wireless password, so I am able to get on the internet if there's any reason I need to.

    1. we just plug ours in each night before going home…make that a classroom job…they won't forget! 🙂

  10. What a fabulous idea! I wrote a Donors Choose Grant last year and got two ipods in my room in no time flat! Of course when the iPad was added everyone lost interest in the ipods but we use them for all sorts of apps…never even considered a listening center! As a side note, I teach Primary Montessori kiddos..3-6 year olds and they have done great with our two ipods and iPads…no injuries to any of it but make sure that you have cases!

  11. Wow! What an incredible post! I love the way each of the books shows up in the music app with the cover! I guess that is a HUGE advantage of using an iPhone or iPod touch over a shuffle! Thanks for the inspiration! I'm your newest follower!

    Mrs. Beattie's Classroom

  12. I cannot thank you enough! I've heard that transferring tapes to mp3s was possible but never got around to Googling it. Moving taps to digital is one of my goals this year! It will be great not to have to continually ask for AA batteries because they are dead…again…because someone left the take on fast forward.

    BTW, I got here from the TpT blog.

    Thanks again!

  13. Molly, I started a classroom listening center with iPods last year, too. While the setup was very time consuming, it was well worth the time I spent two summers ago converting my audio tapes to mp3s. If you have chapter books in your libraries, I'd like to suggest the program Audacity. It's a free download that allows you to separate chapters into separate files. So if a child doesn't finish listening to the story in one sitting, he/she can pick up where they left off pretty easily. To do this I used an old fashioned tape deck hooked directly to my Mac with the old red, white, yellow cables we used to connect the tape deck to our stereo receiver. Hit play on the tape deck and audacity records the entire book, BUT it also allows you to easily find the "dead" spots between chapters so they can be bookmarked and copied and pasted into their own separate files. Audacity also allows you to record books and insert different sound effects as page turning prompts. Love my listening center. I asked parents to send inexpensive earbuds (from the dollar store) labeled with their child's name in a plastic snack bag (also labeled) and got a great response. Some parents generously sent in extras for the kids who didn't bring them in which I really appreciated since I don't let the kids share their earbuds. I do a mini-lesson about caring for the iPods and treating them like royalty at the beginning of the year. Caring for them, organizing them in their proper trays, and charging them is a student job. Well worth the effort. I also share my listening library on CD with my colleagues who have started their own iPod listening centers which has saved THEM a huge amount of time. I also use a Belkin iPod headphone splitter that allows up to five students to one iPod simultaneously. For that, you have to teach them to agree on the same book! Great job, Molly. If you come up with anything you think you'll need to tweak for next year, please share! Happy New Year!

  14. Just running across this post – LOVE IT!! What a FANTASTIC IDEA! One question: Your iTunes account doesn't get "mad" that you have so many devices using it? I plan to also put songs on the iPods that I have books for.

  15. I love your idea about converting old tapes into mp3 files and adding them to the ipods. I have been collecting old iphones from family members who have upgraded and I have installed educational apps and a QR reader on them so they could be used in center activities. I didn't think about adding a music folder for listening to stories. Thanks for the tip. I will have to think about trying that this year.

    Charlene/Diamond Mom
    Diamond Mom's Treasury

  16. I love this! I thought you could only have 3 devices set up per iTunes account…did you put all the iPods on the same iTunes account and plug in each one separately to transfer the books from the iTunes to the iPods? Thanks!

  17. You can also download audiobooks from your public library for free. Some are available online to download and for the ones on CD you can easily convert to MP3's with iTunes. Our library also has an annual book sale where you can get books and audiobooks was little as $.50 or a dollar.

  18. Where can you get audio books if you do not already have a bunch on CD or cassette? I am wanting to get a few iPods to use in my classroom for a listening station but am not sure where to get the audio books….

    1. You can purchase the books through the Scholastic Book order for a pretty reasonable price. Alternatively, audio books are also available on audible.com!

  19. I have purchased a converter but have not gotten to it yet. How did you put the cover of the book on the iPod? If you have step-by-step instructions could you email them to me???? Thank you!!

  20. Your blog post was one that I printed a few years ago and I kept carrying it around in my book bag waiting for me to figure out how to make this work in my classroom. I asked for parent donations and received none. So…I got on eBay and I bought 5 Iphone 4s. They were $25 a piece and worth every penny. Then I started to upload the books I had on cd. Then I got inspired. There are thousands of books being read aloud by people on YouTube. I took 150 books from my classroom library, found them being read on YouTube, converted them to an mp3 file, and put them on my phones. The kids think it’s the best ever! Thanks for the awesome idea!

  21. Wonderful idea. Looking at doing something similar for my church’s Bookstore. Thank you for sharing.

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