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Audio Dramatization as a Reading Comprehension Tool

Betty and Jerry Woodfill

Click here for Public Domain Reading Resources

American copyright law is partially responsible for this work. The author(s) sought engaging short stories suitable for collegiate developmental reading courses. The aim was to enhance both listening and reading skills. The initial text candidates were the vignette writings (In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash) fashioned into A Christmas Story by author Jean Shepherd.

Having kindred roots with Shepherd as a Hohmann (actually Hammond) High School Wildcat, one of the co-authors lived out his formative years, (1944 - age 2 through 1960 - age 17) a mere five miles from the birthplace of Ralphie’s fabled "Red Rider Lightning Loader Range Model 200 Shot Air Rifle."

Shepherd's tales are in the "Coming of Age" genre, extremely popular among readers of all ages. These delightful anecdotes of the 1940s offered ideal candidates for a study of oral versus read comprehension. Their humor and entertaining content were fraught with powerful vocabulary building prose lending to an average twenty word-list per story. Especially suitable was Shepherd’s account, Amateur Night at the Orpheum, an amusing description of the talent show at the Orpheum Theatre in Hohmann, Indiana. (actually it's Hessville which is a suburb of Hammond, Indiana) The operative concept was to memorize the account, perform it as a dramatic, standup Shep-like performance then immediately test class retention with twenty multiple choice questions. Subsequently, another class section would read the same narrative then answer the test questions without the benefit of either the oral presentation or readable text.

Because Jean Shepherd’s stories have endearing charm for a broad age, social, racial, and educational audience, they seemed ideal for the project. However copyright law posed a dilemma. Their use in the classroom in either printed or acted form required copyright approval. Additionally, multiple copies for large classes need be purchased by both students and the project authors.

After reading virtually all of Shepherd’s works dealing with his beloved denizens of Hohmann, Indiana, the co-author Jerry Woodfill cloned Shepherd’s writing, vocabulary, and anecdotes in A Christmas Story fashion. Similarly to Shep’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, Jerry Woodfill's clone was titled One Nation Under God, Others Choose Your Own Deity. The book of short stories has 35 vignettes. These are mostly non-fiction incidents of 5 to 15 pages. They, like Jean Shephard's tales, could be performed or read to or by the class. Along with corresponding comprehension, spelling and vocabulary tests, each offered sufficient content for a single 55 minute class period.

While Shep's style is oftimes too graphic language-wise for the young reader, those penned by Jerry Woodfill avoid the kind of "earthiness" which contributed to "Catcher in the Rye's" popularity as "Coming of Age" offerings.

After considerable editing of the stories’ text, the compellation became a self published 240 page book. In the interim, one of the co-authors became a full time instructor at a local community college teaching developmental reading/writing. Based on her course content, she, as co-author, tuned the content from 13 of the short stories for class application. The selections highlighted (1) inference, (2) critical analysis (3) empathy (4) comprehension (5) mood (6) tone (7) argument and (8) vocabulary.

Prior to applying the concept in the classroom, the authors produced audio CDs of each story. Instructors would benefit having the stories readily available via an inexpensive CD player for class use or simply downloading them from the www.drugfreereading.com website. Likewise printable versions of each of the twelve stories along with vocabulary and comprehension tests are resident at the website. All twelve are in the public domain offered freely.

Introductory Prologue for Instructor's Class Use

To hear Jerry's Christmas Story click here.

The informational introduction which follows should be read or played prior to conducting the exercises:

Have you seen that classic yuletide Jean Shepherd movie A Christmas Story? It’s an infectious experience. Most don’t know that the plot is a compilation of author Jean Shepherd’s short stories composed about his youth in Hammond, Indiana. Hammond was the actual name of Shep’s fictional Hohman.

I found the movie and stories so enjoyable that I authored an unpublished book - ONE NATION UNDER GOD as both a tribute to Jean Shepherd’s story telling but also as a memoir of the Brantwoodians, my Indiana caste. We were the landed gentry, (80 foot wide lots) compared to Shep’s Denizens of the Open Hearth, the steelworkers of Hessville. I deemed them the Hessvillites, as in Amalekites, Jebusites, inglorious tribal names. Our Brantwoodian kingdom of a half square mile was graced by the boundary of Wicker Park, Highway 6 and 41 and the infamous CREEK. This, being only 5 miles, as the crow flies from Shepland, the Hammond suburb of Hessville, Indiana, seemed a worthy subject of satire. Like Jean Shepherd, I was a Hammond High School Wildcat, only a score of years later. But I hoped to capture Shep’s irreverent, lofty style of writing and speaking. Like him, my sentences are oftimes paragraphs long employing archaic and often self-coined adjectives and ever present mockery of the pompous. I tried to ply exaggeration, understatement, and self-deprecation as does he. (*For a wealth of information on Jean Shepherd, his life, works, and surroundings, visit this excellent web site "A Salute to Jean Shepherd.")

About the Movie: A Christmas Story

Click here to view A Christmas Story's Trailer

The authors would encourage asking class members to view the video, A CHRISTMAS STORY. The 1983 movie is readily available on DVD or VHS. Though most students have seen the movie, a fresh viewing is helpful to encourage interest in the workbook accounts and questions, especially since the author Jerry Woodfill’s stories have similar tone and setting as the movie. Note: Care must be exercised not to show A Christmas Story in violation of copyright laws. However, there is limited permission when specified educational criteria are met which enable a classroom showing:

Under the "Educational Exemption" copyrighted entertainment movies may be shown in a school without copyright permission only if all criteria are met:
• A teacher or instructor is present
• The showing takes place in a classroom setting with only the enrolled students attending
• The movie is used as an essential part of the core, current curriculum being taught. (The instructor should be able to show how the use of the motion picture contributes to the overall required course study and syllabus.)
• The movie being used is a legitimate copy, not taped from a legitimate copy or taped from TV

For specific requirements, please reference The Copyright Act of 1976, Public Law No. 94-553, 90 stat 2541: Title 17; Section 110(i), or consult your copyright attorney.

Finally, One Nation Under God (Others Choose Your Own Deity) treats author Jerry Woodfill’s Brantwoodians forbearers in the same way Jean Shepherd characterizes his beloved denizens of the open hearth, the steelworkers of Hammond, Indiana. The study/project begins with the experience of the Nurse’s Office. The date was November, 1952, the settting 8728 Woodward Ave., Highland, Indiana, Brantwood suburbia: (Having read the above, the instructor can launch the exercises and resouces found below.)

Operational, Instructional, and Content Solutions

When class numbers are large, the use of copyrighted materials is especially challenging. For the comprehension comparison study, the solution was the creation of a tri-fold booklet composed of both the stories and corresponding tests. (See the accompanying photos) By judiciously selecting font size, each of the 35 stories was fashioned into an 8.5” X 14” duplex tri-fold. Likewise was each of the corresponding question/vocabulary list worksheets duplex printed and tri-folded. Since the presentation of each story was either orally read aloud (or played via the CD player) or read silently, the number of printed copies need only equal the largest class size. Because all the tests were multiple choice, inexpensive notebook paper served as answer sheets. With most computer printers capable of using 8.5” x 14” paper, duplexing is achieved by simply selecting the word processor’s printer’s odd page option and page number for one side of the sheet then turning the printed sheet over and selecting the even option with the subsequent even page number. For the cost of two sheets of legal sized paper, a single student has both the text and test for a class session. (Of course, the stories and corresponding tests are available as a digital Word File formatted for legal size paper.) Click here to access the printable 8.5" X 14" stories and tests.

With copyright and cost challenges dealt with, the author(s)’ interaction with the developmental student population began. A number of questions remained, (1) Were the stories compelling enough to hold the hearers or readers’ attention? (2) Was the content, based on the author’s world view, appropriate [ Indeed, even Shepherd’s writings and oral programs can challenge content censors. ] Because of the age of those enrolled in developmental college reading classes ( post high school to adults) this was somewhat mitigated. However, reviewers were asked to comment and edits were made accordingly.

This was the process which resulted in the following summary:

* * * * *

Results Summary

The Approach

The subjects of the study numbered approximately 40 students of a reading developmental education program of a local community college. A broad range of ages, occupation and educational status comprised the test population.

At the onset, the study approach was conducted as described above with:

(1) subsequent classes and class sessions tested on the orally performed then read versions of the short stories. The oral vs. read scenarios were interchanged between classes to normalize the data.

(2) While the initial stories were performed via an inexpensive audio CD player, plans were for later live oral presentations/recitations by the stories’ author. Plans were for assessing the advantage, or disadvantage, of the live-oral presentation approach, i.e., live versus audio CD.

(3) Additionally, effort was undertaken to examine results based on the content of the stories, i.e., the entertainment effect. Colleagues and friends were consulted, asked to read the subject stories and grade their “interest value” respectively. This assessment was to be correlated with oral and read class presentation results.

Comments: At the onset, no grades were given the students in the interest of engendering cooperation. Later plans were for a daily grade to be entered based on the multiple choice comprehension and vocabulary tests.

Predictions versus Results

The authors went beyond the developmental college population, asking friends and other groups to participate in the study. Among the stories used were: The Spalding 7 and the Titleist 3:23, The Across the Tracks Girl, The Dirty, Disgusting, and Diseased, He’ll Blow His Fingers Off, The Nurse’s Office, and The Battle of the Alimentary Canal. Initially, it was thought that the most entertaining of the 35 samples were deemed too long (25+ minutes) for groups to hear or read at a single sitting, in or out of class. However, based on the entertainment content, this was not the case. Additionally, it was discovered that the prospect of the comprehension test greatly encouraged interested listening and reading.

At the onset, it was predicted that the audio versions would reap the best retention. However, in some cases, this was not so. A former elementary school reading teacher of minority students (one of the original Brantwoodians) listened to the complete set of audios then read the published version. Her assessment was that the published version was altogether more engaging. Additionally, a friend of the authors, an excellent grammarian, scored poorly on the comprehension test after hearing one of the audio tracks. Puzzled, the authors sought an explanation. “I’m a sight not an audio learner explained their friend.” Obviously, this was an issue that would significantly skew results, a factor needing attention as the study progressed.

Future Plans

The co-authors chose to install the stories and audio files on-line at:


This would benefit the Developmental Education user community in keeping with the two fold objective for the study: (1) to provide public domain non-copy-righted resources for developmental education use, and (2) to make available inexpensive reproducible class materials.

Click the story name below for a printed narrative. Click the corresponding time to listen to an .mp3 audio narrative of the story. A .wav audio file is accessed by clicking the word .wav after the listed time for the .mp3 audio version. The .wav file may be copied onto an audio cdrom for playing the story in class on an inexpensive portable audio CD player.

Below are the listed test story candidates employed in the study as .htm files:
Story . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Audio Play Time (download may take several minutes)
1. The Nurse’s Office. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25:56 .mp3, .wav file
2. The Across the Tracks Girl . . . . . . . . . . . . 17:51 .mp3,.wav file
3. The Dirty, Disgusting and Diseased . . . . . . 27:57 .mp3 .wav file
4. What Dad Never Taught Me . . . . . . . . . . 30:28 .mp3, .wav file
5. He’ll Blow His Fingers Off . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9:51 .mp3, .wav file
6. The Ledger. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20:33 .mp3, .wav file
7. The Spalding 7 and Titleist 3:23 . . . . . . . . 16:58 .mp3, .wav file
8. The Brantwoodian Villain . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12:55 .mp3, .wav file
9. The Rock and Roll Hall of Shame . . . . . . . 11:15 .mp3
10. The Town Theater . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17:50 .mp3, .wav file
11. Battle of the Alimentary Canal . . . . . . . . . 10:58 .mp3, .wav file
12. The Report Card . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25:17 .mp3, .wav file
13. The Schwinn Panther (A Christmas story written in the fashion of Jean Shepherd)

Printable Resources for Class Use

The Microsoft word booklet is formatted for 8.5 X 14 inch legal size paper. By selecting the desired narrative and corresponding questions the above stories can be used in a classroom setting via printed copies for each student. Included are answer sheets so that the legal sized copies can be reused for each class with only the answer sheets being expendable. Simply select the page desired, place legal size paper in the printer and print the number of copies corresponding to the largest class. Flip the copies over and select the page number of the opposite side of the desired hand-out, printing the same number of copies corresponding to the largest class size. This is the link to the printable narratives, exercises, and answer sheets.

Each of the 13 stories and corresponding exercises (comprehension questions) are printable as .pdf files here (Legal Size Paper Format)

Printable lesson answer sheets and vocabulary tests
(printable on legal Size 8/5" X 14" paper[cuttable into three sheets per page])

Printable Teachers' Edition of Exercises (pdf file) (Book Format [5.5" X 8.5" Format: 193 Pages])

Table of Contents

The files which follow can be displayed with a class on-line computer then video projected for the students

Below are the public domain files chosen for the Retention/Comprehension Study.

NOTE: Answers to the comprehension questions are not listed on the website but can be obtained by request to the e-mail address: woodfill@spaceacts.com. In order to avoid students obtaining answers without reading the stories, this is the approach being taken. The answers will be e-mailed as a WORD attachment to the e-mail address of those instructors requesting the comprehension question answer key.

  • Story Title . . . . .Comprehension Questions . . . . . . Vocabulary Test/Answer Sheets.....Audio Play File

  • (audio mp3 file downloads may take several minutes)

    (Click to choose: The italicized printed narrative, Comprehension Questions, Answer Sheet and Vocabulary Test or the .mp3 audio narrative download file. Note: The content is directly printable on 8.5' x 11" notebook size paper, i.e., the files are in the .htm format unlike the printable WORD format files used above for three copies per sheet on legal size printer paper.)

  • 1. The Nurse’s Office: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 25:56
  • 2. The Across the Tracks Girl: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 17:51
  • 3. The Dirty, Disgusting and Diseased:: Comprehension Questions, Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 27:57
  • 4. What Dad Never Taught Me: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 30:28
  • 5. He’ll Blow His Finger Off: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 9:51
  • 6. The Ledger: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 20:33
  • 7. The Spalding 7 and Titleist 3:23: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 16:58
  • 8. The Brantwoodian Villain: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 12:55
  • 9. The Rock 'n Roll Hall of Shame: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 11:15
  • 10. The Town Theator: Comprehension Questions:
  • Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 17:50
  • 11. Battle of the Alimentary Canal: Comprehension Questions: Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 10:58
  • 12. The Report Card: Comprehension: Questions Answer Sheet with Vocabulary Test: 25:17
  • 13. The Schwinn Panther (A Christmas story written in the fashion of Jean Shepherd's A CHRISTMAS STORY): 20:04

  • Introduction of the Developmental Reader to a Novel

    After employing the above resources, instructors often would want to introduce developmental readers to a novel. The novel which follows is offered as a resource for this purpose. It is an excellent "Coming of Age" novel for elementary, college, and older students. Avoiding the "earthy" language of novels like "Catcher in the Rye", it achieves similar supportive wonder among readers of all ages. Additionally, it is in the public domain. Click on its title below to access its text for reading.


    The Eagle Has Landed

    A Brantwoodian Leaves Brantwood


    by Jerry Woodfill

    A Novel Offered for Reading Comprehension Development with Exercises

    Click here for a printable .pdf version of the novel with exercise questions.

    Click here for a printable .pdf version of the novel without exercise questions.

    E-Mail Address for exercise question answers: woodfill)spaceacts.com

    About the Co-authors:

    Betty and Jerry Woodfill

    Betty and Jerry Woodfill Picture

    Betty and Jerry Woodfill have been married for 43 years. They have two married sons, Jared, an attorney, and Matt, a pastor. While Betty is from Nacogdoches, Texas, Jerry is a native of Indiana. Attending Rice University on a basketball scholarship, Jerry met Betty, an elementary school teacher, after graduating as an electrical engineer and joining NASA.

    Betty Woodfill entered the field of developmental education as an adjunct instructor at San Jacinto College (Central) in Pasadena, Texas. After serving 14 years in an adjunct capacity, she was selected as a full time faculty member of the San Jacinto Language Skills department in 2006. In that capacity, Betty participated in a number of national and state conventions gleaning ideas about improving student comprehension, retention and writing skills.

    Simultaneously, Jerry continued his work at NASA which began in the mid 1960s as the Apollo Program warning system engineer. However, in recent years, he devoted a portion of his time to educational outreach for the space agency.

    By conducting this study comparing oral comprehension/retention to read comprehension/retention, the couple was able to combine Betty’s reading/writing experience with Jerry’s speaking, writing and educational outreach. Perhaps, the most beneficial aspect of the study was providing freely available drug-free-reading resources for the developmental education community. As such, the published resources clone interactive digital (DVD and Internet) products and techniques innovated by Jerry for the SPACE EDUCATORS' HANDBOOK PROJECT of NASA's JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, HOUSTON, TEXAS. NASA's official designation for that project is: OMB/NASA Report #S677. The Space Educators' Handbook is resident on the Internet at: http//er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/

    E-Mail Address for Questions: woodfill)spaceacts.com

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