How to get the most from an audio cassette recorder

IN THESE DAYS OF HIGH-TECH, IT IS SOMETIMES EASY TO OVERlook old fashioned low-tech devices such as the cassette tape recorder Here are some creative new ways you can use this classroom workhorse to support preschoolers' development.

Getting Started

Every idea we suggest in this column will work with a standard $30 cassette recorder We've had great luck with the Fisher-Price Tuff Stuff Tape Recorder ($29.99; available at any toy store), which operates on batteries or an AC adapter and comes with a sing-a-long microphone. If you are interested in a rugged classroom-oriented model, you can view a nice selection (priced at $50 and up) at Unlike consumer recorders, these are not portable (they must be plugged into a power outlet), but they often have four or more headphone jacks meant for use at listening stations.

Any recorder must be child-friendly Foster independent use by labeling the buttons: a round green sticker with the word play on the play button and a red stop-sign shaped sticker on the stop/eject button. Plug a microphone (less than $10 at any electronics store) into the audio input jack so children will have an easier time making recordings.

Putting the Recorder in Action

Now that you have your recorder in tip top shape, put it to use--that is, a new use: Here are four fun ideas that support language development.

Read me a story. Whenever a guest visits your classroom to read a story aloud, make a tape so that children can listen to the story and follow along with the book. Clearly label the tapes with an icon representing the story and add them to your listening library. ("Copy protect" the tape by breaking off the tabs on top so children can't record over the story.)

It sounds like ... Play a few unique sounds (such as a dog barking) and let the children try to guess what they hear. Next, give the tape recorder to a child or group of children and ask them to record sounds for the class to identify.

The daily news. Model a news interview for children. Ask questions that will interest them, such as "What snack do you like best?" Play the recorded conversation back, then turn the tape recorder over to a child and ask her to interview another child.

My audio portfolio. Tape recorders provide the perfect means of collecting a child's first attempts at reading or his ever-changing verbal abilities. Parents love to hear their children's voices, and a tape recording of a child telling a story can become a treasured family item. Keep one 90-minute tape for each child, clearly labeled with his name and stored in a convenient cassette holder so you can grab the right tape at a moment's notice. Take care not to rewind so you don't lose irreplaceable "data."