VoiceThread: A Collaborative Tool to Integrate Language Arts and Science!

VoiceThread is a free online tool I love because of its simplicity, quick learning curve, and “use in your classroom tomorrow” capabilities! It can be described in many different ways:

  • a visual podcast that begins with an image
  • a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, student research or stories
  • a digital storytelling tool that allows students’ stories to be shared and commented on worldwide
  • an assessment tool

VoiceThread allows teachers and students to collaborate, respond, and reflect on a project by leaving comments in one of these ways:

  • voice (with a microphone or telephone)
  • text
  • audio file
  • video with a webcam

Teachers can share student research, stories, reflections, and projects with anyone globally or keep them private for just parents or selected classes to view.


HOW CAN VOICETHREAD ENHANCE STUDENT LEARNING IN K – 5 CLASSROOMS?

Imagine that your students are interested in the polar regions, polar animals, or an environmental problem in this region. They have worked diligently to gather the research, document their findings, create images or find just the right photograph, write passionately about the topic, and then what? VoiceThread provides a way to showcase their work.

Allow your students to share their work with friends, family, and other interested individuals, as this first-grade class did with polar animals.

Once students have completed a research project, allow their classmates, parents, and others to comment on the project as is happening in this fourth-grade class’s VoiceThread on polar animals. You can also use VoiceThread as your evaluation tool and comment on student research and presentations.

Consider giving your students a place to speak out about an issue such as global warming, where others can comment and add their thoughts. Check out fourth-grader Zoe’s example.

Use VoiceThread to enhance literary skills within your classroom when students create books with original drawings as this first-grade class did with their class book on penguins.

If you are just starting a project, want a way to provide instructions for a student who needs to read them more than once or for a student who has been absent, or if you will be providing resources for a substitute teacher, use VoiceThread to model the process. See this example of what one teacher did for a presentation on caribou.

If you are just starting a topic, you could create a VoiceThread with an image related to the topic and ask students to comment and then add their own images, photographs, or videos related to the new content and start their own discussions.

Working on student prediction skills? Post an experiment on VoiceThread and allow students to write their comments. Or, how about an electronic science fair on VoiceThread?

You can find more ideas at 17 Interesting Ways to use Voicethread in the Classroom, VoiceThread Examples in Education, and examples of VoiceThread projects by grade level in the resources below.


HOW TO USE VOICETHREAD

Let us look first at using VoiceThread through the eyes of a third-grade student. You may want to show your students some interesting, age-appropriate VoiceThreads to whet their appetites. (See the resource section for examples by grade level.)

When your students first enter the VoiceThread web site, they will see three buttons at the top – “Browse,” “Create,” and “MyVoice.” Let’s explore each of the buttons individually.

Browse

Use caution in allowing third graders to browse in the free version of VoiceThread as some of the comments may have language typically used by middle school and high school students. You might try browsing a specific topic, such as “dog poetry,” for which two appropriate VoiceThreads will appear. Students can then explore the two VoiceThreads, which will play automatically.

An important consideration for teachers using the tool is protecting students’ identities online. These two projects used different approaches to do so. In Dog Poetry, students recorded their voices using the teacher’s picture. In Poetry Collaboration, the students drew pictures of themselves and then scanned the pictures in so no student identity is presented. Other students used clip art, abstract art or baby pictures to create their ‘identity’ for the VoiceThread collaborations.

You can also find other age-appropriate VoiceThread examples and add them to your collection. To do this, simply find the VoiceThread you want to use, go to the last slide where you will find several options for sharing the VoiceThread. Click on the “+Add to MyVoice page” and that VoiceThread will be added to your collection.

Create

Your third-grade students will soon discover that this button will take them to a place to create their own VoiceThread. When the students click on the “Upload” button, they have the option to upload their material from one of three sources: My Computer, Media Sources, or a URL. My Computer will allow students to use folders from their computers. Once they click on an image and push the “Select” button, the image automatically goes into the VoiceThread. Media Sources allow you to use images from MyVoice, flickr, and The New York Public Library. Facebook is also listed but not used with this age level.

Please remember the copyright laws when using the URL and My Computer options. The Copyright Kids web site provides student-friendly information on the subject, as well as a page for parents and teachers and sample permission letters.

Have your students create a folder with their selected visuals prior to going onto the VoiceThread web site. You might also have them write out what they are going to say or add as text to their slide or entire VoiceThread. You might also consider having the students create a storyboard prior to working with VoiceThread if they are doing more than one slide. It may be helpful to show students an example of a storyboard or to provide blank storyboard sheets. You might also consider using free online mind mapping tools like Bubbl.us or Gliffy to create storyboards.

When students see “Comment,” they can either record their voice or type in a message (or copy and paste a previously written explanation) for the image or video. Users can record from phone, webcam, or microphone. It may be helpful to consult a short video of how to set up a microphone for the Mac or for a Windows PC. Students can use the white pencil to draw around a portion of the image or video as they are talking or writing.

Share

The final button is “Share.” The best option here is to “Get a Link” if students are going to share with family or another class. After they click on “Get a Link,” they can click on “Copy the Link” to have a link to use in email and on web pages

Only the creator can edit comments. You may want to click on “Comment Moderator” box found under “Copy The Link.” To learn more about this option, see this VoiceThread video.

There are several step-by-step tutorials for you to learn about VoiceThread. Here are a few to get you started:

One minute VoiceThread overview

VoiceThread video tutorials

VoiceThread online manuals

K-12 VoiceThread free options and resources
Like many other Web 2.0 applications, VoiceThread offers a free basic account as well as a fee-based account with unlimited creation and advanced features.


TIPS

Keep It Simple and Succeed.

Start with one image and allow students to comment on it. When students start on their own small group or individual projects, limit the number of images or videos that can be used.

Take It Slow at First.

Start with one project and work on it together as a class. Then, do a class project where each student does a ‘thread’ or slide. Then, do a project-based assignment with a small group of students working together, then go to pairs, and then to individual student projects.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

Find the images and videos and create a storyboard before going to the computers. This preparation time will save you many headaches!

Find Like-Minded Educators

Find other educators who are using VoiceThread and sharing their ideas. Here are some places to start.

Best Practices from VoiceThread 4 Education wiki

Digitally Speaking – VoiceThread


VOICETHREAD EXAMPLES BY GRADE LEVEL

VoiceThread in the Classroom
This page includes examples of VoiceThread at every grade level from Kindergarten through grade five as well as examples of content area VoiceThreads.

Kindergarten

Kindergarten Storybook
This VoiceThread displays the illustrations that students drew with author Alison Lester when she visited their school. Part of a year-long focus on storytelling.

First Grade

Fish Research
First-grade students researched fish in the library, used Paint to draw pictures of them, and then recorded their voices.

All about the Human Body
First-grade students share drawings and information about various parts of the human body, including the skeleton, heart, brain, and lungs.

First Grade Reading analysis
This VoiceThread was a culmination of a library project to help students reflect on the books they were choosing to read and why they liked them. They were also learning about story structure (i.e., plot,  problem and resolution) and identifying main characters.

Second Grade

VoiceThread Projects
View a variety of VoiceThreads, including Producers to Consumers, Camouflaging Animals, and Winter Poetry.

Third Grade

Weather: Art and Poetry
Students created crayon resist paintings of weather phenomena and wrote list poems, “I” and “You” poems, and haiku.

Friendship
This teacher used VoiceThread to help students experience deeper learning of a class topic. Students answered questions that helped them practice critical thinking, and chose images that illustrated their thoughts and ideas. The teacher describes this use as a “KWL scrapbook to evaluate students’ knowledge, to add ideas, and show what a class is learning.”

Fourth Grade

Booo…Global Warming
Fourth-grade students present a science fair/book report project.

Know Your Macros!
This VoiceThread provides an overview of aquatic macroinvertebrates that could be used before a river study or a stream ecology project.

Fifth Grade

Weird Inventions
Students view odd inventions and respond, using the following questions as guidance: Why do we invent things and how do we know when we have a good idea? Can you think of something that we need and has not yet been created?
General resources and more examples can be found at http://delicious.com/pburish1/voicethread.


This article was written by Pamela Burish. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Pamela at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright February 2010 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *