Speaking Homework: You can do that?

For a long time, I simply didn’t give homework to oral English classes because most traditional homework assignments focus on reading and writing and I want my students to develop their speaking and listening skills more than anything else. Additionally, in China, for instance, students spend a lot of time on homework given to them by their Chinese English teachers so there’s really no need to add similar activities to their workload. I had no idea what speaking homework would look like until I found VoiceThread, which I really can’t say enough good things about.

VoiceThread markets itself as a “collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos” which, as I mentioned in TESOL Connections, allows students to submit both written and oral comments. You can use VoiceThread in a number of different ways.

Firstly, you could create a slide show of pictures based on a theme you are covering in class and ask students to leave comments on one or more of the slides for homework. Initially, you might allow students to leave either written or spoken comments but, assuming students have access to the necessary equipment, you might move towards only spoken comments. Students can not only comment on the material in the slide show but also on the comments left by peers so VoiceThread brings students together to create an interactive forum. As students become more familiar with the site, they could create their own slide shows on a whole range of topics in groups, pairs, or individually. I envision students using VoiceThread for many things such as practicing describing appearance, stating opinions, giving directions, and agreeing and disagreeing.

One disadvantage to using VoiceThread in class is that you need an account, and so do all your students. Setting this up could take some time and there are limitations on the free accounts but there are also paid accounts for teachers, schools, and districts which provide far more options. Students also need to have access to a computer, Internet, speakers, and a microphone in order to fully participate so you will have find out what resources students have available to them. If your school has a library or computer lab where students can complete VoiceThread activities, that would be great to point out, especially for students who don’t have access at home.

If your students aren’t getting enough practice speaking English in class, try moving online and assign speaking homework using VoiceThread.

Do you know other websites that are good for speaking homework? Please comment to share them with me and others.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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2 Responses to Speaking Homework: You can do that?

  1. Thanks for recommending VoiceThread, I was actually just looking for a tool like this one for some of my virtual English students. It looks useful, but how did the students like it as a tool? Did they use it?

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      As with any new technology, I think that students take a while to adapt and that their tech skills and personality highly influence how they interact with tools like VoiceThread. If you are teaching students virtually, they may be more easily encouraged to use VoiceThread than students who are used to a traditional classroom setting. Regardless of whether you teach groups of students online or one-on-one classes, I think VoiceThread would be perfect for creating a sense of community among your students. They may be hesitant at first but after a couple assignments, they’ll be far more confident. Let us know how it goes, Mindy!

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