Global Connections with VoiceThread

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Jennifer Starkey.

For the past few months I have had the privilege of being involved in a teacher professional development program called Finnish Connections, Collections, and Reflections at North Carolina State University. One of the goals in this program is for the participants to connect with other cultures through global, collaborative, classroom projects.

For our project, I worked with my colleague Andrea Echols who is a second grade teacher and also part of the Finnish Connections program. Finding a teacher to collaborate with, especially when we limited ourselves to one country proved to be a bit challenging. We were members of several online classroom connection sites but actually ended up meeting Noora Malkavaara, a fourth grade teacher in Finland, through Twitter.

The idea for our project was for the students in each classroom to get to know each other. What was a typical school day like for our students and what was a typical day like for the students in Finland? Our students were curious about what the Finnish students liked and if they would have anything in common with students across the globe.

To accomplish this, I wanted to use a tool that would allow the students to interact with each other as much as possible. Because of the time difference and our school schedules, live video communication would not work and letter writing would take too long for the short time we had to complete the project. We discussed several options but I felt that VoiceThread was the only tool that could do everything we wanted. Noora had never used VoiceThread and was a bit hesitant but once she began working with it and experienced how simple and user friendly it is she agreed that it was the best choice.

VoiceThread’s versatility in giving the user choices in how they present their information by text, voice recording or video allowed the students to participate in the way they were most comfortable. Some of the Finnish students were nervous about speaking English so being able to type their responses allowed them to confidently participate. As the project progressed it was wonderful to see some students take chances and while they may have typed their first comments, they decided to try voice and video for others. VoiceThread also gives the option of being able to directly reply to comments so the students could have conversations and answer specific questions. The finishing touch was to make our profile pictures the flags of our countries so anyone viewing our project could immediately see which comments were from which country.

We began by taking pictures of our students during their daily routines such as arrival at school, lunch, recess, math, music, etc. Noora shared her pictures with me and I used different online tools to collage her pictures together with the pictures of our students. Each collage was loaded as a slide into VoiceThread. The students chose the daily activities they wanted to describe, wrote out and practiced what they were going to say, and recorded their information on the corresponding picture slide.


When the project was complete and our students were able to see the final VoiceThread they were glued to the screen. They were excited, surprised and awestruck by what they learned. When asked if they would do another project like this they overwhelmingly said, “YES!” Learning about another country and culture was the highlight of their year and VoiceThread is the tool that made it happen.

For me, the best part of the whole experience is that the VoiceThread can continue to be used for our students to learn about each other. Noora’s and Andrea’s next class of students can watch, add their own comments to the project and communicate with each other throughout the school year and this year’s students can revisit the project at any time.


About the Author:

Jennifer Starkey is the Instructional Technology Facilitator at Holly Grove Elementary School in North Carolina. You can follow her on Twitter @JennStar11 or her blog (which she has been neglecting but promises to get back to) Technology Adventures.

Using VoiceThread to Help Students Prepare for Interviews

This is a guest post by Instructor and VoiceThread Certified Educator, Dr. Kathy Melago.


With modern technology, the job interview process frequently begins with a phone or video interview. As the head of our music education program, I work closely with our students as they look for jobs and prepare for interviews. While I have conducted live mock interviews in the past, one thing I had not done previously was to help students practice phone and video interviews, yet those are usually the screening interviews that actually get applicants to the in-person interviews. VoiceThread was the perfect tool for me to practice phone and video interviews with my students.

For my capstone project in the VoiceThread Certified Educator program, I created a VoiceThread for my current student teachers to practice both phone and video (Skype, FaceTime, etc.) interviews. While the VoiceThread I created here is geared toward the music education job search, it could easily be used as a model for other fields.

Please note that for privacy reasons, this VoiceThread does not include the student responses:


Each student under my supervision for student teaching was required to participate in the VoiceThread. After answering the two interview questions with comment moderation enabled, the students received feedback from me and from John Snyder, the associate director of our university Office of Career Education and Development. We gave our feedback in threaded (not private) comments to each student and then I removed comment moderation so all participants could learn from the interview question responses given by their peers and from the feedback given by Mr. Snyder and me. The students were encouraged to provide additional feedback to their peers via VoiceThread.

Some key features that made this VoiceThread close to an authentic interview process are:

* I used comment moderation so the students could not hear what others had said and allow what they had heard to influence their responses.

* I set the settings to prevent the students from being able to delete their own comments. I did this because in an interview setting, the first response will be the one that counts.

* I had the students use the phone-in comment option to practice answering a phone interview question. I did that because sometimes, people are not aware of the quality (or lack thereof) of the phone they use in an interview or what it will be like to hold a phone or use a hands-free device during an interview.

* I had the students use the video comment option to practice answering a video interview question so we could also give feedback about camera quality, background, lighting, and other relevant issues.

I was pleased to see that the student teachers took this assignment very seriously, dressing professionally for the video interviews and giving well-prepared responses to the questions. I believe that the feedback Mr. Snyder and I provided to the students was useful to them and hopefully helped them avoid some of the typical stumbling blocks people face in their first interviews. Finally, conducting this VoiceThread interview practice early in the spring semester enabled the students to get a head start on preparing to answer interview questions. VoiceThread was the perfect tool to help me take my ability to mentor my students through the job search process to the next level by using the features I mentioned above to give them mock interview practice and it was easy to accomplish. A win-win for everyone!



About the author: Dr. Kathy Melago is associate professor of music education at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, where she has served as the head of the music education program since 2009. She actively seeks creative ways to teach music online and uses those ideas in her face-to-face and online classes. Kathy is a VoiceThread Certified Educator.



Using VoiceThread as an Ice Breaker Assignment

This is a guest post by Instructor and VoiceThread Certified Educator, Curtis Izen.


One of the issues with online pedagogy is truly knowing and identifying who your students are. The students are in an analogous situation. As instructors, we are supplied with a list of names, id numbers, etc., but very little about the individual. The students probably know very little about the instructor other than what they see on Rate My Professor or social media. How can the instructor effectively get to know more about their students and vice-versa?

In my online class, everyone has an opportunity to learn about their classmates and instructor. A quick way to accomplish this is through VoiceThread. My week 1 ice breaker assignment is creating a VoiceThread where I introduce myself in about a 2 minute video. I talk about my education, work experience and interests outside of academia. Having a video and talking to the students creates a presence that makes the students feel more relaxed. This in turn engenders a classroom atmosphere.

Once the students watch my introductory video, they are required to make a video comment. This video comment requires that they introduce themselves, their background, major, work experience, outside interests, etc. This is a good way for the students to test VoiceThread using their technology. It also allows those students who may not be comfortable speaking in front of a camera to break out of their comfort zone. Since VoiceThread is used for many more assignments during the course, this is a great way to get started and make certain everything works as expected.

The next task of the assignment is for each of the classmates to listen to their classmate’s video comment. The students are then required to reply to one of the video comments using either a video or voice comment. What I truly appreciate is how this creates a connection among the students that other otherwise couldn’t happen. I have seen classmates who have been in prior classes’ together, work in the same industry, live in the same town, etc.

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Screenshot of my one slide introductory video and those students who have commented

Once students complete this assignment they are ready for future VoiceThreads including any project that involves group work. When teams need to be made up, the students already have a good sense of who their peers are. There is no random guesswork in choosing their groups. Everyone has a true personality.

Using VoiceThread for this introductory assignment generates a great experience among the students. They really feel part of the class and are more engaged in the course as a result. The physical limitations that are hindering an online course can be removed by creating a virtual presence.


About the Author: Curtis Izen is a senior information associate and VoiceThread Certified Educator. Curtis adjuncts online and face to face courses at Baruch College and the School of Professional Studies at the City University of New York. Curtis is passionate on bringing new philosophies and technology into the curriculum. He is a 2 time recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching and Pedagogy at Baruch College.

Can Algorithms Replace Teachers?

It seems like every week there is a new story about how computer algorithms are the future of teaching and learning. We read about how software can personalize education, differentiate instruction, provide mounds of data for administrators and revolutionize our lives. We hear about how students can open an app, view a playlist of videos that can teach them biology, calculus, literature and a host of other subjects. We know that jobs that human beings used to do are now executed by machines (like ATMs replacing bank tellers) and it gives us pause. Are teachers really important? Can algorithms do a better job than human teachers?


Content is everywhere. Kids can Google any facts they could ever want. They can watch videos, read blog posts, play educational games and consume content wherever they are, whenever they feel like it. But is consuming content the same as learning? Teaching and learning isn’t about content delivery, but advocates of algorithms ironically reinforce this 20th century narrative.

At VoiceThread, we believe that this logic is based on the marriage of an enthusiasm for modern technology and outdated understanding of what teaching and learning actually means. Learning isn’t about consuming content. Learning is about applying content, repeatedly practicing, and receiving feedback from an expert. In other words, practice + feedback = learning. Consuming content is the same as simply reading the instructions. Content is a preliminary step, not a complete system of learning.

In the future, your students may consume all of their content through automated software like Khan Academy and they may be able to take multiple choice tests to see if they can remember the facts but that isn’t the same thing as learning. Without practice and feedback those facts will fade quickly. Anyone who has ever crammed for a test and forgotten all of it within days already knows this.

We have no problem with tools like Khan Academy. In fact, you can pull Khan Academy videos right into your VoiceThreads to share content with your students easily. But we believe sharing a video tutorial is not enough. The role of the modern teacher may not be to deliver a lecture anymore, but that does not mean that an algorithm can replace that teacher. What happens after the student watches the video? Is the video going to watch them practice applying what they heard in other contexts? Is the video going to give them quality feedback on that practice? No, but a teacher will. Teaching is about the human connections you have with your students. It is about knowing their interests, connecting new knowledge to those interests and guiding them through personalized feedback.

VoiceThread aims to support those human connections, not replace them. Listening to your students’ hesitation, seeing their facial expressions, and using that information to guide them in the right direction matters. Algorithms might replace the lecture, but delivering a lecture was never at the core of learning and that’s not going to change just because students have smartphones. Devices are great and technology is great, but human teachers are vital to a student’s progress and they always will be.


Conversations in the Cloud in Chinese

This is a guest post by Educator and VoiceThreader, Mary Ellen Davies

How do you connect four Chinese classes from two schools located in different states who meet at completely different times? Why, ​VoiceThread o​f course!

When learning a new language, it is important to speak that language as much as possible! World Language instruction has evolved to focus on a communicative approach. Students communicate in the target language with their teachers and classmates but rarely have the opportunity to connect with other target language learners.

This winter, Wenhui Liu, the Chinese teacher at Hillsborough Middle School in Hillsborough NJ, approached Mary Ellen Davies, a Computer Support Teacher at Hillsborough Middle School, about making a connection with the Chinese teacher from Wilson School District in West Lawn, PA. We discussed connecting students live via Google Hangouts for a conversation in Chinese. After a few emails between Mary Ellen and Rick Lapi, Instructional Technology Integration Coach for the Wilson School District, we realized this connection could not happen live. Shortly after this exchange and quick brainstorming session with George Haines, Instructional Designer for VoiceThread, the idea of connecting these classes using VoiceThread w​as born.

We worked together to create a group in VoiceThread​ that students from all four classes joined, to establish partnerships between Hillsborough and Wilson students, to create a presentation that included the names of each partner, and then the students got to work.

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Hillsborough students went first and recorded a few sentences about themselves in Chinese and asked a few questions of their partners from Wilson. A week later, Hillsborough students were so excited to receive responses to their questions from their partners from Wilson.


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VoiceThread provided students from Hillsborough and Wilson School Districts the opportunity to communicate in Chinese in the cloud. To find out how VoiceThread c​an help your students have a conversation in the cloud, click h​ere!​



About the Author:

Mary Ellen Davies is a Computer Support Teacher at Hillsborough Middle School in Hillsborough, NJ. Prior to this, she taught German for 8 years. She is a VoiceThread Certified Educator.

Using VoiceThread for Online Courses

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Dr. Maureen Cuevas.

Teaching in an online asynchronous format for the national MSW program at Our Lady of the Lake University, I have come to depend on Voice thread in every class I teach. And as we redevelop our courses to make them more interactive, I recommend to every faculty member that they try to use the incredible power of this tool in each class.

I first learned about Voice Thread in a faculty development seminar with our instructional designers in Fall 2014. Immediately I loved it. We were trying to find ways to connect ourselves and our students more “naturally” which can be difficult in an asynchronous program and Voice Thread looked like a way we could do just that.

Developing a Program Evaluation course at the time, I decided to use Voice Thread to have students “real play” the role of Program Evaluator and present to the “Board of Directors” the different components of the evaluation they are conducting. So they first start off with the evaluation question they’ve developed and guide the Board through the types and means of data being collected. Then their peers, who have to watch and respond to the videos of two other students using video in Voice Thread, play the role of the Board of Directors and ask whatever questions they have or making comments that are intended to improve the program evaluation as well as the presentation style and performance of the student initially presenting.

The students LOVE this. They can start an actual “conversation” talking back and forth through video and actually connect with one another and with me since I do the same thing and respond to what each one has posted, giving feedback and asking questions. Their feedback says that they feel much more strongly connected to their peers after doing these presentations for one another and that they feel like they are more prepared to do presentation when they get out into the field.

The whole assignment actually has three different presentations over the course of the eight week term. So they are interacting just about every other week, and many of them choose to respond to the same peers every time so that a relationship is built through the process.

One of the other pieces it allows me to address with the students is professionalism and their presentation skills. Sometimes students need to be told things like “don’t present in your pajamas” or “yes, your dog is cute, but I shouldn’t see it in your video.” I want them to really own the professionalism of the program evaluator role and present accordingly. And it is amazing to see the differences between the first video they do and the last one. Most of them gain a lot of self confidence in the process and increase their presentation skills immensely.

I use Voice Thread in other classes as well. In one class, they are presenting to a funding source to try to persuade them to fund their campaign about a personally chosen social justice issue. In another, they present a family interview and solicit feedback from the other “clinicians” in the class about what direction to take with future interventions. Like a case staffing would be at an agency, just taking place virtually. All of these activities help students to develop more fully their social work skills and to practice things they will be done in their jobs as social workers while getting feedback relatively safely from their peers. And again, they love it!

I’m going to add a Voice Thread assignment to every class I teach from now on! I even use it in my face-to-face classes so students can become comfortable with some of the same skills and with the technology. As we move further into the digital age, they will be faced with new and different technology all the time and being comfortable using different types will help them to adapt more readily in the future.

About the author:

 thumbnail_Cuevas, Mo

Mo Cuevas, Ph.D., LCSW has taught online for years, first in a hybrid BSW program at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas for 12 years. And now for two years at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. The Lake, as it is referred to, has a large online asynchronous MSW program with more than 800 students. So finding ways to make their classes come alive is really important to Mo.

Mo received her MSSW from UT-Austin in 1989 and her PhD, also from UT, in 2002.  Her areas of social work practice have included working with adolescents, working with survivors of childhood abuse, managing nonprofit agencies and counseling individuals, groups and families. She has written about social work education and freshman success in college. You can follow her on twitter or facebook to learn more.


VoiceThread Roadmap for 2016


With every decision and update, we’re committed to making VoiceThreading easier, more versatile, and more powerful. We want to share with you how far we’ve come and where we’re headed in the second half of 2016.

What’s new?


Threaded Commenting ThreadedBlack

Make your VoiceThread conversations, presentations, and assessments even richer and more interactive with:

The New VoiceThread VT-40

We redesigned VoiceThread top to bottom.  It’s simpler, faster, and more deeply integrated.  We included dozens of new features and a streamlined interface.  100% of all VoiceThreaders moved to the new version by the start of 2016.

Learn more

Deeper LMS Integration Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.15.12 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.17.27 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.16.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.18.36 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.20.54 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.20.04 PM

  • Easily copy and re-use VoiceThread templates
  • Never leave the course space to set up, submit, or grade assignments
  • Allow students to re-submit assignments as necessary

Learn more

Customized Group Space Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 7.44.03 AM

Upload a custom banner to your group space, manage the content there more easily, and share VoiceThreads with your group without ever leaving it.

Accessibility Updates Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.27.29 PM

Higher Quality Central Media Files

We revamped how media uploads are processed. Images and documents are displayed in higher resolution and videos are played back in higher definition and true full screen.  Check out the video quality here!

VoiceThread Certified Educator Course VT-CE

Become a certified VoiceThread expert by taking our intensive certification course for educators.  Learn how and why to use VoiceThread and how to engage your students.  Dozens of educators have already been certified.

Click here to put your name on the wait list for the next cohort!

MOOC Support Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.32.04 PM

VoiceThread has been used in several successful MOOCs.  With customized group spaces, flexible conversation spaces, and strong support, many instructors have brought a more intimate and human experience to their large online courses.

Assessment 322481-scales

A combination of Comment Moderation, preventing participants from deleting their comments, and a simple grading interface that integrates with your LMS gradebook makes VoiceThread an ideal way to assess student understanding.

Infrastructure and Security  Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 12.36.29 PM

Ensuring that the VoiceThread platform is robust and secure is a never-ending job. Some major projects this year have included stronger protection against XSS, SSRF, and CSRF attacks, better intrusion detection, and enhanced protections against accidental or malicious deletion of user content. This coming year we’ll make improvements to encryption, including encryption at rest, test and retest infrastructure and risk management programs, and add additional layers to our defense-in-depth approach to security of the platform.


Upcoming in 2016

Mobile Updates

Upload video into your VoiceThreads, access documents and other files from your device, receive notifications more easily on your mobile devices, and grade student work more easily when you access VoiceThread through your LMS.

Retrieving Deleted Work – Complete!

When you delete a VoiceThread, you usually intended to delete it.  Sometimes, however, you need to get that deleted content back. Soon you will be able to “un-delete” a recently deleted VoiceThread so you don’t lose that work permanently.

Self-repair Sharing – Complete!

Have you ever tried to open a VoiceThread only to find that it hasn’t been shared with you yet?  We want to make that a thing of the past.  VoiceThreads still have to be shared with you, but we’ll provide a one-click way to request access to the VoiceThread from its author.

Accessibility Updates

We always develop with accessibility for all users in mind. This year we’ll be adding the ability to share VoiceThreads securely in VT Universal and explore adding more closed caption options.

Role-based Sharing

Assign different permissions to different members in a group.  You might want instructors and TAs to be editors of a VoiceThread while students can only comment.  With role-based sharing, you can easily make sure everyone has the access they need.

Simplified Sharing with Parents

Ed.VoiceThread helps keep students secure, but you also need a way to easily include parents in your students’ work. Soon you’ll be able to have parents join a VoiceThread Group to view and comment on their children’s work.

Create Audio Slides – Complete!

Use your microphone to record a simple audio slide without having to upload any visual media.  This is a quick and easy way to kick off a conversation.

Re-use Slides and Comments

Import slides from one VoiceThread into another to more easily re-use past work and merge VoiceThreads.

Kaltura Integration – Complete!

Integrate VoiceThread with your institution’s Kaltura License to quickly and easily pull your video content into VoiceThread.  This is a great way to have dynamic conversations around the content you’re already creating.

YouTube Integration – Complete!

YouTube import, one of VoiceThread’s most requested features, is here!  Import a video from YouTube into VoiceThread using the URL option when creating slides.

Google Drive Integration

Import your documents and other Google Drive files into VoiceThread. Any files that VoiceThread can accept normally can be imported from your Drive, including your active documents!

Better Email Support for Integration

We’ll be building better support for direct links in email notifications so that even institutions with complex integrations can access their accounts directly from those messages.

Sub-groups – Complete!

Organize your large courses into smaller groups of students, create individual groups for specific assignments, or organize your course by week by creating sub-groups within your main course group.

Faster Access to Unheard Comments – Complete!

Quickly and easily jump to the first unheard or unseen comment on your VoiceThread by simply clicking on the yellow new-comment notification.  This will help you save time when you have a lot of new comments to view.

Upgrades to the Custom Homepage – Complete!

Schools, districts, departments, and institutions with VoiceThread Licenses can build a customized webpage at their VoiceThread domain.  We’ll be expanding this to be a simpler and more manageable interface that beautifully showcases your VoiceThread content.

Limiting Commenting Options – Complete!

One of the great aspects of VoiceThread is the multiple means of commenting.  Anyone can use voice, text, or video.  Sometimes, however, you want to limit that so students can only record audio comments, or only text comments. No matter what your needs are, you’ll be able to decide exactly which commenting options are available to your participants.

VoiceThread Contest


What is a ThreadTalk?
A ThreadTalk is a great presentation plus a great conversation. TED talks, PechaKucha presentations, and Ignite presentations are all ways to broadcast knowledge to an audience. ThreadTalks deliver your presentation and then engage the audience in a conversation. It’s when the sage on the stage steps down, pulls up a chair, and sits eye to eye with the people in the room.
We believe this follow up conversation is where real change takes place, where progress is made, and where our ideas are honed into something more useful.

What are the contest rules?
Create a VoiceThread that meets the guidelines for a ThreadTalk:

  • Entries must be submitted by June 1st, 2016
  • The presentation portion of your VoiceThread must be 5 minutes or less
  • The conversation must include at least 3 participants

All you need to do is submit your ThreadTalk below. The top five winners will each receive a $200 prize along with public recognition on VoiceThread’s social media platforms. This contest is open to all K-12 students, faculty, and staff.

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We can’t wait to see your ThreadTalk!

Inter-Class Debates in VoiceThread

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Justin Miller.



The first in-depth classroom activity I did in VoiceThread was to have my students hold an inter-class debate. I was excited by the concept of having a debate between students in different classes. I determined the topic and had students select sides by a coin flip. The students researched their arguments in groups of three or four. Each class had six arguments: an opening statement, four supporting arguments, and a closing statement. When a group of students found a supporting argument they wanted, they submitted it to me. I then had them post it, along with the sources they were using on the whiteboard to avoid repetition.

It took my 8th graders four class periods to research, write out, and revise their arguments. They also researched potential arguments of their opponents. The actual debate lasted two days. Day one groups recorded their arguments and day two was rebuttals. Students were allowed up to two minutes per argument. When engaging in a VoiceThread debate, I found video to be more powerful than audio. Not all students were comfortable being videotaped, so I encouraged but didn’t force the issue.

Some groups had a single speaker videoing their arguments. Others split the work. Students that didn’t take a speaking role did the bulk the rebuttal preparations. Arguments were recorded in moderation mode. The purpose was so that the later class didn’t have an advantage of knowing what the first class was doing. The second day moderation was removed. Groups were not given additional time to research. After hearing the other side’s prepared argument, students were given the chance to volunteer up to a one-minute rebuttal. They were allowed to use any notes they had to assist in the rebuttal.

The new reply feature in VoiceThread is excellent for rebuttals, students can reply directly to the argument they want to rebut. In the past I only allowed one rebuttal. This year I may allow multiple rebuttals and keep the strongest two.

The original debate I judged. However, this year I plan to have a mixture of neutral students, administrators and teachers as surprise judges. The judges will reveal themselves on VoiceThread. The judges will provide reasoning for their decision via VoiceThread. Judges will be provided a scorecard with a rubric on how to judge the winner.

My original debate was just a single slide with a photo and the debate topic on it. However, this year I am considering giving each argument its own page. This way each group can design their own still background for their argument. The thought process behind this is that it allows the groups to add a visual element. Another consideration is to allow each debate team the use of one brief video clip. Students would be required to explain or expand on how the clip bolsters their argument.


About the Author:

Justin Miller is in his 10th year as a social studies teacher at Franklin Middle School in Somerset, New Jersey. His Twitter Account is @JustinSMiller

Improving Your Students’ Speaking Skills

This is a guest post by Erik Palmer, educator and VoiceThreader.

New ears. Listen very carefully to student speaking. If you listen with new ears, it will be obvious that students do not speak well. Let me give you some examples…from VoiceThread. I will tell you up front that I love VoiceThread. I have written about and recommended using VoiceThread in three of my books: Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse Publishers, 2012), Teaching the Core Skills of Listening & Speaking (ASCD, 2013), and Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016). I think VoiceThread is a valuable tool for continuing discussions, giving voice to the quiet students, getting feedback from students, and much more.

It is also, however, a tool for demonstrating how poorly students speak. Click the Browse tab on the home page. Listen to a few comments. Most are unimpressive. That seems harsh, I know. After all, these are just kids. We shouldn’t be critical. That’s just how kids talk. I understand that kind of thinking. It’s just that I disagree with that excuse. It is how they talk, but it is not how they can talk. Students can be much better speakers. We expect too little and we sell them short.

A serious problem is that teachers have never been given instruction about how to teach speaking. We aren’t exactly sure what it takes to be great at oral communication, and we certainly haven’t had workshops or classes about teaching speaking. We all sort of know some terms to toss out—elocution, enunciation, eye contact, loudly, slowly, expression—but there is no consistency of language from class to class, and there are no lessons on these skills. (By the way, telling a child to speak loudly and slowly is very bad advice. You would hate if speakers you were listening to spoke loudly and slowly.)

Years ago, I created a framework for understanding how to become effective at all forms of oral communication: one-to-one, small group, large group, in-person, or digitally. My students found it simple to grasp and enormously helpful to them. First, I pointed out that there are two very different parts of oral communication: building the talk (everything you do before you open your mouth) and performing the talk (everything you do as you are speaking). Both are equally important. I want kids to create a great comment for VoiceThread, for instance, and I want them to say it in a way that gets the comment noticed and remembered. It is the second part that most teachers overlook as so many online student talks prove. To help students with that second part, performing the talk, I created six-trait speaking. The traits have the acronym P.V.LEGS. It’s silly, but it works. Read about it at

The bottom line is that VoiceThread and other tools showcase speaking. The tools work best if students know how to speak well before hitting record. A little time spent teaching speaking will make a huge difference and benefit all students for all time.

About the author:

Erik Palmer is an educational consultant from Denver, Colorado. Erik’s presentations draw upon 21 years of classroom experience, and have inspired educators across the U.S and around the world. Palmer is also the author of Well-Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students (Stenhouse, 2011), Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse, 2012), Teaching the Core Skills of Listening & Speaking (ASCD, 2014), Researching in a Digital World (ASCD, 2015), and Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning (Stenhouse, 2016). You can find Erik on twitter at @erik_palmer, on his website or you can email him here.