Spoken English Using Skype and Voicethread

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The Relaxed World of English Conversation

This week my focus has been on the spoken language, which is not always a simple thing to organise in classes of on average 50+ students. On top of the logistics of monitoring fluency activities in large classes, being at a university means we are all hellbent on passing exams, which also often means that the written word is at a premium and speaking runs the risk of becoming an afterthought. Odd, though, when you consider that speaking is one of the major skills that my learners actually want to deveplop. As a result I wanted to find a way to motivate them to speak outside the classroom, as well as inside it.

Option One: Skype outside and inside the classroom

One thing I have been considering, in fact, is recording Skype calls, as a first step towards asking my learners to record themselves doing oral tasks, so that we could listen to them and then comment on them in class. A bit like this:

1. Give learners a speaking task (a questionnaire, discussion, problem-solving activity etc.

2. Organise them in pairs and ask them to work on Skype on this task (outside class)

3. Each pair should record the conversation and bring it to class, send it to me by email or post it on our wiki

5. Some of these conversations could then be brought into the classroom and listened to for discussion, appreciation of good points, work on language awareness etc.

Recording Skype calls

In order to do this a little research was required in advance. What was the best way to record Skype calls and how could we save the and access them etc.? The Splendid Speaking site suggested various ways of doing this with online sites including Voki, Voxopop, Podomatic and Voicethread. A colleague of mine from the university of Padua also suggested using the Voip skype call recorder, and I had come across Freecorder, which I downloaded but had some trouble with. I experimented with the Skype recorder, which starts automatically when you make a Skype call and saves the recording onto your hard drive, so that it is then easy to edit and to move around, or to email to someone else. The quality was good, but my learners find it challenging to email large files so, in the end, I chose Podomatic as being the best choice for my students. This was becuase I had worked with this site in the past and it is very user friendly. If you use the online recorder, which you can do with a free account, you can simply start your Skype call, then set the Podomatic recorder to record, and when you have finished you can post a link to the conversation anywhere you want, which means you can easily email it to others or you can post in in a discussion thread on our wiki, which my learners are used to doing. In this way Skype conversations can be structured around oral tasks, analysed and developed, and, best of all, the work being done outside the classroom can be brought back inside it and extended to everyone’s benefit.

Option Two:Using Voicethread

One of my absolute favourite sites, I must admit, is Voicethread and if you have not yet discovered this magical world, don’t wait any longer. As you can see, from the photo on the left a voicethread is a discussion based on media. In this example you can see a photo of Verona that I posted with my comments about it as a setting. All the icons around the picture are my students who have commented on the story they think should be set in this place. If you want to know what they have to say follow this link and listen or read. You can even add your own comments too, if you want. Read this interesting ebook on how to use the site, or simply go there and watch some of the one minute tutorials on how to create voicethreads. A voice thread is actually a space where you can upload media: images, pdf files, powerpoint presentations, videos etc. and then you, and your learners can comment on them either by typing (back to the good old written word again) or, which is much more exciting, by recording your own comment directly onto the site. Last year most of my learners resorted to typing, although some brave sould recorded their voices, and this embarassment is something we’re working on. The site, however, offers endless opportunites. The voicethread mentioned above was a springboard to writing, but it can be used to discuss just about anything, and learners can be encouraged to make their own voicethreads too. I have used it to present my ideas to colleagues before the Iatefl conference last year, for instance, and I’ve used it in the past to put up images from a visit to Berlin which I’ve used in different ways with different groups. One group of students, for example, who were specialising in the study of tourism, were asked to listen to the reactions in the thread and then consider how to cater for this type of tourist visiting their city. Nother lesson was organised like this:

1. Learners listened to my comments and looked at the images;

2. They were asked to choose two or three images to comment on with their own thoughts and reactions;

3. These reactions were then played to the rest of the class without the images, and the other learners guessed which image they were commenting on.

Both working with Skype and working with Voicethread, inside and outside of the classroom can be rewarding and can help learners to speak, in activities which are thought provoking, fun and motivating, and they help us as educators to give our leaners their own English voices.

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