Voicethread, Voki, Listen & Watch: English Homework for Listening and Speaking
Recently, there has been a move towards oral English or English conversation classes in countries around the world. Educational programs have shifted from teaching solely grammar to teaching pronunciation and communication skills.
Teachers of these types of courses struggle with giving meaningful homework assignments as traditional homework tasks focus entirely on reading and writing. Fortunately, if your students have computer and internet access, you can make use of new technology to encourage more speaking and listening practice outside the classroom. By providing your students with new opportunities to practice speaking English, you will help them learn and improve more rapidly.
Voicethread.com, Voki.com, and the Listen & Watch section of the British Council website are great sites to start with because they are fairly straightforward. The first two offer free basic accounts but you and your students will all need to create accounts so having one class in the computer lab, assuming that one is available to you, to get students used to these sites is ideal. The British Council site does not require an account to access the material but an initial session in the computer lab is still preferable because it would give students the chance to participate in a guided exploration of the site. Asking students to explore sites entirely on their own could be frustrating for some of them so this approach is highly recommended.
How to Encourage Listening and Speaking Outside the Classroom
Here is how you can use Voicethread for your classes. First, you have to create a Voicethread by uploading a series of images or videos. It would be best if there were a theme to the Voicethread such as animals, hobbies, environmental problems, countries, food, or art that related to your current unit of study. The theme will obviously depend on the level of your students. Before sharing the Voicethread with students, create a comment that includes the directions as well as a model of what you expect from students. For homework, ask students to comment on one or more of the images or video clips. Comments can be made orally or in writing. You can encourage students to leave oral comments but the flexibility is also good since some students may not initially feel comfortable recording themselves speaking. After students are familiar with the site, you can require oral comments and even ask students to make their own Voicethreads to tell stories about their lives, introduce themselves, or give short presentations about topics they are interested in.
Voki.com is another free site that can be used for speaking practice. To create a Voki, choose and customize a character and record a short sixty seconds of speech. It is really that simple. You could use Vokis for practicing descriptions by asking students to customize a character and then use a sixty second recording to describe the character they have created. Since characters are not limited to people, this could be a very fun and enjoyable activity for students at many levels. Students could also use this program to create a personalized Voki and record oral responses to homework questions. Rather than requiring students to create a Voki right from the start, start off using it as an alternative to short written assignments. Once students have seen some examples that you or peers have created, they could be encouraged to create their own. If you want to guarantee that students practice speaking English for these assignments, specify that they are not allowed to use the text to speech feature.
The British Council makes a lot of materials available for English language learners so you can direct students to what you would like them to listen to or watch. Many of the activities on the British Council website include their own tasks which you could ask students to complete or ignore depending on your purpose for using the material. You can also just ask students to prepare a comment or question for the following class period. This site section could help your students focus on their listening skills but if combined with Voicethread or Voki, students could do both listening and speaking activities for homework which is perfect for oral communication classes.
It is always a good idea to encourage students to speak English as much as possible and these activities also help students improve their computer literacy which is equally, if not more, important these days.
On the other hand, if students do not have computer access, it is still possible to encourage students to practice their speaking skills by asking them to prepare and practice speeches or conduct short interviews. If reading and writing are getting too much attention in your communication classes, consider using some of these resources and ideas in the future.
Tara Arntsen has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.