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Learning Library Blog Get students talking with digital tools!
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Get students talking with digital tools!

By Eva Harvell
October 27, 2014
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Both the Common Core and ISTE Standards expect students to demonstrate oral communication skills as early as kindergarten. But while the Common Core's English Language Arts Standards stress the value of students speaking audibly and clearly to express their thoughts and ideas, the ISTE Standards for Students emphasize the importance of using digital media for expression, communication and collaboration.

Implementing more than one set of standards may seem like a tall order for educators, but it isn't. The ISTE Standards and Common Core integrate seamlessly when students are encouraged to use digital resources to hone their skills.

Practice communication with voice recordings

One way to get students to perfect their communication skills is to use voice recorders or audio software to practice speaking clearly and at an understandable pace. You can use voice recordings for various subjects, grade levels and lesson types.

Here are a few ideas for using voice recorders in common classroom activities:

Presentations. Older students can record the final draft of a speech or presentation so they can hear how it sounds and make adjustments before they present to an audience.

Stories. Primary students can record a student-created or favorite story to practice fluency. When young learners record themselves saying their favorite nursery rhyme, they get the opportunity to hear just what they sound like and determine where they need improvement.

Book talks. Students of any age can create a short book talk of their favorite or recently read book. These recordings can be an English language arts performance task and be accessible in the school library to help other students decide if the book is something they'd like to read.

Math facts. Let students record themselves reciting their math facts. When they listen to their recording, have them identify which facts they are having trouble with.

Here are some voice recording tools you can use on various devices:

Web tools for desktops and laptops

Vocaroo. This free website is simple to use, so it doesn't require much instruction. Everything you need to know to get started is covered in this screencast. Students click a button to start and stop the recording. They can replay and re-record until they are satisfied with the outcome. Then they can save the files as MP3s or QR codes and embed them in blog posts, use them in presentations, email them to teachers or parents, or share them in a digital invitation to a school event.

Audacity. This is a free program for PC or Mac. Like Vocaroo, Audacity allows students to record, playback and save their recordings. Watch this screencast to see how it's done. There are more bells and whistles on Audacity, but creating a voice recording is simple. Students hit " "Record" " and start talking. Audacity allows you to save as a WAV or MP3 file, so students can use their recordings for various projects.

Apps for iOS devices

QuickVoice Recorder.This iPhone/iPad app has both a free and paid version. Students record their voices by hitting the red " "Record" " button. Once the recording is finished, students name the file and email it. The recipient can then open the file using QuickTime. A word of caution: If using the free version, the file must be no larger than 5 MB to email.


iTalk Recorder. This is another iPhone/iPad app with both a free and paid version. Students tap the big red button to record or stop recording. The paid version allows users to append to existing recordings, choose from three levels of recording quality, and email recordings from the app or send to Dropbox. Be aware that the free version contains ads.

Videoconferencing for two-way communication

Eventually you'll want your students to practice using digital tools to communicate with peers and experts. A number of free resources allow videoconferencing from multiple devices and platforms. Videoconferencing is a great way to connect entire classrooms or allow students to work in teams with peers around the globe using free group calling.

Here are a couple of ways to use videoconferencing in the classroom:

Mystery Skype. Probably the most popular videoconferencing activity is Mystery Skype. This is when two classrooms connect over a videoconference and the students ask each other questions to figure out where the other class lives. This is a great way to connect speaking and listening skills or to teach geography and culture in a fun way.

Guest speakers. For middle and high school students, a videoconference can also bring a large spectrum of experts into the classroom. From NASA employees talking about a recent mission to college graduate students discussing their field of study, videoconferencing allows students to connect with their passions and curiosities.  

To get started, check out the top three free videoconferencing tools:

Skype. You can use Skype on almost any device, including computers, a variety of tablets, smartphones, iPod touches, internet TV, Skype-ready landlines, and even your Xbox or PlayStation. Skype allows group calls of up to 25 people, and you can even hook up with a landline, but that costs extra. Educators should check out Skype in the Classroom, where you'll find experts and schools to connect with as well as lesson plans.

Google Hangouts. Google's free videoconferencing app is also available on phones, computers and tablets. Google Hangouts offers free group calls that can be livestreamed and recorded. Google Hangouts can include up to 10 users in one call. If livestreamed, others can view the call just like they would a video.

FaceTime. FaceTime is a built-in app on all iOS devices that have cameras. It's limited in that you can only talk to one person at a time and it's only available on iOS. If your district provides iOS devices for the classroom, FaceTime is a good way to connect with others in your district.

Eva Harvell has been an elementary teacher and tech integration specialist at Pascagoula School District in southeast Mississippi for 12 years. She connects with K-12 educators around the work and loves to help them integrate technology into daily classroom activities. She presents at numerous technology conferences and was named the 2013 Tech&Learning Leader of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @techie_teach.