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Fun Ways to Use Voicethread with ESL Students

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By Denise Maduli-Williams

CCSF ESL class- Introduction to Reading Voicethread

Voicethread’s tagline is “Conversations in the cloud” and that pretty much sums it up.  I love using Voicethread activities with my ESL students at City College of San Francisco and have been doing so for years now.  It is a great tool to encourage students to talk to each other, listen and think about each others’ ideas.

The way Voicethread works is to allow students to comment on a document, image, or video right on the page.  They can comment by recording audio, video or typing and then their comment pops up right on the same page.  They can even doodle on the document or image with the drawing tool while they are recording comments.


As a teacher, it’s easy to view and hear the students’ comments because they are all captured in one place (no searching through emails to find their audio homework!).  Handy settings allow teachers to moderate and/or hide comments, especially helpful if the activity is being used for assessments.  Set up is easy – once students create an account, the site is intuitive enough for all levels to get the hang of using it quickly. Sharing is also easy through grabbing a link, embedding the code in a blog or website, and even downloading.

I usually begin each semester with a teacher-created Voicethread just to get students used to viewing and commenting.  I then move to more specific Voicethread designed to extend learning of content, vocabulary, pronunciation, and even to share writing.  As students become more comfortable, I switch to assignments where they create their own Voicethreads, upload them, share them with the class, and comment on each others’ work.  The level of interaction is fabulous.  Every student has a voice and time to comment carefully and thoughtfully.

One of the first Voicethreads I created was for a very low-level ESL and low-level technology seniors’ class – see below.  Students just looked at the picture and predicted what they saw.  Through this basic introduction, they became familiar with the tool and intrigued by it as well.

Where Are They Going?  – created by low-level ESL and low-level technology seniors’ class.

Another way I use Voicethread is to preview a topic before class. In this case, students were about to start a unit on book clubs and I wanted to get an idea of where, when, and what they like to read.  Discussing this in class, the same few students usually respond, with many remaining quiet or shy.  By using Voicethread, every single student had the opportunity to share their ideas with the class.

Introduction to Reading

I created a Voicethread with a high-intermediate-level class as a way to respond to a Ted Talk the students viewed about The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain (author of Quiet).  Students recorded an interesting fact they learned, explained whether they felt they are an introvert or extrovert, and discussed their feeling about group work.  While responding, they had to use five vocabulary words from the current unit.

The Power of Introverts – created by high-intermediate-level class in response to TED Talk

One of the first Voicethreads that students created on their own was to showcase an essay.  Students had listened to many essays from NPR’s This I Believe Series and created their own.  After working on theirs, they shared they uploaded their document and recorded their essay to share with each other.

Here are some examples:


Check out KQED Education resources for ESL educators on Immigrant Voices

Denise Maduli-Williams: Veteran ESL Educator, RPCV, Air Force brat, wanna be tech-expert, Twitter Newbie, and brand-new blogger. Proud faculty at the City College of San Francisco.


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