Thursday, November 29, 2012

Idioms, Not Idiots, for Promoting Speaking Skills

Students often view presenting in front of the whole class with the same disdain as facing a firing squad or are so self-conscience that they act like idiots. Additionally, finding precious time for whole class presentations can eat into high-paced curricular calendars.  We are still trying to get back on track from Hurricane Sandy, so this project was a quick way to get students to present and share without the stress of being in front of the class or take up class time. Students need to be able to present to audiences in person, but I do not agree with a "sink or swim" approach. This is an initial project for scaffolding the teaching of presentation skills.

Using OMM & BYOD for Recording Student Voices

As an introductory activity for John Steinbeck's novella, Of Mice and Men, students worked in groups to record a quick conversation using idioms (not idiots) from the 1930's.

Open those ears and try to figure out what they are talking about in those hackney country accents (I apologize to those of you who live in the country).

Equipment Needed

  • One student in the group needed a device (smartphone or ipod) with a voice recorder. I recommend encouraging students to use a free MP3 voice recorder instead of a standard voice recorder that saves files as .m4a for easier integration into Edmodo. 
  • If students record in .m4a format, files can be converted using a free web program such as Fileminx (just be mindful of the pin-up ladies in the background if you direct students to the site). I did the conversions for the students.

The Process

Edmodo easily embeds MP3's- just click play
(on Edmodo, not on this picture), no downloading!
  1. In groups of no more than 4, students reviewed a list of idioms used in OMM and drafted a script on paper.
  2. Students used one smartphone/ipod per group to record about a 30 second conversation. In some cases, I even let a few groups use my Android phone to record.
  3. The recordings were emailed me to me because they would not upload directly to Edmodo from students' phones. We tried a few different techniques (go through Google Drive and Edmodo's library), but none seemed to work. I also wanted to minimize clogging the class' main page with too many posts. 
  4. I saved the files and converted as needed and then uploaded groups of them to Edmodo as a note. I didn't save the students' names to each project, just give each recording a different number.
  5. Students listen to the recordings and reply with comments. No grading for this assignment because the focus is on the process, but feedback was provided about how to improve performances.
Alternatively, for sharing audio files using YouTube instead of on Edmodo, I created title slides in PowerPoint which I saved as JPEG's, and used Windows Movie Maker to combine the visual and audio elements. It only took a few minutes of trial and error to create the video above.  

I'm not keen on uploading the audio files to Youtube without some sort of proper visual, but the visual needs to not be distracting or too complex because the emphasis is on the audio for this project. I did not want to create a video, but to share the student recordings on this blog, I needed to.  I'm figuring out the BYOD as I go, so if you, dear reader, have more efficient techniques, please share! 

Projecting Future Presentations

For the first time using this process, the collaboration and anonymity of the project allowed reluctant students to get into character and enjoy the project.  Students didn't have to feel like self-conscience idiots because no one other than their other group members could recognize their voices and listeners would be too focused on figuring out the idioms.  

When students record an oral presentation again (this went so well that I guarantee we will do this again!), they will be solo and identified. The next project will eventually lead into a group video using their devices and finally an individual video or screencast.  


  1. As a speech teacher--this is a great technique in getting kids to do an oral presentation without the pressure of standing in front of class. The ideas for videos etc are great too. Kids love to create projects like this and don't really think of it as "presenting" in front of class. It's kind of a "sneak attack".

  2. Thanks Deb! When I saw how much they enjoyed this quick project, I thought, "AH-HA! NOW I've got you my pretties!" Sneak attack indeed! :-D

  3. Have you tried Google voice fo this? Or is the time limit a restraint?

  4. Hi Melissa, I haven't tried Google Voice yet. I use Edmodo as my hub for all things digital because we are not a Google school--yet. The Google integration should be finalized just in time for Christmas.

    Can Google Voice messages be shared? I didn't want the students to just leave messages for me. I wanted them to be able to hear the other groups' conversations.

  5. What free MP3 recorders do you recommend?


    Mme Aiello @ Teaching FSL

  6. I recommend searching your app store and picking a free one.

    I use Android based apps, so I can't recommend Apple apps, but I was very pleased with the Hi-Q MP3 voice recorder. You can find it here at the Google Play store:

    Thanks for reading!