In classrooms, there has recently been a trend concerning projects and activities.With the new Smart and Active Boards, as well as with all the new websites, platforms and softwares available, teachers have started trying to do more and more activities online or on computers. A few websites provide good learning environments and great resources for a classroom. Voice thread is one of those websites. While it is advertised as an online-discussion tool, it is possible to do much more with it. The most basic use of this website is using it to create presentation slides, on which people can comment with a small text or a recorded comment.
There is a school version of the product available online. However, it is a very expensive license. The additional functionalities included with the school version of the license include the fact that students can create accounts without having a valid email ( which is good for younger groups), that there is a tool to create student accounts and classes (which is useful to manage groups and classes), that an educator account is provided for the teacher, and that a custom homepage is provided (you can showcase students’ work on this homepage). Again, still, since it is a very expensive license, it might not be suitable for smaller schools.
The regular website is still very suitable for ESL classrooms. One of the biggest advantages of this tool is that it can make students communicate and have a discussion in English in class. After a person (usually the teacher) posts a presentation online, the students can have a discussion about it. Presentations are comprised of slides, which can show text, pictures, graphs, videos, word documents and many others. For example, about a new unit or even about grammar points or vocabulary words. Content is very easily uploaded onto the slides. However, it is important to note that Youtube videos can only be linked, not uploaded on the slides. The only videos that can be shown on slides are videos uploaded from a computer or recorded with a webcam. Pictures can be both uploaded from a computer or from a website. Some databases containing pictures are also available to the users. The students do not have to be present on the document at the same time to communicate and for the discussion to happen. They only have to log on and post their own comments, or slides. Students can also either post a written comment or record one. They can also draw on the pictures, videos, graphs, etc. Here is an example of a thread done by a teacher about Darfour. As seen on the thread, the teacher uploaded pictures and drawings, which the students then commented. It is also a very easy to use website. However, even if it is very simple, tutorials, such as this small one (https://voicethread.com/media/misc/getting_started_in_the_classroom.pdf) , are still available online. In an ESL class, Voice thread can mainly be used to start conversations in English between students.
The University of Carolina’s school of education website (http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/6538) presents another functionality useful for ESL teachers and classes. A teacher might want to create a single Educator account for all of the class, and then create different identities so that students can comment. Such identities can be seen in the preceding example. Here is another example by the same teacher. This time, they have used both images and quotes in order to give more material to the students.
Other examples of works that can be done in an ESL classroom include having the students give a tour of a country or of an historical place, create book or movie reports, comment on cartoons or ads, simulate an interview, and present on various subjects (many of these examples were taken here, a website where an educator uses his own experience to give advice about the use of Voice thread )
I would personally use Voice thread in an ESL classroom and think it is a very useful tool. I would use it because it allows students to communicate with each other, and because it can allow students to think about their comments and create constructive ones before posting them. In a regular classroom environment, some students may feel intimidated by the rest of the group, and might not speak up. Voice thread allows these students to comment without feeling judged by their peers, since it is online and since they can take all the time they need to write their comments. As a future ESL teacher, I think that the website is a good learning tool.