Thinking Outside the Book: Responding to Literature with VoiceThread

By Jessica Mangelson and Jill Castek

VoiceThread is a free interactive online tool that allows students to create products and share them widely. These collaborative multimedia slide shows integrate images, documents, and sound files. Commenting on VoiceThreads is an essential part of the process. Through the interplay of multimedia and commentary, VoiceThread becomes an interactive environment that encourages literary response.

Participants can post from anywhere, at any time, making it easy to involve groups in different time zones, or even different countries, in a single conversation. Viewers simply click on “Record” or “Type” to add a comment that appears in the border outside the VoiceThread, and the response becomes a part of the overall project.

Getting Started with VoiceThread

VoiceThread Workshop provides step-by-step directions for learning how to set up VoiceThread accounts. This easy-to-follow tool helps with planning a project, uploading pictures and videos, and sharing comments.
VoiceThread Tutorials provide virtual tutorials that offer comprehensive instructions with visual prompts. These supports are clear and easy to use, making the process of creating VoiceThreads easy for first-timers.

VoiceThread for Educators

Using VoiceThread in your classroom or library can be as simple as viewing a previously created project that relates to the literature or content students are studying, offering comments on others’ projects, or creating your own project. Educators have been the fastest-growing population of early VoiceThread adopters, which has led the company to launch
Ed.VoiceThread, a secure site just for educators and their students. (Note that a
basic subscription is free.) Educators who create projects on the education-specific site can keep their VoiceThreads private or publish them. They can even embed their VoiceThreads into their own Web sites.

VoiceThread 4 Education Wiki is a comprehensive collection of VoiceThreads made by students of all ages. This wiki was created to support educators and showcase how VoiceThread can be used to enhance student learning across the curriculum. This portal site has become a central location for sharing examples with other educators.

One educator highlighted in the “6–8 Grade” section is Neil Stephenson in Calgary. Mr. Stephenson had his students make “cigar boxes” in an effort to recreate propaganda posters typical of the Canadian Rebellions of 1837. This project required students to use primary source images to develop digital representations and explain the significance of each choice. Using VoiceThread made it possible for different classes across Canada and in other countries to provide peer feedback. With the integration of multimedia, this project was a powerful way for students to express their historical understanding.
Mr. Stephenson’s classroom blog features student examples as well as a tutorial.

Click on the
“Library” section in the left-hand menu of the VoiceThread 4 Education Wiki and explore additional ideas for integrating VoiceThread into various activities. The
Valley Catholic Library VoiceThread provides real-time booktalks from librarians. Another book-talking project is
Krystina’s VoiceThread on the 2009 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award nominees. These resources offer students, teachers, and parents a great way to learn more about books, make personal connections through reader responses, and engage in commentary.

VoiceThreads That Celebrate Books

VoiceThreads are a great way to share the love of reading with others.
Great Book Stories is a site packed with literature-inspired VoiceThreads. Click on the “
Listen and See” link to find many great examples, including a VoiceThread about
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, created by a group of eighth-grade boys in Asher, Oklahoma. Each student takes a turn sharing themes and ideas from the story, while gripping images from a concentration camp flash on the screen. A VoiceThread for
Watership Down by Richard Adams, created by sixth-grader Katie Bueker, offers additional information about the book, author, and setting, all of which help build background knowledge.

VoiceThreads provide a new way for students, teachers, and librarians to share and discuss books. In addition, using technology enhances the book experience, encouraging a wider audience. This easy-to-use technology is an effective resource for enhancing the appreciation of and response to literature of all kinds.

Jessica Mangelson has worked as an elementary-school teacher, reading specialist, and professor of reading education.
Jill Castek is a literacy specialist with the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading project at the University of California–Berkeley. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut.