This was one of the trickiest “The Best…” list for me to compile. As I was going through my favorites, and all of the great suggestions others contributed, I concluded that it might work best to really create two lists. The first list — this one — will highlight sites that actually have students recording their own voices in a number of different ways and post their speaking assignments online. The second list, which I’ll publish later this month and will include a number of the sites that readers suggested, will focus on sites where students have to listen to spoken examples for developing better pronunciation skills.
That next list will be called “The Best Sites For Learning English Pronunciation.”
It’s sort of an artificial division, I know, and obviously in teaching and learning a second language speaking and listening are intertwined. In fact, students can use some of the sites on this list to practice what they hear on the sites in the next list. But I do think this separation works for the purpose of making these lists.
In order to make it on this list, a site had to be free, easy to use, and accessible to English Language Learners.
Here are my picks for The Best Sites To Practice Speaking English & Pronunciation:
Blabberize allows you to upload an image, have the mouth’s image move in a comedic way, and then “speak” your voice. Students can use their own photos, or a famous person, cartoon character, etc. Blabberize can be used in the same way ESL/EFL teachers sometimes have students use puppets — students can feel more comfortable speaking when it’s not really “them” doing the talking.
Voice Thread is well-known. Between the free unlimited account for educators, the ability to type text as well as record audio, the ability to grab images off the Web to reinforce understanding, and the great feature of being able to leave audio comments, I don’t think anything beats it.
I’m adding Voxopop to this list. Formerly called Chinswing, it lets you easily create private voice “chatboards.” Students can leave messages and respond to one another, or teachers can leave speaking assignments for students to complete. It’s similar to Grapevine and to Vaestro Voice Channel.
I’ve posted in the past about how the ability to make easy screencasts — with audio– could be an excellent learning opportunity for English Language Learners (you might want to take a look at that post). The online tool Screencast-O-Matic works okay for this purpose, but seems a little complicated.
Vocaroo is a super easy way for students to record a message — of any length — and then place a link or an embed code on a student or teacher website. It’s got to be one of the most simple ways for audio recording out there — no registration is required and you just click “record.” (NOTE: Unfortunately, Vocaroo has recently announced that messages will be deleted after six months)
The extraordinary The Art of Storytelling is a site from the Delaware Art Museum that allows you pick a painting, write a short story about it, record it with your computer microphone, and email the url address for posting on a student website or blog. It’s extraordinarily simple, and extraordinarily accessible to any level of English Language Learner. No registration is required.
PodOmatic looks like an extraordinarily easy way to create a podcast. Sign-up and your class has your own channel — all you need is a computer microphone.
Chirbit is a new site. After registering (which is very easy — I love sites that don’t require an email activation), you can very easily make a recording or use a text-to-speech feature to create audio. You’re then given a unique url address for the recording. It’s as simple as that. It has other capabilities, too, including responding to the audio message.
For students those without Internet access at home, here’s a tool worth considering:
I recently received my invitation to join Google Voice, Google’s new phone tool. You can read all about it at Lifehacker’s guide. In terms of teaching, I could see it as an easy way for English Language Learners, particularly those with no Internet access, to practice speaking “homework.” They can call my Google Voice number, leave a message, and I can then access both their audio and an automatically generated written transcript of what they said. I can then easily embed both on a classroom blog.
Audio Pal is a new tool that lets you easily record a message — either by using a phone, computer mike, or text-to-speech — and then add the embed code to your blog or website. Students can update it as often as they want, and get as many different ones that they want. It’s pretty neat. No registration is necessary, and it’s free.
A new site is called English Central. David Deubelbeiss has posted a very thorough post about the site titled English Central – Bringing “voice” and output to learning English. I’d strongly encourage you to read it — I don’t feel any need to “reinvent the wheel.” A quick description is that it’s a free video site for English Language Learners, lets users listen to parts of the video, then lets them repeat what the characters says and compares it to the original. You get graded on how well you do. It has even more features, but you can read David’s post or check out the site directly. The other great thing about it is that the videos are all appropriate for the classroom, unlike several other ESL video sites that have come online recently.
Fotobabble is a super-easy application that lets you upload a photo, provide a minute audio recording to go along with it, and then you get a link and an embed code that can be used for . It’s a simple tool students can use to practice their speaking skills. It’s very easy to use but, just in case, Russell Stannard at the great Teacher Training Videos has posted a good video tutorial on how to use the app.
Audioboo lets you easily create what is basically a voice blog. After signing-up (which is quite easy), you can make recordings of up to five minutes in length. Not only can your messages appear together on one public page, but you can also choose to embed them. People can leave text comments on the messages, but one negative is that they are not moderated. However, you do have to be registered on the site in order to leave a comment. (I talk about a great and easy way to use Audioboo in This Seems Like A Pretty Easy Way To Practice Speaking….)
David Deubelbeiss, founder of EFL Classroom 2.0, has an excellent speaking activity he uses with his English Language Learner students. He calls it Pass The Paper, and also a helpful PowerPoint.
A teacher’s guide to using audio and podcasting in the classroom is a nice overview of applications to use in the classroom, including videos. It was created by Kit Hard.
Little Bird Tales lets you easily make slideshows where you can add text and, more importantly for English Language Learners, provide an audio narration. On nice touch is that you can virtually paint/draw artwork in addition to uploading images (unfortunately, the site doesn’t have the ability to grab photos off the web by url addresses). It’s free to use, but I’m unclear on if there will be an eventual cost to use the site. It appears to have an upper limit on the number of shows you can produce.
You can read about SMILE and CLEAR at a previous post.
SoundCloud lets you very easily record an audio message — the first 120 minutes are free — and then you can post the link or embed it where you like. They’ve also just begun a new site called Take Questions, which TechCrunch calls a “Quora for audio.” There, you can set-up your own page to take audio questions that you can then answer — in audio.
Spreaker seems like a pretty easy way to have your own Internet radio show.
Knovio might end up being one of the best Web 2.0 applications of the year. You upload a PowerPoint presentation, record a presentation with your microphone and webcam, and then it’s done! It’s free, and it is not open to the public yet, but I received an invitation about five seconds after I requested it.
Sock Puppets is a simple iPhone app that lets you easily record a student and upload it to YouTube. It can be used to briefly record a student speaking or reading in class, or even to have two or three students record a simple play (the free app allows thirty seconds of recording while for 99 cents you can upgrade to 90 seconds). One major advantage of using this for speaking practice is that it’s the sock puppet that’s actually speaking on the display, not the student. It looks like it could have potential. Thanks to techchef4u for the tip. NOTE: The upgraded version appears to be a bit buggy, so I’m only using the free app.
We’re also going to be trying out another iPhone app called Talking Wee Mee. It just allows one character, though it appears to provide a one minute recording time.
Lisa Johnson also suggested Photo Puppet Go. It’s a little more complicated than the other two I’ve mentioned, but it does have potential.
QWiPS easily lets you make a thirty second audio recording that you can — you can also connect it to a photo or video.
I’m beginning to take photos (and have students take photos) using iPhone apps that let you provide an accompanying audio commentary.
The best app for this kind of excellent speaking practice exercise is Fotobabble. I described the web version earlier in this post. In the iPhone app, you take a photo, provide an up-to-one minute commentary, and then can it several ways. You can email it to yourself, too, where you are provided a link to it on the Fotobabble site. You’re given the opportunity to re-record if you don’t like how it sounds on the first try, and you can make other changes to it, too. It also provides the option to embed, as I have done with this quick experiment (a photo of one of our dogs, Lola):
Another option, which was launched this week at the SXSW conference in Austin this week, is an app called Picle. It only gives you ten seconds of commentary, but you can choose to have it record at the same time you’re taking the photo or afterwards. It doesn’t offer an embed option, but you can link to it on the Picle website. It also doesn’t appear to give you an opportunity to re-record if you’re not satisfied with your first try. Here’s a sample – again of Lola.
I’d definitely vote for Fotobabble. However, since Picle is new, I assume they’ll be making lots of improvements in the future.
I’ve described some nice apps that let you add an audio recording to your photos and then them. enpixa is a new one that’s very similar to the others. It’s free, and you can add a thirty second recording.
You can never have too many of these kinds of sites, because you never know which ones will be blocked by school content filters.
I’ve previously posted several times about Edcanvass, and it’s already on a number of “The Best…” lists. They’ve added another great feature — the ability to easily record up to five minutes of audio on any image or text you pin to a canvass, and you can pin many items on one canvass.
Shadow Puppet is a great iPhone/iPad app.
Tellagami is neat iPhone/iPad app that lets users quickly create virtual characters that can speak audio that’s been recorded or use text-to-speech.
Here’s an example:
Speaking Unplugged: 30 Activities for One-to-One Classes is a free downloadable eBook from Online TEFL Training.
Getting Your Students Talking is a good post from David Deubelbeiss.
Getting the whole class talking offers some good ideas. It’s from The British Council
8 fun ways to practice presentations! is from The Business English Experience.
33 ways to speak better English – without taking classes is from British English Coach.
Chatterpix is an app for the iPhone/iPad that:
…can make anything talk — pets, friends, doodles, and more. Simply take any photo, draw a line to make a mouth, and record your voice. Then share your Pix with friends and family as silly greetings, playful messages, creative cards, or even fancy book reports. And best of all, it’s FREE!
Interactive listening and speaking is from The British Council.
Using Pair and Group Work to Develop ELLs’ Oral Language Skills is from Colorin Colorado.
Key Strategies for Developing Oral Language is from The Teaching Channel.
Developing Speaking Skills in the Classroom is by Anthony Ash.
Here’s a great list of speaking activities from The British Council.
The SpeakPipe voice recorder lets you easily record and save audio on the web. However, I’m not sure how long it saves your recording.
Voxer, the popular mobile recording app, can now be used directly on the Web via your computer. You can learn more about it at my previous post, I’m A Bit Late To The “Party,” But Voxer Looks Useful.
12 Fun Speaking Games for Language Learners is from Edutopia.
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