Blogstitute Week 2: Erik Palmer on practicing speech

June 26th, 2013

Do you ever ask to hear the rough draft?

Yes, you read that correctly. I want to hear my students’ rough drafts. Every day, students are speaking in class. Often, teachers assign some talks with higher stakes than the daily discussions, answers of questions, and the like. We assign the quarterly book report in front of the entire class, the biography project final where students dress up as some historical figure, the report on smoking’s effects in health class, the presentation of the science project, the participation in a mock Congressional hearing, the talk at the DECA competition, and many more. At all grade levels in all subjects, at some point students will be giving a talk to a group. Before we expose the audience of students and/or parents and/or judges to these talks, we need to make sure that the talk is ready for prime time. I tell students to practice several times before presentation day, but occasionally some students do not in fact practice. I am sure this is just an issue I face, and you never have this problem. To avoid that problem, though, I want to hear the rough draft before my students give the final talk. I ask students to send me the rough draft of their talk so I can listen to it and offer advice. Do you ever do that?

Checking the rough draft is common for many writing assignments. The cynical among us may suggest checking the rough draft as a way to make sure students are doing the work they are supposed to be doing. The fear that the paper may not be started until the evening before the six-week assignment is due is real. Less cynical teachers may look at the rough draft as a formative assessment. Discovering mistakes and giving feedback before the final paper is due is more valuable than writing comments on the finished paper. For both reasons, I always asked students to do a rough draft before they handed in a major writing assignment. I collected and commented on the drafts and warned students that I would get quite miffed if those comments were ignored. I want the same thinking to apply to oral assignments—but with a twist. Don’t have students hand in a paper with the words they are planning on saying; require a recording of the talk instead.

There are many ways to record the rough draft. All of them contribute to preparation for the Common Core State Standards, by the way. Speaking standard 5 requires students to use multimedia in presentations. Beginning in second grade, students are expected to make audio recordings of talks; by fifth grade, students should be including multimedia components in presentations. This requirement is probably more daunting to teachers than to students. Far more of them than you realize are already quite adept at various ways of recording and posting audio and video. Today, I want to share some of the simpler ways we can record, and show you how to use digital tools to practice talks. Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse, 2012) is the source for those wanting to do more.

Every computer/netbook/tablet has built-in audio and video recording. PCs have some version of a webcam—the Dell computer I am using now opens a video recorder by accessing “Dell Webcam Central”— and your students will have no trouble finding it. If students have a computer at home, they can record themselves and attach the movie to an e-mail to send to you. If you have one computer in your class, students can take turns making videos of their rough drafts and leave the files on the desktop of that computer for you to check later. PCs also have Sound Recorder. Windows puts an “Accessories” folder on every PC. It contains a calculator, a snipping tool that allows you take screenshots, and Sound Recorder, among other things. Double-click on Sound Recorder, and a small box appears on the desktop. The red button labeled “Start Recording” couldn’t be more obvious. The blue “Stop Recording” button is impossible to miss, too. As soon as you stop, a screen opens and gives you the option to name and save the recording: “Muffin’s rough draft,” for example. Students who record at home can attach the file to an e-mail to you. Students using the class computer can leave the file on the desktop.

Devices using a Mac operating system have Photo Booth built in. Click on the icon on the dock, and you are ready to record. One option allows you to take a snapshot, but we care about the option that lets you record video. One click and—after a “3-2-1” countdown—you are recording. The recording is automatically saved. More tech-savvy kids may use GarageBand, also on the dock of every Mac device. It is a bit trickier to use, but if they know how, let them use it.

I read that 80% of high school students have smartphones. I downloaded a free app (Easy Voice Recorder) for my phone after a student of mine did a favor for me. I asked him to record something for Digitally Speaking, thinking he would go home to his computer and use a tool I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Instead, he pulled out his phone, spoke, hit a button, and e-mailed me the recording. It’s in the book. Ask students to send you a spoken rough draft, and they will have ways to do it that we don’t know about. That’s fine with me. I just want to hear the practices.

Can your students get to the Internet at home or at school? Visit There’s no sign-up, no password, no cost—the home page has a big red button that starts the audio recording. When students finish, they can “Listen” to the recording. If the recording is not good enough, they can hit “Retry”; if they like it, they can copy the URL address to send to other listeners or hit a button that lets them e-mail the recording to someone . . . a teacher, for instance.

Think of the possibilities. Students can watch/listen to the recordings, critique themselves using a PVLEGS rubric, make adjustments, and improve. Audio and video can be shared in a group: each group member shows his or her rough draft and gets feedback from other group members. Recordings can be viewed by a teacher who can give important tips to improve a presentation before the due date. A Reader’s Theater team could record parts and send them to teammates as a way to improve before performing the book selection in class. The Poetry Café presenters can listen to themselves before getting up in front of classmates and parents. The recordings of a “This I Believe” speech could be useful formative assessments on the way to the final talk. And, of course, you have your own great ideas.

Why wouldn’t you want to do this? Improving speaking skills, avoiding dull presentations, updating instruction, and meeting Common Core State Standards can all be accomplished by asking to hear the rough drafts.

Erik is the author of Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology and Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students.

Check out last week’s post by Debbie Miller and don’t forget to leave a comment. Last week’s winner of a free book is Katie Whisner. 

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute

26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sherry Dodd  |  June 26th, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Embracing technology is critical. Today’s students~ it is part of their daily lives and they DO know more that us adults. Great idea about speaking their writing!

  • 2. Tracy Mailloux  |  June 26th, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for the great suggestions. I know my second graders could access the Sound Recorder tool in Windows. I’m looking forward to checking out

    I have my kids practice and rehearse speaking every day in our Morning Meeting. Greeting, Sharing, and even activities are all excellent places to model and rehearse – especially for my ELL students.

  • 3. Lori Napier  |  June 26th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Such a fantastic idea! I almost wish my teachers had encouraged me to “speak” a rough draft before getting up in front of the class…it might have saved me some embarrassing moments. As a high school English teacher I was one of the cynical ones who also used the rough draft as formative assessment. You’re exactly right, why not expand that to speaking also? Thanks for sharing this with such a wide audience.

  • 4. Becky Amaral  |  June 28th, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Hmmm … This post has definitely given me something to think about for my middle schoolers. Thanks for the brain food!

  • 5. Briana N.  |  June 28th, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    This is a great idea…my elementary student love to use the Flip Cam to record themselves but it would be great to have them preview their presentations or readers’ theater before sharing their final product.

  • 6. Erik Wittmer  |  June 29th, 2013 at 5:01 am

    I am one of those teachers that had my students read their rough drafts into the wall. Using technology is one of my go to things in my 5th grade classroom. Why didn’t I think about having them record their speeches? I can’t wait to model this to my upcoming class.

  • 7. Becky Wilson  |  June 29th, 2013 at 6:01 am

    This is such a big issue. I teach in a district that has all fifth graders doing a massive technology enhanced presentation towards the end of the year. I just finished my first year in fifth grade, and realized all the changes that I need to make for next year! One thing I need to do is work with them more with oral presentation skills. I loved the conference about the book talk that is a part of the first chapter of your book (available online for free). It gave me many ideas!

  • 8. Lillian  |  June 29th, 2013 at 8:36 am

    This is a great reminder of how easy it is for students to record themselves. I have trouble managing all of the files. I wonder how Erik keeps track of all the files being emailed to him?

  • 9. Gail Riegel  |  June 29th, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Love the idea of letting them record the rough draft. I have always had them read it aloud, but this takes it to a whole new level!

  • 10. Tara  |  June 29th, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Great idea, Erik! I already have my students record their book talk conversations for me on their iphones so that we can confer, and I see how useful this could be in writing workshop as well. Thank you for sharing!

  • 11. Lynn  |  June 29th, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Great thoughts, Erick! I spent quite a bit of time this past school year thinking that my students needed to spend more time in front of the camera so that they could get a “reality check” concerning their learning. I especially think that reading fluency self-evaluation benefits from video as well as audio recording. I can see that oral presentations would greatly benefit from this “draft” approach and I hope to utilize this teaching technique this next year.

  • 12. Kelly Mogk  |  June 29th, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Yes! Letting learners speak their rough drafts is crucial! I’ve found that when a writer reads their work out loud to another person or listens to their rough draft read back to them from a peer, they are better able to process what their peice needs in revision. I love all the tech ideas you shared, especially the ability to record what they’re doing for the purpose of honing their speaking skills. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • 13. Mary  |  June 29th, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    LOVE THIS! As a first grade teacher I do a lot of verbal presentations too build oral language skills. I will definitely check out the app and the website. Thanks for sharing.

  • 14. Katie Whisner  |  June 29th, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    I would love to share this with my staff. We are apprehensive going in to the new standards and the increase of assessing student communication with others. This is a whole area we haven’t spent much time on and these ideas are very helpful. Thanks!

  • 15. Katie Whisner  |  June 29th, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    I would love to share this with my staff. We are apprehensive going in to the new standards and the increase of assessing student communication with others. This is a whole area we haven’t spent much time on and these ideas are very helpful. Thanks!

  • 16. Pam  |  June 29th, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks for the helpful suggestions – technology is not my strong suit, but I think I can manage these!

  • 17. Lacey  |  June 30th, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    What a great idea that is also so simple! I can imagine the students really benifiting from this. I really appreciate all the resourses.

  • 18. Jennifer Shettel  |  June 30th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    This is a great idea, Erik! I require my graduate students to write a script for their tech-based oral presentation and to turn in the script. I don’t ask to “hear” the rough draft of their presentation, but I do encourage them to record it and play it back several times before uploading it to our online learning platform.

  • 19. Mary  |  July 1st, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I tried the vocaroo site. It’s really easy to use! Thanks for the tip.

  • 20. Tomika Altman-Lewis  |  July 4th, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Thank you so much for the wonderful idea…Now I have something new to utilize for teaching the Common Core State Standards for Speaking and Listening! And perhaps I overlooked it but what is the PVLEGS rubric?

  • 21. Andrea Payan  |  July 5th, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Thank you so much for this post. What a simple idea…why didn’t I think of this before? I love all the suggestions you have made here for ways that students can make these recordings. This will absolutely change the way I help my students prepare for speaking from now on.

  • 22. I. J. Hamilton  |  July 5th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks for the ideas! I am currently looking for additional digital resources for my students since they have physical/medical disabilities and find computer/digital use 10X easier.

  • 23. Gwen  |  July 7th, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    I love all the suggestions you made in your column. I am always looking for ways that kids can use digital resources at school. All of these suggestions sound easy to handle. The speaking and listening portion of Common Core is one that I struggle with so these ideas are perfect. Thanks!

  • 24. Erik Palmer  |  July 8th, 2013 at 11:45 am

    @ Lillian: I spot check. I don’t feel the need to listen to and respond to all of the student recordings. I check a few and use them as models for the group if they contain “teachable moments” and I check all of the recordings of students who I am concerned about (those who are shy, those who seldom do their work…).

    @ Tomika: Check the “Rubrics” page at my website ( to get an explanation and to see some sample rubrics. The “PVLEGS Story” page might help, too.

  • 25. Deborah  |  July 12th, 2013 at 6:49 am

    This is a wonderful idea. Our school just recieved a number of Ipads. Submitting a rough draft of an oral presentation will be a great use for this technology.

  • 26. Kathleen Brown  |  June 16th, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I’m excited about expanding the Writer’s Notebook next year. I also like the MUGS acronym.

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