Using Voicethread to develop empathy skills

Age Range: 7 - 11

Using Voicethread to develop empathy skills

There is an increasing emphasis on the use of film to teach Literacy so I recently decided to explore this more, as well as try out Voicethread in the classroom.

I chose to base these three lessons around the short animated film 'El Caminante':

The sequence of lessons began with us listening to the soundtrack of the film without watching it. The children listened to the entire soundtrack, trying to pick out sounds and clues which might help them to work out what is happening. The film doesn't have any speech, so it forced them to listen carefully to the noises they could hear, as well as the style and pace of the music, to work out what was going on.

The children's ideas were shared, and we then listened to the soundtrack once more, pausing at appropriate points and discussing what the people might be doing, and what action might be taking place. After sharing some fantastic ideas (many of which were very close to the actual plot of the film), the children watched the film and we talked about their opinions of it.

The next day, we used Voicethread to bring some of the characters to life. As previously noted, the film does not contain any speech, so you have to watch closely to work out what characters might be thinking / feeling / saying. Before the lesson, I had created a Voicethread containing 10 slides, with each slide showing a different image from the film.

Voicethread 2

I asked the children to look at each scene carefully, and then imagine that they were one of the characters shown in the image. This might have chosen to be the main character (El Caminante himself), or one of the other children / people who were involved. They were asked to imagine how that character might be feeling at that point in the film, what they might be thinking, or what they might say to others around them. They then added these to the Voicethread, using text or voice recordings. This was the first time that they had used Voicethread, and it was also the first time that I had tried using the tool with a class, and I was extremely pleased with how it all went. The children had no problem logging on, switching identities, or adding their comments, and their imaginations went wild, with some wonderful, very carefully considered thoughts / speech for the characters shown on screen. They were all incredibly motivated by the task, and they worked for a considerable period of time adding their ideas to the site. At the end of the lesson, we browsed through the Voicethread, sharing each other's work and discussing the different interpretations that everyone had for similar images.

In the following lesson, the children used Powerpoint to add text and narration to the film, turning it into an multimedia story book. The same images were added to slides in the presentation and the children created text (and also recorded these) explaining what was happening in the images.

I will certainly looking to try similar activities again in the future. Using microphones with our laptops is not something that I have tried a great deal in the past, but it certainly allows children to record their ideas much more quickly than typing, and it also allows them to add expression (and for those who choose to, add sound effects and background noises). This was a really enjoyable way of getting children to empathise, not only with the main character in the film, but also the others who appeared in different scenes.

How might I change things in the future?

Setting up the Voicethread activity took much longer than I anticipated, but this was mainly because I had never used it before with a class, and I wanted to ensure it all worked correctly. The creation of the Voicethread itself only took a few minutes, but I then spent a considerable time looking through the different options available (including privacy tools and comment moderation). In the end, I created one account for the class, which everyone used to sign-in. This account then had 30 different identities attached to it, one for each pupil. The Voicethread was public, but wasn't shared in any directories, so only those who knew the specific URL could view or add their comments. One other problem that I had was related to our school's filtering, but this was quickly fixed by our internet providers. I am sure that setting up Voicethreads in the future will be much quicker as I'm more familiar with the interface, and which options will work best for us in the classroom.

Have you tried Voicethread? What other subjects / topics / objectives have you used it for? I would love to know, as I'm really keen to try this process again!

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