“I hear what you’re saying”: Giving audio feedback on writing assignments

Image courtesy of Sebastian Surendar

Image courtesy of Sebastian Surendar

I have to admit, I don’t normally enjoy marking / giving written feedback on writing assignments in class. My biggest gripe has always been the lack of ability to give detailed feedback on why something isn’t correct in that situation or correcting a sentence that is completely wrong. I usually end up making a summary paragraph at the bottom of the page and putting cryptic short notes in the middle of the paper. That is, I USED TO do it that way. Enter the age of easy audio recording. Now, instead of marking up their paper until it is unreadable, I make simple marks on the page and then record myself using an audio recorder and give my students a file they can listen to regarding their paper.



  • More information: Talking about the problem instead of writing it out allows me to give more detailed reasons for having them make changes.
  • Reviewing: Students are able to go over the comments at any time they want, including downloading the file to their portable music player. They can also go back over the material weeks or months later to see if they are making progress.
  • Pronunciation: This gives students an chance to hear pronunciation and intonation of their writing. I don’t read over everything they have written, but I do read out some of the more difficult passages.
  • Listening skills: This is one more way students can get some listening practice   from someone they are familiar with.
  • Students make the changes: One of the problems with writing things out is that  it is sometimes simpler to write out the solution for them instead of taking a long way around to describe it without fixing it for them. By doing it orally, the students are the ones who make the changes.
  • It isn’t as intimidating: Students can get quite discouraged if their paper is covered in corrections and markings which they sometimes misinterpreted as bad writing. By doing it orally, you can say things in a more encouraging and supportive manner.
The Tools:

  • Recording: There are a number of good software options that can be installed on your computer, or you can avail yourself to some online options as well. Don’t forget that you can also use a dedicated voice recorder or even a cell phone. For the sake of this article, I will demonstrate how to use RecordMP3, a free online voice recorder.
  • Editing: Again, there is a variety of options including many of the same software options listed above as well as tools online. I normally don’t have to make any edits, but if I do, I use MP3Cut.net to trim a recording.
  • Sharing: The most common way of sharing is online. This can be through a blog such as Blogger or Posterous, through a cloud based storage site such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or through a dedicated audio host such as Vocaroo.com or PicoSong.com. Sharing the links can be done through a URL shortener such as Bit.ly or BridgeURL.com. The easiest route is to post a direct link on an online document such as Kl1p.com or TitanPad.com. In this demonstration, I will use PicoSong.com to host the audio file and Kl1p.com to post the links for the students.
The Steps:
  1. Read over the student’s paper making notes where there are problems. I underline problem areas such as grammar, word choice, or spelling and put an insert marker where something is missing. I don’t cross out words or use arrows, I simply underline the whole area.
  2. I make a few quick notes on a separate piece of paper about things I don’t want to forget when recording and I also write down general observations as well. I try to draw their attention to things that they can work on overall.
  3. I go to RecordMP3 and record my feedback for each students individually. Simply click on the ‘Click to Record’ button, click on ‘Accept’ when a dialog box comes up to ask you if the program can use your microphone, and start speaking. Once you have finished recording, click on ‘Click to Stop’. You can listen to the recording by clicking on ‘Listen’ and you can redo the recording if you click on the ‘Retry’ button. If you are happy with the recording, click on the ‘Click here to save’ link below the buttons and you will be given a web address you can copy. You can also download the MP3 file by right or ctrl clicking on the MP3 link at the bottom. Click on the Vocaroo logo at the top of the page to make another recording.
  4. After each recording, I copy the web link (URL) and paste it into a notepad document for myself. This is for me to find the original file if something goes wrong in the process. I also download a copy of the file to my computer. I usually put them in a shared folder such as in my Dropbox account.
  5. Once I have finished all of the recordings, I go to PicoSong.com and upload each file individually. I put the student’s name in the title of the document and I make a note of the two URLs that are created: one for my to edit the document and the other to share with the student. The reason I do this instead of giving them the Vocaroo link is that PicoSong allows students to make comments. Also, Vocaroo will delete the files after a couple of months and students may want to access them later on as a way of review (ie. portfolio).
  6. After uploading each file, I copy all of the public URLs from PicoSong and paste them into a Kl1p.com document. To create a public document, go to Kl1p.com, create a new Kl1p address and then create a new ‘Rich Kl1p’ by clicking on ‘Create’ at the top of the screen. I paste the URLs onto the page and then lock it by clicking on ‘Kl1p’ at the top of the page and then choosing ‘Lock’ which I set with a password. I make note of the URL at the top and I write that on the whiteboard in the classroom.
  • Give encouragement: Don’t just go over all of the problem areas, give students some encouragement as well. Let them know what they did well. Highlight an area that was particularly well written or used a complicated structure in the proper manner.
  • Give reasons why: Don’t just tell them they chose the wrong tense or used the wrong word, tell them why. Give them a good reason to make the changes and to continue to use it in those situations.
  • Give examples: Tell them how to use the structure or word properly and then give one or two different examples for them to tie things together. I might say that this word is not used in this situation, but is useful in these other places.
  • Don’t always give them the answer: This is particularly important for higher level students. Make them look up the spelling of the word. Tell them that this is the wrong word tense for a situation that is completed in the past and see if they can piece it together on their own. Most students will get it on their own since they are already aware of that particular structure.
  • Portable: Yes, paper is portable as well, but storing these comments
    over time can be cumbersome if they are scattered over a number of documents. This way, students can take them once they leave the school as well.
Have you ever done this in your classroom? How has it worked for you? Add your thoughts in the comment section below, tweet me at @nathanhall, or email me through the contact page on this website.

One thought on ““I hear what you’re saying”: Giving audio feedback on writing assignments

  1. Pingback: PicoSong – Simple online audio host with commenting | Nathan Hall

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