Using Voicethread for Writing Ideas and for Peer Marking

In the past week or so our literacy work has focused on a short sequence from the comic Spiderman #1. Our Superheroes topic is going well and in this post I explain how we have used Voicethread as a creation tool, a writing scaffold and as a way to do peer marking.

We began with the sequence in the comic where Peter is attending a science fair at a local school and is bitten by spider that has been zapped by one of the radiation machines on show. I wanted the short 5 panel sequence to be the focus of an extended narrative. I liked the tight focus on a few moments and the action and comic imagery would really help us to write some interesting narrative.

To begin with we made some notes about the short sequence as a whole class, mainly key words, things that just jumped out from the images and from the facial expressions of Peter.

Notes about Peter Parker being bitten

The next step was to import the five panels from the comic you can see in the above image into Voicethread. I just used a screen capture tool and created some separate image files for each. The Voicethread was to be a collection of first ideas. At this early stage of the writing process I think Voicethread plays it’s hand superbly.

The children have the opportunity to say their ideas aloud. To articulate, listen back, correct and re-articulate very easily. All of the children in the year group worked on writing and recording ideas for the Bitten! sequence and as you know they are privy to all of the comments from their peers in real time. We used the vocabulary above as a stimulus throughout this early task.

Voicethread Ideas 2

After sharing literally hundreds of narrative ideas for the sequence, the children were put with a writing partner. Often we focus on writing in solitude but I think the support and insight children can get from working together is hugely rewarding. They get to see how someone else might approach the same piece of writing.

I modelled the up-levelling or improvement of some simple starter sentences for each of the panels. We worked together as a class to extend and improve on them using the language already collected. The children used Google Docs for their work and I encouraged children to also have open the Voicethread of ideas that we had created. The 5 panels acted as 5 simple paragraph changes. In this step the children are using Voicethread as a source of ideas and as a writing scaffold. They listened and read back the comments others had left and I think found these really useful in kick-starting their work.

Up levelling

As we were working in Google Docs I dipped into their work as they were busy writing. I have written before about how this is less obtrusive than looking over their shoulder or taking their books off of them. I added a header to the Google Doc and then used CTRL+M to add a named and dated comment. I would back this up by a quick chat with the pair if needed to ensure they would act on my advice and feedback.

Marking Bitten

The children had of course shared their Document with me and their writing partner. In my Docs home screen I used the star label to show which Docs I had marked and which I hadn’t. You can read some more ideas for marking with Google Docs in this blog post.

As part of the writing process I explained we would be publishing some to the class blog. I wanted the feedback from the blog to be part of the improvement process for the children. I think that if you plan to publish examples of work in this way, and the kids know this before they begin, you are not just bolting it on afterwards. The children know that the blog readership will be their audience.

We were able to publish 80 percent of the work from the class, those that didn’t were just unfinished. The comments that we received were fantastic and greatly encouraging for the children involved. We would revisit these later in the process.

Blog comments

Although the children have a finished piece of work at this point we are only part of the way through the writing process I had planned and this is where we turned back to Voicethread again. (We kept a printed copy of this first draft.) I have often said that the use of PDFs in Voicethread is overlooked. Clearly the use of images and video is very engaging, but adding PDFs is really useful functionality.

I did two things before exporting the children’s work from Google Docs. Firstly I added their names next to the title of the work. I knew from who shared it with me who the owner was, but as a plain PDF it would be missing that. The second thing was to increase the size of the text so that it was clearly visible in Voicethread.

Voicethread allows you to zoom in to text or images, but when you need to use the pen highlighter it zooms out. With a full page PDF the writing can sometimes be too small to see. Ensuring the text size is set as high as possible is really important if you want to take advantage of the pen tool.

Voicethread pen

Once this was done I exported all of the Docs as PDFs (no need to worry about the file names as you added their names to the text already) and imported these into a new Voicethread. I noticed that some of the pages were jumbled, in other words if a piece of work was over 2 pages these pages were split. Naturally you want them next to each in Voicethread – watch out for that, however it is easy to move pages about from the upload screen.

Saying that, it is hard to see from the thumbnails which belong together – maybe that is something for Voicethread to work on. Either a magnify function on the upload page for each thumbnail or better assurance PDFs will stay in the correct order.

Once the Voicethread was ready to go I asked each pair to record an audio comment of one of them reading out their own work. This is a simple step you can take to allow all of the children in the class to access the different pieces of writing. If they struggled reading it, there was an audio version! We talked to the children about adding comments and feedback and I stuck to a simple 2 stars (things they liked) and 1 wish (something to improve) which we have used before. I encouraged them to use the pen tool to highlight words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs that they were referring too and this proved very successful.


Interestingly the process of reading your own work out aloud and recording it made the children realise where they could improve their own work.

The final step was to revisit their original writing and complete the editing process. It is sometimes hard to find time to review work in light of comments but is essential in helping children improve. Those with blog comments on their work were encouraged to look at what was written. Everyone had numerous comments on their own work as part of the Voicethread – they went back to their Google Doc and made alterations and improvements based upon the feedback from me, their peers and the wider audience on the blog.

I went to every single pair and asked them to talk through some of the alterations they had made and guided them to focus on anything they had overlooked.

In short the sequence looked like this:

  1. Reading the focus sequence
  2. Gathering initial vocabulary and feedback
  3. Voicethread of sequence – children add ideas
  4. Writing begins – using above resources
  5. Writing is published to the class blog and uploaded to Voicethread
  6. Voicethread of work – children add feedback
  7. Edit in light of teacher, blog and peer comments

This was over the course of about a week and half to two weeks. This sort of timescale really allows you the space to establish some quality and immerse you and the class in the piece of work. After all, we were only writing about a very short moment in time.

It may have only been a few fleeting, painful moments for Peter when he was bitten, but we found this extended writing and review process really successful.


  1. Hi
    Love the idea. Wondered if you could tell me where you got the comic from as would like to use the idea with my class. Thanks

  2. I love this idea but how do you set up creating a voice thread. I’ve never seen or even heard of this before but think I could really use it in my lessons.


  3. I'd like to know more about how you set up google docs, like Robert's comment below.
    I like the simple uncluttered feel of your class blog too…maybe I should go more in that direction with our class blog.

  4. I love the whole Superheroes theme – and from what Ive read the children's writing is making leaps! Thanks for the write -ups, real examples like this really do help me to convince other teachers to see the advantage in using tools like this.

  5. Brilliant example of how technology can be used to enable entirely new and engaging, inspirational ways of teaching and learning. Thanks for taking the effort to lay it out so clearly.

    How would you evaluate the impact this type of approach has on children's literacy development and attainment as compared with a comparable class that has a similarly inspirational, creative and talented teacher but without the tech wizardry (TB Unplugged!)?

    What are the 'incidental' aspects of learning, apart from the core literacy aspects, which this type of approach produces (e.g. social, communication, ICT, emotional, etc.). Are there any groups of pupils for whom using these tools and approaches is unhelpful or a barrier to learning?

  6. Really great ideas here Tom. I love the use of voicethread for children peer marking their work. Brilliant.
    Can I ask what may be a obvious question? How do you get your class working on google apps? Do they have an account each or do you create a generic account for the class to log into?
    I also really like the use of the school blog to get comments on children's writing. I will try and get the children to comment on Buddy Bear's Blog discussing the diary entries.
    Thanks for sharing,

  7. Voicethread is a fantastic resource and your post will help others realise just how useful it can be for collaborative work. The feedback example that you have highlighted demonstrates this superbly!

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