Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Homework? A Quick Phone-Recorded Conversation Please!


MP900438762Have you mastered what we are working on?” I am trying to balance the need to know that they ‘have it’ with the practical realities of a modern language class. For that reason I have been looking at more and more choice in not only what language students use to demonstrate learning but also in how they do it. This year I have been making more use of the ‘quick conversation’ as a means of measuring learning.  So an interaction, recorded on the phone, and then forwarded to me is a new way to offer some formative assessment.

Supplies – You  need a mobile phone per conversation pair. I am aware that there are students without mobile phones so I also have a handheld digital recorder ($30 ) that can also be used.  Almost all smart phones have some form of audio note recording app built into them – and they can use any one.

Requirements – I am careful to lay out the criteria beforehand. This is not onerous but is one designed to hear the desired pattern or structure in context, and more than once.  For example, in my grade 12 course I needed to hear that they understood the difference between 3 types of conditionals. It is easy for me to tell who is ‘getting it’ and who isn’t.

Preparation – I allow about 15-20 minutes depending on what we have studied. This is enough time for them to consider the requirements, ensure that they are comfortable with what they have to demonstrate and run through it a couple of times. This is also a key time where partners affirm their knowledge and even help their partner to understand a concept they might not be as clear on.

Sending – I will  not accept any files until after the end of the school day and it is sent from a student’s home, via a wireless connection. The last thing I want to do is push a cost onto a parent for data. If I receive the file prior to that it is not marked.

Listening – You will receive files in a variety of formats. Typically I click on it and it opens in a program that will play it. However I use a Macbook Pro and files that come from Android phones initially look incompatible. Well – internet searching to the rescue. I know what kind of files my computer reads – and so I search “converting .api to .mp4” – the answer is easy to find. After doing of few of these I am comfortable altering the file extension to what I need to hear it.

Marking – I wanted to be able to credit students for completing a task as required, but also encourage them to show a bit more range in the language they choose to do this. So I looked around at various rubrics and came up with one that measures “Task”, “Vocabulary” and “Grammar”. Students also receive some feedback in written form.  The rubric isn’t perfect but it provides feedback that students can use.


The phone conversation homework is popular with my students who like the timeliness and authenticity is provides. More of these to come.



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  1. Enjoy reading your blog.

    Three questions:

    1. Can you give an example of a typical assignment related to a phone-recorded conversation?

    2. If the students are using smartphones/recording devices in the classroom, what is the purpose of them sending it via telephone or a wireless connection from home? This part isn’t clear to me.

    3. Related to #2, what, exactly, do the students do with the recording made in class?

    I look forward to your reply! Thanks!

  2. Happy to expand on what I wrote
    1) An example – “I need a short conversation from each pair. In it you have to show me that you know how to use the 3 different “if” structures – each of you has to use them in context. And remember to introduce yourselves at the top of the conversation. You have 20 minutes.” That’s about it. They already know what the rubric is and how they will be marked.

    2) Yes they are using smart phones but they still have to send me the file. Our school is not good for wireless support for student devices. It means that there is no 3G or 4G charges for sending the file. I feel that its important to parents to not think that they are ‘paying’ for that time (short or cheap as it may be)

    3) Are you asking how they send it? Android and iPhone voice memo’s all have the ability to send the file by email. Are you asking what they do with the recording made in class after I have marked it? At this point nothing. It’s done. It was to demonstrate mastery. In the future when we move to more portfolios for student work they may choose to include it in that. Otherwise it’s done.

    4) Why not Google Voice? I know you didn’t ask this but several people have emailed me to ask why I don’t use it. The prime reason is that I am in Canada and we don’t have it here. Also the phone voice memo means that they can re-record if they want which strangely eliminates the ‘write it down and read off script’ problem that would occur if they worried that they only had 1 chance to get it right.

    Honestly I just want them to be talking about and thinking about what we’ve been learning – it’s amazing how they help each other, correct misconceptions etc in this style of homework.

    If any of the above requires further clarification please let me know.

  3. Thanks for your reply to my questions. You answered each one thoroughly, and cleared up my confusion.

    It’s interesting that you included a comment re: Google Voice; I was going to ask you about this, but, I forgot to do so. 🙂

    You are correct, by the way, re: Google Voice, in that it does promote the “write it down and read off the script” scenario. Which is the main reason I don’t use it any longer for assessing oral work. Although I think that the “leave the teacher a voicemail” activity *can* be fun for the students, it doesn’t exactly promote spontaneous talk, which is what I am seeking.

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