Good writers often read their writing out loud as they are composing and revising. Sometimes the focus is on checking for meaning and the flow of the language. Other times the focus is on checking that the sentences are the right length and are appropriately punctuated. Of course, not everyone is comfortable doing this, and some may get so caught up in reading what they intended to say, that they aren’t able to listen critically and notice what’s not working. This blog post features 2 tools, a text-to-speech reader that is available in most word processors and VOKI, a free talking head avatar.
Add a text-to-speech tool to your toolbar
Did you know that most computers and word processing programs now have a free text-to-speech tool that you can install on the toolbar? I use a PC, so I’ll focus on the Microsoft tool that will read aloud written text in Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and OneNote. You can choose your voice and the rate of speed. You simply highlight a word or section of text and click the speak tool on your toolbar to listen to your text being read aloud. Granted, TTS tools still have voices that are a bit robot-like. However, the focus here is not on expressive reading, but rather, listening to catch major editing issues.
Directions for adding TTS to your Quick Access Toolbar can be found online at:
Listen and Revise with TTS
There are several ways to use TTS as a revision and editing support. Of course, depending on the length of the text, you can always listen to the text in its entirety to get an overall sense of how it’s working. Below are some targeted revision/editing strategies that can make the process more manageable for writers.
Targeted revision and editing with TTS
Highlight a paragraph and then click on the Speak tool in your Word toolbar.
Listen and ask:
- Does this paragraph make sense?
- Does the lead sentence engage you and/or give you a sense of what the paragraph will be about?
Highlight the opening sentence of each paragraph and listen to hear how the paragraphs are building on one another to create an overall text that meets your genre requirements and writing goals.
Listen and ask:
- Do the opening sentences give you a sense of how the text is building to tell a story or present an argument?
- Are there some paragraphs that seem to be standing on their own, and aren’t connected to the rest of the text?
- Are there big jumps between paragraphs where I need to make a transition?
Run-on sentences and fragments
This is a quick and easy check. The TTS tool will read along at the same rate, pausing only for punctuation. Run on sentences and fragments without punctuation will sound very strange!
Listen and ask:
- Do I have any very long sentences that are hard to understand?
- Do I have some sentences that aren’t complete?
Listening to check spelling will only capture misspellings that result in a phonetically different pronunciation. For example, typing ‘happee’ for ‘happy’ will sound okay. Typing ‘hape’ or ‘hapy’ for ‘happy’ will not! This process does help writers learn to listen for misspellings, which can be useful. However, you will want to connect this kind of spelling editing check with the use of the embedded spell checker tool or an online dictionary.
Listen and ask:
- Do my words sound right?
VOKI: Listen to an animated Avatar read your writing to help you review and revise
VOKI is a free online tool that even young children can use to create an avatar who will then read the text they have typed in aloud to them. Clearly, this can be engaging for students, since it allows them to create a reader and watch the reader speak their text. It only takes a few minutes to customize your avatar. Then, you choose the TTS read aloud option and enter your text. If the text has been created in a word doc, you can copy and paste it into the text input box. You may preview it, save it, and/or email it. All of your saved avatars will be available in your ‘my avatars’ space.
A word of caution – there is a 60 second restriction on each Avatar speaking segment on the free VOKI and 90 seconds on the school paid version. You will be surprised at how much the avatar can read aloud in 60 seconds. However, if the text is longer than 60 seconds, have students entered in portions (perhaps at the paragraph level or beginning, middle, end, of the text, etc.).
This screenshot shows that I’ve created my cat avatar and typed in my text so that the avatar will read my text aloud with a TTS voice.
Hear from students about how VOKI is a fun way to help them with their writing
The VOKI website features videos created by teachers illustrating how they use VOKI in the classroom. Watch this video of Mr. Young’s classroom to learn from his students how they use VOKI to help them review their writing. One student realizes his text doesn’t make sense, another decided that he needs more sentences, a third notices that periods are missing, and a fourth hears mispronunciations that some spellings need correction.
Please share your strategies for using TTS and Avatars to support your students’ literacy.