Teacher Showcase: Recording Visual Imagery with Heather Chiapetta

At Northview, Heather Chiapetta helps her students build comprehension of visual imagery through their own voices.

It’s Friday, and Northview just finished a homeroom-based safety drill, so the students walking into Heather Chiapetta’s fifth period Academic Strategies 2 class are understandably riled up. They spread around the room, talk cheerfully and randomly (including several questions about whether I am a sub or a student teacher), and jump in and out of their cell phones. The bell rings, and Heather focuses them on a bellringer revision activity: “Edit the sentence: ‘THe Homeroom activity he was fuun?’” After their excited discussion of the egregious errors in the sentence, Heather gets to the real work of the day: using verbal skills to demonstrate comprehension of imagery in literature, a task that will merge SIM strategy with Chromebook technology.

Chiapetta introduction.jpg
Heather opens with activity instructions.

Heather is helping her students develop an understanding of descriptive writing and author’s purpose through a straightforward technique: She finds a text and marks it every so often with a dot that indicates a stopping point. The student reads to that point and stops. Then, he or she discusses the descriptive imagery presented in the text and adds to it with their own visualization. So, for instance, if an author just wrote “The sun rose over the mountains,” the student might comment on what color that turned the mountains and sky, or what the clouds looked like, or the temperature of the air. The point is for students to engage with the text through their own creativity, not merely to expose their eyes to the words.

Heather is running the activity with the support of a Chromebook app called MicNote, a simple tool that records a student’s voice while allowing them to take notes on an associated document. The students speak directly into their Chromebook microphone, producing a file easily shareable with Heather through Google Drive. Heather then responds to the recording with an analytical grading rubric.

Chiapetta students together.jpg
Students work individually and collaboratively.

Today, the students each grab their text, an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pull a Chromebook from the cart, and find a comfortable place to record. This is not the first time Heather has run the activity, and students need little prompting on the work. In fact, the students set up for their work amazingly well, shuffling off the post-homeroom frenzy. Silence descends as someone waits for the first student to begin recording, but as soon as that student does, the rest follow suit.

Student Recording


The recording seems timid, a sharp contrast to the students’ earlier gregariousness, but no student stops. No student fails to complete the activity. And, even more than that, no student needs serious support in understanding the activity. The technology does not take center stage. Heather’s SIM strategy holds that position as each student considers what they wish to add to Rowling’s descriptions.

Chiapetta close recording.jpg
Several students angle the Chromebook microphone to themselves for closer reading.

As I’ve discussed in previous teacher showcases, employers have reported a need for better verbal skills in their employees. Heather is seeing that and acting on it. Her classroom is becoming a space where students that love to use their voices for socialization and play use them for critical reflection. But, instead of the intimidating environment of whole class discussion or student presentations, the MicNote work here allows and requires each student to find their own voice and make it work.

Resource Introduction: Chromebook Voice Recorders

Would you like students to record their voices? Read here about two excellent apps for that!

Would you like your students to record simple voice audio without video? That is certainly possible with the Chromebooks through two simple and popular applications. Your choice of these should be based on your need.

Let’s start with the simpler option: Voice Recorder. This web-based app can load into a student’s Google account quickly. When they access it, the screen immediately shows the red record button without any account login. The student presses record, speaks, and then presses stop. After that, the student can download the audio file directly to their Drive while on the Chromebook. If working on a desktop, they would download it to the hard drive. Once in Drive, a student can share the audio file with a teacher or peers or download it for editing software.

Voice Recorder Home Page

Voice Recorder App Download

The more sophisticated option is SoundCloud. This service is becoming increasingly popular as a combination of audio tool and social media site. A student can create an account by linking to their Google account to upload sound files, create their own sound files, share sound files, listen to others’ sound files, or engage in discussion. This service is more robust and offers the opportunity to create collaborative groups. If you wish to do much with sound files, this may be a cool opportunity for you and your students.

SoundCloud Home Page

SoundCloud App Download

“How to record your voice with soundcloud” (Video; 3:25)

Whichever approach you choose, you can record easily on a Chromebook. Beginning a recording will prompt for you to give the service permission to use the microphone. Do that, and you’re good. Chromebook microphones are fairly decent at picking up voice, even with background noise. If you are in tight quarters, consider staking out a larger space, like a cafeteria or library, to lessen the background noise.