Voice Story

Visual story telling for oral language development.

The Concept


The concept of Voice Story derived from an original research tool developed within Naomi Wilks-Smith's PhD research. Naomi's research gathered oral language samples from primary school students learning Japanese as a second language. The research tool, called ‘Storytelling’, involved a large collection of pictures that were used as visual cues to elicit and support students' oral language when telling stories. Students selected the pictures that they wanted in their stories and could talk about in Japanese. The pictures provided visual prompts for planning stories and visual cues for orally telling stories. The method proved very successful to elicit language from students and showcase their language skills. Compared with other language tasks that have a narrow content focus or are designed for a particular language level or even a particular language, the Storytelling task is open-ended, involves any content, at any level and can be used with any language. To create such a large collection of pictures that needs ongoing development to reflect students’ ongoing language development is very time-consuming. The time it takes for teachers to create it limits the widespread use of Storytelling as a language teaching and learning tool. The translation of the analogue Storytelling task into the Voice Story App makes it available for all teachers and students and eliminates teacher preparation time.

Voice Story
Main Interface
Record and Playback Audio
Insert Image
Share Voice Story


Voice Story is a visual story telling tool to support the oral language development of learners. The app involves the oral telling of stories constructed with pictures. It is an open-ended task that encourages learners to create stories using the language that they know and about anything that they are interested in. No text is used at all so that the focus is on oral language and it can be done in any language. Language rehearsal is encouraged by the voice record and playback function. Learners tell their stories until they are happy with them to save. Stories can be kept to document language development over time and can also be shared.



The app uses categories of emoji pictures – characters including people and animals, places and transport, objects, actions and sports, emotions, food and drink, nature, and flags. The emojis are touched and dragged into the story space to create picture stories. The sequence of emojis can be swapped and unwanted emojis can be dragged to a bin area to provide for adjustments to be made to the story during planning. The pictures provide visual prompts for planning stories and visual cues for orally telling the stories. Learners may say a single word or an extended utterance for each picture according to their language level.


The camera allows learners to take their own photos to personalise their stories, such as to create a story about a family member, pet or favourite toy, or to insert a “selfie”. The photos are touched and dragged into the story space in the same way as the emojis to create picture stories. The camera roll allows access to a saved collection of photos to be included in stories and is particularly useful when stories involve a recount of an activity or an excursion.

Voice Record and Playback

When the learner is ready, they voice record their story (in any language). The story can then be played back. This process encourages lots of language rehearsal where learners repeat their story and continue to record and playback until they are happy to save it.

Text Direction

Pictures may be placed left to right horizontally, or right to left horizontally. There is no set direction to place pictures. This provides for text-direction to be used according to the conventions of print for each language.

Sharing Your Voice Story

Stories can be saved which provides a method to document language development over time. Learners may also share their stories with others, such as to share a favourite story with a family member or to share a story with a teacher. Through the app, the learner could share their voice stories via e-mail.

Voice Story can be used with all languages. The user produces the language orally themselves, so the language is only limited to what the user can produce. Other apps for languages are available in either single languages or only a select range of languages. Many learners’ home languages are not represented in apps. Voice Story gives voice to all languages and is a particularly important resource for languages that are not present in any other apps.

Voice Story can be used with learners at all language levels. Some learners may produce a collection of single words, others may produce short utterances, whilst other learners may produce extended sequential stories. The aim of Voice Story is to promote and support learners’ production of language as soon as possible and extend learning a language to using that language. Most other apps are designed with a narrow level of language that rarely suit a teaching context or diverse student needs and abilities. Voice Story gets all learners using language at their individual levels.

Voice Story is open-ended and provides unlimited possibilities for the creation of original stories. A story is not pre-determined, learners can say what they want to say, are able to say and talk about content that interests them personally. This is an unusual feature in an app but is very important for learners’ oral language development and is what makes Voice Story unique. Traditional apps usually have a limited set of words or phrases that restrict users’ language, whereas the possibilities for oral language with Voice Story are limitless. Learners can create any length of stories using any language in any combination.

As an open-ended resource, Voice Story can be used with any content and any topic. Many existing resources are not suitable for language learners because they do not include the language content or topics that learners have been learning. Voice Story does not have pre-determined content. It has categories of pictures that may be selected from and learners can add their own pictures or photos. The learner is in charge of the content by their own selection of pictures. This means that learners can use the language that they know and are not limited by pre-determined content or topic that they may or may not know.

Voice Story is student-centred. It is about the learners more than the technology. The role of the technology is to facilitate the learning. Many other apps reflect traditional methods of education where the app is 99% about the app delivering content and only about 1% about the learner, whereas, Voice Story is only 1% about the app as a platform for language and 99% about the learners as active users and original creators of language. The learner makes the decisions and is in control. Other apps rarely "fit" learners' language levels or connect with the language, content and experiences of the learner. Voice Story focuses much more on learners and their active use of language.

Voice Story can be used any time, anywhere. It can be used at school as a classroom resource to apply the language learners are learning into a story context or can be used outside of school increasing language rehearsal time beyond that provided in the school timetable.

Voice Story provides a much-needed assessment tool for oral language in schools that can be used for all languages at all levels. The ability to save and share stories makes Voice Story particularly useful as a tool for teachers to gather oral language assessment data from stories that students have shared with them. Teachers can then use the oral language samples as evidence to inform their assessment and reporting requirements and as diagnostic information to inform their teaching. Oral language samples in the context of stories identify what students can say using the language they have learned, which aspects of the language they have mastered, which aspects they have difficulty with and which aspects of language the learner would benefit from further teaching. Voice Story retains students’ focus on the task of creating a story and reduces students’ anxiety compared with external tests of oral proficiency. The open-ended nature of Voice Story means that learners can use any language that they know, about any topic or content, and do so at any level. This is the optimal situation for students to showcase their language skills and for teachers to gauge students’ actual language production abilities. Digital portfolios are a popular way to showcase student learning which includes a digital collection of evidence of student learning. In contrast with a traditional method of collecting physical paper work samples from students which limits evidence to written work that is observable, digital portfolios can capture evidence of learning that may include audio and video, thereby expanding the range of evidence of learning that can be collected. Voice Story can contribute to this by providing digital evidence of students’ oral language output. Students can take responsibility for developing their own digital portfolios to showcase their work and include Voice Story recordings as evidence of their oral language development.

Our Team

Naomi and Li Ping are both experienced academics and practitioners in their respective fields of second language education and digital media. Utilising their combined expertise, they founded EdTech Trends in 2018 to address to provide consultancy and design services for educational technologies to schools, companies and universities.
Dr Naomi Wilks-Smith

Dr Naomi Wilks-Smith

Lecturer and Language Learning Specialist

Naomi is an experienced teacher who has taught in a variety of educational settings in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. She has taught in mainstream classrooms, language centres, bilingual schools, and has been a specialist teacher of Japanese. She is currently a University Lecturer of Languages and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She also carries out research in the field of second language education. Naomi has a passion for Japan and all things Japanese, loves the beach, enjoys dining with friends and spending time with her family.

Dr Li Ping Thong

Dr Li Ping Thong

Lecturer and Digital Media Specialist

As a digital media designer and lecturer, Dr Li Ping Thong has vast experience practicing, teaching and researching in a myriad range of digital media specialisations, including 2D/3D animation, interactive media, app development, motion design, digital illustration, e-learning technologies, serious games, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Li Ping is an experienced educator, having over 12 years of higher education teaching experience across Malaysia, Vietnam and Australia.


Naomi and Li Ping wish to thank RMIT University, Research and Innovation, for the opportunity that the Research Translation Seed Fund provided in 2017 and 2018 to undertake the Voice Story project.