Can You Hear Me? … Can You Hear Me Now?

Teaching my students to be CAREFUL proofreaders is always a struggle. Most of my students are second language learners so they already struggle with proper English and English syntax and all that goes with that. So I emphasize with them that they have to catch the mistakes that they actually know better than to make. They all know they are to capitalize the first word in a sentence or names, but that doesn’t always happen. So I’ve been teaching lessons on catching as many errors as possible – especially since we have the 5th grade writing test looming ahead of us right after we get back from break.

We have put our fingers on every first word in a sentence … and then every name. We have read “one word at a time” to catch words without s’s that need them and so forth. So after they have supposedly proofread their work completely I have them use their “phones” to make a last check. Of course their phones are really PVC pipe and elbow joints pieced together. But they work incredibly well. When you talk into them like a phone you are forced to whisper or your ear is blasted with the sound of your voice. So every student in class can be reading their writing aloud at the same time and it makes about as much noise as a herd of earthworms crawling across your lawn.


I gave a sample writing test this week and had the students treat it like it was real. “You have to catch those mistakes you really know better than to make!!!” I admonished them. We went through the entire writing process and proofread their pieces profusely. Students were sure they had caught every mistake they could. Then I had them read their pieces with their phones. I asked, How many of you found mistakes you missed before?” Every hand went up. “You notice things you missed when you read with the phone,” several students shared. It is amazing how when they experience their work “auditorally” as well as visually, they pick up things they miss otherwise. My students that have a hard time figuring out where periods go do better when they “phone in” their work too.


My wife and I each made sets of phones several years ago. I believe the parts cost us about $12 each at a home store to make 30 phones for both our classes. Now the question is will they allow us to use them during the writing test? I doubt it.

I should add that PVC pipe phones are not my original idea … but I don’t remember where I got it from or I would cite the source. I’m just passing on my experience with them because they work so well. I also take them home and run them through the dishwasher every so often to sanitize them.

Learning is messy!

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8 thoughts on “Can You Hear Me? … Can You Hear Me Now?

  1. I love that idea — I have seen those for readers but not for writers. I require my students to read their writing aloud to themselves as well but the noise. The. Noise. I’m going to do this over the break! Totally cool idea. And, low tech! Yippee!

    Thank you!

  2. This is a great “low tech” idea that can be used in classrooms everywhere. A high tech solution that I’ve recently seen used to good effect, for editing and catching mistakes, has been a talking word processor with headphones. I work in a PC environment and I’m not entirely familiar with what is available for the Mac’s you use. For PC’s, I promote a free MS Word add-on called WordTalk from the Call Centre in Scotland. I uploaded a screencast I made about it to slideshare– I’ve managed to persuade several schools to load WordTalk on the school server so it can be available for all students in the school. I think it’s the kind of UDL tool that should be available for all learners.

  3. I was at a literacy workshop last week presented by Bev Bain who called these neat little gadgets “whisper pipes” Thanks for your post on this I think you have inspired me to give it a go.

  4. Wow what an awesome idea. I love it too, and wonder of the middle schoolers would buy into it? I’ll start w/ sixth grade teachers. Now for my little pvc story. & years ago I built my dream house which had a wrap around porch–all around the two sides and front. I wanted flower boxes on every rail, but we had MANY. The cheapest one I could find in the garden stores were $15, and I needed 9. So my husband and I constructed our own out of pvc pipe. See them here.

    Of course Ive since sold this house, since Wal Mart bought the land in front of my home. That’s another long story for another day.

    But your post reminded me that I could use PVC to make a rod for a curtain that i want to display behind the anchors’ desk in our studio. We need something in one area b/c its in a corner w/ bad lighting. Off to the hardware store tomorrow. Thanks for sharing this. Awesome post.

  5. Hi, I liked it and I tried it with my fifth graders and they like it too. Thanks for sharing.

    And keep on writing. you are an encouragement to us all.