The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

An Experiment with VoiceThread and Primary Sources

This week I had the opportunity to teach a workshop for the Teaching with Primary Sources – Colorado program to a most enjoyable group of educators in Colorado Springs. I had been trying to incorporate primary sources from the 1908 Democratic National Convention in Denver because of the upcoming July 31-Aug. 1 When History Happens conference and all the wonderful opportunities for teaching the political process and current issues this fall.

I also had the germ of an idea. How could I use this workshop as an excuse to experiment with a Web 2.0 tool in combination with primary sources? Then I remembered something that I had stashed away in my basement that just might be the link I needed.

It was an army document–a sort of certificate about 18 x 20 inches–dating from the Spanish American War of 1898. In the center of a group of patriotic illustrations was the name of “Col. William Jennings Bryan,” and under his name, a list of soldiers who served under his command. Why did I have this document? One of the soldiers was my grandfather, Abram Gildersleeve, who had enlisted at the age of 17 and served as a medical corpsman for the duration of the war.

What did this document have to do with the presidential election of 1908? William Jennings Bryan was selected as the Democratic nominee! (He eventually lost to William Howard Taft.)

I took the document to the second day of the workshop, and during lunch I took five close-up digital photos of it. In only about fifteen minutes, Nancy White (a colleague and friend) and I uploaded the images to VoiceThread and recorded an introduction. Everyone in the class quickly registered with VoiceThread (with just and e-mail and a password), and they immediately began to contribute comments. It couldn’t have been easier.

We had been working on asking strong questions of primary sources. For example, does the question advance knowledge of an event, person, or era? Is it researchable? Does it require only a “Yes” or “No” answer? Does it even matter? The ability to ask effective questions rests at the core of primary source teaching, and I wanted to be certain that the workshop participants understood that at a basic level so they could work with their own students to develop meaningful questions.

Click here to view our VoiceThread! (I’m still trying to figure out how to embed a VoiceThread code in my blog. Please respond if you know how!) As you go through our experimental VoiceThread, which questions do you think succeed, and which ones would you eliminate or revise? Why and how?

Another bit of good news is that VoiceThread has just launched a secure area just for education. Based on my one and only experience with VoiceThread, I think it’s every bit worth the $60 per year subscription to have unlimited VoiceThreads with which to experiment in every possible curricular area. I think most of the participants who tested VoiceThread with me would agree.

Abram Gildersleeve Army Photo

Abram Gildersleeve, Age 17 – U.S. Army, 1898

Abram Gildersleeve 1898

Abram Gildersleeve – Hospital Corpsman, 1898


3 Responses to “An Experiment with VoiceThread and Primary Sources”

  1. Jane Lofton says:

    I met you briefly at AASL & told you I subscribe to your blog. I particularly enjoyed this posting about using VoiceThread, since I’ve been a fan of it since I learned about it from Joyce Valenza’s presentation at AASL. I’ve been using it for booktalks, and one of my summer plans is to expand it to an online library orientation and work on some other ideas. (I’m going to have to, since I am scheduled to do a presentation on voicethreads at the California School Library Conference in November!) To embed it in a blog or webpage, click the menu in the top left of the voicethread and choose Embed. Then, select and copy the code displayed. In your blog, select the option that lets you edit html, then past the copied code in. I hope that helps. You can see an example on my library webpage at and my booktalks blog at

  2. The Primary Source Librarian says:


    Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences along with your student booktalks! I had tried your suggested method of embedding the Voicethread code in the html screen of this post, but I tried again, thinking that I must have missed something. Unfortunately, when the code is pasted in, the formatting of the blog completely changes. The writing ends up scattered all over the display page. Oh, and the VoiceThread still doesn’t appear even though that code messes with the format. So…any other suggestions? Do you know of some vital html tags that I can add to control the format changes?

    Again, many thanks for your help!


  3. Kathy says:

    I took another look at your VoiceThread. I found the “other pages,” heard Nancy’s comments, and found the phone to record. Now all I have to do is give it a try.

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