Dictation – advantages and ideas

What comes to mind when you think of dictation? For many people, it’s boring and teacher-centred activities where the teacher talks and talks and the students struggle to write down every word the teacher says. If that’s your belief, then read on for practical and student-centred activities and ways to incorporate dictation into many different lessons.

Advantages of dictation tasks

  • They often involve many skills and competencies, such as pronunciation, punctuation, note-taking and spelling.
  • They can be interactive and collaborative.
  • They require little in the way of material.
  • They can encourage proof-reading and editing skills.
  • They offer an alternative way for students to review / re-encounter previously taught language, as the texts used / created by students can be set up to include this  language.
  • They can easily be used in general English classes, Business English classes, Academic English classes etc., by simply adapting what is dictated.
  • They can be fun!

Dictation ideas

 Half the story – The teacher dictates statements and questions in a story to the students. When a statement is dictated, students must write down the same statement. So, for example, if the teacher says ‘It was a dark and stormy night. A man stepped out of the shadows’, then this is exactly what the students write. If the teacher dictates a question, for example, ‘What did the man look like?’, students create a complete answer to the question, and write that down. For example, ‘He was tall and thin and he was wearing a long black coat.’ In this way a story is created. When the text is complete the class will have several stories with certain things in common, but also a lot of variation – this creates great motivation for them to read the different stories and see how theirs compares. Optional alternatives / extensions: The teacher could dictate deliberately short sentences or include few adjectives. Once the activity has been completed students must make the story more cohesive by going back and inserting linkers to create longer, more natural sentences, or add adjectives to make it more descriptive. The whole dictation task can be done either individually or in pairs / small groups.

Dictogloss – The teacher dictates a text to students at natural speed. The students listen and try to note down key words. The teacher repeats the text a few times and each time students can add to their notes. They then work in pairs to try and reconstruct it by using their notes. Finally they read the original text and compare it with their version. The important thing is not that they exactly replicate the original text word for word, but that they have the essential meaning the same and construct good sentences.

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 12.29.58Running dictation – The teacher posts a text of suitable length and topic either on the wall of the classroom or outside of it. Students are put into pairs and given either the ‘writer’ or ‘runner’ role. The writers sit down a reasonable distance from the posted text. The runners must read part of the text and then run to the writer and dictate what they have read and can remember. They keep running backwards and forwards dictating as much as they can while the writer writes it down. The text can be split into two so that the writer and runner roles can be swapped half way through.  The original text must not be moved. The runner cannot shout from the text, but must return to the writer each time. When they have finished, students work together to compare their text with the original and notice any errors. Not only is this great fun and very lively; it also helps students with ‘chunking’ pieces of text and practices reading, pronunciation, punctuation, spelling listening and note-taking.

Vocabulary lists – in its simplest form, dictation can involve the teacher dictating a list of previously learned words for students to write down correctly, focusing on the spelling. This can be made more student-centred by putting students into pairs and giving As and Bs different lists to dictate to their partner. After they have finished they can mark each other’s sheets / correct each other. This has the added advantage of involving pronunciation.

Dictation gap fills – gap fills can be incorporated in a few different ways. At the basic level, the teacher dictates sentences with a word missing. Students either have to write the missing word or the whole sentence, including the missing word. It is also possible to do a running dictation with gaps which the students have to complete in pairs once the rest of the text has been finished.

Collocation dictations – Dictate a verb then a series of nouns (or use any other common collocation pattern) – students only write down the ones that are correct collocations. E.g. the teacher says ‘Make…your bed…a cake…your homework…friends.’ Students should write down ‘Make your bed, make a cake, make friends.’ Taking this forward, students could then work in pairs, taking turns to take the role of the teacher, reading out their own previously prepared lists with one collocation that doesn’t work in each. Or dictate gapped sentences, which students then work together to complete. The gap should be part of a collocation / phrasal verb / dependent preposition etc. that the students have previous studied. To extend this activity, the sentences could be discussion questions, which the students then have to talk about. For example, when students have previously studied collocations with ‘get’, the teacher dictates, ‘Is it better to get _______ or stay single?’ or ‘Do you get on ______ your boss?’

Dictation transformation – the teacher dictates words or sentences and the students have to transform them in some way. For example, active to passive, one tense to another, from informal to formal language, from a word to its opposite. Again, students could work in pairs or small groups and perhaps dictate to each other if they are given the material by the teacher.

Muddled dictation – the teacher takes a short text and cuts it into strips. They give individual students or pairs the corresponding amount of blank strips of paper. The teacher reads from a random strip and the students write it onto one of their blank slips. When the teacher has read all the strips, the students reorder the blank strips to form the text. They are then given the un-muddled text to compare with their version.

What’s your favourite? Do you have any other ideas?

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