Dictations are fun!

No, I haven’t gone insane. I really think they are. On top, dictations are also powerful EFL teaching tools if used judiciously.

Yes, I know. The very sound of the word DICTATION can immediately make some go red with embarrassment. Others may shudder with trepidation.

Nervous sweat rolling down your brow. Clasping and unclasping your hands. The monotonous voice of the teacher lulling you to sleep. And all those incomprehensible French and Latin looking words you can’t and never will be able to spell: opprobrium, abstinence, acquiesce and trousseau. What are they even supposed to mean?!

You would very much like to formally plead the teacher to be mag-na-ni-mous and to spare you the suffering if only you knew how to spell the damn word…

Sounds familiar?

Now a teacher yourself, you’ve probably been trying to save your students from going through the same  trauma, long ago banning any form of dictation from your classroom. If you indeed have, then open the barred classroom door just a little, please.

Dictations are great teaching tools, especially in a one-to-one setting. Some of their often unnoticed advantages are:

  • extra listening practice
  • zoom in on a language point
  • vary the pace of the class
  • on the spot language reformulation
  • pronunciation (minimal pairs, sentence stress, sounds vs spelling, etc.)

And last but not least: practise correct spelling.

You’re still not convinced? Don’t worry – I wasn’t either when the idea was first introduced to me during a course on 1-1 teaching in IH  Budapest. But I’ve changed my mind as soon as I’ve tried the first activity in the class. I hope you will too.

And if I’m preaching to the choir, please share your dictation ideas below.

As a disclaimer, I don’t pretend to have invented any of the below. Far from that. Those activities have been around for years, and I’ve picked them up as I went (taught) along. But the greatest credit is due to the teacher training team on my 1-1 course in IH Budapest (you know who you are), who showed me the value of using dictations in class. 

So, ready, steady, dictate!

1. Banana Dictation:

  •   T removes a language item (e.g. preposition)
  •  instead of the word T says: banana 
  • dictate the sentences. I  got banana the airport a bit late.
  • Idea: use for on the spot error correction
  • Idea 2:with the student come up with your own “code” word instead of BANANA (i.e. I like choosing something the student finds funny, e.g. a blend of an L1 and English word)

     2. Transformation Dictation:

  • T dictates sentences
  • student transforms (e.g. tense, aspect, register, style, passive vs active etc.)
  • e.g. T: Police interrogated the criminal. S: The criminal was interrogated.
  • Idea: for extra challenge, do it orally (i.e. the student is not allowed to write anything down)
  • Idea 2: encourage varying responses (i.e. often there are numerous possible options)

     3. Error Correction Dictation:

  • T dictates sentences with errors
  • student writes the correct version
  • Idea: use it for immediate correction to upgrade students output
  • Idea 2: don’t only focus on grammar – think about the lexis, language chunks, appropriacy, etc. and how it could be upgraded

     4. Intensive Dictation:

  • T selects and reads a text
  • student writes down all examples of the language item T plans to zoom in on (e.g. verbs of movement)
  • feedback against the original
  • Idea: add a gist listening question if you think it will help the student 
  • Idea 2: choose a motivating text your student can relate to

     5. Dictogloss:

  • T reads a short text
  • student notes down the key words
  • 2nd listening to expand the words into phrases
  • student reconstructs the text 
  • check against the original to notice the gap
  •  Idea: use especially if your student is vehemently opposed to being taught any grammar – dictogloss is designed in such a way that the language queries comes directly from the student noticing their own language gap, therefore any language teaching afterwards should be more motivating
  •  Idea 2: Carissa Peck suggests a few interesting variations on the classical Dictogloss, which offer extra challenge for students

     6. Running dictation:

  •  as suggested by English Eso and described on Teaching English BC here 

     7. Drawing Dictation

     8. Mutual Dictation:

     9. Homophones Dictation:

     10. Other:

  • over a dozen dictation  ideas from the British Council
  • Rachael Roberts came up with 10 ideas for using dictations, so four more than here! 🙂 You can read her post here. 

15 thoughts on “Dictations are fun!

  1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, I like that idea. You can also invite another teacher and do a very short dialogue, or get them to tell a short story. That's always a nice change for the students too.
    Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

  2. The sort of dictations that have only one correct answer lend themselves to online dictations. here are some examples:

    1) Pointing words: http://www.esl-exos.info/english-grammar-exercises/adjectives/demonstratives/

    2) Verb tenses: http://www.esl-exos.info/english-grammar-exercises/verb-tenses-time-expressions/

    3) Pete and Marion: http://www.real-english.com/reo/81/81-1.22.asp

    Teachers can easily make their own dictations tailored to their students needs using TexToys or similar software.

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