IATEFL Glasgow

Much more than spelling: dictations revisited
Urs Kalberer  umkm@sunrise.ch

  • ·         Traditional language activity
  • ·         Foster all language skills
  • ·         Independent of size of class
  • ·         Easy to set up
  • ·         Requires zero technology

Secretary dictation. There is one secretary per group of 5-6 students. The secretary reads the sentences from the teacher and then dictates it to their group.

1 Phases in Dictations (T=teacher, s=students)

T or s

T, s or group of s
Aural, visual, memory
Writing, drawing, completing, listing, adopting, …
T all, T half of the class, one dictation per group, s, cooperative

2 Content
·         Finish the sentences.
  • Glasgow is the … (largest city in Scotland)
  • The year 1707 … (union of Parliaments)
  • English is the official language … (of two European countries)

·         Wordbingo, e.g. list difficult words to spell (10-15 words). Let ss choose 5 words and write them down. Then start dictating until someone shouts “Bingo!” after hearing all their 5 words being read out.

·         Word lists. Chair-window-cupboard-pen-desktop computer-door-dictionary-poster-sink-bin-desks-….classroom. Create clusters. Task: Link the words with verbs and prepositions. Above the sink there is a poster. The pen is on the desk in front of the classroom.

3 Language

·         Gapped text. Ss read it through. Delete prepositions or verbs in a text. Let the students read it through, then ask them to turn the paper. You read the complete text, students listen, then they turn the page and complete the gapped-text.

·         Dictate a statement. Students turn it into a question or change the tense.

·         Dictate without punctuation.

4 Writing

·         Transcribe a recorded text

·         Half the story. Bill felt very hungry, so he went straight to the supermarked after school. There he bought … on his way to the checkout he couldn’t believe his eyes: There standing right in front of him was … - (explain who the person is). Bill decided to be friendly and … When he got home, his wife was waiting for him at the door. She didn’t look happy.

·         Spelling race. Choose words that are difficult to spell like accommodation, rhythm, etc.
·         Paired story dictation. A two paragraph story split into two parts. Hand out one part to each student in the pairs. Dictate each passage to one another. Then they write a third paragraph together.

Pair dictation (adapted from ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ by Robert Burns)
Part 1: Thomas was enjoying the company of friends with songs, stories and plenty of drink while forgetting about his wife waiting for him at home. When he finally rode home on his horse, he faced wind and rain and even lightning. But Thomas ventured on.
Part 2: As Thomas approached a church on his way home he noticed that there was light inside. He came closer and saw witches dancing to the sound of pipes. In astonishment he cried: “Well done!” when suddenly the lights went out.

5 Reading

Running dictation. Cut a short story into sentences. Spread the slips of paper around the room. Split class into groups of 3 (2 writers and 1 runner). Runner reads the sentences and reports back to the writers. Winner is the group who has first written and ordered the sentences correctly.

Quick glance. Show sentences very quickly. 

6 Listening

·         Recorded messages. S record themselves. Then pass the message to someone who has got to transcribe it.

·         Underline the differences between the read-out text and the written text. Then s correct.

Glasgow grew from a small rural settlement on the River Clyde to become the largest seaport in Britain. Expanding from the medieval bishopric and royal burgh, and the later establishment of the University of Glasgow in the 15th century, it became a major centre of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century. From the 18th century the city also grew as one of Great Britain’s main hubs of transatlantic trade with North America and the West Indies
Source: wikipedia.org

Glasgow grew from a small rural village on the River Kelvin to become the largest seaport in Scotland. Expanding from the medieval bishopric and royal burgh, and the later establishment of the Academy of Glasgow in the 13th century, it became a major centre of the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th century. From the 19th century the city also grew as one of Great Britain’s main hubs of colonial trade with Canada and India.
·         Taking notes

Inform the students to keep calm during the dictation as they will not be able to follow the pace of the dictation. Be prepared for some serious moaning and groaning but let them know that you will read the text three times. After that they compare and check with their partners.

7 Speaking

·         Picture dictation. Different focus. Groups of 4 students.

·         Pantomime. T reads and acts it out. T reads, s act it out, T hands out copies, ss read and act it out, T acts out, ss write one sentence per action.

George is stroking his cat fondly. He then opens a can of cat food. He spoons out the contents into a bowl and puts it on the floor. While the cat is eating George is stroking the animal once again.

8 Correction

·         Pass the buck.

By trying out dictations in the classroom you will develop new ideas yourselves.
Dictations can be fun especially when allowing some free expression.
In my experience they also calm down unruly classes.
They are useful at elementary level when moving from controlled to more open writing tasks.

·         Group dictation
Students are active during the dictation.

Students are active after the dictation.

Dictations are beneficial for heterogeneous classes.

Dictations are beneficial for large classes.

Dictations allow different social interactions: whole class, group, pair, individual

You can check content with dictations.

Dictations take a lot of preparation.

Dictations allow the use of interesting texts.

Dictations are independent of technical equipment

Dictations support all language skills

Dictations, Davis and Rinvolucri, CUP, 1988

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