5 ways to use dictation in class


Using dictation in class has suffered some bad press over the years, having been criticised as being uncommunicative and teacher-centred:  surely the days of teachers being trained to be dictators are long gone! However, could it be making a comeback? There are many non-traditional ways to use dictation and there’s a lot to be said in its defence: it’s a multi-skilled activity, it’s useful in large or mixed-ability classes and, believe it or not, dictation can be fun!

In this article we look at 5 ways to use a dictation in class:

  • Dictogloss

The variation is that, instead of attempting to write down exactly what is being dictated, pupils note down key words and attempt to reconstruct the text in groups. Conveying meaning is the name of the game here, but pupils will also need to discuss and come to a decision on sentence structure, linking words and other areas of grammar. Who says dictation can’t be collaborative?

  • Whistle-gap dictation

Rather than dictating the whole text, the teacher replaces certain words with a whistle. It is the pupils’ job to fill that gap with an appropriate word. What part of speech is needed? What fits grammatically? What fits the meaning? Is the collocation valid? Pupils can learn a lot from this activity and furthermore, it involves skills tested in high-stakes English exams.

  • Dictation with songs

Pupils tired of listening to your voice? Then why not let them listen to somebody else’s? Using a song for dictation can be a very motivating activity, particularly if you choose an artist your class like. And writing the words down is only the start: you can choose to draw your students’ attention to a particular grammar point (to this day I remember learning the French subjunctive through Celine Dion’s Pour que tu m’aimes encore), or area of vocabulary. You can ask comprehension questions, or better, get your students to interpret the song. If you’re feeling really adventurous, why not sing the song yourself?

  • Running dictation

An old favourite, this involves pinning texts up around the room with teams of pupils running up to them, reading them, remembering as much as they can, running back to their team’s scribe and dictating. Pupils swap roles and the aim is to get the text down as quickly as possible. You can award points for being first to finish, but also take off points for any mistakes made to ensure students check their work carefully. This activity involves the four skills and the competition and movement really engage students.

  • Jumbled class dictation

After cutting up the text into pieces, jumbling it up and handing it out to students, the teacher can take a back seat. Students take turns to read out their portion of the text for dictation, with the rest of the class writing. When they have finished, they need to put the text in the right order. Depending on where you decide to cut up the text, you can draw your students’ attention to discourse markers (which they can later use in a story of their own), phrasal verbs (splitting up verbs and particles), collocations or just about anything else.

You might also be interested in…

– Collaborative learning in EFL class with teens and adults

– Using ESL videos: Hit play and get ready to learn!

– 6 easy word games for the English language classroom

– 5 great activities for using movies in the EFL class

– 7 tips for teaching writing in the EFL classroom

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