Dictation is a tried and tested activity in the language classroom. It’s a multi-skilled activity, testing listening and writing skills: it’s quick to correct too, and it’s diagnostic: we get valuable feedback for where our learners need to improve. Dictation draws our students attention to many features of speech: it helps them get to grips with elision: the omission of sounds ( /kamra/ for camera). The same can be said for assimilation: a sound becoming more like a nearby sounds (we often say ‘hambag’ for handbag). Indeed, dictation is particularly suited to English because of it’s complicated sound/spelling relationship.
Dictation is also used in certification exams. Take this example from the B1 level of the Pearson English International Certificate. At the top are the instructions the candidate sees, and the transcript of what they hear below:
Candidates hear the recording twice and the second time they hear it there are pauses to give them time to write (represented by the slashes above).
Read on to look at six great dictation activities to use in class with your students:
A dictation might typically involve a teacher reading the transcript, or perhaps an audio track. But it doesn’t have to! One option for bringing in speaking and allowing students to work together and dictate the pace is to use a pair dictation. This is basically an information gap activity: they complete the text reading out the lines they have that the other person is missing. Afterwards they correct one another’s work – correcting spelling and also potentially highlighting pronunciation errors, ie one saying to another ‘But you didn’t say that!’ You can do this in pairs, or even in larger groups of three or four, which allows for comparisons of what different students put for an utterance within the same group.
2. Picture dictation
We can relate this activity to another well-known exam task, namely describing a picture. This is what the task looks like at Pearson English International Certificate at the B2 level:
A picture dictation involves giving students a scene to draw, for example:
A park scene
A restaurant scene
A beach scene
A school scene
An airport scene
In pairs, students get a different scene and do their drawing in two minutes, hiding what they are doing from their partner. They then take turns describing their drawing to their partner (using phrases they’ve hopefully already learned like ‘On the left hand side / in the foreground/ background / at the top’ etc). The partner draws what they hear.
Afterwards, the students have a look at the two sets of two drawings, probably have a laugh, then take turns comparing each set, initially more factually (In your picture…but in my picture…) and then moving onto more developed questions like ‘Which school would you take your child to?’ or ‘Which beach would you rather be on and why’.
3. Running dictation
Students are split into groups or between 2-4. Each group has a text that it put up on the wall some distance from where the group are sitting. Their aim is to get the text on the wall onto a piece of paper as quickly and accurately as they can. Students take turns to run to the text, remember as much as they can and relay it to the ‘scribe‘ who writes down what they hear. Then a different student goes up to read the next part of the text, runs back, relays etc. Both runners and scribe can alternate.
This dictation activity is always a hit and it involves the four skills. However, it can get a bit too lively and even chaotic without outlining clear rules and expectations. And we shouldn’t forget a rigorous checking stage at the end, where a lot of learning can take place:
– No shouting from the wall. If you do, 10 seconds are added to your time for each transgression.
-At the end of the activity, finished texts are passed around to be checked by the next group. Any mistakes add 10 seconds to your score: this is important as it means the students will do the task more carefully.
4. Jumbled class dictation
The teacher cuts up a text into pieces, then jumbles it up and hands it out to students. Each student who gets a piece of paper reads it out and the rest of the students write. Once everyone has read out their sentence and they have all been written down, students can get into groups of four. They should look at their sentences and agree on the correct form, then try to put them in the right order. Finally, the teacher can reveal the original text.
The activity is collaborative and the teacher can decide to draw attention to different language points depending where they cut up the text: eg. before discourse markers, splitting up verbs and particles in phrasal verbs, collocations etc.
A short text is read (twice) to the learners at normal speed.
As it is being read, the learners jot down familiar words or phrases.
Working in small groups, the learners pool their texts and strive to reconstruct a version of the text from their shared resources.
Each group of students produces its own reconstructed version, aiming at grammatical accuracy and textual cohesion but not at replicating the original text.
Groups can then swap their versions and comment on the language choices and any errors.
A dictogloss involves individual and cooperative work and it also shows teachers which structures students are missing. It also develops the useful skill of paraphrasing – each group has to agree on their version, then they look at paraphrase choices by other groups.
6. Truth or lie
You can dictate anything. What about sentences about yourself?
Here are mine:
I can speak French
I’m a strict vegetarian
My son loves break dancing
I once met Elvis Presley
Individually, students write down your sentences. Then they get in pairs and compare what they wrote and agree on the right form. Then they discuss which ones are true and false about their teacher. Finally, the teacher reveals the right answers and the students make any necessary corrections to form.
On the point of ‘you can dictate anything’, other options are to dictate the lesson objectives or instructions for a task (not only for listening and writing practice: students can refer back to them) or to dictate sentences with words that students commonly misspell in context.
There you have it. Six ways to use dictation in class. What are you favourite dictation activities?
If you are based in Spain and would like to find out more about the Pearson English International Certificate, which includes a dictation activity as one of the ways to test listening and writing, click here.
If you are based in Spain and would like to know more about the range of different assessments we offer, click here.
To look at our global Pearson English Assessment page, click here.
Thanks for reading!