Dictation

Ian White a highly respected member of Izmir University of Economics’ Teacher Training Team (Turkey), facilitated an excellent session on dictation in which a wide variety of views were expressed on dictation. Sorry for any additions or omissions, Ian.

Why do dictation?

  • It improves listening and comprehension skills.
  • Punctuation is realised by pauses in breathing, so a greater awareness of punctuation is achieved.
  • Dictation is an activity that seems to always have a positive effect on classroom management.
  • Dictation allows teachers to present texts for learners for a later focus on skills or language, either vocabulary or grammar.
  • Dictation helps learners see the relationships between spelling and pronunciation.
  • Dictation allows teachers to give learners a reading text in the absence of copiers, electricity and so on.
  • Dictation techniques can form part of the teachers toolbox -a series of techniques that are always ready to be used with little (or even better, no ) planning.
  • In these days of increased keyboard usage, dictogloss can assist with developing writing motor skills.
  • Grammar words or particles (function words) can be presented as chunks or utterances in a proper and natural phonological context.

Davis and Rinvolucri [1988: 4] suggest that there are ten reasons for using dictation in the EFL classroom:

  • Learners are active during the exercise.
  • Learners are active after the exercise.
  • Dictation can lead into oral communication activities.
  • Dictation fosters automaticity and unconscious thinking.
  • Dictation caters for mixed ability groups.
  • Dictation is suitable for use with large groups.
  • Dictation will often calm down groups of learners
  • Dictation is safe for the non-native speaker.
  • Dictation is a technically interesting exercise.
  • Dictation provides access to interesting texts.

Dictation techniques in the classroom make the results of language learning both immediate and tangible, and consequently help maintain learner interest and motivation. The learners can have immediate feedback on the nature of their linguistic performance. They can compare their output with an original text. Dictation fulfills the requirements for a successful language task:

  • It defines and focuses the task that the learners have to complete.
  • It provides a clear signal to the learners that the task has been completed.
  • It provides a basis for immediate [and interactive] feedback through the teacher or through learner self-correction.

Types of Dictation

In no particular order:

  • Dictogloss: Students work in cooperative groups to recreate a text that has been read aloud to the class.
  • Running dictations:
    • Photocopy examples of the text. Pin the examples up on the walls.
    • Explain that each group or pair must choose one person to write down the dictated text.
    • Explain that the other members of the group will go and read the text on the wall, call them runners, if you like.
    • Runners remember as much as they can and dictate it to the scribe.
    • You continue like this until the group has written down the whole version of your text.
    • Monitor for excessive cheating and other naughtiness.
    • The group that finishes first is the winner.
  • Teacher lead dictations
  • Learner led dictations
  • Shouting dictations
    • Get students to stand in two lines facing each other. The lines should be a good distance
      apart (at least 3 metres).
    • The person they face is their shouting dictation partner. One line has a text and the line facing them has a pen and paper.  You can easily adapt this to information gap type activities.
    • The noise of so many students speaking will lead to the raising of voices, hence “Shouting dictation”.
  • Gapped dictations. Variations include:
    • Write a gapped version of the text on the board.
    • Ask the learners to take down only the words missing from the board.
    • In their texts they leave gaps that correspond to the words on the board.
    • Rub out the words on the board.
    • Ask the students to work in pairs and fill the gaps in their texts.
  • Whistle-stop dictations are similar to Gapped Dictations.
  • Half story (based on “Co-operative Open Dictation”, Davis and Rinvolucri, Dictations New Methods, New Possibilities, Cambridge University Press, 1988). With very low levels, ask them to write two or three words, rather than sentences. Though linguistically minimal, this gets them psychologically connected to the text and forces them to achieve reasonable comprehension of the dictated bits. Drawing dictation is a variation on this theme.
  • “The teacher is a tape recorder” type dictations:
    • If necessary, pre-teach the verbs that label the control buttons on a tape recorder.
    • Tell the learners that they can control your (or another learners’) reading of the text by calling out “stop”, “play”, “rewind” and so on.

    Also,

    • Teachers can ask learners to write only particular words or types of words, such as:
      • the nouns
      • the verbs with third person “-s”
      • content words
      • function words
      • plural nouns
        • and so on…
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