Why write things on the board for the students to write in their notebooks when you can dictate them? In this post, you’ll read about 10 simple but fun dictation activities  that can be used with kids and adult learners.

Dictation fell out of fashion in EFL but smart dictation activities give your students a clear model of pronunciation and allows them to practise their listening and writing skills

Here’s an example:

Imagine you have a few topic questions you want your students to discuss.

You could write them on the board yourself or let them read the questions on the handout or in the course book, but if I were you, I would……

DICTATE THEMtefl dictation activitiesThe teacher’s words are in italics. Note the use of imperatives to instruct the learners.

“Close your books”

“Write down what I say”

“What are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

“I’ll repeat. When ?”

(Pause while they write down what they have just heard)

“Now, discuss what you have written with your partner. Don’t show what you have written.

(Make exaggerated gesture hiding your notebook from your partner).

(Let them discuss what they have written, spelling out words out to each other if necessary)

“OK, one more time. When are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

(Let them make any final changes)

You have 2 options here:

Option 1

“Jose (there is one in every class here in Spain) Tell me what I said.”

Option 2

“Jose, write the question on the board.”

“Everybody, is Jose correct?”

(If Jose is correct, proceed to the next step. If he isn’t, see if the other students can produce the correct sentence)

“Everybody, repeat after me. What are the 5 most important qualities in an English teacher?”

(Students repeat in a choral drill)

Jose, say the sentence. Juan, your turn, Carmen, Patricia.

(Ask each student or several students to do individual drilling)

Now, in your pairs, discuss the question. You have 5 minutes.

Now, you might feel a bit uncomfortable dictating at first  but it can be, without doubt, a very student-centred teaching strategy which allows you to identify and deal with any grammar, lexical or pronunciation issues.

Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for recycling vocabulary items or grammar structures: if students are familiar with the language, why board it?
Dictation is an effective teaching strategy for introducing new language: English is often cited as being a non-phonetic language but many words actually have a strong sound and letter relationship so students can benefit from predicting spelling patterns. If the sound / spelling relationship is weak, dictating a word, letting students attempt to spell it, and then giving them the correct form may prove to be an effective strategy for retention.
Dictation helps students develop their note-taking ability. A useful skill to have in meetings, conferences, lectures etc.
Dictation is an integrated skills task. Students practice listening, writing, speaking and even reading.

Here are 10 Dictation Activities you might like to try

1.Jumbled Discussion Questions

Most course books use a series of discussion questions to interest and activate students current linguistic and cultural students knowledge about a topic.. Dictate them but jumble the words so they have to put them in the right order to create the questions. This will give them extra practice with word order in questions, which is often difficult for learners.

2. Single sentence dictations

If you have a series of sentences (or questions), give each student a number and only ask them to write down the sentence (or question) corresponding to their number. When you finish the dictation, the learners can dictate their sentences to each other in an information-gap mingling activity.

3. Running Dictations (with text)

These are often used in language classes. Take a text and cut up the sentences. Stick them on the walls of the classroom or even around the language centre (in the corridors, on windows, on computer screens, doors etc.). Put the students in small groups and assign a scribe (or secretary) to each group. The rest of the students have to read the texts, memorise them and then dictate them to the scribes. The winners are the first group to write down the text without any errors.

4. Running Dictations (with pictures)

This is the same activity as the previous one. The only difference is that the learners have to look at pictures and memorise what they see. This can be used with low-level learners to help them acquire and retain vocabulary. It is also useful for learners who have to describe pictures for exam tasks. In this activity, accuracy is not the main objective.

5. Running Dictations (with live speakers)

This is a fun activity with larger groups. Rather than use text, students have to dictate short texts to each other. Choose 4 students and ask them to stand or sit in one corner of the room. The other students have to go to each corner and listen to each of the 4 students dictating their text. Then, they run back to the scribe and dictate what they heard. This can be used with Business English students as each of the 4 students in the corner promote their brand. You could also create an activity based around a series of clues, for example, a murder mystery puzzle, in which the students have to go around asking for the clues so they can solve the problem.

6. Shopping lists

Writing lists is something we all do on a regular basis. Think of a real-life situation in which one person dictates a list to another. For example, an housebound elderly person dictating a shopping list to a home helper or a boss dictating a ‘to do’ list to their personal assistant.

7. Dictagloss

This is one of the most complete dictation activities, testing each of the 4 skills. Choose a short text and tell the students you are going to read it to them 3 or 4 times at normal speed.

When they listen for the first time, tell them to write down the content words they hear (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). Let them compare what they wrote down with their partner.

When they listen for the second time, tell them to write down the content words they missed. Again, ask them to compare with their partner. They should, at this stage, have identified most of the keywords.

When they listen for the third time, tell them to see if they can fill in the missing grammar words (pronouns, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, articles etc.). When they compare with their partner this time, they should be able to write down the sentences they heard.

At this stage, the sentences may not be grammatically correct so they can join with another pair and work together, using their existing knowledge of grammar and word order, to reconstruct the sentences they heard. This can be difficult so I recommend reading a final time so they can check their sentences against the originals.

What is so useful about dictagloss activities is that they allows learners to identify any recurring errors they make and notice any gaps they have. Here is a great post on dictagloss activities.

8. Recorded Message Dictations

If your students need to use English on the phone, put them in pairs and ask them to sit back-to-back. Student A calls Student B and Student B reads out a ‘pre-recorded’ answer phone message. This could be a phone number to call, an email, a timetable, or even a list of numbered options (Dial 1 to speak to a customer services operator, Call 2 to make a complaint).

9. Consequences / Mad libs

If you don’t know this game, click here. We usually play this game by writing down our answers, folding the paper and passing it on. However, this game can also be played as a mingling activity. Students walk around asking the prompt questions, such as ‘Who was the man?’ to a different student each time and then write down the answer they hear on their sheet of questions.

10. ‘Breaking News’

There is no reason why students have to write down exactly what they hear in dictation activities. In life, most of us take down notes not verbatim copy. You could create dictation activities based around real-life situations such as press conferences. You could use authentic or created audio files and ask your learners to take down notes. Then, put them in short groups and ask them to write a short news report about the event.

Traditional teaching consisted of teacher-led dictations. By letting students dictate to each other, we are giving them extra speaking training in class and encouraging them to develop their ability to speak clearly in English.

What dictation activities work well with your learners?

Teach English in Spain

Teach English in Spain

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