What is your favorite way to begin class? Every teacher has a preferred method to get students focused and to signal that class has begun. Personally, I like to start my classes with a dictation exercise. Though dictation may have fallen out of favor in recent years, I find that it improves students’ listening skills and really boosts their confidence.
Choosing a Text
When choosing a text, I consider two purposes for the dictation to serve:
- To introduce target structures or vocabulary. This way, students can see the new material in context.
- To reiterate grammar and vocabulary that I want students to review.
With materials from ESL Library, you won’t need to spend a lot of time preparing for this activity.
For suitable texts, I recommend the following categories on our site: Grammar Stories, Famous People, Famous Places, Famous Things, and Holidays & Events. Keep in mind that a longer dictation does not always make for a better dictation. I suggest using a couple of sentences from the Reading passages in these lessons for beginners and a paragraph for more advanced learners.
My go-to technique for dictation is simple, but effective:
Read the text three times.
- The first time, read it at a natural pace while students listen. (Pencils down!) Afterward, ask a few content questions to make sure that students have the gist of the passage.
- During the second reading, pause after each phrase or clause, giving students time to write. Do not isolate articles or prepositions; link them with other words as native speakers do.
- Read the text a third time, again at a natural pace as students check their work.
Finally, hand out copies of the text so that students can compare it with what they have written.
If you would like a livelier approach that integrates all four skills, there are two variations that will get your students talking. In addition, our digital platform provides resources for self-directed dictation as described in my previous post, “National Online Learning Day.”
During this collaborative activity, the teacher reads a short text two times at normal speed while students take notes, only writing down the main ideas and key phrases. In pairs or groups, students compare notes and recreate the text so that it has the same meaning as the original. Make sure students understand that their work does not need to replicate the text word‑for‑word.
Running dictations are fun, dynamic, and competitive. Before class, post copies of the reading around the classroom, as far away from students’ desk as possible. Have students get into pairs and ask students to decide who is the runner and who is the scribe. The runner will go to a posted copy of the text, read it, and memorize as much as they can. They run back to their scribe and dictate all that they can remember. The runner then goes back to the text and reads and memorizes more of it. The runner is not allowed to write any of the text, but they can spell words for their partner. The pair that finishes writing the text first wins.