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Delayed dictation


What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of language or sentence which is deliberately held in memory to be reproduced.

The advantage of delayed dictation in this context is clear: the language is mentally repeated in short term memory leaving a trace which can eventually find its way into long term memory, especially if the language is reused later on several occasions over time (spaced retrieval). In addition, delayed dictation is a motivational challenge offered to students- can you remember that chunk of language for 10 seconds?

So why not take advantage of the technique? You can try variations too, not all of which are strictly speaking dictation. Here are some:

1. Read a sentence, allow 10 seconds, the students write it down.
2. Do a scaffolded version of the same, providing a gapped sentence.
3. Do the same but with an audio or video source. Hit pause, wait 10 seconds, then students write.
4. Display a sentence without reading it aloud, then remove the sentence, wait 10 seconds, then students write down, with or without support. This is also known as delayed copying.
5. Chorally read aloud a displayed sentence.
6. Read a sentence, but ask students to manipulate it in some way, wait 10 seconds, then they write their response. For example, students must change one element of what you said.

Example: Fred ate a hamburger at the restaurant
Responses: Fred ate a pizza at the restaurant; Fred ate a hamburger at the café.

7. Sing the sentence so that students have to retain both the language and tune. This may add to memorability as well as amusement and therefore motivation. Instead of writing, students must sing back the sentence chorally or individually.

8. Ask a question, enforce a wait, then students respond orally or in writing. This is the standard wait time technique often advocated to allow all students to formulate answers.

9. More challenging: read a set of words out of normal sequence. Students have to resequence them to make an acceptable sentence before producing it orally or in writing 10 seconds later.

10. “How much can you remember?” In this case read a longer sentence, or even more than one. Students try to retain as much as they can before reproducing it on paper. Pairs of students could help one another.

Is it worth using a distractor during the wait period, such as playing music or sayings something else? I’m not so sure. That could work both ways, either inhibiting memory or reinforcing it because of the extra effort needed by students.

Anyway, maybe you could come up with other variations of delayed dictation!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page, if you’d like to check there for comments.


  2. Here is another interesting delayed dictation aimed at revising vocabulary

  3. I love this but when I asked my classes if they enjoyed it, the answer was no. I was dismayed.


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