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A checklist of dictation activities

This list is taken from the book Breaking the Sound Barrier (Conti and Smith, 2019). You could try some of these to vary the way you do transcription or dictation exercises. Some are suitable for near beginners (A1), others for Y9 (low intermediate) and above (A1/A2).


Delayed dictation

1. Say a sentence that students are familiar with, or containing at least 95% comprehensible input, and tell them to 'hold it inside their heads'.
2. As they do this, make funny noises or utter random French words to distract them for a few seconds. (Or just have silence.)
3. Finally ask them to write the sentence on their mini-whiteboards and show you their answers.


Mad dictation

Select a text containing familiar sentence patterns or highly comprehensible input. 

1. Tell students to listen to the text as you read it at near-natural speed and to note down key words.
2. Tell them to pair up with another student and compare the key words they noted. Tell them they are going to work with that person for the rest of the task.
3. Read the text a second time, reading some bits slowly, some fast and some at moderate pace. The purpose of these changes of speed is to deliberately get students to miss some of the words.
4. Students work again with their partner to reconstruct the text.
5. Read the text a final time, still varying the speed of delivery.
6. Give the students another chance to work with their partner.
7. They get 30 seconds to go around the tables and compare notes with other pairs.


Running dictation

1. Put the students in groups of four and name them 1, 2, 3 and 4.
2. Put up on the classroom walls, as far from where students are seated as possible, a sheet with the text for each group.
3. Students 1 and 2 take turns walking briskly to their designated sheet, memorising a sentence or more from the sheet, returning and repeating it to students 3 and 4 who transcribe what they hear. It is then the turn of students 3 and 4, etc. until the text has been written down.
4. Give students five minutes to proof-read the text.
5. Allow a minute to check anything they have doubts about by running to the designated sheet and relaying the information back to the rest of the group (students 1 and 2 first, then 3 and 4).

Tip: you may prefer to just play this game in pairs.


Scaffolded dictation

Students often find traditional teacher-led dictation difficult, but you can be scaffold the activity in various ways:

1. Supply the first letter of each word. This simple variation adds a further puzzle-solving element students may appreciate.
2. Supply all consonants, but no vowels, or vice versa. This resembles activities described above.
3. Provide a gapped version omitting chosen grammatical points such as articles, verbs or prepositions. This helps develop students’ parsing skills when listening subsequently.
4. Provide a translation; give students a translation in L1 of the text you read. This allows them to focus on form (phonics) less than meaning, lightening the load on memory.


Paired gapped dictation

1. Students work with a partner (possibly back to back). Student A has a complete text, student B a version with gaps.
2. Student A reads to student B, a phrase at a time. Student B can ask for repetitions.
3. After a given time stop the activity and get the pairs to correct the dictation.


Group dictation

1. Students work in groups of four or five. Choose a more proficient student in each group to be the reader. Give that person a copy of a short comprehensible text, possibly with plenty of particular sound-spelling correspondences you wish to practise.
2. The reader carries out the dictation as a teacher would, reading a phrase at a time twice. The other students write their transcription.
3. After a given time display the correct transcription for all students to correct. The reader in each group can support the others, then another person can become the reader. 


Grading dictation

1. Dictate a number of personalised sentences of the type I get up at 6 o’clock.
2. Students transcribe the sentence, adding an adverb of frequency to evaluate the statement, e.g. never, occasionally, sometimes, often and always.
3. Display the sentences and ask students how they graded the statements.


False facts dictation

1. Dictate some sentences, each one containing a false fact. The sentences could relate to general knowledge or something recently studied in class.
2. Students transcribe and try to underline where they think the error is.
3. Display the sentences and ask students what the factual problem was in each case.


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