For many years, I shied away from dictation.
It seemed boring and often pointless, and I figured there were better activities for my limited class time. But when I decided to give dictation a chance, I found out there are lots of ways to make it fun, interactive, and purposeful for ESL students. If you are a fan of dictation or are willing to give it a chance, here are some fun ways to incorporate it into your ESL class.
4 Ways You Can Use Dictation to Help ESL Students
Reading Comprehension Dictation
For this activity, you will put students in pairs. Each person will have a copy of a reading comprehension passage at their seats. But the questions on the passage will be numbered and posted throughout the room. Student start by designating a speaker and a writer. The speaker runs to the first question, memorizes it, and returns to their partner. They then dictate the question and the writer copies it down word for word. The speaker is not allowed to see what the writer has written on their paper. Once the question is down on paper, students work together to find the answer to the question in the reading passage and the writer writes the answer beneath the question. The students then bring their question and answer to you the teacher for a check. If both are correct, the team moves on to question number two, switching the roles of speaker and writer. If either the question or the answer is incorrect, let them know and they must go back and fix their error before coming back up for a second check. Students continue until they have answered all the question on the reading passage. This activity will give your students speaking, listening, and reading comprehension practice as well as get them moving and get their blood pumping.
Four Fold Dictation
This activity offers lots of listening practice as well as spelling and speaking practice. Choose a short passage to dictate to your students. You might want to choose something that relates to a unit you are studying in class. Tell students that the first time you read the passage, you want them to just listen. Read the passage to your students a second time, and this time have them note the key words in each sentence. Encourage your students to focus on nouns and verbs in each sentence and let things like articles and quantifiers go for now. Those words they will fill in the third time you read the passage when they listen for the exact wording. Finally, have students work in groups of three or four students to try and recreate the entire text. When everyone is finished, give each group a copy of the passage and have them look for differences between it and what they came up with as a group.
If you want to challenge your students listening skills and get some motion in at the same time, this slightly crazy activity will certainly get their ears working at top speed. Before class you will need to post some symbols on your front board. You will want each symbol to be about the size of a standard piece of paper. The symbols should be play, stop, rewind, and fast forward. (Tip: if you can, print the symbols out paper and then tape the papers to your board. That way they will not erase when students put their hands on them throughout the activity.) You will also need to choose a passage that you will dictate to your students. If possible, write out your passage with each new sentence starting on a fresh line. This will help you as you go forward and back as you read.
In class, match each person up with a partner. One person will be the speaker and the other the writer. Have your writers sit at the back of the room while you stand up front with the passage you will dictate to your class. To start the activity, have one person press play. You will then start reading the passage to the listeners. You will continue to read until someone presses stop. The listeners then run back to their partners and dictate what you have said while the writers put the words on paper. If necessary they can hit rewind and have you repeat what you just read before hitting stop again. Take note of where you are in the dictation at all times because you will be starting from where you left off every time you read.
After the writer has written down what the speaker remembers from the dictation, the speaker can come back to the front to have you read more. If they want to go back and hear something again, they should press rewind (you back up one sentence from the location you left off) and then play. If they want you to continue from where you are, they simply press play (you continue from the same location) and then stop. If someone else has backed up your reading and they need to get to a sentence further in the passage, they press fast forward (you skip ahead to the next sentence from where you stopped) and then play.
Since many teams will be working at the same time, there is bound to be a little craziness as you are reading, but a little craziness is what makes the activity fun. Continue until each pair has written down the entire passage. Then have students look at what they wrote as you read the entire passage to them again from the start, without interruptions.
If your students are shy about speaking, they’ll have to overcome their fears to be successful in this loud dictation activity. Put each person in your class with a partner. Have partners sit across from each other, but place them on opposite sides of the room so they are very far apart. Give the students on one side of the room one half of a dictation passage. Give the students on the other side of the room the other half of the dictation. Students will have to dictate their portion to their partner, who will write it down to make their own passage complete. Since students will be far away from each other, they will have to speak loudly or even shout so their partner can hear them. There will be a lot of noise in the classroom, so your class will have to listen very carefully to hear what their partners are saying. When both sides have complete passages, have them sit together and compare what they said to what their partner wrote down.
Much to some people’s surprise, my own included, dictation can be a lot of fun.
Try these activities to challenge your students’ listening and speaking skills, and have a great time with dictation in your ESL class.