Dictation is often frowned upon and considered old fashioned, boring and unproductive by some people.
But, handled properly, it can be productive, fun and very useful in the EFL classroom. The trick is to use dictation in a way that is both stimulating and relevant.
Firstly, make sure the text you choose is:
- the right level for the class
- the right subject for the class
Don’t give a famous speech by Martin Luther King to the class because you find it interesting and stimulating; chances are that the class would rather hear a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean or whatever the latest blockbuster film is.
Regardless of this, the overall style and complexity of the text should be the same as or just above the style and complexity which you would expect your students to be able to produce themselves.
Before starting the dictation you should write on the board any proper nouns which would be unfair to expect your students to know how to spell. Likewise with any specialized vocabulary or acronyms, etc.
Tell your students:
- they should write on every other line of their paper so that any corrections can be added in using the gap between lines
- they must leave a blank space for any word they miss and move straight on
- that you will read the text 3 times
- Read the dictation through once at normal reading speed; students just listen here rather than try to write anything.
- Read for a second time pausing after every meaningful unit of speech to allow students time to write. Now the students begin to transcribe. Include punctuation points here and if a student asks for clarification you can repeat it here.
- Read through at normal speed for a third time, again including punctuation.
- Allow time at the end for each student to work on their own to finish off their work.
There are different ways of correcting work. You might adopt a Student Centered approach and get the students to work through the text in small groups correcting each others work or you may prefer a more traditional approach of correcting the work yourself.
Regardless of how it is done, you should take a look at the work to see if there are patterns of errors which come to light. Perhaps many students are making mistakes in certain types of grammatical structures. Perhaps there are consistent spelling errors coming to light.
Whatever comes out of the dictation should be followed up in a subsequent lesson to help correct it, possibly followed by a mini-dictation to check again.
Here are some different ways of using dictation in the classroom.
Variable Level Dictation
Make a copy of the text you are going to read out and then remove certain words. The twist here is that you are going to make 3 different versions of the text to hand to the students: the first contains just a few words missed out, the second contains more words missed out and the third even more words missed out. Obviously the third version is the hardest and the first is the easiest for students. If you wish, you can also add a fourth level which is just a blank piece of paper!
In class you explain all this to your students and encourage them to choose the level they feel most comfortable with. After you have given your dictation and the students have completed their papers, get them into mixed level groups and have them go through the work verbally (without showing each other their papers) at which point you will have beginner level students helping the advanced level ones and correcting their work!
Split Student Dictation
In this variation, you give each student a numbered slip of paper with a single sentence on it; the students must not show it to anyone but have a few minutes to learn and understand it and make sure they know how to pronounce it properly (you should circulate around the class to check this).
You begin the dictation by reading sentence number 1 and the students write is as normal. Then the student with the next sentence stands up, comes to the front and reads it out loud to the class. Then student number 3 and so on.
This gives the students practice in speaking as well listening.