HOW TO USE DICTATION IN ELT CLASSROOM
Author: Serebryakova E. S.,
teacher of English,
Secondary school 7
Using a dictation in ELT classroom.
Dictation has been a feature of language classrooms for hundreds of years. However, for many teachers these days, the word 'dictation' is synonymous with 'old-fashioned', 'boring', and 'teacher-centred'. Is it really as outdated and uncommunicative as it first appears?
Dictation has numerous uses in the ELT classroom, often involving very little preparation and a lot of creativity and interest. Used imaginatively, it can be an effective tool for working on accuracy and fluency in all four skills. Today, in this workshop, I will try to answer the following questions and at the same time provide some practical ideas for activities.
What is dictation?
Why do it?
What are the potential problems?
How can we make dictation more learner-centred?
What is dictation?
In its simplest form, dictation is 1) the act of speaking or reading so that somebody can write down the words; 2) a test in which students write down what is being read to them. When used in the language classroom, the aim has traditionally been for students to write down what is said by the teacher, word for word, later checking their own text against the original and correcting the errors made. While this certainly has its uses, there are countless variations that can make it more interesting and learner-centred.
Why do it?
Advantages of Dictation
1. Dictation can help develop all four language skills in an integrative way.
2. As students develop their aural comprehension of meaning and also of the relationship among segments of language, they are learning grammar.
3. Dictation helps to develop short-term memory. Students practice retaining meaningful phrases or whole sentences before writing them down.
4. Practice in careful listening to dictation will be useful in note taking exercises.
5. Correcting dictation can lead to oral communication.
6. Dictation can serve as an excellent review exercise.
7. Dictation is psychologically powerful and challenging.
8. Dictation fosters unconscious thinking in the new language.
9. Dictation involves the whole class, no matter how large it is.
10. During and after the dictation, all the students are active.
11. Correction can be done by the students. (a good introduction to the habit of self-correction)
12. Dictation can be prepared for mixed ability groups. (More advanced students can help/check weaker ones. Stronger students can have the whole text dictated while weaker ones are given a script with some words missing)
13. Dictation can be prepared for any level.
14. The students, as well as the teacher, can get instant feedback (if the exercise is corrected immediately).
15. The dictation passage can (and should) be completely prepared in advance. (It can also be taped.)
16. Dictation can be administered quite effectively by an inexperienced teacher.
20. Dictation can provide access to interesting texts, it can be used to exploit any sort of text, increasing or decreasing difficulties to match the needs of students.
21. Dictation will calm groups (When students are feeling restless, dictation is likely to calm them down due to the rhythmical, semi-hypnotic aspect that puts everybody (including the teacher) into a slight trance).
What are the potential problems?
One problem that definitely needs to be addressed is the perception that students may have of doing a dictation activity. Some students (and teachers!) may have developed an aversion to dictation. It's important, therefore, to ensure that we vary the ways that we do dictation in class and encourage the students to focus on meaning as well as accuracy.
All sorts of texts can be dictated, from single words of a vocabulary list to sentences from a dialogue to full paragraphs. These can also be dictated in the 'wrong' order, requiring students to unscramble them once it's finished. Using dictated texts as a precursor to further activities like this will help students to see them as an integrated part of the learning process. It is important that we and the students see these activities as learning experiences rather than as simply testing their ability to listen and copy words and sentences.
A second common problem is that some students may find dictation more difficult than others, especially if you are teaching a multi-level class. One way of combating this is to think about how much of the dictation we expect our students to produce. We can give weaker students skeleton versions of the text to be dictated, with gaps for them to fill in as they go along, rather than a blank sheet of paper. Incidentally, this can be a useful approach for practising 'noticing' specific parts of speech - e.g. all the students can be required to listen for only the prepositions or articles needed to fill in the gaps.
Accuracy when checking
Students often aren't very good at looking for mistakes in what they have written when comparing it to the original text. It can often be easier to check the errors in someone else's text rather than in our own. Also, it might be an idea to leave some time between completing the dictation and checking the text against a correct version as students are often better able to find their errors with 'fresh' eyes. Doing this will also be good training for students, giving them strategies for checking their own written work.
How can we make dictation more learner-centred?
Instead of the standard formula of the teacher dictating the text, there are a number of ways of taking the focus off the teacher and onto the students themselves. Using the students as the 'dictators' has the added benefit of focusing on students' pronunciation and, in a multilingual class, giving students further exposure to different non-native accents.
Integrating Skills and systems
We always try to make our lessons motivating, learner centered, engaging, communicative and enjoyable. We also try to integrate a variety of skills and systems. The following list shows how dictation integrates a number of skills and systems into one activity:
· Listening – students need to listen intensively to the speaker
· Writing/spelling – students need to write down what they hear correctly
· Vocabulary, syntax, grammar – students will use contextual clues to help them identify the words they hear
· Reading – when students correct their own/each other’s work
· Pronunciation – listening actively can help pronunciation as the ear gets tuned to the English sounds.
The planning stage.
Some tips to guide you through planning to include dictation in your lesson.
Choose a suitable text – not too difficult or to easy – according to the level and abilities of your students
The longer the section students hear before a pause, the more challenging the task – so reduce/lengthen the each section or repeat each section, depending on the level, ability and familiarity with the activity of your class.
Who dictates? Teacher or student? (Student/s can dictate to rest of class, small groups take it in turns to dictate, pairs – encourages students to listen to each other.)
The dictation text may be used as a springboard for a following activity/presentation/practise e.g. introducing grammar, initiating a discussion, etc.
Give the students some form of preparation before dictating the text e.g. brainstorming, predicting (what they are going to hear), etc.
Be fair - present items, such as proper nouns that students cannot be expected to know.
Once you have a text, exploit it further – allow students to self correct, focus on a linguistic feature of the text (e.g. collocations, dictionary work), use the topic or content of the text for a communicative, personalized activity.
Keywords dictation ( Idea from Jim Scrivener in ‘Learning Teaching') –
- Find an interesting short story and underline some key words.
- Dictate these words to the class - don't tell them the original story. They must use those words - in exactly the original order form to make a new story.
· At the end, the class can swap stories, reading or telling them. You could also tell them the original if you wanted.
Missing words dictation (Idea from Lyndsay Clansfield).
(A good activity for practising collocations, phrasal verbs or just using contextual clues to find a suitable word)
· Explain that you have a text, but your printer was not working very well so some words are missing.
· Tell them that you are going to do a normal dictation but where you have missing words they should write any suitable word that fits.
e.g. Last Thursday Maria decided to have some __________ for breakfast. Then she had __________ and washed her __________. She got ___________ and did __________. This time she wasn’t _________ for work.
The type of dictation mentioned above can be transformed in Peer-dictation.
Students work in pairs. They have the same text but with different information that is missing. They interchange information in order to complete their texts. Then they get the full text version for peer correction.
Running dictation. Preparation: prepare one or two copies of a suitable text.
· Organise students into pairs or groups of three. One person within each pair/group is a writer, and one is a messenger.
· Place the text/s on the wall outside the classroom. Explain where the text has been placed and indicate which group should use which text.
· The messenger runs to the text, memorizes a chunk, and quickly runs back to his/her partner to say it. The writer’s job is to recreate the text as accurately as possible. The writer can ask for repetition, clarification, spelling etc. The messenger can get back to the text as many times as she/he wants.
· Get students to change roles during the activity so that all of them can get the chance of being messenger and writer (Unless any students object to either one). You can do this by flashing the lights or clapping your hands to indicate a change.
· Finally pairs/groups may swap texts and correct each others’ work.
Jumbled text (Tim Bowen)
· Choose a short story and cut it up into sentences.
· Divide students into groups – preferably according to the number of sentences you have.
· Each person in the group gets a sentence from the text in random order.
· They then have to dictate their sentence to the rest of the group and the group then has to decide on the correct order for the sentences. Then they check the text of the other group according to the example given on the sheet of paper or on the board.
· Choose two pictures – simple ones for lower levels, more complex for higher levels. You may choose pictures to incorporate context (such as a topic, a song or a story) to be used in a following activity or vocabulary you would like the students to practice.
· Organise the students in pairs and give them one picture each.
· Tell the students that they should not let their partner see their picture. One student starts by dictating their picture to their partner. They are not allowed to show their picture, but the artist may ask any questions or for repetition. When the first picture is ready, students swap roles.
· Finally, each student compares their drawing to the original picture.
'Dictogloss' requires the students to only take notes of the key words used as they listen and then later reconstruct the text so that it has the same meaning as the original text although perhaps not exactly the same form. There is also emphasis on accuracy, but expectations here can be increased or decreased depending on the level of the class - the main aim is that the students understand and then re-convey the meaning of the passage, concentrating on the communicative aspect of the activity rather than producing a grammatically perfect text.
Collocation dictation requires the students to write as many collocations as they can with the words given on the board or dictated by the teacher, this work can be organized in groups or pairs in a form of competition to raise the students’ motivation).
Living tape recorder (Idea from Jim Scrivener in ‘Learning Teaching’)
Draw some tape recorder controls on the board (e.g. a symbol for a Play button, a Rewind button and a Stop button).
Introduce yourself as a 'living tape recorder'. Explain to the students that they are to shout ‘play’ when they want you to dictate, ‘stop’ to pause and ‘rewind’ to repeat (they must, of course, shout ‘play’ again when they want you to carry on.) In this way you will read the dictation, rewinding, replaying, rewinding etc until the students are happy that they all have the dictation. It's a bit chaotic at first but the students will soon catch on and then it's great fun!
In this workshop we have examined the benefits and problems associated with dictation as well as explored some variations on the traditional approach. Dictation doesn't work for everything or for everyone, but by looking again at this traditional method we can add to our classroom techniques a touch of the familiar with a little innovation.
Jim Scrivener “Learning Teaching”, Macmillan, Second edition
Friends 1,2 Course Books , Carol Skinner, Longman Press
Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, Oxford Press, 7th edition, 2006.