Dictations – Dictados

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Do you want to improve your English listening skills? What about your spelling and writing skills? Dictation is seen by some teachers as a somewhat old-fashioned or boring technique. However, they  can help in many ways. Dictations make the student and the teacher aware of the students’ comprehension-errors. They even help you learn new vocabulary in context. The purpose of this paper is to re-introduce dictation as a valuable language learning device and to suggest ways of using it in an effective and interesting manner. Hence, get down to work!

  • Faraway Dictations

Pair students up and have them turn their desks so they are facing each other about one metre apart, giving you two rows of students. Each student should have a text in front of them to dictate to their partner. When you say ‘go’, have one row of students begin reading their text to their partner across from them.

  • Correctness Bee

The teacher reads the paragraph slowly to the students with no repetitions. When the teacher is finished dictating, select a volunteer to stand up and begin reading what they wrote. When another student hears a mistake, they stand up and correct the previous student. If the challenger is correct, they remain standing to continue reading their dictation while the previous student sits down. An alternative to this is to line the students up, and when a mistake is made, the student goes to the back of the line and the next student takes her or his place.

  • Dictation Race

Tape a text of around 5-6 lines outside of the classroom or on a far wall. Pair the students up and designate one as the runner and one as a recorder. At the same time, all of the runners go to the text and remember as much of it as they can without writing anything down. Then they return to their partner and dictate the text to them, making sure spelling and punctuation are correct. The runner makes as many trips as necessary to the text until they are sure it is perfect. An alternative to this activity is after the runner dictates one line to the recorder, the students switch roles.

  • Video Dictations

Let students whatch a short clip on YouTube or elsewhere. Give them a partially-completed text if the video is long, or simply have them dictate the entire video. The best videos are those where you can first play the video without subtitles, and when students have finished their dictations, you can direct them to the video with subtitles.

  • Dictate & Draw

Often when students do dictations, they focus on the speed and form of what they write, but they don’t think about the content. After any dictation activity, have students draw a picture to ensure not only accuracy, but also comprehension of what they heard.

An activity you can have students do  which is a variation of the telephone game is to whisper one sentence to a student whose task is to then draw a picture representing that sentence. Have the next student come up to see the picture and try to figure out what the sentence might be. Have that student whisper their sentence to the next student who then draws a representation of that sentence. At the end of the game you will have several hilarious drawings and misunderstandings from the original sentence!

All in all, dictation is a useful language learning device. As the famous linguists Finocchiaro’s (1969) summarized “[Dictation] ensures attentive listening; it trains pupils to distinguish sounds; it helps fix concepts of punctuation; it enables pupils to learn to transfer oral sounds to written symbols; it helps to develop aural comprehension; and it assists in self-evaluation.”


  • Finocchiaro, M. 1969. Teaching English as a second language. rev. ed. p 176. New York: Harper & Row.


Ana Mª Carrillo Sánchez

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