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'Why Dictation?' in the Modern ELL Classroom


Is dictation old-fashioned, too teacher-centered, and boring, or can it be fun, challenging, and a good way to spot students' language strengths and weaknesses? A post "Why Dictation?" over at My English Pages, which is also an entry in the recent edition of the English-learning blog carnival, makes the case that dictation can be a useful tool in teaching English-language learners.

Has anyone actually tried this lately in an ELL classroom? If so, tell us how it went.


Mary Ann,

I regularly use dictation in my ELL class in two ways. One, I dictate very short passages while students write what I say on small whiteboards that they hold up to me and I can correct from the front. Secondly, I place students in groups of three where they take turns reading passages we've reviewed together -- one reads, two write on whiteboards.

Both work great.


I don't use it in my ESOL classroom but had to do dictation for my Thai and Lao classes in graduate school. It had a certain quality to it.

I learned a great dictation type strategy from a wonderful teacher many moons ago. Recording a short radio news report, weather, food, science-oriented of 5 or 6 sentences, I would play the entire piece. Then replay stopping, rewinding, and replaying each sentence a few times before moving to the next and allowing enough time for the students to capture as much as they could until the whole thing finished. Then a volunteer would write it on the board for a group correction, replaying the piece if necessary. After discussing for meaning, vocabulary, and grammar, it would also serve as a pronunciation exercise. The activity improved students ability to understand native speakers who speak at a quick pace.

I do encourage dictation in class to help learners get accustomed to the patterns in English: sound and syntax. The short passage dictated, is corrected by the learners themselves. Handouts of the passage dictated are given to the learners.

I use dictation fairly often with my beginners because they like it, which always used to surprise me. Our dictations are usually just short sentences and then the students will either self correct or exchange papers for correction.

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