#ELTchat: Is there still a place for dictation in the ELT classroom?

#ELTchat 1st June 2016

Dictation is something I’ve often shied away from using in the classroom – I’ve previously taught in both Russia and the Czech Republic, countries where the state educational system often relies heavily on ‘old school’ methods like dictation and translation when teaching languages. My students at private language schools tend to be looking for a more up-to-date, communication heavy approach, and as a result I’ve lumped dictation in with ‘classroom activities to avoid’ through fear of reminding them of their schooldays. Or so I thought.

One of the things I love about using social media (blogging and twitter) for CPD is that it means I am shown new ideas almost daily. This means that often I am forced to admit that I might, in fact, be wrong.

As the above paragraph might imply, I joined Wednesday’s #ELTchat fairly certain that whilst some may believe that dictation had a place in their classroom, it certainly didn’t have a place in my classroom. Within the first five minutes, @SueAnnan suggested running dictations. Ah, yes. I’ve done those. My students enjoyed them. What followed was then an hour of my ideas of ‘dictation’ being expanded a little.

@helend_s uses various forms of dictation in her classroom, and is particularly in favour of peer dictation for helping students to focus on their pronunciation. As she teaches multilingual classes her students need to quickly become accustomed to each others’ accents and activities such as peer dictation help students to develop the ability to communicate clearly and effectively with each other. She also finds dictations helpful for training students to recognise and produce correct stress patterns, at both word and sentence level. @AdeleRaemer commented that this type of activity would be a good way of improving spelling and oral presentation skills.

@DavinnaArtibey returned to the idea of running dictations being fun for students. She also suggested dictaglosses* as a means of introducing new vocabulary.

After some initial discussion about the different types of dictation, we highlighted two potential problems. Firstly, that traditional dictation isn’t very fun!  Some ‘more fun’ ideas are:

Running dictations: A great challenge for students. The race element makes them try to speak faster and then they find it even harder. They can work at any level, provided the language is graded accordingly (@helend_s) and can potentially work with any age group.

Chinese Whispers dictation: The students pass on a message and the last one has to write it on the board. (@SueAnnan).

Shouting or whispering dictation: Again, suggested by @helend_s, I can see this working well with my young learners, as well as students who are self-conscious about their speaking and so are uncomfortable with the idea of other students hearing them.

Human Tape Recorder: The teacher reads a text, however the students can call out ‘pause’, ‘stop’, ‘play’ and ‘rewind’ and control the reading accordingly.

The second problem was that some teachers felt that their students responded badly to dictation activities as a result of previous bad experiences, particularly in education systems where there is a lot of emphasis on graded dictations. 

Aside from using styles of dictation which are more fun, everyone agreed that there were ways to make dictation less stressful for students:

  • Attempts should be unlimited and the dictation should not necessarily be graded
  • Students could do dictations alone online or in pairs
  • By using techniques such as the ‘human tape recorder’ students are able to feel more in control

Online Resources

We also discussed the ways teachers can use technology to make dictations more appealing to their students. 

@GlenysHanson shared some of her online dictations which can be found here and says that her students particularly enjoy dictations based on videos. She also shared a link to a ‘missing vowel’ online dictation exercise, which would be particularly helpful for Arabic speakers.

@SueAnnan suggested using speech to text applications, such as Dragon dictation, in order to focus on pronunciation problems.

@fionaljp and SueAnnan discussed the use of lyricstraining.com, although we all quickly advised that this should be used with caution (especially if used in class when teaching young learners) – popular song lyrics can be pretty inappropriate!

@GlenysHanson also shared the tool Rhubarb, which can be used to make similar exercises to those found on lyricstraining.

Many of these online resources can be used to encourage student autonomy – if the teacher raises awareness of them in class, the students can then use them to practice their skills in their own time.

We finished our chat with a discussion about grading. Most agreed that dictations did not necessarily need to be graded (especially those with negative memories from school French lessons!). However it was agreed that if a grade was required, the best way to do it would be to allow the students themselves to decide on the mark scheme. For example, marks could be deducted for missed words or incorrect spelling (@MarjorieRosenbe).

Following the end of our chat I hadn’t had quite enough dictation – so did a little research for myself. I found some nice ideas that could be used in class for dictation  (I particularly like the ‘jumbled story idea’ in point three) and for dictagloss.

Thanks to everyone for a great #ELTchat, and I look forward to having my horizons expanded again soon!

*For those unfamiliar with the term (I have heard it before but still needed to look it up!) a dictagloss is where students listen to a short text whilst writing down only the key words, then reconstruct the text from their notes. As opposed to dictation, where the aim is to reproduce the text word for word, a dictagloss requires the student(s) to produce a text with the same meaning.

#ELTchat is a weekly, hour-long, online discussion on Twitter for English Language teachers and teacher trainers. More information can be found on their blog  or on the #ELTchat hashtag on Twitter. It’s a great way to broaden your horizons, exchange ideas, and get some solid CPD, all without having to change out of your pyjamas! I thoroughly recommend it 🙂

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