E/ALM logo (3253 bytes)
From the

Dictation Updated:

Guidelines for Teacher-Training Workshops  - Continued

by Ruth Montalvan

Advantages of Dictation
Administering Dictation:
A. Beginning Level
B. Intermediate/ Advanced Level
Pre-Dictation Exercises
Dictation Procedures
Variations in Dictation Techniques
A. Questions to Statements
B. Changing Tenses
C. Cloze Dictation
D. Paired Dictation 
E. Numbers
F. Dictation Quiz
G. Dicto-Comp
H. Acting Out the Story
I.  Dicto-Gloss
Common Errors in Dictation
Correction Techniques
Grading Techniques
Final Comments
Workshop Schedule

This handout is available as an ASCII text file

Return to the Catalog of Online Materials


Variations in Dictation Techniques

A. Questions to Statements

Dictate a question and ask the students to change to statements.

Example Exercise: "The Moon"

Teacher reads: Is the moon the earth's nearest neighbor?

Students write: The moon is the earth's nearest neighbor.

Teacher reads: Is it only about a quarter of a million miles away?

Students write: It is only about a quarter of a million miles away.

B. Changing Tenses

-Dictate sentences or texts in the present tense, for example, and ask the students to change to the past, making any other necessary changes.

C. Cloze Dictation

-Select a short text for dictation. Delete every sixth word, or all the prepositions or articles, etc.

-Give each student a copy of the prepared passage (with the blanks), or write it on the board for the students to copy.

-Read the passage while the students fill in the blanks with the missing words.

D. "Paired" Dictation Combined with Composition

-Choose a two-paragraph story. Duplicate (write out) one set of Paragraph 1 for half the class, and one set of Paragraph 2 for the other half.

-Ask the students to work in pairs. Give a copy of Paragraph 1 to Student 1 in each pair, and a copy of Paragraph 2 to Student 2 in each pair.

-Student 1 dictates the first paragraph to Student 2; then Student 2 dictates the second paragraph to Student 1.

-Students check each other's work on the dictation.

-Then the pairs work together to compose the third paragraph.

-Titles and paragraphs may be read aloud and discussed

E. Numbers

There are many dictation exercises involving numbers, many different kinds of numbers that are all important: cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers, mathematical numbers, telephone numbers, addresses, time, money, etc.

At the beginning level, dictating numbers can reinforce learning. Either the teacher or a student can dictate, with another student writing on the board for everyone in the class to look at.

Try these, sending participants to the blackboard.

Example List:

1. 5:45 (five forty-five - Time )
2. 153 (one hundred fifty-three)
3. 2143 Main St. (twenty-one forty-three Main Street)
4. 12:00 (twelve o'clock, noon or midnight - Time)
5. 4th (fourth)
6. 1st (first)
7. 564-9433 (five six four, nine four three three - Telephone )
8. 2 + 2 = 5 (two plus two is five, or equals five)
9. 1 1/4 (one and one fourth)
10. 3 2/3 (three and two thirds)
11. 9 1/2 (nine and one half)
12. 16 (sixTEEN)
13. 60 (SIXty)
14. 3 X 3 = 9 (three times three is nine, or equals nine)
15. 1,453 (one thousand four hundred fifty-three)
16. 36,577 (thirty six thousand five hundred seventy seven)
17. 5,450,298 (five million, four hundred fifty thousand, two hundred ninety-eight)
18. $45.25 (forty five dollars and twenty-five cents)
19. 10 - 4 = 6 (ten minus four is six, or equals six)
20. 2100 18th St. (twenty one hundred eighteenth street)
21. 10 5 = 2 (ten divided by five is two, or equals two)
22. 33 1/3 (thirty three and a third)

F. Dictation Quiz Games

Dictate three or four sentences that either tell a story or give information about someone or something.

Then read a series of statements based on the above sentences.

Ask the students to listen and decide whether each statement is true (T), false (F), or possible (P).

Then each student writes his/her version of the passage trying to remember all the facts and trying to use appropriate vocabulary and grammar.

Let's try one! (Teacher trainer reads following passage three times)


In recent years, scientific investigation of comets has increased because of a growing interest in the origin of the sun and planets. Scientists want to learn how comets are formed. They think that such information will help explain the origin of the solar system. The word comet comes from the Greek and means "hairy object." In history comets have a special place. People believed that they brought news of death, destruction, or military victories. The tails of comets provide viewers with spectacular sight at night. Comet tails are millions of kilometers long. Their tails frequently reach lengths of 250 million kilometers long. The tails frequently reach lengths of 2 million kilometers and more. There is a written record of a comet as early as 1770 B.C. The Chinese kept careful records and so did the Babylonian . Aristotle was interested in comets. He thought that they began as burning gases in the earth's atmosphere. The most famous comet of history is called Halley's comet, which appears every 75.5 years. It was named for Edmond Halley, an English scientist. He predicted the appearance the comet in 1758, sixteen years after his death. Halley's comet is extremely bright and has two tails. It turned in 1986; it should appear again about 2062.

Now the participants (or students) will be given 15 minutes to write what they remember. Finally, for correction, the teacher (or teacher trainer) may collect the papers to correct later, or individuals may be called upon to read his/her composition.

In either case we must ask ourselves; Are all the main facts included? Are the grammar and vocabulary acceptable? Used regularly, dicto-comps can provide a systematic review of grammar for your students.

The teacher trainer and participants should read and discuss the two articles about dicto-comp in the appendix here.

Example Exercise:

Teacher dictates: (As the teacher dictates, one student may write it on the board, or all the students may write it down.) "Henry went to bed at 10 o'clock last night. He went to sleep right away, and got up eight hours later.

He went to work about eight o'clock the next morning."

Teacher reads: (As the teacher reads the following statements, the students listen and write down T, F, or P for each.)

1. Henry likes his work. (P)
2. He was tired when he went to bed. (T)
3. He slept well. (T)
4. He works in an office. (P)
5. He got up at eight o'clock. (T)
6. He went to bed very late. (F)
7. He had breakfast early. (P)
8. He had another cup of coffee at work. (P)

G. Dicto-Comp

One of the very best ways to use dictation is the dicto-comp, an effective exercise that can be used even at beginning levels. (Have participants read the two articles in the appendix.)

-In this procedure, select a short text appropriate for the students' level.

-Read it several times until the students have thoroughly understood the passage. (The students should not be writing while they are listening.)

Human beings have certain general needs. Scholars find this subject fascinating. Everyone, they say, is very aware of material needs: food, clothing, and shelter. Long ago, however, people discovered their need for non-material things. They need love. They also need self-expression, recognition, recreation, and religion. These have been the basic needs of human beings throughout the ages. People generally satisfy their needs. They spend a lot of time and energy in their efforts to do this.

Again, time permitting, the teacher trainer may decide to demonstrate this technique or ask for a volunteer to do it.

H. Acting Out the Story

This adaptation of the dicto-comp was contributed by Thomas Kral, USIA English Language Officer, who based it on the sugggestology demonstration in USIA's "Language Teaching Methods" video.

-Choose a short story no longer than half a page, that lends itself to acting out or pantomime.

-Read the story slowly and clearly, acting it out as you read, and pausing between sentences.

-Ask a student to volunteer to do the acting out, while you read the story a second time.

-Next, distribute copies of the story, so the students can read along with you the third time. This time, all the students may try to act it out, too.

-Now have the students turn the page over. This time, pantomime the story, (acting it out without reading it). Ask the students to write one sentence for each action.

-Have individual students read their sentences aloud or put them on the board for correction and discussion.

I. Dicto-Gloss

The special advantage of this exercise (as differentiated from the dicto-comp) is that students work in groups to reconstruct the passage they have just listened to.

(See The Dicto-Gloss Method of Language Teaching by Ruth Wajnryb in English Teaching Forum, July 1988. This article gives step by step directions for Dicto-Gloss exercises. It is in the appendix here.)

Common Errors in Dictation

Errors in speaking and writing are due to many factors, of course; fewer are evident in well-administered dictation exercises because they are more controlled than the communicative types of exercises found in today's textbooks.

If "error-making is a necessary part of learning," why do we teachers seem to blame the students for such errors? Indeed, many teachers give dictation with the idea of trapping the student, and the word "error" evokes only one association -- correction. We should consider the errors our students make in dictation in two ways: the type of error and what it means in terms of the language learning process; and how the correction techniques can influence the language learning process. The second word may not be pronounced clearly or may even by contracted with another work, but the student is to write its full form as a single word. S/he must listen and think of the sentence in a slowed-down version.

Mis-hearing Sounds


Teacher dictates: I saw a ship.

Students write: I saw a sheep.

Out of context, this sentence is difficult (if not impossible) for many students to comprehend. This type of dictation should be used only when the teacher wishes the students to practice phonemic contrasts. If, however, the teacher dictates:

The ship was full of people,

and the student writes:

The sheep was full of people,

this is a more serious error because the student did not use the clues in the context as a help to understanding the sentence.

Wrong Forms

Depending on the language background of the students, they may already be confused by forms of be , have, possessives with the 's or s', and contracted forms.


-Boxes may be heard as: Box is.

Jack's box and/or particularly Alice's box may be heard as: Jack is box or Alice is box, and the error is not as silly as it looks.

This kind of error occurs especially when the introduction of writing has been postponed. Dictation exercises will help the students clear up in their minds the grammatical structure of the language. The teacher can determine right here where the confusion lies.

Prof. Donald Bowen had an interesting exercise/test for this. He asked students to listen to a series of sentences and write down only the second word each sentence contains.

Example Sentences:

Teacher reads: He's a long way from home. Student writes: is Teacher reads: Jack's book is here. Student writes: book Teacher reads: We've finished. Student writes: have Teacher reads: Where's he living now? Student writes: is Teacher reads: How'd you find us? Student writes: did

Choose a few sentences the stude nts are familiar with, and try this exercise to help them understand what they are hearing.

More Missing Grammatical Clues


Teacher dictates: He ate an orange.

Student writes: He ate and orange.

Here the student's error is not really a spelling error -- the student's word is altogether a different kind of word. The teacher should explain why the sentence doesn't make sense.


Teacher dictates: Weather stations send messages to special centers.

If the students omit the final s on any of these three nouns, this is more than a spelling or hearing error. They have ignored important grammatical clues.

Errors of Omission

The student may omit a word altogether because of differences in native language structures. Some languages, for example, do not have the copulative be'.


Teacher dictates: Is it an interesting book?

Student writes: It an interesting book? (Omits is.) or Is an interesting book? (Omits it.')

Errors of Addition or Insertion

The student may add a word.


Teacher dictates: Do you think history is an interesting subject?

Student writes: Do you think the history is an interesting subject?

(Inserts the.')

One suggestion here is to indicate the number of words in each sentence.

Creative Errors

"Creative" errors occur when the students misunderstand, but write something that makes sense to them and is grammatically correct. One student, assigned the task of listening to the weather report, wrote: "For Washington and the Senate" instead of "For Washington and vicinity" -- which seemed logical to the student!

Mechanical Errors

These are errors of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.


Correction Techniques

The sooner the students find out what their mistakes are and correct them themselves, the more learning will take place. Thus the best procedure would be for one student to write his/her sentences on the back of a standing blackboard, or on a blackboard at the back of the classroom.

Another way would be for different students to copy the sentences they have written on the blackboard as soon as the teacher has finished dictating. (The copying and correction should be done one sentence at a time.) The important thing here is that the students find out immediately what their mistakes have been. Students can also exchange papers.

With all the students looking at the blackboard, the teacher reads one sentence at a time, and elicits corrections from the students. The teacher can move about the room to glance at the different papers.


Grading Techniques

Grades or scores are important psychologically for the student. I like to differentiate for the student two types of errors: "not so serious" and "serious." The "not so serious" are capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. The "serious" include all the other types of errors: missing grammatical and context clues, wrong words, etc.

-Decide what the scoring criteria will be before doing the exercise, Of course, the more serious error costs more points than the less serious -- although the aim is for the students to have perfect papers.

-Mark one type of error with a circle and underline the other.

-Use different colored chalk (if available) on the blackboard to indicate the different kinds of errors.


Final Comments

Although students may have difficulties at first, you can train them to do well in dictation exercises. Students generally like to "take dictation." As they improve, they feel a great sense of achievement -- which in itself is motivating.

Only a few ideas have been given here. You will improve on these techniques as you try them out. Many more ideas, I am sure, will occur to you as you become more experienced in dictating.


Schedule for Workshops

Depending upon the proficiency of workshops participants, and the total time available the following division is suggested:

Workshop 1    Introduction through Beginning level , Errors and                           Correction

Workshop 2     Intermediate to Advanced

Workshop 3     Variations

Workshop 4     Dicto-comp

Workshop 5     Dicto-gloss


l. Barnard, Helen. l972. Advanced English Vocabulary Workbooks. Rowley, Mass. Newbury House.

2. Bott, Donald E. Dictation: Easy and Accurate Assessment of 'Co-Co'in English Teaching Forum, July l986, pp. 22-24.

3. Bowen, J. Donald. An Experimental Integrative Test of English Grammar in Workpapers in Teaching English as a Second Language, Vol. 9. California University, Los Angeles. Dept. of English. June 1975

4. Burks, Julia M. 1990. The Dicto-Comp: An Introduction. Article written especially for this booklet. Washington, D.C.

5. Celce-Murcia, Mariannne and Sharon Hilles. l988. Techniques and Resources in Teaching Grammar. New York, Oxford University Press.

6. Davis, Paul and Mario Rinvolucri. l988. Dictation: New Methods, New Possibilities. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

7. Fanselow, John. l987. Breaking Rules: Generating and Exploring Alternative in Language Teaching. New York, Longman.

8. Kelly, L.G. l969. Twenty-five Centuries of Language Teaching. Rowley, Mass., Newbury House.

9. Podromou, Luke. Dictation: Pros, Cons and Procedures in English Teaching Forum, January l983, pp. 37-38.

10. Riley, Patricia M. The Dicto-Comp: Reflections from the Field in English Teaching Forum, January l972, pp. 2l-23.

11. Speer, Thomas M. Putting Variety into Dictation in English Teaching Forum, July l980, pp. 28-30.

12. Wajnryb, Ruth. The Dicto-Gloss Method of Language Teaching in English Teaching Forum, July l988, pp. 35-38.

13. Wishon, George and Julia M. Burks. l968. Let's Write English: Vol. I. New York, American Book Company.

14. Martin, John Henry and Ardy Friedberg 1986. Writing to Read - New York Warner Books Inc.

Feedback: English@usia.gov


On October 1, 1999, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will become part of the
U.S. Department of State. Bureau webpages are being updated accordingly. Thank you for your patience.