dictation in your elt classroom

Dictation Re-imagined

Many moons ago when I was learning French at school, our teacher always insisted on doing dictations. He absolutely loved them, and yes, you guessed it, we hated them. Apart from anything else they were boring and repetitive and we didn’t really see the point in them. So imagine my surprise then (or maybe it was shock) when I first started teaching 15 years later to discover that dictation was alive and well. In fact, it was more than that, it was thriving.


But I needn’t have worried. Dictation as I knew it had morphed into something else, something altogether more interesting, something motivating and something (whisper it) FUN. Better still, it involves very little preparation. Importantly there also are many learning benefits too. Depending on the activity, they can help with listening and bottom up processing skills, grammar, syntax, spelling, reading, speaking, pronunciation and it can be used for recycling vocabulary and grammar as well as developing note-taking skills. Indeed, in her article Dictation Updated, teacher trainer Ruth Montalvan identifies 21 advantages of dictation. Sounds pretty good, right? So, here are some of my favourite dictation activities.



This is far and away my favourite dictation activity as it has so many advantages – it practices grammar, punctuation, spelling, listening, writing, speaking, reading. I often do this with opening paragraphs of texts to make reading lessons more interactive.

  1. Choose an appropriate text and tell the students you are going to read it once and they should just listen and try to remember as much as they can.
  2. When you have finished reading ask students individually to note down any words or phrases they remember.
  3. Put the students in pairs and compare and combine their lists to start building the text up.
  4. Re-read the text, but this time tell the students they can make notes while you’re speaking.
  5. Re-pair students and let them combine their ‘texts’ to re-create the original text.
  6. Repeat stages 4 and 5 as needs be.
  7. When students have finished allow them to compare their texts to the original.


Running Dictation

If you’ve never done a running dictation, where’ve you been hiding? This is a close second in my favourite dictation tasks and never fails to bring a classroom to life.

  1. Choose an appropriate text for your level (not too long) and put up a couple of copies of it around the classroom (or outside in the corridor).
  2. Put students in pairs (A+B) and explain how A is the runner and should read the text and remember as much as possible before running back to dictate it to the B partner who writes it down. Tell students it’s best to remember small chunks of the text rather than try to remember lots.
  3. Start the activity. When the students have got around halfway through the text, tell the As and Bs to change their roles.
  4. When the students have finished, give them the original and ask them to compare them and mark their piece of writing for errors.


Key Word Dictation

This is another good activity to use with opening paragraphs of readings as it helps activate schemata and helps them predict content for the upcoming reading, while simultaneously allowing them to be creative.

  1. Choose an appropriate text and then choose 10-15 words from the opening paragraph.
  2. Explain that you’re going to dictate a list of words to them, but that you are going to do it quickly. Reassure them that you will repeat the list a couple of times and so don’t need to get all the words the first time.
  3. After the first dictation ask students to compare and combine their lists.
  1. Repeat the process two more times, but before the third dictation ask the students to make sure that the words are in the same order as you dictated them.
  2. Conduct feedback, checking the students have all the words and in the correct order. Explain that these words all come from the opening paragraph of a story they’re going to read and in pairs ask them to write the opening paragraph using the words, in the correct order.
  3. When the pairs are ready, ask them to read their paragraphs out before giving them the original to compare.


Whispering Dictation

Tricky for students and with a competitive element, Whispering Dictations (or Chinese Whispers) are a whole lot of fun. This works particularly well with phone numbers, phone messages and for focusing on certain grammatical structures.

  1. Put students into two or three teams (depending on class size) with at least 5 students in each team, and arrange them in a line one behind another, giving the person at the front a board pen.
  2. Explain that you will show a message/number to the two people at the back of the lines, who must then whisper it to the person in front. They in turn whisper it to the person in front of them and so on until the person at the front writes the message on the board.
  3. Whichever team writes the correct message first is the winner.
  4. Repeat the process until everyone has been at the front of the line and written on the board.


Picture Dictation

Picture dictations are a great way of recycling vocabulary as well as revising prepositions of place. They also appeal to visual, kinaesthetic and auditory learners.

  1. Find a suitable picture that is linked to the theme of the lesson to revise/recycle vocabulary and write a script describing what is in the picture.
  2. Give each student a piece of A4 paper and explain that they must draw what you are describing.
  3. Read the prepared script, giving the students time to draw the picture as you go through, before re-reading the whole script to allow Ss to check their pictures.
  4. Ask students to compare their pictures with each other before showing them the original.


Have you used dictation activities in your classroom? Are you going to try any of the ones above?


National Geographic Learning’s mission is to bring the world to the classroom and the classroom to life. With our English language programs, students learn about their world by experiencing it. Through our partnerships with National Geographic and TED, they develop the language and skills they need to be successful global citizens and leaders. Visit our website to see our range of materials.


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Author: Alex Warren

Alex Warren is a DELTA trained teacher trainer with over 14 years’ experience of working in ELT as a teacher, academic director and teacher trainer. Working for National Geographic Learning, Alex is driven by his passion for developing teachers on a global scale and helping them to reach their true potential. A firm believer in a communicative approach to language learning and student centred learning, Alex enjoys working with innovative, thought-provoking materials and presenting on a wide range of ELT-related topics.

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