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Activities to Practice Dictation

April 9, 2024
Jennifer Wozniak

Dictation is more than just a test of pupils' ability to write down what they hear; it's a multifunctional activity that can encompass various aspects of language learning.

Following my two first articles - What We Know About Dictation for the GCSE and What Are the Advantages of Dictation? - this article covers some of my favourite, practical applications for practising dictation in your classroom.

Dictation is more than just a test of pupils' ability to write down what they hear; it's a multifunctional activity that can encompass various aspects of language learning.

  1. Running Dictation:

- Place texts around the classroom

- Students work in pairs; one is the 'scribe' who stays at the desk with paper and pen, and the other is the 'runner' who goes to the text, memorises a part, runs back, and dictates it to the scribe (Alternatively, you can do a running dictation with groups of 3/4 students in each group.)

- This activity  encourages movement, memorisation, and tests comprehension. It helps improve listening, writing, speaking, and reading skills.

  1. Dictogloss (originally from Gianfranco Conti):

- Read a short text at normal speed while students just listen

- Read the text again at a slower pace while students jot down key words and phrases

- Students work in groups to reconstruct the text as accurately as possible

- The above helps to develop active listening and collaborative skills.

  1. Selective Dictation:

- Provide a text with certain words missing

- Read the text aloud, and students fill in the blanks with the words they hear

- Selective dictation helps to enhance vocabulary and grammatical structure recognition. This activity sharpens focus on specific language components and tests students' knowledge in a practical context.

  1. Gap Dictation:

- Very similar to selective dictation but this one is to be done by the students in pairs

- Students have two texts/ list of sentences with missing parts in them

- Students listen to their partner, and they fill in the gaps in their respective texts.

  1. Prediction Dictation:

- Give students the title or theme of a text and ask them to predict the content and vocabulary

- Dictate the text sentence by sentence, pausing to let students write and revise their predictions about what comes next

- This enhances engagement with the text and promotes critical thinking. It helps to foster predictive skills and contextual understanding.

  1. Picture Dictation:

- Describe a picture in the target language

- Students draw the picture based on the description

- This helps to develop listening and interpretative skills. This activity allows for creative expression and tests comprehension, as students must interpret auditory information visually.

  1. Translation Dictation:

- Say a sentence in English (or the students' native language)

- Students translate and write it in the target language

- This reinforces understanding of both languages and hones translation skills whilst enhancing linguistic agility.

  1. Buzzed Dictation (originally from Esmeralda Salgado):

- Dictate sentences or a paragraph and every so often stop and say ‘bip’ or use a buzzer

- Students write what you have dictated and when they hear a ‘bip’ or the buzzer, students need to write a word that makes sense in the given context, to replace the missing word

- It’s a great opportunity to look at the different options that students have written and most importantly if they make sense accurately and grammatically. 

  1. Grammar-focused Dictation:

- Dictate sentences with a specific grammatical structure

- Students write down the sentences and identify the use of the structure, which reinforces grammar rules in a controlled practice

- This activity concentrates on grammatical accuracy.

  1. Delayed Dictation (originally from Gianfranco Conti):

- Dictate a sentence

- Students must listen but are not allowed to write what they heard until after 10 seconds. During that time, students need to try to memorise by mentally repeating to themselves in their heads

- Say ‘now’ (in the target language) after 10 seconds and students write the sentence

- This can help with the retention of  segments of information in working memory while enhancing skills related to deciphering and transcribing language. 

  1. Music Dictation:

- Play a song and have students write down the missing words of the lyrics they hear

- This can be followed by a discussion on the meaning and language used in the song

- This activity helps to engage with language in a cultural context. 

  1. Moving Dictation:

- Read out a text, one sentence at a time

- Students write a sentence and then pass their exercise book to the person next to them who writes the next sentence and so on (I tend to do it as a row so four sentences and for each sentence, students swap books with the ones on their row)

- It helps with listening comprehension, processing speed and collaboration.

  1. Mad Dictation:

- Read out a text but deliberately alternate the pace

- Students must listen carefully to write down the exact words that the teacher is saying

- The goal of "mad dictation" is to make the dictation exercise more fun and to sharpen students' listening and writing skills. By introducing unpredictability, it can also help students learn to better cope with spoken language!

These activities can all be tailored to suit different languages and proficiency levels. They can also be used to focus on listening comprehension, vocabulary building, grammar, pronunciation, and even cultural knowledge, depending on the content chosen for dictation. 

I also use ‘auto dictée’, which is commonly practised in French primary schools and has been for so many years now. It’s a self-directed learning technique designed to improve students' language skills, particularly in spelling and grammar.

- Select a short text, often a sentence or a small paragraph, that includes various elements of the language being taught, such as grammar, conjugation, and vocabulary

- Students first read the text and try to memorise it. This step may involve discussing the text, understanding its meaning, and focusing on difficult words or grammatical structures

- Students get some time, for homework, to learn the sentence/ short paragraph. I make them use the read, cover, copy, check technique as well to help them practising the spelling

- When the homework is due, students attempt to write down the sentence/ short paragraph from memory. This exercise tests their recall of the words and their spellings, as well as the grammatical structures used in the text

- Once students have written the sentence/short paragraph, students then compare their version with the original text. This self-correction phase is crucial, as it allows students to identify and learn from their mistakes. They pay attention to any spelling errors, missing words, or grammatical inaccuracies

- The process may be repeated with the same text or a new one, reinforcing the learning and correcting any persistent errors.

The "auto dictée" method is effective because it engages multiple facets of language learning: reading comprehension, memorisation, writing, and self-assessment. This approach helps students develop a more in-depth understanding of the language and improves their ability to write correctly and fluently. However, it’s important that as teachers we guide the students, select appropriate texts, and help them understand and learn from their mistakes.

In conclusion, incorporating dictation into MFL lessons offers a multifaceted approach to language learning. It not only enhances students' listening and writing skills but also deepens their understanding of the language's structure and vocabulary. Dictation exercises compel students to actively engage with the language, fostering a more attentive and precise use of grammar and spelling but can also be very fun! This practice also mirrors real-world language use, where listening and accurately transcribing are vital skills.


Jennifer Wozniak-Rush is Assistant Headteacher at The Hollins in Lancashire.