How many times have we witnessed the following scene?
Teacher: OK, get out your notebooks, everyone! Today, we’re going to do DICTATION.
I’ve always thought it was a shame that students don’t enjoy dictation, because it’s a fantastic way to improve listening and writing skills, and, depending on how you do it, it can also be a great method for speaking practice.
Below, I present a lesson plan for an easy dictation, with a number of associated fun, collaborative activities. Whilst the lesson is targeted to Grade 5 of primary, it can be easily adapted for other grades.
Topic– The past simple
Grade level– 5th of primary
Language level– A2-B1 (high beginners-low intermediate)
Assumed knowledge– It is assumed that the students have some very basic familiarity with the past simple (for instance, they may have completed one lesson on its use).
Time taken– 1 hour
Materials– each student needs a piece of paper and a pen. Depending on the grammar activities chosen, they may also need access to a tablet or computer.
Role of the Language Assistant
- Explaining the task and the activities
- Reading the dictation
- Leading the error correction
- Explaining and leading the grammar activity
Role of the Classroom Teacher
- To maintain discipline
- To explain any grammatical concepts the children don’t understand
- To organise the class into groups
Collaboration between the LA and the Classroom Teacher
- Although the LA takes the lead role in this lesson, in reading the dictation, the Classroom Teacher plays a critical role in helping to explain any concepts that the students don’t understand (such as when the past simple is used, and how it is similar to the past simple in Spanish), and to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. The Classroom Teacher is also vital in linking the dictation activity to the other course material in the unit, and of organising the groupwork parts.
- To practice writing in English via dictation
- To be able to identify the simple past tense in a naturalistic text
- To relate the simple past form of the verb to the present form
- To be able to identify if simple past verb forms are regular or irregular
Evaluation of achievement of objectives
- Examining the number and type of errors which the students make in the dictation
- Examining the number and type of errors which students make when doing the grammar activity
- Examining whether the students correctly use the past simple in subsequent classes.
Part 1- The dictation
Time– 15 minutes
I always like to emphasise the importance of correct punctuation, as I have found that many students either don’t use any punctuation, or use it wrongly. To facilitate the use of punctuation, I put this chart on the board. I have found that as I’m filling in the first column of the chart, the students start getting very interested, and like to tell me what I should put in the second column.
Now you’re ready to dictate! Here’s an easy dictation which I prepared about my weekend:
This dictation is good, because it’s the perfect length (5-6 sentences). It uses the past simple, and it is about something that all students can relate to (doing fun things on the weekend). You can easily modify this dictation to be about your own weekend.
Tips for dictating
- Read the text in a natural way. Try to time the pauses at an appropriate punctuation point.
- For less advanced students, tell them where to put the punctuation. For example, “Today- comma- I am going…” For advanced students, this is not necessary- they can put the punctuation in themselves.
- Gauge whether you are going at a good speed by watching the students in the first row, and seeing whether they are getting all the words down.
- Do not repeat the sentences too many times. I try to limit myself to three repetitions maximum.
- If students complain that they are unsure of a word, tell them to use the context to try and discern what it is.
- If there is a new word, you can either
- a) spell it out OR
- b) write it on the board for the students to copy.
Modifications for different grades and levels of English
The beauty of dictation is that it can easily be altered for different grades.
- If I was using this lesson plan with Grade 4, for instance, I would make it grammatically simpler, with more straightforward vocabulary e.g. “I had fun on the weekend. I did lots of things.”
- In contrast, if I was using this lesson plan for a Grade 6 group, I would use more advanced vocabulary and constructions e.g. “Today, I am going to outline some of the many activities that I participated in on the weekend.”
As you can see, the focus is still clearly on the past simple (the aim of the lesson), but the first modification is easier, and the second harder.
For students with special learning needs, dictation is still possible! The students can try to write down as many familiar words as they can recognise, rather than copying the dictation verbatim.
Part 2- Collaborative checking
Time– 10 minutes
Once the students have completed the dictation, I like to put them in small groups (of three or four- respecting all social distancing), and get them to compare what they have written. It is generally better if the Class Teacher controls group selection, to ensure students are in mixed ability teams.
The aim is for each group to work together, using each others’ ideas, to produce an accurate team dictation.
How does this work? Well, suppose for the first sentence, Jorge has written “Today, eye am going to tell you”, but Julia and Fran have written “Today, I am going to tell you.” The students would discuss why they have different things, and explain to each other why they think “eye” or “I” is correct. They would then, as a group, decide which version is better.
I find that the students enjoy this activity a lot, and it’s especially good for students who may have a slightly lower level to be able to learn from their peers.
Part 3- Correcting the dictation
Time– 5-10 minutes
Once the students have created their team collaborative dictation, it’s time to check it. There’s a couple of different ways you can correct the dictation, depending on the amount of time you have, and which skills you want your students to practice.
- If you have access to a computer and a projector, you can project the corrected text (as presented in the box above) on the board. Students can correct their own work with a red pen.
- My favourite technique is one where students take it in turns to write a few words of the dictation on the board, and the other students can then say whether they had the same, or if they had something different. Because the students have previously discussed the dictation with their group members, they can feel more confident that they are going to write the correct words on the board, and so it’s not intimidating for them.
Part 4- Grammar activity
Time– 10 minutes
Having completed and corrected the dictation, it’s now time to bring the grammar into focus.
I begin by asking the students what time I was talking about in the dictation, and elicit that it was the simple past. I then ask how they know this, and if they can see any verbs in the past. Usually, they will nominate “did” or “went.” I ask them whether “did” and “went” are irregular or regular in the past, and elicit that they are irregular. I then revise that a verb is regular in the past simple if it ends with -ed, and irregular if it doesn’t end with an -ed.
Once I am sure the students understand the simple past tense, and what it means for a verb to be regular or irregular, I ask them to circle, underline, or highlight all the verbs in the simple past in the dictation.
This is typically a very fast activity. I check the answers by asking individual students “Tell me a past simple verb you found,” and writing the verbs in order on the board. In non-COVID times, the students can write the words on the board themselves, but in COVID times, the assistant or teacher should do this task to prevent unnecessary movement.
Part 5- Grammar group work activity
Time– 15 minutes
I have prepared two separate group work activities to focus on the grammar points. Which activity you use will depend on the time and technology available, as well as personal interest, and your students’ learning needs.
Activity 1- Verb table
The students need to get back into their small groups for the next part of the activity, which is to complete the following verb table. Usually, I will do the first two lines with them, and they can then complete the table with their group.
During the completion of the activity, it is important to circulate around the classroom to see if students understand the task, and if they are filling in the table correctly. Typically, the task is very straightforward, but if a group needs extra assistance, I will provide it.
Correcting the activity
I like to draw the table on the board, and the students come up one by one and fill in the verbs in the past and present form, and if they are regular or irregular. If the student writing on the board makes an error, I correct the mistake in a positive manner e.g. “That’s a great suggestion, but I was wondering if anyone has a different answer?”
The final part of the activity is where I ask the students whether most of the verbs in the dictation are regular or irregular. The answer is irregular. I use this answer to emphasise to the students that because irregular verbs in the past are very common, it’s important that they learn them by heart, as they’ll be using them a lot.
Activity 2- Kahoot!
If the students have access to a tablet or computer, then they can do the following Kahoot! quiz, which I created myself.
The quiz contains 10 multiple choice questions, where the students need to choose which word makes the sentence in the simple past tense. The Kahoot! can be done individually, or in the same small groups.
Evaluating the class
The way I evaluate whether the dictation has been a success is by looking at the number and types of errors that students have made with the dictation and with the grammar activities. I also use the students’ subsequent performance in other tasks related to the past simple (for example, writing sample about their weekends) to see whether they can apply the knowledge to new situations.
I have completed this dictation activity with five different classes this year, and overall, I am very happy with how it goes. Most students are able to copy the majority of the dictation correctly, with errors tending to centre around spelling (especially of “daughter”) and punctuation/use of capital letters. I have always found the grammar activities to be very well done, and students rarely make mistakes, except on “didn’t go” and “don’t go.”
From talking to both students and teachers after the class, I have received feedback that this dictation is both useful in helping present/revise the simple past, and is also enjoyable for the students. I have had a number of students ask me “Did you REALLY do that?” and “Do you REALLY have a daughter called Hannah?” after the dictation, which helps create greater rapport and interest. So yes, dictation CAN be fun!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Spain License.