Traditional dictation - where the teacher reads a text aloud and the learners must write it down accurately - is often quite unpopular with learners. It can feel like an unfair test. Could we make it more enjoyable and useful?

Democratic dictations

Usually the teacher makes all the decisions about a dictation. How about turning the tables? Let the learners choose the text. Or let them decide how many times it should be read. Or who should read it. In fact, could the learners choose everything and then dictate to the teacher?

Keywords dictation

  • Find an interesting short story and underline 15-20 of the most important words in it (e.g. key nouns and verbs).
  • Dictate these words to the class - but don't tell them the original story. They now must make a new story that uses those words - in exactly the original order and the original form you dictated.
  • At the end, the class can swap stories, reading or telling them. You could also tell them the original if you wanted.

The 'bad cold' dictation

  • Explain that you have a bad cold today (sneeze or cough a bit to prove it!).
  • Tell the class that you're going to do a normal dictation - but if you have to sneeze or cough (and they can't hear a word) they should write any good word that fits the space. For example you might dictate, "Last Thursday Maria decided to have some cough for breakfast."
  • The learners could write the sentence with a word like 'eggs' or 'cornflakes' or 'whisky' instead of the cough.

Living tape recorder

  • Draw some tape recorder controls on the board (e.g. a symbol for a Play button, a Rewind button and a Stop button).
  • Introduce yourself as a 'living tape recorder'.  Get two students to stand near the board to control the 'tape recorder' while you read the dictation.
  • Members of the class can call out to ask the 'controllers' to 'press' the buttons. You ignore anything people say but strictly obey any button presses. In this way you will read the dictation, rewinding, replaying, rewinding etc until the students are happy that they all have the dictation. It's a bit chaotic at first but it's great after that!

The wild dictation

  • Dictate a numbered list of descriptions of words, like this: "No.1 the name of a male pop star; No.2 an adjective describing some food; No. 3 a verb of movement, No.4 a kind of animal" etc.
  • The learners should write down answers to these prompts e.g. "Robbie Williams, salty, swim, kitten" etc.
  • When the lists are finished dictate a short story you have prepared - but with appropriate gaps (into which the learners will write their own previously chosen words) e.g. "A car drove up to the zoo and stopped suddenly and - No.1 - got out. He looked really - No 2 - as he started to - No 3 - towards the No.4's cage." etc. You'll get some very funny stories.
  • Don't forget to prepare both the story and the list of word descriptions before the lesson.