Dictation practices several of the key aspects necessary for training students' listening skills, including listening for gist, listening for specific information, detecting keywords, linking, and so on.
Dictation in the classroom
In recent years, teachers seem to have rejected dictation as a classroom activity. Childhood memories of having to listen to and transcribe monotonous sentences featuring "Peter and Mary" and how they went for a walk with their dog, Spot, or, possibly worse, postilion sentences, may have been the cause. Nevertheless, used dynamically, dictation offers many advantages to both student and teacher.
Dictations prepared by the teacher should be single, everyday phrases, with an unrelated mixture of questions, negatives and affirmative expressions spoken at natural speed.
Other dictation activities may include labelling diagrams, charts, graphs, flowcharts, and gap-filling exercises and cloze tests in general. An activity guaranteed to get students on the ball is a quick spelling dictation, with them checking the answers among themselves. Other activities include homophone dictation and scrambled sentences.
Particularly important for students not accustomed to the Latin alphabet, the dictation of words and word games such as crosswords and hangman help students get a global, or spatial, view of English words and their many idiosyncrasies. Unfamiliar concepts such as consonant clusters or unusual combinations of vowel letters are useful aspects to be practised.
Dictation as homework
More imaginatively, dictation may be given as homework. This would involve using either recordings of songs, interviews or even films, students can make short transcriptions to ensure they have understood a certain passage correctly. Naturally the teacher would have to make sure that all students had some access to this material. As pairwork or group work in class it can be adapted for students to compare their versions before presenting a final version.
Among the many advantages of dictation work are the following:
- it helps develop students' listening skills
- it helps students apply their knowledge of grammar to what they "think" they have heard when transcribing the phrases
- students find it challenging
- it serves as a spontaneous, undeclared test for both teacher and student to detect any gaps in the learning process.
- Running dictation
- Gapped dictation
- Signpost word