Connecting speech to written words

Connecting what you hear to how it is written through dictation

Instead of making students copy from the board or give the sentences already written down, how about dictating them?


Photo taken from ELTpics by @CliveSir, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

Listening and transcribing was at first challenging for my beginners, especially if the sentences were higher in level. It was more challenging for beginners than for learners with more experience with the language, but all students benefited from it no matter what level they were. At first though some got resistent and saw no point, but with time they became more comfortable and it just became part of the class routine, that is, to listen and write instead of copying from the board. I don’t like having students simply copying from the board because they do nothing more than decode and encode without having to even think about its meaning whereas when they are listening, they seem more engaged with the message. Needless to say that I am not against copying from the board, sometimes it is necessary or fits the moment better.

Beginners always find a way to deal with their limitations though, either by asking their classmates about it and copying from their notebooks a sentence or word they don’t know how to write, or they have to ask me for the spelling or to repeat it. Some of them do, others prefer to get help from their peers. When that happens, I might choose to use the board to review spelling as I spell out and write on the board a difficult word and work on pronunciation as well. There is room to do a lot of things.

It helps them focus


Photo taken from ELTpics by Victoria Boobyer, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

One of the benefits is that they became more aware of the need to listen attentively and match what they hear to how something is actually written. During the listening stage they are attentive and engaged, as they feel challenged. Even simple sentences or rubrics, instructions are taking in with interest.

The sentences or short texts I use are always part of an activity or sequence of tasks. It’s not the activity themselves. And I work in two stages when I choose to dictate instead of hand out the text or write on the board.

stage 1: I dictate the sentences by grouping them into breath groups, then I repeat the whole sentence in natural speed. I never dictate word by word. My learners know the drill. I read the group of words in a natural speed and repeating it up to 3 times. And always leaving few seconds between each time I read out for them to process and have a chance to write. Then, I read the whole sentence again for them to check it out and process. Questions like, “how do you spell it?” sometimes come up but not as often as we would’ve thought, and usually for proper names or words they don’t know. When I didn’t use to do that way, they would ask me to repeat it as we go and this gave them a chance to listen to it more than once and purposely as that became an authentic need but at times very confusing as they had different needs. So I started structuring it a bit more and they become to it as a class routine. They use the pencil and the eraser at this stage.

stage 2: correction stage is about them dictating back to me. It’s checking time. They have to either now, copy from the board the whole sentence if they got it all wrong, or edit with a pen as we go. At this point, they do not use an eraser because we all agreed that editing instead of erasing helps them see what is and what it is not.

I own this to John F. Fanselow who last year encouraged me to give learners the task to listen and transcribe, and then ask them what they thought of it. The response was so positive that made me adopt it as part of my classroom routine. The same goes for not using the eraser during the correction stage.

A summary of John F. Fanselow’s rules we can break, play with and see for ourselves how they impact us and our learners. The extract below comes from an article called English Through Digital Thinking.

“Miss-takes: John doesn’t allow his students to use erasers. Why? Because he wants them to learn from their “miss-takes” and to use them to gauge their progress. John refers
to “miss-takes” as predictions, educated guesses reveal what the learner knows and what
he or she is trying to find out. John likes to have students work together in pairs or in triplets to foster the exchange of information, or to contextualize the learning process in a community setting. Associations are contingent upon experience, but what is the role of
information in this process?” (Cunningham,P.A.)

Retrived from:…/_asset/…/forum13_088_090.pdf

More links to explore:

Reporting the experience last year I had with my learners and other things

Discussing the Role of Dictation in ELT by Tim Bowen in One Stop English Website

A great blogpost with extra links to explore:

Teaching Listening – Tweaking the CELTA approach by TEFLREFLECTIONS blogger


Engaging learners with Multiple-Path Stories 1

One of the things that most of my students hate doing is reading so giving them a reason to read or presenting it in a way that is interesting is really a must. I have used OneStopEnglish graded readers with audio and even the most simple story like The Well was amazingly well accepted by the teens. I think the trick is delivering it in a way that is interesting and leave them curious at the end of each part of the story. They also like writing down their predictions and comparing with the story and sharing with others afterwards.

I bought some digital copies of The Lost Cup by Atama-ii to give to my learners. As I was assigned about couple of months ago 5 students in 8th grade, and two of them are boys, I thought this reader would just match perfectly the time. Soccer was a popular theme because of the World Cup, so I thought the reader would be really cool input material and would give me also the advantage of working on improving/recycling/reinforcing their vocabulary. Two of the boys are in the fourth semester of studying, one girl has just started this semester and the other girl is in book 2. The girl in book 2 and one of the boys in book 4 have similar language knowledge and skills. But the girl loves songs and pays attention to chunks of the language she hears and reads in the lyrics outside the class. Few weeks later, I got a new girl in the group, she seems also very comfortable with English and so far she has been very participative.

Introducing the story: Lesson 1

On the board: Jules Rimet.

What is it? Their first thought was a person. Then, I showed them the video below.

Brainstorming: After the video, they came up with a number of words related to the event. Naturally some words from the story came up. They were actively using the dictionary to help them find the words they wanted. That was a good start. This is our first class really! Last week it was just to get to know each other.

CAM00641The first part of the story: Focus on Meaning

I asked them to read only the first part of the story and find any word from the text that could be added to the board.

I selected 15 verbs, some were single-word items and some were multiple-word items. As the aim here was to work with dictionary skills mostly, it took 30 minutes for them to fill the glossary accurately. I asked them to look up the dictionary and select the appropriate meaning considering the text. Then, copy the dictionary definition to the glossary.

They also helped each other by giving the definitions that they already found or that they couldn’t find in their dictionary version. It gave us the great opportunity to discuss different aspects and the importance of using dictionaries. Even if they were sure they knew the word or chunk and could fill the glossary with their own definition, I asked them to look up and write the dictionary definition to be more accurate.

Lack of vocabulary kills the story, and I don’t see comprehension questions as enough to check it. I guess like many teachers out there, I left learning vocabulary to chance and thought they would be able to guess from the context and pre-teaching vocabulary was done to a minimum. You know with words I thought they would be most likely not to know. In mixed-levels groups, we don’t have this luxuary. Lexis knowledge varies greatly from one to another. And that was when I realized that things are not as they seem to be. So last year, I decided to sit with learners  and do the reading with the whole group, first by testing their knowledge of vocabulary, then asking them to explain a passage or sentences using their own words. The less words the student knew, less he/she could really make sense of the sentence or passage. I realised that without the words, reading would be boring and daunting. It kills the magical moment of learning about the characters, the story itself. I kills the joy of the moment.

CAM00658Scaffolding the reading process for my learners who attend a mixed-level class and make sure that everyone can enjoy the story became a goal. Using visual and activities that engages them is particular useful. During the brainstorming around Jules Rimet, lots of words came up. As they did, we worked on pronunciation and meaning. Sort of a ping pong approach and going back and forth to review them.

Reminder: Don’t rush into the book. Let them explore the words, engage with the topic of the passage. Create activities that help them connect to the story and the characters.

After working with the passage and a word game, I asked them to role play the first part of the story.


I aim in this class to make sure that learners in all levels either learn the most 1000 words (at least) or become fluent at using them by the end of the year. We have roughly a semester to do that. So, I can’t focus on teaching and testing specific language items as some learners in lower levels are just learning the most frequent words while in higher, they have seen and practiced with them but don’t recall them as fast as they should.

*This post had been in the draft file for weeks. I finally got the time to review and publish it.

Rose Bard’s Blog: Teaching Journal

Rose Bard:

I’m speechless and grateful that people I respect and admire can see me for who I am. And couldn’t be more honoured to have someone as eloquent as Geoff Jordan to describe me so well. He talks like he knows me for years.

Thank you Geoff for the gift.

Originally posted on aplinglink:


Rose Bard’s blog “Rose Bard: Teaching Journal” comments on English language teaching from the point of view of a dedicated, humanistic, and radical teacher. I say “radical” because, although there are no strident political statements in her posts, nor even any overt criticisms of the status quo in the ELT industry, her posts are, nevertheless, always informed by a political view of the context in which she works. Her blog heading includes Paul Freire’s famous evocation:

The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.

There it is: to be radical is to attempt to understand reality, not in order to contemplate it, but to transform it. To understand reality, as Friere suggests, one must unveil it, and the…

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