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


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