Tuesday, September 4, 2012


5 fun ways to use a Dictogloss in the EFL class

Listening is important. Collaboration is important. Writing is important.

Dictoglosses combine all of these these things to keep students' brains working in a foreign language.

What is a dictogloss?

I am glad you asked :) Dictoglosses are essentially dictation exercises where students work together to recreate a text. The process is normally as such:

  1. The teacher reads a text. Students listen. They do not take notes. They just listen.
  2. The students INDIVIDUALLY write down as much of the story as they can remember. They can use pictures, abbreviations, other words, blanks or anything else that will help them if they don't recall the specifics. 
  3. (optional) The text is read again. Students do NOT write while the teacher is speaking. When the teacher finishes, they make changes as needed to their version. (I prefer to skip this step and go straight to 4, but some teachers find their classes don't have much to share unless this step is used. You know your classroom best so do what you think will work!)
  4. The students pair up with a friend and together try to combine their versions to get the version as close to the original as possible.
  5. Students put down their pens and the teacher reads the text one last time.
  6. The students get a few more moments to write their final version (if you as a teacher want you can combine pairs at this point to make a group of 4 working together on the final version).
  7. If you want you can have the students write the final version on butcher paper and everyone posts it on the board. Then give students time to circulate and mark any mistakes they see (misspelled words, bad punctuation etc.) I find the faster way is to have them pass the paper to the right/left and then the teacher reads the reading again and they correct the paper. 
  8. I usually give the team with the fewest mistakes a prize of some sort (bonus points, free homework passes, etc.)
So now that we know the basics. How do make this fun?

SONGS Well, part of it means that you have to pick fun texts! Use a song! Yes, I know that I love to use songs whenever possible but it can be fun. Break out lyrics (and have them listen to the song to reveal the answers). You shouldn't use a full song unless it is really an upper level class. If they are fairly advanced though you don't even need to speak. Just play the chunk of the song, (something slower and older the students won't know. The first 30 seconds or one minute of Jill Sobule's "Lucy at the Gym" is a good example; the first 20 seconds of "It makes me ill" would not be advised. I find punctuating these is usually the hardest part!

DRAW AND TELL With lower students tell a draw and tell WITH the picture, and keept the picture up! Stories tend to follow a logical progression more than a speech or tongue twister. Since they are lower level the visual will also help them remember the story and vocabulary used. Just be sure to remember to keep it short! You could also differentiate by passing out the picture to certain students and not to others. More on Draw and Tells here.

MOVIES/TELEVSION Again, keep the level of the student in mind. You don't want to use Rock, Paper, Lizard, Scissors, Spock from The Big Bang Theory. The first minute (actually I'd keep it at the first 20 seconds) of the Hitchhikers Guide the to Galaxy is better. You could use the audio from the movie, or recite it yourself. Be careful of accents, background noise, and audio that requires students to see something to understand it.

 TED TALKS / NPR / SPEECHES Get authentic speech in here! TedTalks could work. Why not try the  first 39 seconds of this one. Use an acceptance speech from MTVs Video Music Awards (because many students care more if Taylor Swift says it than if you say it). These can be helpful when practicing idioms and other things that don't often come up in artificial texts. These can be very difficult if the person is a fast talker, or there are lots of proper nouns. I LOVE Peter Dinklage for example, but his recent Emmy acceptance speech has some names student may struggle with. I may tell them to just use initials or write the names on the board to help them out with that part.

 TONGUE TWISTERS / BRAIN TEASERS Tongue Twisters can be fun for advanced students and brain teasers have the added bonus of letting students who finish quickly try to solve them. These also tend to be super short. Tongue twisters have the advantage of being used to differentiate sounds (especiall minimal pairs). Try to start with something like, "She sells sea shells by the sea shore" and then move onto something longer like, "Betty bought some butter 'But,' she said, 'this butter's bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter, but a bit of better butter, better than the bitter butter will make my bitter batter better.' So she bought a bit of better butter, Better than the bitter butter, and made her bitter batter better.

So there you go 5 ways to make dictoglosses a bit more fun! Do remember to aim the text at your learners. Stories are easier than texts which don't follow a logical progression. Keep in mind accents, vocabulary, etc. To make them even more effective try to use texts or audio that have grammar points you have recently covered. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Lucy at the Gym both have transition words for example.

Have you used dictoglosses? What texts do you find work well? Any other tips to share?


  1. Hello Carissa,
    I love your blog!. You hace excellent tips for teaching specially for dictogloss, I love to work with it in my classes, and my students like to work with too.
    I hope that you will shrae more things with us because youre doing great. We can shrae ideas in order to improve our knowledge and create awesome classes!.
    Thanks for your sharing
    Regards from Mexico City
    Teacher Erika VillicaƱa

    1. Glad to hear from another teacher in Mexico and SUPER glad you find the ideas helpful :) Sharing is caring, right?

  2. Hi Carissa,
    I like your post above..

    Haryanto from Indonesia

    1. I am so glad you liked it!

      Thanks for letting me know.



  3. A great resource for English teachers. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Looking forward to trying the dictogloss with my students this week.

    1. So glad you found it useful! If you end up using them in your class I'd LOVE to hear how it turned out :)

  4. This is the first time I've heard of dictiglosses and I find them really interesting. Thank you for this enlightening post. I love your blog!

  5. Thank you so much Carissa. I love your blog.

  6. I have found this material very interesting. But how effective can dictation be when it comes to teaching vocabulary?


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