Dictogloss – a dictation with a twist

When I talk to EFL teachers and ask them whether they regularly use dictations in their courses, very often the answer is negative. They seem out-of-date and not really appealing to them and their pupils. However, there are some enjoyable variations to the old-style dictation. One of my favourites is the so-called “dictogloss” and it can be done at any age or language level.

The principle is easy: the teacher reads a text twice at a normal speed and the pupils are asked to reconstruct it. With the first listening, they are not allowed to jot anything down. While listening for a second time, they should note down a few keywords that will help them to rebuild the story. Afterwards, the pupils work together in pairs or small groups to produce their version of the text, as close to the original one as possible.

An essential thing with dictogloss is picking the right text. At first, it should not be more than just a paragraph, until the pupils become more accustomed to the activity or have developed their listening skills. The ideal transcript is at a language level slightly above that of the pupils and it could also be used to introduce or revise some vocabulary or grammatical items.

I find jokes to be first-rate dictogloss material. This is an example I have used in my teaching practice: “Eleven people were hanging under a helicopter on a rope. There were ten men and one woman. The rope wasn’t strong enough to carry them all, one person would have to let go. They were unable to decide, until the woman made a touching speech. She said she was used to give up everything for her husband, her children, her family. As soon as she had finished her speech, all the men started clapping.”

Now, why do I like dictogloss that much? First of all, it is easy for the teacher to prepare and set up. Moreover, it is a very effective language learning task: it requires pupils to listen, take notes, collaborate and talk (by working in pairs or groups), write and read (if they present their result orally). Next, dictogloss is the kind of mixed-ability activity that I like best. You can do it with the whole class, but by grouping less strong pupils with more confident peers, you are differentiating. Finally, pupils like this activity. They listen very attentively, like working together and are eager to check in how far their reconstructed version differs from the original one.