Published 30th March 2016

We know that teachers are always on the lookout for activities that can be used in the classroom, so here’s another one for you: dictogloss. It can be used for any level, any age group and any language structure and it’s very easy to set up, so it’s a very handy activity to have up your sleeve.

How does it work?

  • Choose a text which incorporates the language item in question. This can be taken from the coursebook or written yourself. The length of the text will depend on the level and age of the students, but it shouldn’t be more than four or five sentences. It should not be a list of unrelated sentences but a cohesive paragraph.
  • Tell the students to sit quietly and listen. They cannot take any notes.
  • Read the text through once. This must be done at a natural pace.
  • Make sure the learners understand the text. Encourage any questions for clarification.
  • Tell the students you are going to read the text again, but this time they can take notes. They shouldn’t try to write every word but keywords instead.
  • Read the text again, again at a natural pace.
  • Give the students a few minutes to compare their keywords with each other.
  • Tell the students you are going to read the text again and they can write whatever they hear to fill in the gaps on their papers.
  • Read the text again, again at a natural pace.
  • Tell the students they must reproduce the text in full sentences.
  • Give the students time to compare with their classmates and try to reconstruct the paragraph.
  • Show the students the original text. Let them compare their own version to the original.

What is so great about dictogloss (besides the fact that it is so easy to do) is that students are forced to think about every aspect of language at sentence-level without any direction from us. Even if the language structure in question is the present perfect tense, they will still need to consider “smaller” things like prepositions, articles, conjunctions and punctuation.

What’s more, this activity allows a focus on meaning first and then helps the students create that meaning through language. In other words, they are focussing on how to convey meaning rather than simply learning a grammatical structure for the sake of it.

Note that if they don’t reproduce the text exactly, as long as the meaning is the same it is still acceptable. Though this is used to practise a certain structure, because the focus is on meaning we cannot penalise students if they are reproducing the correct meaning. In fact, if they are able to do this it can be used as an interesting – and very useful – language aside.