Classical Composition - Dictation Strategy

Dictation is an educational strategy that is ancient.  Why would this help learners become better writers?

First, dictation allows each student to learn the skills that are unique to his or her own level of need.  Today we would call it a differentiation strategy.  As you dictate a passage for a student to write down, then ask them to use the original master to proof and correct their mistakes, they will be working at their point of development.  Some students will be working on basic punctuation and spelling, while others are understanding more advanced concepts, such as developing their voice and using punctuation for meaning. 

Next, dictation teaches students to attend closely with their ears and also to systematically proof and double check using their eyes.  This training for attention is helpful for all students.  Students who practice dictation over the course of years will develop the habit of close listening.  Students who practice dictation will learn how to systematically and routinely self-monitor their own writing.  Have you ever received an email that clearly was never read back over before the sender hit send? 

Finally, dictation helps the student verbalize the rules for spelling and grammar for those items that were missed.  The student will internalize the linguistic features of our English writing system through this technique.

These benefits are just the big ones.  Other goals such as reinforcement of phonics, vocabulary, reading comprehension and fluency, sentence structures, and paragraph form occur.

So, what are the steps in the strategy?

1. Select a passage on or below the reading level of the student. Base your selection on known weaknesses in the students' writing skills. Keep the paragraph short, about 4 to 6 sentences.

2. Read each sentence, or about 10 - 12 words of a very long sentence, out loud to the student.  Have the student repeat the sentence back to you accurately.  It may take a couple of repeated attempts before they get it right.  Be patient and encouraging.  Remember you are training attention and close-detailed listening skills.

3. Indicate that the student may now write the sentence.  Be sure you have previously modeled correct indentation, double-spacing and heading styles for their paper.  Be clear if you expect cursive handwriting.  Tell them to take their time and do their best.

4. Ask the students to read back over their sentence and make any corrections that they can find.

5. Now, provide the original text.  I prefer each student to have a copy on their own desk.  Have students use point-to-point correspondence to check each letter, word, and punctuation mark,  tracking their eyes from the source to their paper and not losing their place.  Remember, they are creating a system of proofreading which will become a habit.

6. Continue with the second sentence following the same steps. 

7. After the second sentence is proofread and corrected, ask the students to share their errors and corresponding rules that address those errors.  A nice condensed reference sheet of spelling and punctuation rules can be handy in their notebook for this purpose.   

8.  Have the students copy the remainder of the paragraph in their best handwriting.  

9.  Grading:  I grade for accuracy, usually allowing them to return the completed passage the next day as a homework grade.