How To Conduct a Dictation Exercise

Dictation Exercise from 7 Steps to Good Spelling by Maeve Maddox, pp 131-132.

Model dictation exercise

Dictation is a normal part of foreign language instruction. It is also effective in the English classroom. Dictation exercises not only reinforce correct spelling and punctuation, they put students in charge of their own learning.

How to conduct a dictation lesson

The passage to be dictated is taken from a book that all the students have. For example, a class novel, anthology, or textbook. The dictation shouldn’t be too long.

The following passage is from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions, but before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

  • Give the students five minutes to read the passage.
  • Have them close their books.
  • Read the passage to the students.

The passage is to be read three times.

  1. The first time, read the passage at a slower than normal reading rate. Mention commas and end punctuation as they occur. Tell the students to leave gaps in the text if they don’t catch a word.


Do not read so slowly as to interfere with the normal connectedness of words.

Ignore pleas to repeat or slow down. Being forced to concentrate will improve students’ short-term memory and ability to retain phrases in their minds. This is good practice for the note-taking that older students will need in lecture courses or jobs in which close attention to spoken directions or customer orders is of the utmost importance.

  1. Read the passage a second time at a normal reading rate. This will give the students a chance to fill in missing words.
  2. Read the passage a third time, fairly quickly, but not so quickly that sounds garbled.


Correcting the dictation exercise

Have the students open their books and, using a colored pen or pencil, correct their errors. At the bottom of the dictation, have them write the corrected errors—misspelled words or ungrammatical phrases—three times.

Handwriting considerations may be made a part of the corrections. Have the students aim to write their corrections as beautifully as possible.

If dictation exercises are to be made a regular occurrence, it’s a good idea to have a dedicated exercise book for the purpose. That way, students have a means of reviewing their work and tracking their improvement.