Everyone is getting ready to head back to school. We are all making difficult decisions, including deciding on curriculum. So many are struggling and looking for something easy and do-able. That is one reason I love dictation. Dictation is an easy way to teach grammar.
What is Dictation?
Dictation is often confused with narration (hearing a story and telling it back), but it is entirely different. Dictation is recording something you hear verbatim, on paper, with correct punctuation, grammar, and spelling. It is a method popular in the Charlotte Mason philosophy, or, as I like to refer to it, the easy way to teach grammar. It enables a child to gain the grammar skills necessary to move towards creative writing, narratives, and other composition.
Why Should We Teach Dictation?
Dictation builds the habit of attention, something we could all get a little better at! When you are expected to do something perfectly after hearing it one time, that forces you to pay attention the first time. Imagine all the time you would save if you never had to look back, replay, or check and recheck things!
Another reason we should teach dictation is that it allows students the opportunity to do something perfectly every time. This is because the lessons are short, taken from a familiar passage the students have seen before, and children are given the opportunity to study and ask questions before doing it. The goal is quantity over quality. Students are never given more than they should be able to do perfectly. The result is practically perfect work, which gives them a sense of success and pride in a job well done.
When Should Dictation Be Taught?
According to Charlotte Mason, dictation lessons usually begin around Form 2, which is 4th-6th grade, or around the age of 10, with familiar reading passages. Dictation continues into Form 3, 7th and 8th grade. It is then made a bit more challenging by exchanging very familiar passages for things the students may have only seen one time, such as newspaper or magazine articles. In Form 4, 9th grade and up, the length of the dictation passage increases. It may be up to three paragraphs taken from a longer reading.
How Often Should Dictation Be Taught?
It is suggested that dictation be taught 1-3 times a week for 20 min or less. You can tailor the amount of dictation you do to your child’s specific needs.
How Can You Teach Dictation When You Have Multiple Children?
Anyone with multiple school age children knows that it can be difficult to teach multiple students and make sure that you have enough time for everyone. If students are close in age, do dictation together. If they are not, you can find separate lesson times. Remember that dictation only needs to be done 1-3 times per week. Younger students might be working on copywork that they can do independently or at the same table while you work on dictation with older students. We want to keep it easy!
How To Do A Dictation Lesson
Before You Even Begin Dictation Lessons
Even when children are too young to start formal dictation lessons, train them to ask if they don’t understand punctuation or why a word is spelled a certain way. Also train them to give their full attention while reading. They should pay close attention to punctuation, grammar, and spelling. This will train the eye to see what is there so that they remember it when writing.
As you are reading with your children, comprehension should always come first. Pay close attention to passages that they love or have special meaning. These are the things you will want to revisit for dictation.
At the end of a reading selection, this is where you can ask if children have any questions. You can also quickly point out things you want them to notice, but this should be the exception and not the rule. Then move on if the students do not have any questions.
Choose A Passage
A Passage That Is Below Level
Choose a passage BELOW your student’s reading level. Remember that you want dictation to be an easy way to teach grammar. You want them to be successful, so much so that they can do the work with 100% accuracy. Remember that most reading habits are formed first, before more complex writing habits. You are looking for something that they can be successful at writing, so it must be an easier reading passage. This makes dictation a good fit for students of all ability levels and and easy way to teach grammar.
A Familiar Passage
Choose something they have already read so that they will be familiar with it. This ensures that they have seen the spelling, grammar, and punctuation before. Charlotte Mason believed that spelling was a very visual process. You and I probably agree without even thinking about it. Think about how often you write a word and try to decide if it “looks” correct.
If students are working with very familiar passages that they have heard and seen before, they will be able to think and focus on the mechanics of the writing, instead of trying to ponder it’s meaning. That has already been done. Now they can connect their thoughts to the paper.
Your students will be very familiar with lots of books below their level, so choose something fun to begin with. This will help them look forward to their dictation lessons. If you think about which books and passages your kids love, your children will be more invested.
Study the Passage
- Give students a written copy of what they will be dictating. They might look at it straight from a book, or you can copy a passage to give them.
- Read the text together or independently.
- Let students study the text and ask questions about spelling. Are there any words you don’t know how to spell? If so, do some spelling activities where they can see the words.
- Write or spell difficult words with magnetic letters.
- Talk about the spelling words. How many sounds do they have ? Do you know how to spell each sound? They make rhymes, look for common spelling patterns and blends.
- What is the Latin root word?
- Look up in the dictionary and find the root words.
- Make up sentences.
- Play Games such as Hang Man.
- Don’t take too long analyzing Rule Breaker Words, the words that don’t follow spelling patterns. They should take a picture in their head and visualize. The goal should be for students to look at it and pay attention so they know it so well they can’t forget it, similar to a Charlotte Mason picture study.
- Talk about punctuation. Discuss why different types of punctuation are in different places. Students may choose to highlight or circle things that they want to remember. Look at similar passages with that type of punctuation. You might make a list of anything that is not a letter in the passage.
- Remember that the goal is to move students forward, so if they already know something, just focus on what they still need to learn. Likewise, if they are struggling with it more than anticipated, take a lesson to discuss it more deeply, then move on to the writing process in the next lesson. You can tailor dictation lessons to any ability. You set the pace.
Present the Dictation Passage
- Have students turn their passages over so they cannot see them. They may either write on the back of the paper with the passage or use a clean sheet of paper.
- Speak in phrases. Start with just a couple lines. DO NOT REPEAT phrases. This will teach children to listen the first time and form the habit of attention. It can be quite difficult for the teacher to break the habit of repeating, but it is worth it!
- Have students write what they can. They should skip what they are unsure of and wait to copy the teacher. They should not guess because we do not want them to do something wrong and get the wrong idea stuck in their heads. Remember that spelling is visual. Think about how many times you have written or typed a word and then made the same mistake over and over? Don’t let your students sit and look at their mistakes! They should draw a line if they can’t remember how to spell a word. (If they are on the verge of spelling a word, you can help them sound out the word.)
- Go until the time runs out, 10-20 minutes, or until a child makes 3 mistakes. Remember that the goal is perfect work. If you notice mistakes, use White Out, correction tape, or small sticky notes to cover their mistakes so they won’t keep seeing it written incorrectly. Draw a line if they left out a word.
Check and Correcting the Dictation Passage
- Read the passage one more time so students can correct it if needed.
- Let them see the original passage and compare.
- If there are mistakes, have them fix them.
- Ask them if there are any questions.
Use This Dictation Lesson to Plan Future Lessons
- If students are making more than three mistakes, this is a RED FLAG. Be flexible and back up a little bit by choosing a slightly easier passage.
- You can keep a record of misspelled words to create a short spelling list if your children need extra spelling work. Or, you can look for more passages that contain those misspelled words.
- Likewise, you can note any mistakes and cover those topics in future dictation classes.
Watch a Dictation Lesson in Action
If you would like to watch a dictation lesson in action, check out our video.
Dictation is an Easy Way to Teach Grammar
Dictation is an easy way to teach grammar because it goes along with the books that you are already using. You only need to teach it up to three times per week. Lessons only need to be 10-20 minutes! You can pull out anything that you want your students to focus on. You can look at examples for a few days until your students fully understand and are comfortable with the topic, then move on. If you are afraid you will miss a grammar concept, you can get a grammar book such as XXXX and follow along with the ideas listed in it. With dictation, grammar and spelling truly can be quick, easy, and fun.
What is your favorite way to teach grammar?