Dictation. Many view the activity as boring, lacking communicative elements, and with little enough value to offset the negative aspects. However, dictation can be used flexibly enough in the classroom, and so elements can be effectively incorporated into many activities. Consider the following:
1: Dictation can provide some example sentences with the target language. Additional examples mean students are better able to see the language pattern. They then are better able to use the target language in original sentences.
2: The teacher can read aloud a short story (five to ten sentences) for listening and discussion among groups. This provides an example narrative, demonstrating how ideas can be connected.
3: The teacher can read aloud several comprehension questions for an article. This serves as an alternative idea to providing a handout with questions.
4: Students can do dictation exercises at home. They can thus improve familiarity with grammar, vocabulary, phrases, and any weaknesses unique to their L1.
These serve as only a few ideas, all of which don't require excessive amounts of class time. A few sentences read aloud for dictation takes but a few minutes. It provides students with the chance to exercise their listening skills, of course. Yet it's important to note that different students have different learning styles. Dictation recognizes the learning style of auditory learners, allowing them the chance to process information via their preferred method. For visual learners, global learners, and others, dictation can push them somewhat outside their comfort zones. They must gradually develop effective strategies when confronted with lectures, meetings, or seminars in which information is largely presented orally.
Here are a few more points accomplished through dictation:
1: It improves listening comprehension. Students must actively and carefully listen to each sentence read aloud.
2: It improves accuracy because students must correctly write and rewrite what the teacher has said. Any parts repeatedly missed, such as a particular grammar point, serve as red flags for the students. For example, if one student leaves out articles during the dictation, he likely also does so when he speaks. With this realization, he can then take greater care to use articles. In short, dictation helps ESL students become aware of their individual weaknesses.
3: The combination of listening, thinking, and movement (writing) helps many students to better remember the target language. Later they will be able to correctly produce the new language.
4: Every student has a different learning style. Some learn best by speaking and speaking and speaking. Others learn best by seeing the target language written out, which they can then break down. Others need the accompanying movement of writing the information to reinforce it. And still others need to hear the language used in examples. Dictation provides an opportunity to activate different learning styles.
5: From a teacher's point of view, especially in large classes, it's easy to monitor for any problems or weaknesses. As the teacher reads out the sentences or story, and as students take notes, he can easily see grammar mistakes, mistakes due to the native language of the class, and so on. These weaknesses or problems may serve as points for future lessons.
6: The teacher can prepare sentences or stories that also incorporate weaknesses born from the native tongue of the students. He can incorporate high frequency mistakes born from grammar too. For example, many Japanese learners can't distinguish the /l/ and /r/ sounds. Prepositions and articles are also a problem for Japanese learners. So a dictation exercise could make use of words like "light" and "right," "love and rub," or even "legislation" and "registration." Articles and prepositions may also be added. Focusing on specific weaknesses, and providing opportunities to discuss these weaknesses, builds language awareness and strengthens deficient areas.
When providing dictation, the teacher shouldn't just read a few sentences, expect the students to take notes, and then go over the answers together. Nor should the teacher read at native speed. This all doesn't allow much analysis. It also doesn't allow much opportunity to listen for specifics, which in turn builds awareness of the language and/or personal weaknesses. The activity instead focuses on taking notes.
It's best to consider the following when using dictation:
Step One: The teacher reads the entire sentence or story aloud first. He should read just a little above the listening ability of the students. Students don't write just yet, but rather listen for the gist. If students understood most of what was read aloud, then the teacher read too slowly. If students understood far too little of the text, then the teacher read too quickly.
Step Two: The teacher next dictates the sentences or story more slowly. The class writes the information.
Step Three: Students get into pairs/groups and compare answers. They should discuss any differences. It's important here for students to look closely at grammar and structure, as many small mistakes can quickly be resolved with attention to the mechanics of the language. This step allows students to analyze not only the language, but also their weaknesses.
Step Four: The teacher provides the answers on the board or as a printable. Students compare what they heard, then discuss any mistakes in their pairs/groups.
These four steps add an important communicative element to dictation. It gives students additional opportunities to spot and correct their mistakes, as opposed to simply viewing it as right or wrong. It allows them to better understand their personal weaknesses. It gives them opportunities to build effective strategies for listening to lengthy segments such as would be found in lectures or meetings. Most importantly, it provides positive reasons for the teacher to effectively incorporate dictation in any class.