Thoughts on Grammar Dictation

© Robert A. Buckmaster 2022

Grammar Dictation or Dictagloss is a fantastic but neglected technique.

Oxford English published a book called Grammar Dictation by Ruth Wajnryb, way back in the 1980s. This book is worth searching for.

Grammar Dictation (GD) is such a useful exercise because it focuses on listening and writing, and language, and if you do it right speaking as well.

The essence of GD is to listen to a short text and recreate it. The key choice you have to make is whether you want the learners to reproduce the text exactly as heard or to produce a version of the text. Let’s look at both of these ways.

Versioning the Text

Select a short text you want to work on with your learners, like the example below.

An advert for a merchant bank

Instruct them that they should listen as you read the text but not write anything. When you finish reading the text they can write down as much as they can remember.

Read the text to your learners. [You might want to record the text and play the recording]

They listen and when you finish write as much as they can remember.

Monitor. When they have trouble remembering more, read the text to them again; they should also not write this time.

When you have finished reading they can correct or add to their version of the text.

Then put the learners into groups to finalize a version of the text.

Discuss their versions. Focus on the grammar and vocabulary choices they made.

Compare their versions with the original text.

Reproducing the Text

In this version the aim is to reproduce the text exactly as heard. Follow the procedure as above but add more ‘listen but do not write‘ stages as required until the learners have the text precisely reproduced.

Then check the language of the text so they understand everything.

The Speaking Extension

If you have chosen a spoken English text (like the one above), you can extend the task to a speaking task.

Once the learners have the whole text, ask them to listen again as you reread it three times.

  1. They listen and mark the pauses, cutting the text into sections or tone units.
  2. They listen and mark which words get the most stress in each tone unit.
  3. They mark the intonation as a rise or fall at the end of each tone unit.

Then ask the learners to practice saying the text with a partner, pausing in the right places, stressing the right words and using the right intonation.

Then ask for volunteers to perform the text to the class.