In praise of old fashioned dictation

I used to believe that dictation was a boring old fashioned activity for teachers with no imagination.  It was ideologically as far from the ‘child centred’ approach as one could get.  Children were encouraged to follow ‘creative writing’ principles.  All too often, enthusiastic pupils would eagerly present me with their exciting stories that neither they nor I could decipher.

Then I did my SpLD training.  For the first time I saw that using dictation when teaching children to read and spell was a really useful tool.  Starting with Alpha to Omega as my bible, moving on to Phono-Graphix and then to Sounds-Write programmes, I soon learned how important dictation was.

Firstly, it taught children that encoding was the reverse skill of decoding: that when writing, they needed to think about how to represent the sounds in the words they were spelling as accurately as possible.

Secondly,  dictation offered children an opportunity to practice spelling  within controlled sentences.  Controlled – meaning:  words that were within their ability to encode sucessfully.

Dictation is also a really useful assessment tool.  You can easily see if a child is able to generalise and use  grapheme they have been taught successfully.

At the Bloomfield Learning Centre, where I work,  we use dictation a great deal.   And what’s funny is that children enjoy it – because like all of us – they love to succeed.



  1. When using dictation, I think it is very important that you only test what they know. If a word is not within their phonic capabilities, ignore the mistake. Only pick on the ones they should know.

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