What’s so great about dictation?

The verb ‘to dictate’ is not one that teachers warm to.  This is because we love to foster creativity in our children and to get them to write their own ideas.  BUT when teaching children how to read and spell we need to use all the best tools we have to instruct our beginner readers and dictation is one of these great tools.  Why?

Dictation is a controlled activity in which the teacher chooses a word or sentence for the learner to write.  By choosing the word or sentence the teacher can focus on practising a specific skill or knowledge that the child needs to rehearse in order to transfer knowledge from working memory to long-term memory.  This controlled activity ensures that the child succeeds, as the teacher can remove or assist with any spellings that learner has not yet learned.  The learner can then utilise what they have learned with success and this will encourage him/her to repeat this successful approach in his/her own independent writing.

What does dictation promote?

  1. Consolidation of the alphabetic principle: Dictation is an encoding activity.  It encourages the learner to translate sounds he/she can hear into symbols he/she has learned to associate with those sounds.  As the child does this he/she is learning that letters spell sounds in words.  This is the alphabetic principle and how our writing system was created and works.
  2. Develops trust in phonics teaching.  When a carefully selected word or sentence is dictated to a learner, and the learner succeeds in transcribing the spoken word into letters, he/she will be able to read what is written and thus buy into using their sound/letter knowledge to spell words.  It will demonstrate that phonics works, so he/she will use it.
  3. Develop an expectation to match letters and sounds.  When a learner begins to spell words correctly and can read them with ease, this develops the understanding that all words are decodable.  It is just a question of learning the spellings that represent the sounds in words.  It is magic to see children realise that they can read what they have written and what’s more, other people can too! (I remember the bad old days when you pupils were encouraged to use inventive spellings.  They would write whole reams of stories which were totally undecipherable!)
  4. Consolidates letter/sound bonds.  Research has shown the physical, motoric action of writing and spelling helps children store and consolidate letter/sounds bonds.  This is more effective than using screens.  The multi-sensory experience of sounds out a word while forming letters seems to create further links in the brain and thus transfer the letter/sound bonds to long-term memory.  At a later stage, this activity also helps children to remember which alternative spelling fits in which word – e.g. ‘chick’ or ‘chik’ or ‘chic’?
  5. Success.  When a learner succeeds, they will buy into the method and stick with it. Dictation is a guaranteed way to show children they can succeed, as the teacher can ensure they have the knowledge and skills to succeed (by teaching them to the spellings and also to blend and segment) before they demonstrate this in their dictated sentences.

Dictation scaffolding – from simple to complex

As with everything we teach that is difficult we need to scaffold the progression in dictation tasks. We have free dictation sentences which progress in small incremental steps.  Here is the first slide.  Note that some common high-frequency words may have spellings that the children have not learned yet.  We suggest the teacher write these on the board for children to see.  The word can be mapped into letter/sounds correspondences so that we the children are ready to read and spell the word they will be able to segment the words and spell them independently.  For example, if the words ‘i s’ and ‘h i s’ are segmented for the children they will soon learn that the letter ‘s’ represents the sound /z/ as in other words: ‘as’, ‘has’ and ‘was’ for example.  This way they are building their knowledge of the alphabetic code.

Step 1 – CVC words

The first slide starts with CVC words, so children will need to know the sounds of the alphabet and to blend and segment CVC words. As you can see, the high-frequency words with spellings the children may not have learned yet are: the, is, a, and his.


Step 2  – VCC words

Step 3 – CVCC words

To see all our free dictation sentences go to:

UK versions https://www.phonicbooks.co.uk/advice-and-resources/free-teaching-resources/dictation/

USA versions https://www.phonicbooks.com/resources/dictation/

We hope you find these resources helpful!

#phonicsclass #teachspelling #howtoteachspelling #spellingintervention #readingandspelling #readingtutor #readingintervention



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