I did my first lesson using dictogloss today with my level 1 practical skills group. I’m not quite sure how I’ve gone for so long not knowing about this, but I first came across it as my colleague did his DELTA project on this topic and then I saw a few tweets and blogs make reference to it. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading around the Lexical Approach and thought that it would fit in really well with the work we are doing with students bringing in their own words to class.

I chose 3 short texts that we’d used in class last week looking at collocations, and they answered comprehension questions on it, so they were fairly familiar with it.

The lesson started by reviewing the collocations. They had to match the collocations to the pictures and then listen to check their answers. After giving them time to make changes I then showed the answers on the IWB and read the texts again. I think this went fairly well, it meant they got to review the language again and here it a couple of times within the texts.

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The third time I read in shorter chunks while the students took notes. I was very clear that it was notes only and not to write full sentences. Only one student tried to write it as a dictation so I had to remind him of this. I then read each one again at normal speed for them to check their notes. This meant that they had heard the texts four times before being asked to write it themselves.

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I thought a lot about how to pair the students, and decided to pair by ability. I had two pairs of stronger students, two pairs of weaker students and one pair of ‘average’ students. I’m glad I spent this time thinking about the pairings and it worked well. Had they been paired by mixed ability or randomly I don’t think it would have worked so well. The stronger students worked faster and were producing more accurate texts and moved onto the proof reading stage earlier.

Up to break I was really happy with how the lesson was going. The pairs were collaborating well. I made some notes of some of the things they were discussing:

‘million of.. millions of… million pounds of….’

‘Capsized. How do you spell that?’

‘widespread or whitespread?’

I had a CELTA trainee observing me and she told me in break some of the ladies carried on discussing the text trying to work out how to write it. So, in terms of students focusing on vocabulary in a text and how to structure a text I think it worked well.

After break I did different things with the stronger and less strong students. Firstly I swapped the pairing of the four strongest students to check through their texts, and then I put them together into a four to check their texts together. I helped them to get started by comparing the first sentence from each pair:

‘Two sailors were missing after their boat capsized in the rough sea.’

‘Two sailors were missing after boat capsized in rough sea off the Scottish coast.’

The remaining 3 pairs, I gave them the same comprehension questions they’d had last week. I thought this may help them to check that they had all the information needed. I’m not too sure how well this went. As I was monitoring I’d ask them to point out where one of the answers were and then I would help them to correct any errors in the sentence, but when I wasn’t helping I’m not sure how well they got on with this.

The weakest pair really struggled at this point. When I looked at what they had produced they hadn’t really managed to produce a coherent text and again I tried to give them the questions from last week to help focus if they had this information in their text, but I’m now sure how helpful this was.  I had anticipated that they would struggle with this and one thing I’d thought about doing was reading the text again to them, but they had been on task, working well together and appeared to be really thinking about what they were writing so I hadn’t done it. I’m not sure how much help it would have been to them or not?!?

As the proof reading stage continued some of the students started to get frustrated and I was aware that I needed to bring the activity to a close. As a group we then looked at a couple of sentences they’d produced in detail and discussed how they could be made more accurate. I was a little woolly about what to do at this stage and I’m not satisfied with how it went.

I will definitely try something like this again. The plenary was useful and we talked about what the main difficulties are with writing (initially they all shouting ‘spelling’, but with a gentle nudge we focused on proof reading!) They said they had felt like student and teacher as they saw it as the teacher’s job to check for mistakes. They acknowledged that they normally write something and then give it to the teacher to check (forget about it?)

This class has definitely given me something to think about in terms of supporting their writing…

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