An ELT Glossary : Dictogloss

Dictogloss is an activity which basically consists of the teacher reading a short text to learners who then, in pairs, attempt to reconstruct it. Generally, the text will contain a language item that the teacher particularly wants to focus on. This may be, for example, a structure that the learners are currently working on such as the past simple, a lexical area that the teacher has noticed learners making frequent errors with, such as expressions using make/do + noun, or whatever. The learners objective is not necessarily to reproduce the exact text (probably impossible anyway in the case of longer texts) but to express the same content and meaning accurately in terms of the language they use.

That said, there are a number of variations that can be used to adapt the technique to the needs and level of learners :

1. How long is the text? Davis and Rinvolucri (1988 ) suggest using a single sentence, Wajnryb (1990) a short paragraph, and other writers  (see the references below) other text types such as a short story illustrated with pictures to help the learners understand and remember, or even, for advanced learners, an extract from TED Talks. These differences will affect the time the activity takes. Is it just a quick practice activity used as one stage of a lesson presenting and practising a specific form or as a consolidation activity in a subsequent lesson,  or is it a full lesson in its own right?

2. How many times do the learners hear the text? Is it just read once at the beginning,? Or twice? Is it read once at the beginning and again later after the learners have had a chance to start working on it? Is it read once at the beginning and again later only if the learners seem to be blocked?

3. What do learners do as they listen? Just listen? Listen and compare what was said with ideas they had previously predicted from looking at the pictures or from their background knowledge of the topic? Listen and take notes of key words or facts?

4. Do learners work only in their original pair or do they start in one pair and then, when they've done what they can, change partners and compare so as to improve their own version?

5. When and how is feedback given? At what point does the teacher intervene to confirm or help the learners correct their work? While they are reconstructing the text? Only after they have finished? After they have had a chance to compare their own version with the original? 

Tedick (2001) has given a concise summary of the advantages of using dictogloss :

1. It promotes collaborative, constructivist learning, which as Swain (1998) showed, can increase the cognitive depth of the learning and lead to greater retention. 

2. It promotes "noticing" - ie conscious attention to form and use, which again increases the depth of cognitive processing of the language and leads to more effective understanding and retention. Learners have to listen attentively rather than just letting the language "wash over them", and in attempting to reconstruct the text must reflect on their own output and its accuracy.

3. In discussing the accuracy of their formulation of the text, learners have to restate rules of form and use. This "metatalk" may help to internalise those rules.

References and Acknowledgements

Carissa, P. (2012)  5 Fun ways to use Dictogloss in the EFL Class
Davis, P and Rinvolucri, M (1988) Dictation - New Methods New Possibilities  Cambridge University Press : Cambridge
Lai, C. Steps in Using Dictogloss
Swain, M. (1998). Focus on form through conscious reflection. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 64-81). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press
Tedick, D (2001) Dictogloss Procedure
Wajnryb, R. 1990. Grammar Dictation. Oxford University Press: Oxford  cited in  Róg, T (2012) Dictogloss - Another Approach to Teaching Grammar  

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