TESL
split dictation
about/how to




About Split Dictations

• The students work in pairs and take turns dictating sections of a text to one another.

• The dictated text is short and simple. Two ‘forms’ — ‘A’ and ‘B’ — are made from this text. On each form, approximately half the words have been omitted and replaced with ‘blanks.’ Whole clauses or short sentences are removed in order to make the dictation more natural.

• One partner has Form A and one has form B. The partners take turns dictating and filling it the blank spaces. All proper names are printed out on both forms — so there will be no temptation to spell them out.

• The instructions below are for using split dictations in a classroom, but they can also be used easily effectively by two independent students working together.

• For comments on the benefits of pair work and also of how to deal with the difficulties presented by pair work and other kinds of group work, see Notes on Pair Work and Notes on Group Work



Instructions for Using Split Dictations

(1) Students are told they’re going to do a split dictation.

If the class has never done a split dictation before, there should be a full explanation and perhaps a short demonstration . The teacher and a student could do a very short dictation in front of the class. If the students have done split dictations previously, they should be reminded of how this sort of exercise works.)

(2) Students are seated.

To do a split dictation, partners should sit on opposite sides of a table or desk with some sort of barrier between them to prevent them from seeing each other’form. A hard-cover textbook or a binder can be used as a barrier but a reusable, home-made set of larger, more stable cardboard barriers would work better.

(3) The forms are distributed.

One student in each pair is given Form A, the other Form B. If possible, students should be seated so that not only is it impossible for them to see their partner’s form, but also impossible for them to see their neighbours’ forms.

(4) Last minute reminder

Before beginning, students should be told again that peeking at partners' forms and spelling out to help their partners are against the rules. They should be reminded that the purpose of the exercise is to improve pronunciation and listening skills— and that peeking and spelling will destroy its value.

(5) The dictation is done

While the dictation is being done the teacher should circulate quietly, gently persuading students who are peeking or spelling out to do the exercise in the correct way.
Fifteen minutes should be enough time. Twenty minutes should be the maximum. If the exercise lasts longer than that, frustration will lead to cheating; the students who have finished will start chatting; and there will be a general deterioration of concentration and intensity.

(6) Correction

When the dictation has finished, partners should compare their forms and work together to correct mistakes and fill in any remaining blank spaces. If it is convenient, they should sit beside each other for this part of the activity. While this is happening, the teacher should circulate, glancing at the students' work and answering questions.

Split dictations are a kind of pair work — which itself is a kind of group work. For more general explanations and advice on these see 'about pair work' and 'about group work.'