How do you Dictogloss?

At a meeting in Torun (Poland) in June 2013, I met the DoS of IH Torun – Glenn Standish. While talking about activities for engaging Teens and Young Learners, he mentioned something which I had only heard in passing: dictogloss

Since then, I’ve observed this activity numerous times and discovered that teachers have different takes on how to do it.

According to the British Council’s Teach English website, dictogloss is a “dictation activity” which requires learners to “reconstruct a short text by listening and noting down key words.” Those key words are then used as the basis on which the text is reconstructed by the learners, often in pairs, stringing the key words together into continuous prose.

The principal goal of dictoglossing, however, is not to reconstruct the text as it originally was. In fact, if a learner managed to do this, it would simply demonstrate the learner’s outstanding (and probably unusual) memory skills. The idea behind a dictogloss activity is rather to aim to produce grammatically (and semantically) correct English.

There are numerous ways to conduct a dictogloss exercise in class – each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses, often being more appropriate to a particular level or type of learner.

The Built-Up Version:

The DoS at IH Torun finds this version of dictoglossing suitable for more advanced learners. Such learners have often mastered most of the grammar and their pronunciation is usually sound. Any phonological issues usually lie not in the production of sounds but rather in receiving more advanced sounds; in other words, in “connected speech.”

Whatever text you use, be it an entire article or only a sentence (pitch it appropriately to the level you’re teaching), they key to this version is to read the text at a natural pace or even slightly quicker. The reasoning behind this is so that you produce quite natural connected speech.

1st reading: the learners are not allowed to make any notes, they should only listen. After you have read the text out, they then write down any key words or phrases. Some teachers would want to make sure it is clear to the learners that they should be listening out for content specific lexis – this provides the learners with a reason to listen. Other teachers might skip this instruction in order to make way for a more ‘natural’ process of information selection.

2nd reading: the same as above: first you read, they listen and then write down any more key words.

You may read the text for a third time (also following the above procedure), it depends on the group and the level.

In pairs the learners are given time to reconstruct the text. The teacher may read out the original version so that the learners can check how accurate (in terms of meaningfulness) their text is. However, given that this is not the principal aim of this version of dictoglossing, perhaps a better feedback activity would be to put the learners’ texts around the room for them to read and compare – maybe one pair missed out something all the others got.

Since connected speech and sentence stress can easily be introduced at an elementary level, could this version perhaps lend itself to be used in the elementary classroom?

The All-Aboard Version:

I came across this version thanks to Helen Woolridge – a DELTA student and an EAP tutor at INTO, Newcastle University.

As before, the teacher reads at a natural pace. Learners listen only to the first reading and make no notes. After the teacher has read out the text, the learners make any notes they want. After this, they compare their notes with their partners. Once again, pens down and listen to the second reading. The learners then edit their own versions and then compare again with partners, editing their versions where necessary. Finally, the teacher displays the original version on the WB for feedback and comparison.

Given that this version involves learners handling a whole text with no notes, they don’t really build up the text stage by stage but rather almost go straight into writing it after the first listening, would it work best with shorter texts?

The Sentence Version:

In this final version of dictoglossing, the ideas, aims and procedures are largely the same as in the two above. However, this time, the text is broken down into sentences and is handled by bother the teacher and the learners as a series of numbered sentences as opposed to a text of flowing continuous prose.

Instead of writing about, below you’ll find a link to a video of it in action:


Have you ever used dictogloss in a lesson? How did you deliver it? Was it anything like these approaches?

9 thoughts on “How do you Dictogloss?

  1. I like dicto-glosses. I have different ways I do them, and I try to make them, “fun”
    My most recent dictogloss (which I just did again) was about transition words I let the students use the short story as a dictogloss and then after we talked about what it lacked and re-wrote it with proper transitions. It usually goes over pretty well.


    1. Thank you for the comment and the links! I did 2 dictoglosses this week which were stories for getting the learners to notice a bit of grammar I wanted them to concentrate on and I felt it went really well.


  2. Thanks for the comment Martin! What is a “DELTA equivalent course”?

    So, you did a dictogloss but got the CD to do the reading and then the students built up the text, is that correct?

    With regards to Dogme, I think it’s great! I’ve never read the book on it but I have seen videos and read about it and I’ve incorporated it into my teaching. I’ve never seen a full course delivered Dogme-only (though I’m sure it would be good) but the combination of Dogme and more traditional teaching I think produces a very nice mix. When I come to think of it, I think in every lesson I always have an activity which is much more Dogme in style.

    It seems to me the fundamental essence of Dogme is to created a Student-Centred Classroom. It also seems that is the direction our industry is going in: Student-Centred Learning. Take a look at this webinar by the British Council from 2011 ( This is the direction I would like to take my school in and it’s something I’ve started doing in my own courses, using ideas from Dogme as well.

    What do you think?


    1. The DELTA equivalent course was part of my MA ELT course. It was called Advanced Practical Teaching (APT) and is recognised by the British Council as a TEFL-Q qualification – the same as the DELTA.

      You are right. I had a listening activity and I got the learners to build up the text from the audio. It is a fresh spin on this and gets natural listening to work. It really does harmonise the learners and gets them working well together. I love to compare language and grammar from the dictogloss activity and try to explain the nuances of English.

      There are three basic principles to Dogme teaching:
      a. Conversation driven
      b. Focus on more immediate emergent language
      c. Materials light

      Thus, it is related to the student-centred classroom but teachers also try to focus on more natural and humanistic forms of language learning/teaching. I did have a video of my Dogme teaching with my APT course on my blog and is available to read and watch here:


  3. I used a dictogloss version during a listening activity when I was doing my DELTA equivalent course. It was successful and my observer was very positive about the whole lesson and also commented about how close it was to a dictogloss, but with a listening CD. It is always nice to do a dictogloss lesson without having to read and reread.

    I always like to get learners to do a listening activity and then having to deal with the emergent language at a later day. Nearer to the question – what do you think about Dogme ELT? Do you think it is more suitable for language teachers? And how much opportunity do your teachers get with Dogme ELT? That would be very interesting.


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