A few weeks ago,  I was talking to some DELTA candidates about my own DELTA experience. Since they were both interested in choosing listening for their receptive skills assignment, we started sharing ideas on effective listening activities. That’s when dictogloss came up. My colleagues had never used it in class before, but not because they thought it’s ineffective. They simply didn’t know exactly what it is. This post is for them but also for those who..

  • ..have heard of the term but are not sure what it is or why they should try it.
  • ..are looking for a different approach to teaching listening.
  • ..are planning their  listening LSA  and  thinking about using dictogloss.
  • ..have chosen dictogloss for their  DELTA experimental lesson.
  • ..are looking for a good book to help them use dictogloss in their classes.

What is dictogloss?

Definition

Snoder and Reynolds (2018) describe it as a faster dictation, which doesn’t allow students to write down every single word. Wajnryb (2013) defines it as a task-based grammar-dictation procedure and Benati (2017) adds that it is a collaborative output activity.

The procedure

The four stages according to  Wajnryb (2013) are:

  1. Preparation: a warm-up that triggers interest and prepares learners for what they are about to hear.
  2. Dictation: teacher reads a passage, tells an anecdote or plays a recording/ song multiple times. Students first listen for meaning, then listen again and take notes.
  3. Reconstruction: learners work in groups, compare their notes and reconstruct the text together.
  4. Analysis and correction: Students write their texts on the board and get feedback from the teacher or compare their texts to the transcript.

Wilson (2003) added the discovery step, during which learners reflect on their errors and become more aware of sound changes, new lexis or grammatical structures.

The aims:

Dictogloss is an integrated package as Wajnryb (2013) calls it. According to the writer, it helps learners use their productive grammar and finally upgrade their output by comparing their version of the text with the original one.

Wilson (2003) highlights the usefulness of dictogloss for understanding features of connected speech and comparing the written form to fast speech.

Snoder and Reynolds (2018) add that it facilitates collocation learning. After conducting a study, they found that when dictogloss includes a pre-task that presents some sets of collocations/lexical chunks, learners are likely to repeat the whole chunk as an item in the reconstruction phase. This helps build their phrasal lexicon in an engaging way.

Vandergrift and Goh (2012) also suggest that dictogloss is a highly metacognitive task, as the processes it includes (planning, monitoring, comparing, negotiating meaning) help learners take control of their learning.

Finally, Benati (2017) reminds us that dictogloss helps practice all four skills, which makes it a highly useful activity.

Why does it work?

Wajnryb (2013) says its interactive nature is what makes it work. It motivates students as they complete the task collaboratively; everyone can make a useful contribution, so chances of success are higher than doing the task individually.

Another reason is that it combines testing and teaching; learners first make hypotheses about what they’ve heard and the feedback they receive helps them notice their gap, understand the cause of their confusion.

It’s ideal for mixed-ability classes; different learners will have different strengths and weaknesses. Some will notice uncertainties caused by connected speech, whereas others will notice collocations they didn’t know. Hence, each learner focuses on their own shortcomings.

Finally, it combines both top-down and bottom-up listening.

  • Top-down: using context or students’ knowledge of a topic
  • Bottom-up: identifying sounds, words or word combinations.

Any possible pitfalls?

If the text is too long, teachers may need to play multiple listenings which can be time-consuming.

I would not use dictogloss with young learners (under 12) as in my experience they are not so cognitively mature to work together to complete the task.

It does not appeal to all learners; there are those who prefer to work individually and feel uncomfortable working in groups.

Lower-level students may overuse L1 (in monolingual groups) in the reconstruction stage, whereas in multilingual groups, I have noticed that learners are “forced” to use L2.

Learners who expect the teacher to provide the answer may find the reconstruction stage time-consuming or “useless”.

If the language/ accent is too challenging, it may lead to frustration and demotivation.

If you’re looking for a book…

Ruth Wajnryb’s Grammar dictation is an excellent book. It includes  60 texts, organized into three sections according to level (pre-int, intermediate and advanced).  There is a thematic index, which helps you choose texts by topic and a structural index, which lists the target structures covered in each text. Texts are relatively short, between 4 and 8 sentences. I have tried plenty of tasks and my students found them really interesting and useful.

Online resources

If you want to use longer recordings, you’ll find some podcasts on ESL library https://blog.esllibrary.com/2014/09/03/esl-library-dictogloss/

In her post, Sandy Millin talks about how she slightly changed the procedure to Preparation – dictation – reconstruction – analysis/correction – second reconstruction as an open class activity. I also liked her idea of adding a writing extension.

More on dictogloss here, on Sue Swift’s brilliant blog ELT Notebook, which you have to bookmark if you’re a DELTA candidate.

Larry Ferlazzo has shared a good number of websites which focus on dictogloss. https://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2011/04/21/the-best-resources-for-learning-how-to-use-the-dictogloss-strategy-with-english-language-learners/

Are you a dictogloss fan? Any tips or thoughts you’d like to add?


References:

Benati, A., 2017. The role of input and output tasks in grammar instruction: Theoretical, empirical and pedagogical considerations. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 7(3), pp.377-396.

Snoder, P. and Reynolds, B., 2018. How dictogloss can facilitate collocation learning in ELT. ELT Journal, 73(1), pp.41-50.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C., 2012. Teaching And Learning Second Language Listening. New York: Routledge.

Wajnryb, R., 2013. RBT: Grammar Dictation. Oxford University Press.

Wilson, J., 2008. How To Teach Listening. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Longman.

Wilson, M., 2003. Discovery listening–improving perceptual processing. ELT Journal, 57(4), pp.335-343.