Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Our first time with dictogloss

This post is an account of a lesson I did in my split classes a couple of weeks ago but, due to the Global Education Conference and a holiday here in Turkey last week, I’m only getting round to writing it up now. It was the first time I did a dictogloss activity with the kids and I thought it would be of interest to describe how I approach this lesson with young learners.

Dicto-what?!?

For those of you wondering what dictogloss is exactly (I myself only heard about it and tired it for the first time about a year ago), here’s a brief summary. Basically, you present the students with a text (usually by reading it to them) and they reconstruct it. However, unlike a classic dictation exercise, the students do not write while you talk. They only take notes and, after hearing the text a few times, they collaborate in small groups and try to write it out. There are two main reasons I love doing this activity:

  1. It forces the students to engage with the language on a much deeper level than pure dictation. They need to focus on how the sentences and the text are structured, which is perfect for focus on form and promoting noticing of language features.
  2. It’s a great activity for getting students to work together. If attempted alone, it’s very difficult but when done in pairs or small groups, the students really support each other a lot.

Phase 1 - Pre-task

Anyway, onto my lesson. They had recently covered family in their main lessons so I decided to read them a short passage about my own family. As they had never done dictogloss before, I needed to offer them plenty of support so I utilised the pre-task phase to recap family words and get them thinking. I did this by displaying a word cloud made from my text, which you can see below:

My family (dictogloss)

I first asked them what family words and names they could see and then asked them to speculate in pairs about who these people might be. We then compared predictions, discussed which ones were more likely and put them on the board. The first task when listening to the text was to check which predictions were right. I supported the first reading with photos of my family so they could make a visual connection with the people I mentioned and I encouraged them to ask any questions they had (they were especially interested in my son and the cat!)

Here’s the text as I read it:

“I’ve got two sisters, Louise and Claire but I haven’t got any brothers. Louise lives in England but Claire lives in Pairs! I’m married. My wife’s name is Çiğdem and we’ve got a son. His name is Jason Demir and he’s four and a half years old. We’ve got a pet cat too. He’s called Sean.”

Phase 2 - Take note(s)

For the next phase, they needed to listen and take notes. As this was the first time they had tried dictogloss, I gave them a table to structure their note-taking (they were also unfamiliar with the concept of notes so it was useful for framing it), like this one:

Information

Yes/no? How many?

Extra information?

Sisters?

 

 

Brothers?

 

 

Married?

 

 

Children?

 

 

Pets?

   
 
They listened again and filled in the first column and then listened a couple more times to find extra information (names, ages, where they live etc.). Once they were happy they had enough notes, they compared their notes in pairs, filling any missing gaps and clarifying any clashing information. One thing that threw a few of them, for example, was when I said “We’ve got a pet cat too” with some of them thinking I meant I had two cats. The great thing was, most of the pairings were able to resolve this misunderstanding by themselves when they checked their notes together!
 

Phase 3 - Reconstructing & comparing

 
I then asked them to use their notes to re-write my text. That got a few puzzled looks at first but, with some prompting, they got the idea. I provided support by displaying the word cloud again as well as the photos, which I directed them to when they were struggling with spelling or the exact information needed. This phase of the lesson was completed fairly quickly so the pairs were then asked to read through their text again and check it. Next, I matched pairs together to make groups of four and had them compare their texts, looking for any differences (for both content and language).
 
The final phase entailed the class comparing their texts with the original as a final noticing activity. The act of comparing, first in small groups and then as a class, allowed them to see where they had made errors and I believe this is much more effective than me simply telling them. Many students, for example, corrected their peers when they had written ‘Louise live in England’, pointing out they should add -s to the verb. Through this collaborative comparison process, they were even able to reconstruct things they haven’t formally been taught yet like He’s called…
 

A good challenge

Of course, the lesson was not without its problems. Some students were disappointed when I revealed the original text and they saw they hadn’t got it 100% the same. I had to explain that there were several ways to say the same thing and the point was to make a good paragraph with the information I gave them, not something word-for-word the same.

On the whole, it went well (although one girl did, quite rightly, scold me for failing to include I love my family at the end of the text!) and I will be doing it again with slightly longer texts in the near future. In one class, we finished the lesson with a new word as I asked them what they thought of the lesson and whether they had found it easy or difficult. They wanted to say it wasn’t easy but wasn’t so difficult that they didn’t enjoy it. Challenging was the word they were looking for.

12 comments:

  1. Hi, David! Great post, indeed. I am just preparing an assignment for my own MA in TEFL, and finished preparing an activity very much resembling yours -a dictogloss with a very short story. I had thought, too of using Wordle to create a pre-task and help familiarise Ss with the text. But the idea of providing them with a structure to ease the note-taking part is really brilliant. Thanx for your inspiration. Rgds from Barcelona. Alex

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  2. Just over an hour ago, I observed a lesson in which one my trainees used this activity at the tail end of a comparatives-superlatives review lesson with our intermediate class.

    As you say, student engagement is high because of various reasons, but mainly I think, the challenge it presents.

    That is why the original name of this activity - at least as I originally learn it quite a few years ago, was dicto-comp, i.e. combining dictation and composition of a text.

    OUP brought out a whole book with this title (though I am not sure that it DOES merit a whole book) - still, a good resource if you want to learn more about this great technique.

    Good activity and good post, David, thanks for sharing your lesson ideas.

    Marisa

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  3. Hi Alex - the word cloud was useful for the pre-task and as a reference during the reconstruction phase. I think one of the keys to doing this activity well, especially with lower-level learners or students doing it for the first time, is contextual support. The word cloud and photos helped set the scene and were good for prompting later on.

    Marisa - I've ready some really good articles on dictogloss focusing on a YL context:

    Shak & Gardener. (2008). Young Learners Perspectives on 4 focus-on-form tasks. Language Teaching Research

    Shak. (2006). Children using dictogloss to focus on form. Reflections on English Language Teaching

    However, as you say, perhaps a whole book is pushing it!

    The challenge is enticing for the learners, the level of engagement with the language is high, and I love the way they just naturally work together to reach their goal. One of my favourite regular activities

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  4. A great activity to use with younger learners - I've never thought of using it with children before, but I'm definitely going to try it now! Obviously it works best with something that engages the students, like personal information about the teacher, but it could also be used with texts about the characters in the course book. Thanks for sharing this detailed lesson plan :)

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  5. You are right Michelle - I chose to do this with personal info about me to engage them more than a standard text lifted from the course book. I will try dictogloss again later with some of those texts though to make them more than just a superficial comprehension activity.

    Or, as you said, it could be a text based on something in the course book, a story summary or even one of the student's own pieces of writing!

    Once they have done it a couple of times, I will also try a 'blind' dictogloss in which they get the info through visual images and notes and construct the text only seeing the original at the end!

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  6. Hi David,

    What a really wonderful post.
    I´ve often used dictogloss tasks before, but must confess never had a go with YLEs before, probably for fear of it not working. So, I guess that´s what I like about this post, in which the step-by-step description will encourage all of us to have a go.

    I think there are two things which stand out about the whole task:
    (1) the need to scaffold this learning experience for the learners, with the pre-task word cloud, the visual support and the framing for the note taking. This must have been super useful for the kids.
    (ii)the collaborative peer support provided by the learners themselves during the pair and group work activity! What brilliant participation by your learners.

    Just shows that when we do believe in their potential, it´s amazing how much of the learning they can do by themselves.

    Once again thanks for this really useful account of the dictogloss task you carried out.

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  7. Hi Val,

    I'm always ready to challenge any claims of "that wouldn't work with kids"! I believe far too often that statement is made based on assumptions rather than reality. The stuff kids can not only cope with but excel at is amazing!

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  8. Hi David,

    I'm a real fan of the dictagloss, I really like the way you used a word cloud to scaffold it. I'll be borrowing that idea!

    Thanks
    Leahn

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  9. Hi David

    Found this through a link and just wanted to say how helpful it was. I've planned a similar dictogloss to do with my learners tomorrow who also really need a bit of scaffolding!

    Thank you for sharing :-)

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  10. Hello David! I'm an English teacher in Portugal and I'm going to try dictogloss with my 10th grade students in March. Tht'll be my thesis theme. I hope everything will be ok and I hope they like it too.
    Thank you for sharing your experience!

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  11. Just starting the second semester and I'm more convinced than ever that this is a fantastic classroom technique.

    I intend to employ it regularly and will report back on how it goes!

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  12. Hi David. Great post. I have to say that dictogloss is my most popular activity in class. Students just love it and ask me if we will do it before we finish the class. It is amazing how they work together and the effort they make to reconstruct the text without any mistakes.

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