Variation on Dictée

Here’s a very simple thing – kind of a bail out move – to do after you’ve taught a story and done the (Step 3) reading. (I recommend using ROA – Reading Option A – as an excellent strategy for processing readings based on stories with your students.)

This suggested strategy is not an advocacy of writing at the lower levels, which in my opinion the students are not anywhere nearly ready to do except for a few free writes and regular dictées from time to time, but if we are forced to have our students write by people in our building who don’t get how and when writing emerges but yet to whom we have to answer, it’s not a bad plan and silences the occasional critic who thinks that if a kid isn’t writing they are learning (which could not be further from the truth).

It’s just a variation on dictée (see that category). It is almost identical to regular dictée really, except that you are basing the dictée on the (just finished) reading.

So, when the reading is over, just have the kids take out a paper and pencil and start reading, line by line, the reading that was created from the story. Add a few variations in the facts to keep the kids’ minds active.


1. read the first line from the reading, with a variation or two.
2. type it onto the screen.
3. they make the corrections as in regular dictée.
4. go sentence by sentence down the projected page.

Even if it is too early for them to seriously write, the fact that you are dictating from a story and the reading created from it (that’s usually at least two class periods worth of CI) has the result of really getting their minds engaged. It gives their minds a break from the rigorous listening and reading of the previous days and pulls them out of all of that unconscious processing (Steps 2 and 3 of TPRS) and deeper mind work into their conscious minds, where, when they are in school, they have learned to hang out and are most comfortable. Plus, when they have a pencil in their hands they think they are learning.



8 thoughts on “Variation on Dictée”

  1. Not sure where to post this question – can’t figure out how to do my own post, if there is a way … my question is – Are there examples of the dictee/dictado sheet anyone uses? If not, can anyone post one? Thanks!

  2. Here is what I do. I am pretty sure I stole it from Ben. I have kids do dictado on lined paper in their composition books. They open the book to a page spread, so 2 blank pages. They number the page on the left side, 1-5 or however many sentences we are doing. ***super important*** number 1, then skip 2 blank lines then number 2, 2 blank lines, etc.

    The page spread is so that in case the sentence goes beyond the width of one page, they continue writing straight across the page so that the whole sentence is on one line. This is important visually for the correction part. (yes, I know corrections don’t help acquisition, but this is a great quiet thing to do and it does help them focus)

    They write the sentence they hear. I repeat each sentence 3 times. Then they get a different color pen. I write the sentences on the board, and whatever is on their page that doesn’t look exactly like what’s on the board gets written underneath what they originally wrote.

    I assess based on the attention to detail in the corrections, not on what they originally wrote. Most of them find it a bit scary at first because they think they have to spell correctly. But after a couple, they get into it “yes! I go the whole sentence” “awww man, i just forgot the accent” etc.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Erin just send anything you want posted to me. The site is not set up for anyone to post but I can post what you send me at

      Just to make a point about dictee is that we need not have any illusions about its pedagogical value – it has few. It’s analysis of output before they really can retain the little spelling things they are correcting. However, there are two really big things that dictee offers and it is why I brought it in to my own teaching in TPRS so long ago: 1) by putting the kids in a different part of their brain it gives my rattled input focused brain and theirs a break, and 2) it gives them a feeling of accomplishment when they come close to the correct spellings as you said above. The caution on that second point is to make sure you use simple simple texts, or it can be very defeating for them, as all output can be when they are not ready to do it, which is all the time.

  3. A little bit off topic, but…on Friday I had the students do a “free-write” of a story we had been working on. A couple of them wanted to write original stories during that time. When they did that, they were not just writing fluently but were, of course, stopping a lot to think and getting stuck because of their limited language. I said I would like to see them write out the story so I could assess their fluency with the language we had been practicing. One of them said, “Well, then this is not really a Free Write!” I think he has a point. Has anyone else run into this? I ended up just letting them write what they wanted to…not sure if I should really push for them to write out the story. I don’t time it or count words, I usually just have them write out the story. It seems to keep the affective filter down and when I used to time it I always had frustrated kids who “weren’t done” and it felt weird to be telling them “stop writing in Spanish, because your time is up!”

    1. I agree with the student in a way, but I tell my kids at that point that it’s up to them what details in the story they keep, add, or change. I want them to use language they know, so it’s much easier to write what they’ve just heard. Then I read the variations out loud (making necessary corrections as I read), and they hear that their fast writes are not really the same at all.

  4. I agree with the kid that it should be totally free, of course because I am a hippy. Kids drown in production guidelines all day. It’s forced output. Let’s give them a little break. I totally agree with the kids. As they develop their writing abilities, they should be left alone to delve into “what’s down there” as a result of the input. They should be allowed to scan the walls for little helpers to jump down onto their pages. They learn to do things for themselves because they are fun to do. My feeling is that when teachers across the board in all subjects ask for tasks to be completed, it is not real education, which comes from within.

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