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Dictocomp (Wajnryb 1988, 1990)
(Other name: dictogloss)
A cross between a dictation and a composition.
- To focus learners on language accuracy in a task-based, interactive way
- Student arrangement – can proceed from individuals to pairs to groups to whole class
- Information distribution – students cooperate to combine their knowledge and skill, having the same access to the information
- Student focus – focus on language accuracy as well as meaning; can focus on a particular language feature
- Language modes – listening, writing, speaking
- Peer teaching – if students with different abilities/knowledge of Māori work together, the more advanced student can teach the other
- Challenge – students hear the passage only twice and have to use their own knowledge of language to rewrite it
Select a short text appropriate for your students (approximately five sentences).
Prepare the students for the text by:
- focusing on the topic (for example: by brainstorming or predicting from a picture)
- teaching any necessary content vocabulary
- making sure students understand the task and are seated in their groups.
Read the text out at a normal speed while the students just listen.
Read it again at normal speed, pausing between sentences, while students take notes of key content words.
Students work in groups of four to rewrite the text, using their notes. They should aim to write a text that contains the information they heard and is in accurate Māori, but is not exactly what they heard. Because they cannot remember every word, they will have to use their own knowledge of the language to complete the task.
The teacher can circulate during this stage and quietly prompt students to correct minor errors that are not part of the grammar focus of the exercise.
As a whole class, compare reconstructions with the original text and discuss differences, focusing on the major grammatical points. This can be done by writing the first sentence from each group on the board and discussing before moving on to the next sentence.
Choose or write a text that is suitable for your students based on:
- language (vocabulary and grammar)
- length and complexity (for example, short familiar story for young children, more complex factual text as appropriate; 3–5 sentences is generally long enough)
- background knowledge and interests of the students.
You can focus on a grammatical structure or groups of words that students have been learning.
Don’t speak slowly when reading the text – the aim is to let the students take notes of keywords so they can rewrite the text, not to reproduce it word for word. Make it clear to students that you do not expect them to write every word down.
You can extend the task by using a sequence of student arrangements – starting with pairs, then groups of four, then the whole class.
At lower levels of proficiency, students may talk in English as they negotiate what to write. At higher levels, students should communicate in Māori to complete the task.
To make it easier for students, you can read the text more than twice, but don’t read it enough times that the students can write it word for word.
You may wish to highlight or revise certain grammar or vocabulary that appears in the text, before reading it.
From level 4 of the draft curriculum, students are learning to conduct polite social interactions such as disagreeing politely – dictocomp discussions provide a good opportunity to practise these and this goal can be highlighted.
Give roles to each student in the group, for example, facilitator of discussion, decision checker (checks that everyone can explain why a decision is made), language monitor (checks that Māori is being used when appropriate), conflict creator (disagrees, to generate debate). Or each student can have a different reference book (grammar book, dictionary, etc). (Jacobs & Small, 2003)
When reconstructing, pairs or groups can discuss, but each then writes their own individual text.
Introduce an additional challenge such as a time limit.
Split the information so that some students hear part of the text, and others the other part.
Read a longer text and ask students to write a summary based on their notes.
Instead of listening to the text, students read it. They otherwise follow the same procedure, after putting the original text away. (Nation, 1989, p. 91 – Backwriting)
Students gain confidence in listening globally, rather than ‘blanking out’ when they hear a word they don’t know, and get practice in listening for keywords.
There is a nice balance between interactive group work and focus on correct grammar. (Read, 1996)
Evaluation of the task
Were the students able to reconstruct a text that contained the key ideas?
Did the students negotiate with each other to get correct grammar and content?
Did the whole class discussion at the end revise important language points?
- Jacobs, G. & Small, J. (2003). Combining Dictogloss and Cooperative Learning to Promote Language Learning. The Reading Matrix 3 (1).
- Nation, I. S. P. (1989). Language Teaching Techniques. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 2.
Read, J. (1996). Teaching Grammar Through Grammar Dictation. Wacana [e–journal].
Discusses the technique in the context of teaching Indonesian at university.
- Wajnryb, R. (1988). The Dictogloss Method of Language Teaching: A Text–based, Communicative Approach to Grammar. English Teaching Forum. 26 (3), pp. 35–38.
- Wajnryb, R. (1990). Resource Books for Teachers: Grammar Dictation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Gibbons, P. (1991). Learning to Learn in a Second Language. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association.
- Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.