Tips for Dictation

We recently received an email with some great questions about Dictation. Dictation exercises are used in Essentials and in levels C and D of Foundations.

Good Morning,

I have a just-turned-8 year old on Lesson 109 in Level C of Foundations. I absolutely adore this program and I tell everyone I know about it if asked.

Somewhere along the way, I missed how to transition her from copywork to dictation. Can you please tell me the method or the conversation/ instructions I am supposed to give her for dictation? Is she supposed to know how to spell all of the words without my help? How many times do I say the sentence aloud? Do I go word by word? Do I allow her to see the sentence? I am at a loss as far as how to approach dictation.

I have Foundations Teacher's Manuals A, B and C. Where can I go to learn more? Is there a training video I missed? I have the Teacher's Training Manual, too.

Thank you,
Mollie W

Hi Mollie,

Thank you for the good question!

Dictation is the most challenging writing/spelling practice students do in Foundations. It's more challenging than spelling individual words, because you have to hold the sentence in your head; on the other hand, it is easier than free writing because you don't have to make up the sentence (and, at least in LOE curriculum, because it's carefully controlled for words you know how to spell).

The steps are pretty straightforward, and they are explained in lesson 84 at the first dictation exercise (p. 21 of the Foundations C Teacher's Manual). You repeat the sentence twice, and then the student says it and then writes it. She then reads it back to you and gives all the spelling/writing tips she had to think about as she wrote. You write it on the board with her 'help.' Write it correctly even if she makes any mistakes. Discuss any questions or discrepancies and have her correct hers.

The point is for her to succeed in practicing - for it to be challenging but not overwhelming, and for her to gradually improve in this skill as well as her ability to spell the individual words correctly. So, a few suggestions:

  • As the instructions model, you normally say the sentence twice. But if she needs you to say it more times before she can repeat it confidently, do it!
  • The goal is that you would not have to give it to her word by word, since the point of the exercise is to get better at holding the phrase in her head while also spelling, since that's what you have to do to free write - but if she needs smaller chunks at first, by all means give them!
  • You definitely do not want to allow her to see the sentence beforehand; this is where she practices the skill of thinking of a sentence, sounding it out in her head, and writing it. This is a key skill for all future writing work.
  • The goal of dictation is to practice this skill, not necessarily to spell every word correctly every time. They will all be words that she can understand the spelling of, but that doesn't mean she'll always remember which spelling of a particular sound is used in a particular word; this takes more time, and she is still learning. This is not a problem. The part where you write it and she corrects hers is part of the exercise.
  • If she asks for clarification on a specific word, there's nothing wrong with cuing it as you do in spelling analysis, with a verbal cue ("use /k-s/") or finger spelling, to remind her how to spell it correctly. But it's probably more important to communicate that she is just practicing and doesn't have to get every word perfectly; it's expected that she'll make some errors that you'll then correct together.
I hope this helps!

Other dictation tips

In Essentials, dictation has the same goal and works the same way as in Foundations. After learning new words through Spelling Analysis and practicing them individually through games, students later practice words through dictation of short phrases and eventually sentences, a more challenging task that prepares them for independent composition. The biggest difference with Essentials is that students do dictation more often, since there is a greater emphasis on developing spelling mastery at this level. Each lesson in Essentials 2nd edition includes a short dictation practice in Day 3 and another in Day 4, as well as dictation in the Check Your Understanding assessment on Day 5. There are three levels of dictation activities in each section, built on the words in three levels of spelling lists in Essentials lessons.

In Foundations, note that there are three line sizes on each Dictation page in the workbook. Allow students to choose the line size they prefer. Students may also complete Dictation sentences on a whiteboard.

Since the increased challenge of dictation is a big step for Foundations students, at this level students practice the same sentence as copywork beforehand. The goal is not that they memorize this sentence, but simply to give them increased familiarity and practice with these words so that they are more able to be successful when they move to dictation. In Essentials, students hear the phrases for the first time when they write them in dictation exercises, but they progress gradually from short phrases to longer phrases and then sentences over the course of the lessons.

Learn more about Foundations.
Learn more about Essentials.
Learn more about Finger Spelling and the process of teaching words through Spelling Analysis.

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