Oct 3 / Melissa Lamb

What's a dictogloss? Well, it's a great way of uncovering your students' gaps in their grammar knowledge. Read this post to find out exactly how it's done. 

What is a dictogloss?
In dictogloss or grammar dictation learners can combine improving their skills of listening and note taking with refining and upgrading their use of written language.
The learners are encouraged to use their productive grammar as they pool their notes, reconstruct the text and analyse and correct their approximate texts.

Why use a dictogloss?
This can be really helpful to uncover what the learners do and don't hear and use when it comes to grammatical forms which co-occur in discourse. Examples of this are: narrative tenses, modals of deduction and speculation, past habits, future forms and active / passive. During the reconstruction process, the teacher and the learners can notice the gap between what a proficient user of English would say and what they would say. This can be a very powerful tool, therefore, to develop learners' range of grammatical structure, address common examples of overuse or underuse and help learners see exactly what they need to work on. 

Before the lesson
Think of a theme that will engage learners and write a short text about yourself.
Look at the text and find repeated grammar patterns or structures that learners will have to use in order to faithfully convey the same ideas during reconstruction.

Here's an example from my intermediate class:
The text is all about a holiday we had every year and the journey there. The text uses the structure 'used to + Infinitive', 'would + infinitive' and the past simple to tell the story. 

To reconstruct the story faithfully, the learners have to decide which structure to use and why. 
Staging a dictogloss

Once you have your text, you can plan your staging.

Click on the diagram below to see the basic stages of a dictogloss. 
Clarifying lexis online
What: A clarification stage focusing on m/f/p of lexis
Topic: Memories and remembering
Focus: What we focus on when clarifying lexis with learners - being discerning

Stages in detail
Lead in and prediction
· You can orientate ss to the topic (e.g. holiday experiences) perhaps by discussion or using picture prompts.
· Give learners a task (in groups/pairs) to predict ideas in relation to the text and get feedback on their suggestions without saying if they are correct. This provides the first listening task - compare their predictions with the text. You can also give them an easy initial gist task (e.g. Was it a happy ending?)
· Make sure ss are clear on the process - listening and reconstructing the text.

Live listening
· Read the text twice at as near normal speed as possible depending on the level. Try not to read the text aloud word for word. Be natural and improvise to make it more interesting – add mime and use body language and facial expression to make it more interesting.
· For the first reading they only listen and let the story ‘wash over them’. Get feedback on differences between their prediction and the actual story.
· Check they have the main ideas (gist) of the text in place.
· During the second reading they note down or (for lower levels) tick key words to help them summarise the story.
Tip: It can be really useful to elicit and board the key words, so each group is working from the same framework. 

  • The learners work in small groups to pool their notes and produce an faithful version of the text. They can take turns to be the ‘scribe’ who writes down the text as it emerges from group discussion.
  • When it is complete, the group checks their text for grammar, textual cohesion and logical sense.
  • Monitor the reconstruction process and guide the learners towards accurate expression of the main ideas in the text by asking the prompt questions (e.g. did this happen in the past or now? Was the situation imaginary or real?)

Analysis and correction
There are various options for doing this but the principle is that all the learners get to see and discuss the accuracy of each other’s reconstructed texts.
  • Put two groups together and learners work together to make one (more faithful) text. Monitor and prompt.
  • Negotiate a class version on to the whiteboard and use prompts and clues to ensure it is faithful and grammatically accurate.
When the texts have all been corrected give them the original text and read it again. Look at useful language e.g. tenses and lexis in the text. An alternative is to give them the original earlier to help them correct their own texts. 
If you use a dictogloss, remember to tell us about it in the community!