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Using Dictation to Improve Spelling - All About SpellingIn All About Spelling, every lesson includes spelling dictation. Dictation is a great tool for teaching spelling because it allows children to use their spelling skills in a “real world” application.

What is dictation and how can it help improve my child’s spelling?

Very simply, you dictate a phrase or sentence and your student writes it down. Writing from dictation allows your student to concentrate on the writing and spelling process without having to compose original sentences. 

Spelling dictation benefits your student in a number of ways:

    • Spelling dictation gives your student the chance to practice newly learned words in context. If your student just learned to spell birthday, for example, writing the sentence Is your birthday in April or May? puts the new word in a real-life context.
    • Spelling dictation tests the mastery of a spelling pattern or rule. Learning how to spell birthday in a list of other IR words such as girl, shirt, circle, and third is an efficient way to learn the basics, but putting the word in a sentence provides mixed practice with other spelling concepts. You’ll be able to see if your child has mastered the spelling of birthday, or if you need to keep practicing it.
    • Spelling dictation reviews old spelling words in a meaningful way.
    • Spelling dictation moves your student from the easier task of spelling from a spelling list to the more difficult task of independent writing. Spelling from dictation is harder than spelling from a word list—but it’s easier for a student than writing an original sentence in which he must focus not only on spelling and mechanics but also on creativity, word choice, and grammar. We can look at it like a continuum that progresses from easiest to hardest:

 
Using Dictation to Improve Spelling - All About Spelling

There are four simple steps for dictation:
  1. You dictate a phrase or sentence.
  2. Your child repeats the phrase or sentence.
  3. Your child writes the phrase or sentence.
  4. Your child proofreads what he wrote.

Let’s take a look closer look at these four steps.

Step 1: You dictate a phrase or sentence.
For the youngest spellers, you’ll begin with short phrases of two or three words. Starting in Level 2, we work up to complete sentences. As a student progresses through the levels, sentences keep pace with the student’s increasing knowledge.

Using Dictation to Improve Spelling - All About Spelling

Depending on the age and ability of your student, you’ll dictate two to five sentences per day. Additional sentences are included for practice in later lessons, but don’t feel that you have to cover them all in a single session. The sentences in each lesson include only words that your child has already learned.

Here are some tips as you dictate the sentences:

    • Let your student know that you will only be saying the phrase or sentence once, so he needs to focus his attention on you.
    • If the sentence has a question mark or exclamation point, make it clear through your intonation. Don’t dictate the words “question mark.”
    • For some children, you can dictate at a normal speed. For others, it is important to dictate slowly and distinctly. After completing a few sentences with your child, you will have a good sense of what is best in your particular situation.

Step 2: Your child repeats the phrase or sentence.
It is important in this step that you encourage good listening habits in your child. Don’t be tempted to repeat the sentence for your student. You should dictate each phrase or sentence only once, and then have your student repeat it back to you.

If you find that your child isn’t able to repeat the phrase or sentence, you need to do some exercises to strengthen his working memory. Discontinue the spelling dictation and do oral dictation instead. Oral dictation is a simple but powerful tool for increasing your child’s working memory. Here’s how it works: dictate a sentence and have your student repeat it back to you in sequence. Repeat each day, using a large number of phrases or sentences. Gradually increase the number of words in each phrase or sentence as your student grows in ability. When oral dictation becomes easier for him, go back to the spelling dictation exercises.

Using Dictation to Improve Spelling - All About SpellingStep 3: Your child writes the phrase or sentence.
Once again, try not to intervene. Let your child write out the sentence independently, without prompting for spelling. It might be hard for you, but this is important! If he starts to misspell a word, don’t prompt him—let him commit to his mistake. If you always hover over him, he won’t learn to take responsibility for what he writes.

I find it best to not even look at the child’s paper as he is writing. Most kids are very good at reading body language. If we see a mistake about to happen, we may subconsciously hold our breath or lean forward a bit or focus our attention more intently on the paper. You may not even realize that you’re doing it, but your child will notice these subtle body movements and will learn to rely on your cues rather than on his own ability.

I once observed a spelling lesson in which a nine-year-old girl watched her mother out of the corner of her eye during the entire spelling dictation exercise. If she sensed any anxiety from her mom as she began to form a letter, she would change that letter into another letter. If her mom leaned in a bit or shifted closer, she would change course. The girl’s mom didn’t realize that she was sending these signals, but for her daughter, reading body language was a normal part of the spelling lesson!

There is one more reason I recommend that you don’t look at your student’s paper as he is spelling from dictation: a learner should have the mental space to concentrate on what he is doing without feeling like he is being monitored. He should feel free to pause during spelling and consider various alternatives or recall a spelling rule. He should feel free to think through the spelling process without being judged. So I generally look down at my teacher’s manual or out the window as the student writes from dictation. I don’t look at the student’s paper until he proofreads it and says, “Done!”

Step 4: Your child proofreads the sentence he just wrote.
In this step, your child should read his writing aloud or to himself. This is a good time for your student to practice self-correction, so he should check himself by asking these questions: Am I satisfied that I spelled everything correctly? Did I use capital letters and punctuation properly

After the spelling dictation exercise is over

Check the student’s writing as soon as he indicates that he is done proofreading his sentence. If you identify a misspelled word, swing into action with the three steps listed in this article on how to correct spelling mistakes. This is important teaching time! Analyze each mistake your child made. Is there a specific rule or generalization that you need to review now or in tomorrow’s lesson?

After you have identified and corrected your child’s errors, it may be helpful to date the paper so you can track progress from the beginning of the month to the end of the month. Spelling dictation can reveal areas that you thought your child had mastered but that he really hasn’t. Dictation is such an important process that I’ve included it in every All About Spelling lesson.

If your child is struggling with the dictation exercises, or you are just looking for ways to make dictation more effective (or more fun), go to Part 2 in our dictation series, How Can I Help My Child with Spelling Dictation?

Would you like more information on teaching reading and spelling? Download my free report below!

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About Marie Rippel

Marie Rippel, curriculum developer of the award-winning All About Reading and All About Spelling programs, is known for taking the struggle out of both teaching and learning. Marie is an Orton-Gillingham practitioner, sought-after speaker, and member of the International Dyslexia Association. When not writing or teaching, Marie can be found riding her Icelandic horses.

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  1. What to do when your child hates writing & therefore, fights doing dictation?

    • Merry at AALP says:

      Hi Melissa,

      You might find this article on Dysgraphia helpful: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/dysgraphia/

      If you are not using AAS, I would advise:
      start with something very small and doable. Think about writing in stages:
      handwriting–does he struggle with letter formation? start there
      If he’s fine with letter formation, start with 1 word.
      If he’s fine with 1 word, try a short, 2-3 word phrase.
      And so on. Don’t aim to do a lot of dictation all at once, but to start small and gradually build up. Make sure that the dictation does not include new words that he can’t spell. Once he is able to write a bit more, you can expand a bit and include a new word or two, but pre-teach them first. Walk him through the phonics of the word and how to study and learn that word, and then try the dictation on a separate day.

      If you are using AAS: Perhaps you could compromise with him and have him do some writing each day, and then work on some words orally? Are you spreading the dictations out over several days, or trying to do them all together? You can do just a phrase or a sentence each day while he works through the end of that step and also the next step. Don’t try to do them all in one day.

      I think it’s worth slowing things down a bit to gradually work on stamina for writing.

      AAS has a gradual progression for increasing the student’s stamina and fluency in writing that’s very helpful for reluctant writers. It starts with just words and short phrases in Level 1, bumps up to phrases and short sentences in Level 2, and progresses to 12 dictation sentences per step in Level 3. Partway through this level, the Writing Station is introduced. In this exercise, students write sentences of their own that they make up using some of their spelling words.

      In this way, students have begun to use words in a more real-world context through dictation and writing, to help them transition to longer writing assignments.

      Dictation and the Writing Station both serve as an important bridge between spelling words in the context of lists (where the patterns are similar), and more “real world” writing. By the end of Level 3, students have mastered about 1000 words from the regular and reinforcement lists, and they have developed stamina and some beginning editing skills that will help them when they start a formal writing program.

      Another benefit to writing instead of spelling orally is that he is connecting the shape of the letter with the sounds. The more often he does this, the more automatic the process becomes. And brain research shows that two ideas practiced at the same time can permanently bond the ideas together. But you don’t have to do that with just pencil and paper. You can let him use a finger in sand or cornmeal, or a marker on a whiteboard, or go outside with sidewalk chalk. Here are some other tactile and kinesthetic suggestions: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/kinesthetic-learning/

      And a few more: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/how-to-use-kinesthetic-spelling-activities

      I had a very reluctant writer at this age as well. I remember in 2nd grade I had a goal of getting him to be able to write 2 short sentences in one sitting without complaining. In 3rd grade I bumped that up to a short, 4 sentence paragraph. We worked gradually toward these goals throughout the year, just a little at a time. Decide what a reasonable goal is for your child, and then gradually work towards it. Some people use time or number of words for their goal–write for 3 minutes and then spell the rest orally, or write 3 words for example. When he can do that, bump it up to 4 minutes or 4 words, and so on. This gives him a smaller goal to work towards that he can accomplish and be proud of a new achievement, while gradually increasing his skills and stamina for writing.

      I hope this helps! Merry :-)

  2. I will be starting dictation with my daughter next week. Thanks for all your great work and ideas.

  3. Dictation has been very helpful for my kids. It’s a great way to review previously learned phonics rules while introducing new words in the lesson.

  4. Bethany Umble says:

    Thanks so much for these helpful articles! We love AAS! : )

  5. My children are struggling with spelling. I will begin to make some changes. Thanks.

  6. I was not taught using much dictation so this is new to me but so beneficial to students! So glad for AAS and AAR. Thanks!

  7. Cherie Anderson says:

    We have just recently included dictation in our daily studies. This was an informative article.

  8. This was a very helpful article. I feel a bit freer to change the way we do dictation. I realize that I’ve probably been doing too many sentences at each session.

  9. Dictation is definitely the surest way to tell whether my son *really* understands what he’s spelling. I haven’t been having him proofread his sentences, though. That’s a really helpful tip!

  10. The dictation is also a great time for my son to practice cursive. AAS has been great! Now when I am correcting their spelling in other areas I can give them rules and reasons for why the word is spelled the way it is.

  11. My kids really don’t like dictation, but I do see a difference in their ability when we do it often. Thanks for the advice.

  12. Nikki Jackson says:

    I’ve noticed the more dictation we do, the more the spelling lessons translate to their writing assignments. Seeing the word in a sentence is our best memory tool in my house.

  13. Natalie Rounce says:

    I find my children spell words better in dictation than as “stand alones” … guess this is because they’re used to seeing words in context eg. books???

  14. Thank you for all your wonderful helps, tips and hints.

  15. stephanie says:

    Your article was very interesting. I will using some of the strategies mentioned

  16. Dictation is one of our favorite parts of the lessons. I love All About Spelling and how much it has helped my children!

  17. Geneva Mills says:

    Just read about how dictation helps with spelling, I will be using some these suggestion with my son as he is struggling with spelling and I think using dictation will help him. He has trouble hearing certain sounds in words so I think this will be a good thing for him even though he is an older student, I guess it’s never too late to learn something new.!

  18. I had to laugh when I read about the non verbal cues because that is so us! My two look at me while they write to see how they’re doing because I’m horribly inconsistent about either looking out the window or watching them and responding non verbally. This was so great to read and be called out for what I know is stressful for them. Thanks for the reminder and tips!!

  19. These are great helps. My 6.5 year old daughter is learning quickly from your program. I can see how I need to change my teaching to help her even more.

  20. AAS has been wonderful! I’m so impressed with my daughter’s progress the last 2 years! It has been incredibly helpful to use AAR and AAS together.

  21. I was wondering: How young would you recommend starting this? My eight year old is using AAS level 1,but he really dislikes writing.

    • Melissa,
      We recommend starting dictation with short phrases when the student starts spelling. We recommend starting spelling after the student has completed All About Reading Level 1, or the equivalent. This puts most kids starting dictation between 6 and 8 years old. See this article, All About Spelling: The Right Time to Start, for more information. http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/aas-right-time-to-start/

      All About Spelling has a gradual progression for increasing the student’s stamina and fluency in writing that’s very helpful for reluctant writers. It starts with just words and short phrases in Level 1, bumps up to phrases and short sentences in Level 2, and progresses to 12 dictation sentences per step in Level 3. Partway through this level, the Writing Station is introduced. In this exercise, students write sentences of their own that they make up using some of their spelling words. In this way, students have begun to use words in a more real-world context through dictation and writing, to help them transition to longer writing assignments. Dictation and the Writing Station both serve as an important bridge between spelling words in the context of lists (where the patterns are similar), and more “real world” writing. By the end of Level 3, students have mastered about 1000 words from the regular and reinforcement lists, and they have developed stamina and some beginning editing skills that will help them in outside writing.

      Some kids want to spell orally, but I would use this sparingly (perhaps only occasionally for review.) One benefit to writing instead of spelling orally is that the student is connecting the shape of the letter with the sounds. The more often he does this, the more automatic the process becomes. And brain research shows that two ideas practiced at the same time can permanently bond the ideas together. But you don’t have to do that with just pencil and paper. You can let her use a finger in sand or cornmeal, or a marker on a whiteboard, or go outside with sidewalk chalk. Here are some other tactile and kinesthetic suggestions for when you want to change things up. http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/kinesthetic-learning/

      If he’s very reluctant to write, set doable goals–a number of words or dictations, or a number of minutes you’ll write dictation sentences–something that you can do daily and gradually increase over time. Give him a small but doable goal to work towards, so that he can accomplish and be proud of a new achievement, while gradually increasing his skills and stamina for writing.

      Lastly, here is a blog article on Dysgraphia that I think you’ll find helpful. http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/dysgraphia/

      I hope this helps. Please let us know if you have further questions.
      Robin E.

  22. Teresa Firek says:

    This has helped so much – learning the CORRECT way to say the sounds and then spelling is really a snap! They share spelling rules I never knew about! This is amazing!

  23. AAS has been amazing! I cannot believe the progress my boys have made!

  24. Christina M. says:

    Great article! Thank you.

  25. Thank you for this article. We will be adding dictation to our daily routine.

  26. This was great info. This is something we need to start with our kiddo. I think we are ready to try AAS level 1. We are loving AAR!

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