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How to Do Spelling Dictation

What Is Spelling Dictation?

Dictation is a great tool for teaching spelling because it allows children to use their spelling skills in a “real world” application. Simply put, you say a phrase or sentence containing their spelling words, and students repeat it and write it down.

Because it is such a beneficial tool, spelling dictation is included in every lesson of All About Spelling.

boy writing spelling dictation

How Can Dictation Improve Your Child’s Spelling?

One of the main problems with typical spelling instruction is that kids learn the words on a list but often forget how to spell the words the next week—and that’s discouraging. But one of the best ways to help new knowledge “stick” is to use it in a meaningful way, such as by writing sentences.

But when you’re first learning how to spell, writing decent original sentences can be hard! For kids who haven’t reached automaticity yet, it’s almost impossible to focus on all aspects of writing a sentence—spelling, mechanics, creativity, word choice, and grammar—at one time.

By dictating a sentence to your child, you’re separating the creative process from the spelling process, creating a stepping stone between “writing words on a list” and “writing original sentences.”

chart shows the progression of writing

Five Simple Steps for Dictation

  1. Step 1: Dictate a sentence.

    Depending on your child’s level, you’ll dictate two to five phrases or sentences each day, using only words that your child has already learned to spell. (If you are using the All About Spelling program, dictation sentences are provided in your teacher’s manual.) Let your student know that he needs to focus his attention since you will only be saying the sentence once.

  2. Step 2: Your child repeats the sentence.

    Repeating the sentence will help your child retain it in short term memory long enough to write it down. (If your child has a hard time repeating the sentence, see Troubleshooting section below.)

  3. Step 3: Your child writes the sentence.

    Don’t correct your child as he writes out the sentence, even if you see him start to make a spelling mistake. In fact, it’s best to look away while he’s writing! This will allow him to concentrate on what he’s doing without feeling like he’s being monitored or judged, and it allows him to “own” the process of spelling. There will be time for correcting spelling after the next step.

  4. Step 4: Your child proofreads the sentence she just wrote.

    In this step, your child reads her writing aloud or to herself. This is a good time for your student to practice self-correction. She should check herself by asking these questions: Am I satisfied that I spelled everything correctly? Did I use capital letters and punctuation properly?

  5. Step 5: Finally, check the sentence before dictating the next one.

    If you identify a misspelled word, swing into action with the steps listed in this article on how to correct spelling mistakes. This is important teaching time! Is there a specific rule or generalization that you need to review now or in tomorrow’s lesson?

Dictation is a wonderful tool to use for spelling, but you might have some questions at first. Check out the solutions to some common problems in the troubleshooting section below.

Troubleshooting for Spelling Dictation

My child can’t repeat the sentence I dictated.
In this case, it may be helpful to do some exercises to strengthen your child’s working memory. At this stage, instead of doing spelling dictation—which will only be frustrating for both of you—work on oral dictation for a while.

Here’s how oral dictation works.
  1. Say a short sentence and have your student repeat it back to you.
  2. As your student grows in ability, gradually increase the number of words in the sentences.
  3. When oral dictation becomes easier for her, go back to the spelling dictation exercises.

My child forgets the sentence before she is done writing it.
If your child was able to repeat the sentence back to you but then forgets it before she’s done writing, it may be because she is working so hard to spell the words correctly. As spelling becomes more automatic, it will be easier for her to remember the sentence long enough to write it.

In the meantime, break up the sentences into phrases. Encourage your student to repeat the phrase in her head (or out loud) several times as she’s writing. Gradually lengthen the phrases until she’s able to remember entire sentences long enough to write them.

My child writes down the wrong word.
Sometimes this happens because of short-term memory issues, but other times it is because the child is creative and embellishes the sentence. Children who are easily distracted often substitute words, too.

If your child is changing the words in the sentence, try saying something like this:
“I’ve noticed that you change some of the words in the sentences that I dictate. Today I want you to write the sentence without changing any of the words. In fact, let’s make it a challenge. If you can write TWO sentences correctly today, the dictation section will be over. Sound good?”

My child is overwhelmed by the amount of dictation.
Try doing just one or two sentences per day (whatever feels like a good number without being overwhelming) and spread the lesson out over more days. Or try this suggestion from one of our readers.

To determine the number of sentences my son writes each day, I let him roll a die. He delights in the hope that he’ll roll a “1” but doesn’t fuss if he has the bad luck to roll a higher number! This has completely settled the issue of “how many sentences do I have to write?” to the satisfaction of both mom and son. – Laurie H.

My child doesn’t like dictation exercises.
Some children like to write on a hand-held whiteboard, making it very easy to make changes. Other children prefer paper and pencil. Maybe another outside-the-box method will keep your child engaged. Find out what works best for your child and makes her happiest.

In addition to trying to make dictation time as engaging as possible, be sure to be as encouraging as possible. Celebrate your child’s achievements, even the small ones! After your child writes a sentence correctly, make a big deal of it! With your encouragement, she will eventually work up to writing more (and longer) sentences.

My child looks to me for approval after each word.
Let your child know that you won’t be looking at the sentence until she is completely done writing and reviewing it.

Also, be aware that most kids are very good at reading body language. You may not even realize you’re doing it, but if you subconsciously change your facial expression or lean forward a bit in response to a misspelled word, your child will notice your subtle body movements and will learn to rely on your cues instead of on her own ability to proofread. The best practice is just to look down at your teacher’s manual or out the window as your student writes from dictation. Resist the urge to look at her paper until she proofreads the sentence and says, “Done!”

My child doesn’t know which ending punctuation to use.
Let your child know that you won’t be looking at the sentence until she is completely done writing and reviewing it.

To give your child practice with choosing the correct ending punctuation, turn it into a game. Write a question mark, a period, and an exclamation point on a piece of paper. Read sentences and have her point to the correct punctuation. Show how you make it clear through your intonation. Then switch roles.

It’s Okay If Your Child Isn’t Perfect at This

The goal is to keep improving. Remind your child that he’s doing something that can be difficult at first, reassure him that you know he’ll get it, and reiterate that some things just take work. Your goal isn’t perfection; it’s simply to help your child expand what he can do, bit by bit and step by step.

For more great tips on teaching spelling, download my free “Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy” e-book.

Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy Report

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Sunny Feltham

says:

Very helpful as I’m wanting to start a spelling programme with my daughter.

LH

says:

My children are still too young for dictation but this is super helpful for me to know for the future!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for you in the future!

Rosa DeVoe

says:

Thank you for “spelling” dictation out for me. I needed more guidance on the actual steps of what if meant. We are so grateful for your program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Rosa. If you ever feel like you could benefit from more guidance or suggestions, please ask. We are happy to help!

Lorra

says:

I had been wondering about how to do this with more structure. Thanks for sharing these detailed tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Lorra! You’re welcome.

Izzy C

says:

Thank you for the reminder! Its hard to resist the urge of correcting as my child writes out the misspelled words. I’ll try my best to look away.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I know what you mean, Izzy. I started giving my child dictation while far enough down the table that I could not read what they were writing even if I tried. Then, when they finished and had read over what they wrote to self-correct, they would hand it to me to read.

Angela

says:

What a good idea! I want to try that next time.

Isabel McNeil

says:

I can’t wait to get all about spelling for my second grader. These blog resources are very helpful too and I love the troubleshooting sections.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear that you find the blog resources so helpful, Isabel. Thank you.

Isabel McNeil

says:

I can’t wait to get all about spelling for my second grader. These blog resources are very helpful too and I love the troubleshooting sections.

Nicole

says:

how often do you hold a sale on all about spelling?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nicole,
We are not currently running a sale on our products. However, we do run periodic specials and promotions! You can see announcements about current promotions in our weekly email (sign-up for our newsletter) and on our social media platforms (Facebook or Instagram). You can also check our promotion details page to stay current on all our promotions!

Also, be sure to check out our monthly giveaway and our Free Resources page. Thanks for your interest!

Lisa

says:

Thank you. This is helpful.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad it was helpful, Lisa!

Angela

says:

What should I do if my child forgets the end of even a short dictation phrase before finishing it? Like if he writes down one word and then says he can’t remember the second word? I should only have to dictate the phrase once, right?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Angela,
This sounds like a difficulty with working memory, so you may find our Help Your Child’s Memory free ebook helpful.

Just to verify, you are having your child repeat the dictation back to you after you say it, right? This can often make all the difference for children remembering if you aren’t doing it already.

If he is already repeating the sentence back to you once, try encouraging him to say the sentences a couple of times, then repeating it in his head, or even aloud, several times as he writes the dictation.

The author of All About Spelling, Marie Rippel, recommends reading the dictation only once because when she tutored, she found that almost all of her students had difficulties with working memory. Saying the dictation multiple times can serve as a crutch so that students don’t increase their abilities. The goal is to give children more and more skills to allow them to work independently and successfully.

Later, when a student is writing their own compositions, they will need to think of what they want to write and then have to remember what they wanted to write while they write it. All About Spelling’s approach of starting with short two or three-word phrases, then short sentences, then slowly building up to longer and more complex sentences is important for children’s future ease with composition.

Kids can understand this analogy: The brain is like a muscle. You need to exercise it to make it stronger.

Can your child write more than one word from dictation? If you say a two-word phrase, for example, can he repeat the phrase and then write it correctly? How about three words? Work with him to try and find his word limit, and then practice to work on making that limit longer.

Also, how many dictation passages are you doing at a time? If he does well with a couple of them, and then starts to have difficulty, it could be a sign he is getting fatigued. That is understandable. It can be hard work to focus like that! Most students do best if they do just a few dictation passages each day. With my kids, I rarely did more than four a day.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you have additional questions or need more help.

Angela

says:

Yes, I have him repeat the dictation to me before writing it. I followed your advice and started requiring him to repeat it a second time before writing. That seemed to work. I still want to know what I should say if he forgets for some reason. Should I repeat the sentence, supply the next word, or just refuse to repeat it and move on to the next sentence or phrase for dictation? How would you handle this situation? I can’t really say what his word limit is; maybe it varies by the day.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased to hear that repeating the sentence a second time was helpful, Angela!

However, if after him repeating the sentence two times, he still forgets the end of the sentence as he is writing it, have him finish the sentence to the best of his ability. Do not repeat it again but require him to write a complete sentence. It is better for him to write the wrong words than for you to repeat the sentence or for him to just stop. It may be that having to finish even if he is unsure of what is next will help him to remember. Or, it may help him to pay closer attention the next time.

Once he writes a complete sentence, have him read what he wrote to himself. He should be reading it over to ensure it says what you read aloud, again to the best of his ability. He should also be looking for misspellings and other errors. After he has read what he wrote and made any corrections he needed to make, you will then read it. If it is not what you read aloud, then give it back to him and read the sentence again as he looks at what he wrote. Then he should correct it. (If much of what he wrote is incorrect, it may be best to have him repeat the sentence a couple of times before correcting it. If it is just a word that is incorrect, he may not need to do that.)

It is best to have him do each sentence of dictation this way. He writes it, then reads it and corrects it if needed, then you read it, the two of you discuss any errors he did not find, and he corrects it. Then move on to the next sentence. Dictation writing can be intense work, so it is often best to keep it to just a few sentences a day. I found four a day to be a good number, but you can vary that by what is best for your student.

You could try to deal with him if it would help him. If he does two (or maybe three) sentences in a row without errors (or maybe no more than one error, or whatever will challenge him but be possible for his abilities), then he can be done for dictation for the day, skipping the other one or two sentences. Some students find this sort of deal motivating. (Note, any error he corrects before you read the sentences does not count as an error. We all make mistakes when we write; learning to self-edit, so that it is correct before someone else reads it is an essential skill.)

Barbara Richter

says:

What great advice! Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Barbara.

Toni

says:

What a straightforward way to teach spelling. Love the phonogram tiles!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Toni. The letter tiles are wonderful tools!

Emily

says:

I can’t wait to try All about spelling. I think this method is going to help my child!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sounds great, Emily! Let me know if you have questions about spelling placement or anything else. I’m happy to help!

Sarthak sakru

says:

Good

Alecia Carter

says:

Very informative post. I have All about Spelling one but have not started yet. I look forward to using the proram and the methods mentioned in this post.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonder, Alecia! Glad this was informative. And if you have any questions as you begin All About Spelling Level 1, let me know.

Joanna

says:

Thank you for all your amazing resources

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Joanna!

Sara

says:

There are always so many wonderful tips found here.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Sara. I’m glad you find the blog so helpful!

Melissa

says:

I look forward to using the system for my son

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, Melissa! Let me know if I can help you with placement or anything else.

Christina

says:

Any tips for a child with auditory processing disorder? She’s an excellent speller but struggles with retaining what she hears. Saying it out loud helps but she still gets frustrated and struggles to retain what she said.

Erika

says:

At what age or ability should dictation start?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Erika!

Dictation can start as soon as a student has learned to spell a few words, enough to be put together into two or three word phrases. All About Spelling Level 1 starts dictatation just a few lessons in. Once a student can spell “big” and “cat”, they are ready for a dictation phrase of “big cat.”

We recommend waiting to start spelling until after a student is reading well on a beginning level. With our programs, that means starting All About Spelling Level 1 after finishing All About Reading Level 1. The age, though, can vary quite a bit. For most students, spelling dictation starts about the time they are 6 or so, but many are a bit younger and some are older.

Erika

says:

Thank you!

Helen

says:

I’m thinking that having dysgraphia students type the dictation could be a good strategy.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, typing can be a great alternative for students with dysgraphia, Helen. Have you seen our Dysgraphia: How can I help my child? blog article?

Sara D

says:

So helpful :)

Krystina Morrison

says:

I appreciated the troubleshooting tips. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad the tips are helpful, Krystina. You’re welcome! However, if you need more help troubleshooting difficulties with dictation, please let us know. We are always happy to help!

Jess

says:

great tips.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks, Jess!

Nartey George

says:

It is good to know how to write about dictation involve in sentences form

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Nartey.

Beth

says:

I’m glad I came across this article. This is how I’m going to review the words my son is struggling with. Thanks for the tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Beth!

Mashi

says:

I really like it can be fruitful for my learners

HHIP Herath

says:

This is very good instractions and trips. Thank you very much…

Seema

says:

Wonderful

Kelly Mulenga

says:

This is very helpful. Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kelly. I’m glad this is helpful, but if you have questions let me know.