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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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doaa

says:

so great as usual

Tahseen kuddusahmed shaikh

says:

This is very good idea to improve the vocabulary and writting skill also

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, very true, Tahseen!

Badmus kayode

says:

Actually I know how to read in a perfect way.
But am seeing spelling and dictation as a problem…….what can I do to encourage myself?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Badmus,
It is not uncommon for people to read well but have trouble with spelling. To work on improving spelling, try to understand why words are spelled the way they are spelled. I think you will find many of our blog posts on spelling helpful. However, I recommend starting with How to Teach Open and Closed Syllables, Silent E: the Whole Truth, Spelling Rules for Making Words Plural, and How to Teach Phonograms.

Amy Herrera

says:

I’m not sure where the best post is to leave this question. I’ve been teaching AAR halfway through level 2 and AAS through Step 6 of level 1, and today’s the first time I need to ask a question.

Now that we’re going to be reviewing word cards at the beginning of each lesson/step, how should I do that? I’m guessing it means for me to have him spell them with letter tiles. The only other thing I could think of was verbally or written. Just wanted to be sure what the intention was.

As a more general question, do most teachers start with reviewing the cards every day, or at the start of each new step? Is there a compelling reason to do it one way or another? (I’m talking phonogram cards and all the others.)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amy,
Good questions!

Review at the beginning of each day’s lesson time. Reviewing briefly each day will reinforce concepts and words better than reviewing only at the beginning of a Step, especially if you are finding you need to spend three or more days per Step. Reviewing is the difference between in-one-ear-and-out-the-other and true mastery.

Oral spelling works for some children, but for others it isn’t as effective. Some will make more spelling errors when spelling orally and others will spell great orally but will misspell the same word in writing. If you opt to do oral spelling, do it with other types of review as well.

As for other types of review, there are spelling with tiles and writing the words on paper. But there are other ways too. Try writing in salt trays or writing with dry-erase markers on the whiteboard or even on windows. My kids loved it when I bought Junior Scrabble Cheese Its and we had spelling review and snack time all in one! Our 10 Great Ways to Review Spelling Word Cards blog post has even more ideas.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions or need more ideas, however.

Amy Herrera

says:

Ok… Just read a couple comments below here and you covered a lot of it!

Viktoria Cox

says:

I love these suggestions. My kids are in public school and they do not teach spelling at all. I am trying to decide if I add AAS to my after school and summer projects.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Viktoria,
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns that I can address to help you decide. You may be interested to know that we recommend just 20 minutes a day in spelling, so All About Spelling works very well as an afterschool supplement. Also, we have a help document about using All About Reading or All About Spelling for afterschooling that you may be interested in. Let me know.

Tammy Smith

says:

This post as well as your response to Andrea on March 29, 2019 was very helpful to me, but I do have a question about the review portion. We are currently about halfway through Level 1 and I’m struggling with how to do the review prior to teaching new material. Reviewing the yellow, red and blue cards are not the problem but how do you review the word cards? Do you just pick 10 to spell on paper? Or do you just spell them with tiles? My issue is by the time we do the review the 20 mins are almost up, leaving no time for new material. So our lessons are more like 30-45 mins. and for a first grader who just turned 6, that is a little much. Just to be clear, so far all of the words have been easy for him, he has had no problems spelling any of the words but its just too much writing for him to be able to do everything in one lesson. I’ve been tempted to just skip the review words since he really does know how to spell them already but I know that is just a short term solution since I know eventually the lessons will contain new information for him. Currently I’ve been moving the cards to the mastered tab once he gets them right a 2nd time in a row with no errors. He completed Spelling You See Level A last year so right now all of this is information he has already learned but soon we will be into new material and I’m not sure how to handle it once we get that far.

So to sum it up: Reviewing 10 or so words from the review tab plus 10 new words plus 2-3 dictation phrases equals way more than 20 mins. for us. I don’t understand how to do review and new teaching all in the same lesson.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tammy,
What a little trooper your guy must be to work for 30 to 45 minutes! I agree that is too much especially for such a young student.

Waiting to put words into review until he has spelled them correctly twice in a row is a good practice. It will serve you well as he progresses through the levels. However, he doesn’t have to spell them with pencil and paper both times. Using the tiles for one of the two times is fine. Since they are so easy for him, you could even just choose a sampling of them for him to spell on paper.

How many days are you spending per step? It sounds to me that you are aiming to complete an entire step in one day, just 2 to 3 dictation sentences and then moving on. If I am misunderstanding, please let me know.

If this is the case, it sounds like it will be better to spend at least two days per step, so that he has a chance to spell the words twice before any new words are introduced. First, that gives him time to cement each concept before learning a new one. It also allows you to cut the time you spend each day in half.

Set a timer for 20 minutes and stop when it goes off. It’s fine if you get to no new teaching that day. The next day you would have less to review, so you would have time for new teaching. Does this make sense? This will also allow you to do more of the dictation phrases. These are important for reviewing as the concepts are mixed and more like writing.

When you get to concepts that are completely new for him, you might find he needs to spend three days on per step. Many students do. Even at three days per step, AAS 1 will be finished in well under half a year.

Let me know if this helps or not.

Tammy Smith

says:

Thanks for your response. You are correct, up until this week (Level 1 Step 11) we were completing 1 per day, only because nothing was a new concept for him. Ideally I would like to spend a week (4 days) on each step, especially since I don’t want to end up passing where he is with reading. He is almost through with AAR2 and will be starting AAR3 in the next 3-4 weeks. I’m definitely not trying to speed through it or anything, its just so far there hasn’t been a new concept that he didn’t already know.

I think I was also misunderstanding what I should be doing with the review. Just the physical act of sitting through 10 words for him to spell, whether he knows them or not was taking forever since he is constantly going off topic. I was thinking we HAD to review at least 10 words EVERY time we sit down to do a lesson, whether it was a new step or not. Not sure where I got that idea from! Reviewing the actual concept was quick, but reviewing the words was what was taking forever. Knowing we can split that up will help tremendously!

So I think for now we will spend 2 days with each Step with the new words on the first day and then reviewing those words on the 2nd, spreading dictation between those 2 days. We will continue to review the actual concept everyday. Then once we get to Step 17 which is the first Step with new information we will slow down and spend 4 days on each step.

I hope all of that made sense! Needless to say thanks for you help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad I was helpful and it sounds like you have a great plan, Tammy. Let me know how it goes.

Jill

says:

I’m struggling with my child’s mispronunciations of certain words. Often mistakenly says “thum” for “them”, “ch-rain” for “train”. This has been problematic spelling. I do correct the pronunciation when I hear it however when she is writing she is not self correcting these spelling errors. What do you suggest?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is a common problem, Jill. It took years of gentle correcting for one of my sons to stop saying “thum”.

When she writes herself, does she habitually go back and self-edit what she wrote looking for errors? If not, I recommending having her do that. When students are writing, they have many things to focus on: content, creativity, organization, punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization, what kind of audience they are addressing, and more. It’s a lot to think about at once! Taking time to reread what she wrote looking for her own errors is an important step toward good writing. It can be done immediately after writing, especially if it is something like spelling dictation, but if it is longer creative writing it is often best to wait at least a day before editing. When we read what we write right away, we often tend to see what we meant to say rather than what we actually wrote.

Also, when she misspells something outside of spelling lesson time, make a note of it and add those words to your review tab during your next spelling lesson. Our blog post How to Handle Spelling Mistakes has more information about this.

Teach her The “Pronounce for Spelling” Technique. Discuss with her that while she says “thum” all the time, the word is actually “them” and she needs to remember to say “them” when she is spelling.

One extra help for train. Never in English does R follow the /ch/ sound. (There are some words that have CHR, such as Christmas, but these always have CH saying it’s hard /k/ sound.) Let your daughter know, and practice it, that every time she hears chrain or other words with /ch/-/r/ that is is spelled with TR. This changing TR to CHR is common because it takes precision to form the sounds of /t/-/r/ together and we get in a hurry in our speech. Many of us, even adults, say chrain at least occasionally. In addition, JR isn’t in English either. When a student hears /j/-/r/, such as “jrop”, it’s DR.

I hope this helps some but I’d be happy to help further if you have more questions or need more information. Let me know.

Cyndi A

says:

Thanks for the info about R never following the /ch/ sound in English. My first several kids never made that mistake and I keep running into it with the current child I’m teaching. I’ll be passing that info to him the next time we do spelling!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Cyndi. I wish all spelling problems were as easy to help kids with as this one is.

Renae Burks

says:

Thank you for the troubleshooting details. Very helpful!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Renae. If you need further help with dictation or anything else, just let me know.

Licia Morris

says:

Thank you for explaining the purpose of dictation! I have been struggling with WHY dictation is a good step on the way to writing mastery, and now I know!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s great that this blog post helped to answer this question for you, Licia! If you ever have other questions or would like more information, just ask.

Katelyn Jackson

says:

Dictation is a least favorite activity in my house. There seems to be a tendency to “memorize and dump” from one lesson to the next.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katelyn,
That tendency to learn-it-and-forget-it is often inadvertently encouraged with traditional once-a-week spelling test type instruction. Doing dictation that uses concepts and skills reaching back from when the student first started to learn to spell helps to counter that.

Ask your student to read over the dictation that he or she wrote to look for errors before you check it. If they find the error and fix it before you look it over, then it counts as if there were no error at all. Self-editing is an important skill and catching their own errors is very effective for long term learning.

When you do dictation and find your student has trouble with spelling a word, use it as a teaching point. Go over it right there, asking your student questions about it. What rule did he or she not apply? What phonogram was misused? What sound did they not hear in the word?

Then, leave yourself a note to start the next spelling lesson with review of whatever concept, phonogram, or skill he or she had trouble with. You can go back to the step it was first introduced to review but you can also choose a different word that uses the concept or phonogram and analyze it. AAS starts having a “Word Analyzes” section at the beginning of most steps in level 3 but if you aren’t at level 3 yet you can look at the sample to see how it is done. Build a word with tiles and start asking your student questions about why it is spelled the way it is, leading him or her to explain the rule, phonogram sounds, or skill that applies.

Also add the misspelled word to your review cards. I keep an index card behind the review tab in my students’ review boxes for noting additional words that need review.

I hope this helps, but I would love to help further if you need it.

Tammy

says:

This is very helpful. It really puts spelling into a practical lesson and it has even spurred my daughter into trying to write and spell things completely on her own.

Abby

says:

This is a helpful idea I had honestly not thought of. Thanks. I think it may get my stubborn speeder more interested in spelling on her own.

Anita

says:

This is very helpful. Sometimes we have problems with the dictation! Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Anita. Try out the tips and ideas in this blog post, but if you are still having problems with the dictation, let me know.

Melinda

says:

My struggling speller is successful with dictation for the first time ever since using All about Spelling. We’re up to level 3 with plans to continue.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is great to hear, Melinda! There are a lot of foundational skills necessary to be successful with dictation, and those skills help with many activities involving writing. Keep up the excellent work!

Jade

says:

I love this. I’m not a natural speller, so there are days I feel like I’m learning along with my kids.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jade,
I never had much trouble with spelling as a student, yet I have learned LOTS with All About Spelling! Isn’t it fun to become better educated yourself as you educate your children? 😊

Melissa

says:

This is so helpful

Shivali

says:

What are the price of these 6 books?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Shivali,
All About Spelling includes seven levels. You can look them over here. Level 1 is $29.95 and levels 2 through 7 are $39.95.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have further questions.

Dianne

says:

This strategy is beneficial for the learner to benefit from listening skills and processing cognitive abilities.
By asking self does this sentence make sense?
This benefits the individual learner for life long learning of listening with accuracy.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great points, Dianne. Thanks.

Marlene

says:

Thank you, Marie, your resources are a great help with my small groups.

Melissa

says:

This is helpful for my reluctant speller!

Pamela

says:

Spelling dictation would work great, if my son didn’t loath writing so much.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand, Pamela. All About Spelling purposefully starts with very short dictation of just two-word phrases and gradually builds up to longer, complex sentences to allow students to slowly build their tolerance and stamina with writing. You could attempt something similar.

However, you may find our blog post on Dysgraphia helpful. I’m not saying a child that loathes writing necessarily has dysgraphia, but rather the tips in that post for helping a child with dysgraphia will be helpful for any student that has difficulties with the physical act of writing.

I’m available if you have any questions.

Kirsten

says:

I couldn’t get the troubleshooting part to work…

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sorry about that! Please try again, Kirsten, and let us know if the problem is still occurring with the troubleshooting portion of this blog post.

Kristin

says:

This is a wonderful way to help a child learn spelling. 😊

Deb

says:

I am really liking AAS for my third grade daughter. Is there drums point at which you have them begin doing dictation in cursive, or is it best to continue printing when the focus is spelling?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Deb,
That is a great question. When you are doing dictation for the purpose of spelling, it is best to allow the child to write in whatever manner is most comfortable to them. However, you could also do some copywork for practicing cursive.

Wendy H

says:

Learning so fast with the program!thank you

Jennifer

says:

I have not tried this method before. I can’t wait to use it this week as makes great sense!

Bonnie Ottway

says:

Love dictation! Definitely helps us at home.

Rachel

says:

Dictation is such a natural way to learn spelling. I love it!

Louise Anderson

says:

I love that a dictation segment is included in the curriculum. As the teacher/parent, I can get immediate feedback if they are processing (remembering) what has been presented to them. Bravo!

Karilyn

says:

Such great tips! Excellent curriculum!

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