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.

how to teach spelling dictation pinterest graphic

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I have been using your program for nearly 2 years and I love it so much. I have never read this post about dictation and I am so glad I did. You listed several important things that will help me from here on out to do an even better job with spelling. Thank you!!




This year we’ve been really working on doing the dictation sentences. Some weeks are better than others! Are we meant to do some every day – including the first day in the new chapter? We’ve been waiting until the end to do them.

Merry at AALP


Hi Laura,

You can do the dictation in a variety of ways. I used to do several sentences per day until we finished that step, and then go on to the next step. But some people do the previous lesson’s dictation as they start a new step, so that they can have some dictation to do every single day. The important thing is to give your student lots of review in small bits over time–and not overwhelm the student with too much in one day, or conversely to skip review for a child who needs it.

I hope this helps!



Love this! Teaches them so many things in one activity!



I have so enjoyed all about spelling with my kiddo in Kindergarten. This is encouraging to work more on dictating. Thank you!



I agree with your emphasis on the benefits of dictation. Thank you for giving you readers a process, as well.



Thank you so much for this article! I thought, “What could be simpler than saying a phrase and them writing it down?” But, now I see there is more to it. I especially appreciate the information in step 2 regarding a child who isn’t able to repeat back a phrase. I have a 7-yr-old who has trouble memorizing scripture and I have to break into very small pieces. I see now that I may need to work on this more consistently to see improvement. There were many other lessons to improve spelling that I wasn’t aware of, so thank you!

Angelina bock


I am so thrilled that you have put together such amazing easy to use learning tools! As a busy homeschooling (and work from home) mom I need simple, useful and effective curriculum! Thank you!!



I’m excited to see if spelling dictation will help my students who are not naturally inclined to spell correctly. Thank you for your hard work in providing such great products!

Grace H.


I have done dictation in the past, but my kids always were frustrated because the passages were lengthy. I like the shorter dictation right now in Level 2.

Susen Waller


I will try this with my dyslexic learner this week!

Juli Vrotney


Yes, I find using dictation helps my children to use the words in a real world situation. It is exciting to watch them grow in knowledge. Great tips.



Thanks for the great tips for dictation. I sometimes (maybe often?) need to repeat sentences, but it has more to do with the natural level of noise that occurs in a house with nine children ;)

I will be implementing the proofreading tip in our next lessons. I do something similar to help them find errors on their own, but will make it a regular part of checking *every* word/sentence rather than just the incorrect ones. I simply say, “Can you read to me what you just wrote?” Generally, that is all that’s needed for them to find and correct an error.

One additional thing I’ve done is asking, “Why did you spell the word that way?” (This is usually used in words that are spelled correctly.) It has come in handy to review Key Card concepts within the context of a lesson. For example, if the word is “cross” I will ask, “Why did you spell that word with two s’s?”

Thanks for a great product that has simplified reading and spelling for both myself, and my students!




I love how you review the key card concepts by asking your child a question and getting them to explain the concept to you. This really helps kids to see that the rules are practical, and it helps them to become more automatic in applying them.

Having them read what they wrote is another great strategy. Great job!



I am looking forward to trying this program.



My children love the dictation exercises! When they finish they like to read them all together to make a funny story. We have struggled with spelling for years until we found this program, and I finally feel like I am preparing my children to succeed.

Lisa Smith


Thank you for this post I am going to try using this method with my children, I have two that struggle with spelling.



I am new to this idea, but I think I will try a dictation exercise before we write today. It sounds like a way to get the brain in tune to words. Thank you for your thoroughly written instructions.

Kezia Schutz


Thanks for this post. It was very useful.



Thank you so much for this article. It has helped me immensely. I am that mom that watched my children’s paper, or even their pencil. I can usually tell what they are writing just by the way their pencil moves. I am sure that I have caused them to know what to write. I didn’t even think that was possible. I have never had my children repeat what I have dictated or proof read it. I have been missing two steps. I also wait until the end of our dictation exercise to see what they have written. Do I need to look at each dictated sentence for mistakes before dictating the next? Or should I do it at the end of the lesson? I have noticed that I mouth the sounds when doing the yellow cards. I have really had to focus on keeping my lips closed tightly while they tell me the sound that those letters make. I can’t even express how much I appreciate this article. Thank you for offering a free level of All About Spelling and asking us to post on a blog. This got me to take the time to actually read and post.



Hi Becky,

I think you’ll be pleased with the results as you start to implement the steps. Have your students proofread each sentence and say “done!” and then look at it. Help them correct any mistakes before you move on to the next sentence.

I’m glad you stopped by to read today!



I use the dictation in the AAS books with my children and it has really helped them with their spelling!



Would using a big chart and making sentence strips with sentences be part of dictation writing for pre k? Even if the child sees me writing it?



Hi Amanda,

Dictation involves the child writing what you say, but your example could still be a fun activity for reading reinforcement, or as a way of teaching a child how to make a sentence. For more ideas on reading, check out All About Reading: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/all-about-reading/



I can truly say this has process is one of the most solid for strengthening the sub-steps of spelling which lead to better independent composition of sentences. Your explanation is spot on! Thank you for continuing to share great processes and the why behind each step.

Michelle giers


This sounds great.

Martha Padron


We love AAS. It is so easy to use.

Brittany C


I’m going to have to work on not looking at my daughter’s paper whenever she is working.

Jennifer Woeste


We are just taking off with ASS and love it. It makes my child stop and think before putting pencil to paper.



My 11 year old learning sight reading in public school. Her spelling is terrible. We just started All About Spelling. Thanks for all the good information on your blog.



Great tips! Love your program. Thanks.



I just started trying this with my daughter. I think it has really increased her awareness of spelling.

Michelle T


I always find it amazing how my kids can easily spell a word by itself or in a spelling list, but forget how when adding it in a sentence!



Hi Michelle,

Yes, it’s a very common problem, and dictation helps us to find those words and concepts that really need more practice. This article on automaticity (or making spelling automatic) can help you understand more about why it happens and how to help: http://blog.allaboutlearningpress.com/helping-kids-achieve-automaticity-in-spelling/



It’s so awesome that you explained all of this out! I deal with my six year old getting easily frustrated with anything pertaining to writing and this gives me some new ideas on how to word things and try a few other things. :)

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