• Tom Garside

TEFL basics: A quick dictation task for when you need materials fast


Every teacher working in a school has experienced this situation: you’re teaching a lesson in the afternoon, and the photocopier is broken, the students have not been given the textbook, or you haven’t been given materials for the class. What can you do in a pinch to get the materials that you need in a hurry? There are a few things that can save you from this particular crisis. The first rule of teaching is to always be prepared…


Prevention is the best cure, so the easiest solution to a lack of materials is to have a standalone class ready to pick up and teach when you need it. I always have a favourite activity handy in my desk drawer for exactly this purpose - an activity that I know well and can deliver without a plan, and that always keeps the students engaged.

Dictation activities are useful for this, as you can change the text that you use easily, and use it in the same way for different groups, depending on their level. Here is a good dictation task which doesn’t need preparation:


  • Break down a story or anecdote into 8-10 sentences and number the sentences randomly.

  • To make this activity a little more hands-on, give the students 5 strips of paper each to write on, so that they can physically move the events in the story around when they come to put the story together.

  • Read out the sentences out of order, one by one, and have the students write what they hear. Even better, pair up the students and assign odd numbered sentences to student A in each pair and even numbered sentences to the other member of the pair (student B). As the student As listen and write, student Bs look over their shoulders and check each sentence. Then student B writes and student A checks for accuracy.

  • Before showing the correct sentences, tell the students how many words they should have in each sentence, so that they can work out if they have made a mistake, and how to correct it.

  • Show the students the sentences (still out of order, according to the numbers you assigned to them), to check through and to discuss any grammar or spelling issues.

  • Once the students have accurate sentences, they put the story in order and discuss why they chose to order it that way.


To make this more challenging, choose a story with a twist in the last 1-2 sentences, to promote further discussion of the story and why it ended that way. Crazy news stories work well for this, and urban legends are also great for a twist in the ending, which students can discuss, as well as thinking about whether they believe the story really happened.


This quick dictation task takes around an hour, depending on the amount of vocabulary and language work needed in the middle of the lesson, and always works in a pinch.

Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.

If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher education courses, contact us or see our course dates and fees for details.

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