What is 'blind dictation', and what can it do for your students?
Many communicative English language tasks are based on some kind of information gap - a missing piece of information that students must communicate to find and use in an activity. One student has half of the information required to complete the task, and another student has the rest. By sharing their parts of the task, both students can complete the missing information. Usually, the gapped information involves the use of language that is being learnt, so the design of the task forces students to use what they are studying to achieve the goal of the task.
From experience, there comes a point in an information gap activity where students stop sharing verbally, and simply take a look at each others’ worksheets, cheating the information out of the task by reading (rather than negotiating through speaking, as they should do). One way of preventing this cheat is to use a ‘blind dictation’ practice task. Remember, this type of activity is a free practice task, so should only be used once students have been taught a piece of language and have had a chance to try it out in a restricted way (through gap fills, sentence-building, etc.) before being ready to use it more freely and spontaneously.
As with other types of dictation task, in a blind dictation, two students sit so that they physically cannot see each others’ work - the most common way of doing this is to sit students back-to-back, or to have partners working with students behind or in front of them. One student has to communicate the hidden information to their partner using only their spoken language - not even supporting this with gestures or facial expressions.
The process for a blind dictation task is:
1) Give one student a visual stimulus which they have the language to describe - a picture, photo or a set of lego bricks or building blocks put together in a certain way. This student’s job is to describe the object or picture in front of them to their partner without the partner seeing it, using words only. The partner, sitting behind the first student, has to draw, build or recreate the object or picture that the first student describes. If you use lego or blocks, make sure you give the same number and colours / shapes of blocks to both students, so that the listener can build the same thing as the speaker.
2) Give the speaker students 5 minutes to describe what is in front of them, and tell the listeners that they can ask questions to check if they are following correctly. If the speaker speaks too fast, not clearly enough, or using incorrect language, it is up to the listener to clarify as best they can only by using their words.
3) Once the five minutes is up, ask the listener to look at what the speaker has in front of them, and to review the instructions they heard. Is the picture the same? Are the blocks arranged in the same way? Is the lego connected in the same pattern? If not, why not? Lead a quick review of the language for the key differences between the speaker and listener versions, and swap roles. The second time students perform this task, their language use will be much more careful and tends to be a lot more accurate.
Here are 3 activity and language ideas for blind dictations:
1) Lego dictation
Build random 3D shapes out of 6 lego bricks for the speaker to dictate, and give the same colours and sizes of bricks loose to the listener. The speaker has to build the same shape that the speaker describes, using the same colour and shape patterns
Prepositions of place: on, next to, under, on top of, along, between, on either side of…
Verbs of placing and positioning: put, lay, stand, turn, rotate, attach, stick, fix…
Articles and determiners: the green block, one of the blue blocks, the other orange block,…
Adverbs and adverbials (for higher levels): vertically, horizontally, diagonally, upright, so that it looks like a T,…
Imperative sentence structure: V - Art - N - prep - art - N (put the blue block on the red block)
2) Picture dictation
Give the speaker a picture with clearly defined objects / animals / other target items in specific positions on the page (not a complex, realistic scene, but a series of images pasted into different areas of the page), and give the listener a blank piece of paper. The speakers dictate where the objects are on the page, and the listeners draws them on their paper. Stronger students can get more specific and ask/answer about the details on each object as they draw, to make the images as similar as possible.
Vocabulary for the topic of the picture (animals, vehicles, shops, or whatever the students have been learning about recently)
Prepositions of place in a picture: In front of, behind, in the corner, near the edge of…
Adjectives and structures to describe edges and corners of a picture: in the top-left/bottom-right corner, on the left-hand edge of the picture, in the middle of the photo…
3) Spot the difference
Give the speaker and the listener two similar, but slightly different images (you can search for ‘spot the difference’ images easily online). Without looking, students have to ask and answer about their partner’s image to find the differences without looking.
‘there is/there are’ questions: Is there a… / are there any… / how many…are there?
Wh- questions: what is in front of the…? / what is in the corner? / where is the…?
Blind dictation is a really simple type of task which really forces students to work on their speaking, to be understood and to use the language they are learning in authentic communication with their classmates. Without the visual support of pointing, showing, asking to see… successful completion of the task fully relies on spoken communication, which is the sole responsibility of the speaker and listener to negotiate.
Next time you have an opportunity, prepare pictures or physical objects for students to dictate about, and you will see a huge increase in spoken interaction in your class, and more thought into how messages are delivered through speaking.
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.