It’s been a while since I posted a lesson idea, and I’ve been keen to share something I’ve been experimenting with in class recently. One of my objectives for this semester is to improve how I teach listening skills – and hopefully the listening skills of my students into the bargain. I’m even giving a CPD session on teaching listening this week.
With that in mind, I dusted off an old favourite, the dictogloss. This kind of “reconstructed text” task always seems to engage and focus students, and the level of interaction students have with the text makes it the perfect springboard for later linguistic analysis.
First off, I used the model of dictogloss advocated by Scott Thornbury, a good resumen of which can be found in this post on his blog from 2015.
The text I used is an old moralistic children’s tale that I found online and adapted so it fulfilled my linguistic needs, which in this case revolved around reduced relative clauses. The unit of the textbook was “manners and etiquette”, and the moral of the story fitted in nicely with this theme, alongside being amusing enough to hold their attention.
Dictogloss text: Magic Words Tree (dictogloss-text-reduced-relative-clauses)
I know this is a long text – I didn’t use all of it in the end. My class were a high B2/low C1 group, so could handle a little more difficulty.
Warmer: ask students for examples of good manners, and ask how they would teach this to children.
1. Tell the students that they are going to hear a story, and that at first they should just listen and try to understand the meaning. Tell the students NOT to write anything down at this stage.
2. Read the story at a fairly natural pace and with natural intonation and rhythm, perhaps with one or two pauses to allow the story to sink in. Once you have finished, signal to students to write down everything that they remember.
3. If the students haven’t written a lot, or seemed to have struggled, repeat step 2. Otherwise, put the students in pairs to compare and create a new, jointly-constructed version of the text.
4. Each pair then joins with another pair to compare their texts. You can read the story again at this stage, if the class think it is necessary. The groups of 4 now create a further reconstruction of the text.
5. At this point I put the groups of 4 together so the class was divided in two large groups (I have 16 students), at which point we had two versions of the text. A group spokesman read the story aloud and we compared differences between the two. With a shorter text, you could board the stories.
6. If you have an IWB or Projector, show students the original version of the text. Students can then compare to their versions and analyse the differences. This should bring up plenty of material for analysis.
7. Go back over sections that were very different and try to ascertain why students misheard this or misunderstood. This would put the spotlight on their listening skills.
The above could serve as a standalone speaking and listening class. However, I decided to use the same text to explore the grammar point for the unit, reduced relative clauses.
I asked the students to find all the examples of participles in the text, and asked students to explain why they were used in each case. There is one example of a participle clause, and one example of a gerund (which may confuse students), but by and large the participles are all sentences containing a relative clause which have been reduced.
Write out the full and reduced versions on the board and see if students can infer the rule: active sentences > present participle, passive sentences > past participle. Be careful to point out any exceptions, such as with state verbs.
At this point I introduced a controlled practice exercise from the textbook – you could find good online practice here though.
The final stage of the class was to choose one of the examples of good manners from the warmer, and get students to write their own short story for children to explain it.
Why I like Dictogloss
I don’t know why the dictogloss has gone out of fashion – maybe it hasn’t, but nobody else at my school seems to use them. I think they’re fantastic activities, multi-skilled and promoting production as well as reception.
They’re infinitely variable and customisable, and there’s so much you can pull out from the task, post-listening. You can use the text as a vehicle for grammar or vocabulary in context, you can look at some features of connected speech or individual phonemes.
Most importantly, they’re materials-light, simple to set up and engage students. In my mind that makes them a perfect standby lesson, or even just something as a change of pace or interaction from the daily grind of the coursebook.