Jumbled Question Dictation

James Bury, Shumei University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Listening, speaking, question forms, dictation
  • Learner English level: Elementary and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school and above
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes
  • Activity time: 15-30 minutes
  • Materials: List of questions related to the lesson content, note paper or notebooks for the students.

This is a jumbled-sentence dictation activity, in which students have to order the words in topic-based questions correctly before using them as conversation prompts. It is an effective way of reviewing question forms, consolidating vocabulary, promoting listening skills, and encouraging students to develop their speaking skills. It can be used in various contexts, ranging from Business English or ESP/EAP lessons to general English Conversation classes. The activity can be used at the start of a lesson to review a previous lesson or at the end of a class as a communicative closer.



Step 1: Prepare a list of questions connected to the theme of the lesson that is being taught. For example, if the lesson topic is family, the list could include common questions, such as ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters?’, ‘How often do you see your cousins?’, and ‘What do you like to do together with your family?’ The number and complexity of the questions will depend on the amount of time that the teacher wishes to spend on the activity and the level of the students in the class.

Step 2: Jumble the words in the questions in preparation for the dictation in class. This can be done in a number of ways, such as rearranging words in pairs, (‘often how you do see cousins your?’), groups of three (‘do often how your you see cousins?’), or all words randomly (‘cousins do often your how see you?’) Different levels could be presented with more or less rearranging of words, as appropriate. For example, for lower levels change the first example question above to ‘Do have you any brothers or sisters?’ and for higher levels ‘brothers have do any or you sisters?’



Step 1: Explain the activity to the students. If appropriate, give them time to predict what some of the questions may be (this provides the opportunity for the grammar of those predicted questions to be checked).

Step 2: Read the jumbled questions to the students and ask them to write down the words that they hear. Depending on the level of the students this can be done quickly or slowly, and intonation can also be varied.

Step 3: Encourage the students to check the words they have written with a partner for mistakes. Monitor, and write the words on the board so that students can double check their lists, if necessary.

Step 4: Get the students to reorder the words to make questions. (This step can be completed individually or as a pair work activity to encourage further speaking and collaboration.)

Step 5: Elicit the correct question forms from the class and write them on the board.

Step 6: Tell the students to ask and answer the questions in pairs. Monitor and give feedback, as appropriate.



This activity can be extended in a couple of ways. First, you could encourage the students to ask as many follow-up questions as they can. The teacher can then elicit some of the extra questions and share them with the class. This can be done ‘as is’ or as fresh jumbles. Second, the students can write a list of their own jumbled questions and dictate them to their partners to reorder.



This activity provides students with the opportunity to review question forms, practice using specific vocabulary in a communicative way, and develop listening-for-detail skills. It allows students to expand on ideas and conversations, thus helping to develop their speaking skills. It’s a materials-light activity that is very easy to set up, which students find fun, engaging and motivating!