Personalizing Dictations: Creating Listening Tasks for Your Teaching Context

Liam Ring, Asia University 

Quick Guide

  • Key words: Listening, modelling a structure, guided learning, practice activity
  • Learner English level: Elementary to Intermediate
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: 20-30 minutes
  • Activity time: 20-25 minutes
  • Materials: Slides, paper/online device, vocabulary list, dictation text

Dictation exercises are used to test listening skills and review target language taught in second language learning classrooms. Teachers can make their own dictations using vocabulary profilers to build vocabulary skills and expose learners to meaningful content at an appropriate language level. This can be used in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) classrooms where we may need to edit language to create extra accessibility for beginner to intermediate learners.



Step 1: Choose a relevant text from a textbook or website (e.g., Appendix A). 

Step 2: Go to lextutor ( Paste the text into the box. Check the BNC/COCA K1-K25, AWL, and K1 proper noun boxes. Click “submit” to generate the vocabulary profile (Appendix B1).

Step 3: Use the word-types profile (Appendix B2) to choose words for a vocabulary box that is appropriate to your students’ level (Appendix B3). Write a shorter version of the original text (up to 200 words) (Appendix C). 

Step 4: Paste the text into a slide for students to check their dictation. 



Step 1: Ask students to take out a pen and paper/notebook. Confident students can type their dictation on their computers/smartphones. 

Step 2: Explain to students that they will listen to a short dictation and they need to write what they hear as a paragraph.  

Step 3: Board any key or off-list words. Students can write these words at the top of their page.

Step 4: Read the dictation to the students the first time at just below your normal speaking speed. The students can just listen, or, if they feel confident, write down key words at the side of the page. This first reading is for overall understanding.

Step 5: Read the dictation for a second time in chunks that naturally break the clusters of words (e.g., this morning/I went to the shop/). Chunks should be a maximum of seven words as this is usually the most input learners can retain in short-term memory. Give students enough time to write down what they hear. Try timing the pauses by repeating the chunk twice more in your head after reading it aloud. This second reading is for detail.

Step 6: After the second reading, give students two-to-four minutes to review what they’ve written. Encourage students to check for accuracy and to guess missing words. Students can work in pairs to evaluate their writing together without feeling pressured.

Step 7: Show the slide with the dictation text. Students should change pen/font color and correct their work. Provide feedback on any difficulties (i.e., similar sounding words, contractions).

Step 8: Review the vocabulary and/or topic for the students. Students can draw images to show main ideas or highlight key words from the text to retell the story. 



Personalizing dictations allows teachers to create their own listening content. In situations where authentic texts may appear too long or have a difficult vocabulary load, teachers can provide learners with a realistic summary with level-appropriate vocabulary to suit different learning circumstances. 



The appendices are also available below.