Tech-Break: Running Dictations

After sharing so much tech-related information, I thought it might be time for a short break. In this post I’ll just explain a fun tech-less classroom activity called Running Dictations that I learned from one of my coworkers in China. It works for most levels and ages which makes it an ideal activity to share with you. Running Dictations is a great activity, especially for early morning or night classes where students might have low energy levels, because students practice a wide variety of language skills and have fun too!

Running Dictations is fairly easy to prepare, explain, and setup, plus it is very adaptable. For Running Dictations in its simplest form, the teacher has to prepare just two short paragraphs, each taped to a wall, divide students into pairs with one student being Student A and one student being Student B, explain the directions, and begin.

For this version, tell students that Student A is the writer and Student B is the runner. The runner must run to the board where the first paragraph is displayed, read the text, run back to his or her partner, and repeat what he or she read. The writer’s job is to listen to Student B and write down what is said. Usually it takes many trips to and from the board for the runner to relay the entire paragraph to the writer. When most groups are done, the writer can check the passage against what is displayed, and then roles are reversed and paragraph two is used. Students practice reading, speaking, listening, and writing; have to work together; and are even responsible for checking their own work.

In my classes, I simply print out the paragraphs and tape one copy to the board. (I made the mistake of using too large a font the first time and then the writers in pairs closest to the board were able to just read the paragraph from their seats, so don’t make the same mistake I did!) If you are concerned about having students running in your classroom, you can place a number of copies of each paragraph around the room so that they are more accessible to students and require less movement. You can develop the activity into a focus on vocabulary, a specific theme, a grammar point, or even use it as a model to scaffold a later speaking activity.

Running Dictations can be adapted in a number of ways. Here are some of the ways I have successfully adapted this activity:

  • Write two or three questions per paragraph on the board so that the runners have to read and search for the answers to the questions and just relay those answers to the writers rather than the entire passage.
  • Cut up a paragraph into sentences posted randomly around the room so that once students have all the sentences written down, both the writer and runner have to decide what the order of the sentences should be.
  • Prepare three paragraphs and assign the roles of “runner,” “writer,” and “checker,” where the checker not only looks for mistakes at the end but also while the writer is writing, serving as an assistant.

I’m sure there are even more ways to adapt this, so leave a comment if you think of any or if you know this activity by another name. I hope you and your students enjoy Running Dictations. If something is unclear, ask me!

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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10 Responses to Tech-Break: Running Dictations

  1. ayuk says:

    Hay Tara, thanks for this information. It gives me a lot of information about running dictation,
    and I’ll use this technique to complete my graduating paper. However, I can’t find this book.
    I got this this technique when I attend IALF workshop in Jakarta.
    I’m still confused to finish my proposal because my lecturer said that I must find the running dictation book.
    Is there any book about running dictation?

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      That’s a very good question. I learned of this activity from a co-worker and am not familiar with a book on running dictations. I hope that you are able to find it. Good luck!

  2. Chris Redmond says:

    Hi, Tara

    I actually tried this myself with my classes last week, and it worked extremely well! I am teaching at a high school in South Korea, so I’ve been trying to find activities that promote lots of communication. It is difficult to do this in monolingual classes of students who are unpracticed in expressing their opinion. That is why I think this activity works so well. They don’t need to express any opinion, but the activity demands fast-paced communication in English.

    I am just wondering if you know of any similar communicative activities? This one was such a success that I am eager to find more activities of a similar ilk!

    Thanks! :)

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Hi, Chris! I am so glad to hear that this activity worked so well for you. I love that it requires students to practice all four skills and is fast-paced. To promote communication in monolingual classrooms, I have done a lot of survey activities, information gap activities, and, another favorite, an adapted version of battleship. Perhaps I should write a post about battleship! Intermediate Communication Games, a book by Jill Hadfield, was recommended to me for communicative activities. Unfortunately, I haven’t purchased it just yet, it is on my wishlist and might help you out too. Good luck and thanks again for your comments.

  3. Allison Blizzard says:

    Thanks, Tara, for this fun activity! I am an ESL instructor in a college ESL program with integrated skills, so this is right up my alley. You know, I can see this working well as an ice-breaker at the beginning of the term or as an energized activity anytime. Also, it would seem that this could be extended to a kind of team relay race.

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Thanks for your comment, Allison! This is such a fun activity. I think younger students might be more into the running aspect of the activity but all ages and levels can benefit from it. It’s funny that you mentioned it as an energizer though because when I was first taught this activity while in China, it was suggested as a way to keep our students warm in class during the winter months. I think your idea of a ream relay race would be another great variation. Try it out and let us know how it goes. Good luck!

  4. Faaonea says:

    Hi Tara, A question, Is this the same as \”Strip Stories?\”
    Anyway it is clear and easy to follow
    Thanks

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Hi, Faaonea. Based on my Google research of Strip Stories, the second variation I mentioned would make Running Dictations similar, however, the main focus of Running Dictations is not so much on ordering text but on reading, remembering, repeating what was read, listening, and checking so it’s a much more vocal activity than what Strip Stories seems to be. I hope you have success using it in your classroom!

  5. Alexandra Lowe Alexandra Lowe says:

    Thanks, Tara, for this clear explanation. I had heard this activity referred to elsewhere in passed but never seen it described clearly enough to follow. Now, I get it! Have you ever used this with advanced students, or is this something you would do only with beginners or intermediate students?

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Thank you for your comment, Alexandra! I’m glad the instructions were clear and detailed enough to follow. I really enjoy using this activity with my students and have had success with all levels, especially the intermediate students that I currently teach. For advanced students, you might consider using longer passages or asking more comprehension questions but I think it is important to maintain the fast-paced nature of the activity too. If you are teaching an advanced business English class, for example, breaking a letter into multiple parts and doing something similar to the second adaptation I explained above might be one way to challenge those students without changing the pace of the activity too much. You could do something similar to the second adaptation using two paragraphs at a time instead of one and have students separate as well as organize the two stories which could also be more difficult. You wouldn’t want to use passages that are too long though because if the runners are standing at the board or elsewhere reading for long periods of time, the writers are just sitting around waiting and that defeats the whole purpose of the activity which is to encourage communication between students. I hope you have the opportunity to try this out in your class and if you do, let us know how it goes!

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