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  • ESLC

Running Dictation: Teaching Tip


run·ning /ˈrəniNG/ 1. the action or movement of a runner.

dic·ta·tion /dikˈtāSHən/

1. the action of saying words aloud to be typed, written down, or recorded on tape.

Running dictation involves a student who "runs" to write down something that was "dictated" to them by another student.

This educational game addresses all four language skills (i.e., listening, speaking, reading, and writing), encourages collaboration, and gets students out of their seats in the classroom. It can be used with any subject and/or any English proficiency level.


First, group students into two teams. Every student will have a chance to participate, but to start, you'll need two people from each team: one "reader" and one "writer." The "reader" will be practicing their reading and speaking skills while the "writer" will focus on listening and writing skills.

Give each "reader" the same target sentence. The "writers" will sit in a chair and listen as the "reader" dictates the sentence. After listening to the sentence, the "writer" will run to the whiteboard and write exactly what they heard. The two teams are racing to see who will be the first to complete the dictation accurately.

The "writer" can ask the "reader" to repeat the sentence, but they must be sitting in the chair for the "reader" to read to them. Meaning, students cannot shout the answers across the room to each other. The "reader" can also spell out a word, but they are not allowed to show the "writer" the text. It can only be communicated to the "writer" through their listening skills, not by them reading.

The game has a focus on accuracy, so after each "writer" is complete, there should be a pause to address any errors or highlight any key points the teacher wishes to focus on. Rotate through students, giving each a chance to be the "reader" and the "writer."


Keep in mind that because this activity focuses on accuracy and asks students to, very publicly, accept feedback, that it should be used at a point in the unit when students are very familiar with the material. This activity is great for review of vocabulary words, sentence structure, specific grammatical features, and really any target language that students have been engaging with.


Running Dictation can truly be used at any level. For literacy learners, students might focus on target letters, blends, or diagraphs. For advanced learners, the focus might be on larger, complex reading passages. Teachers can even provide a picture support for newer vocabulary words, if needed (see image below).

I like zucchini.


Did you know that this game can also be reversed? The "reader" could be asked to run across the room, read the target language, and run back to dictate to the "writer." This is a great way to work on memory skills and create authentic opportunity for repetition.


Students enter classrooms with varying abilities. If you are working with a student or group of students that may not want to or be able to participate in "running," this activity is easy to adapt.

Students can sit back-to-back in chairs and dictate/write without relying on physical cues or, if technology is available, students could actually call each other on a phone from across the room.

If you use Running Dictation in your classroom, we'd love to hear about it. Share your experience in the comments!

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