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Dictogloss and Grammar Teaching

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

By Dr. Linh Phung

I've shared quite a few posts about my experimentation with Dictogloss in my class this semester in the Materials Development for Language Teaching group. I wrote a series of tiny stories (this one is based on a story my student told) and have implemented three Dictogloss tasks based on those stories in my grammar class. I'm sharing my some thoughts here with you. Join our group of you'd like to exchange more ideas about materials development.

One thing that I'm sure all of us think about is how to push students along in their language development. There are so many aspects of a new language and skills that they need to improve on. However, we may all be thinking about how to increase their linguistic repertoire so that they can use language as a tool for communication and meaning-making. Yes, I'm talking about grammar. On the one hand, we have moved away from using grammar as a unit to organize our instruction or away from teaching grammar mostly through rule explanation, controlled practice, and some free production. We think about grammar as something that we should not spend too much time on. I agree with this as I spend very little time in my class explaining grammar rules.

On the other hand, we want students to be able to use more grammatical structures and use them accurately. In this sense, grammar is everything. I've always addressed language in my courses including grammar, but still struggle with an effective way to do this. Recently, I've tried Dictogloss tasks more in my class, and so far I'm quite happy with the use of class time. I think it's more effective than explaining rules, which we can do here and there and incidentally of course.

So what is a Dictogloss task? Here are the steps you can follow or adapt.

Step 1: You should choose a piece of text with engaging content and perhaps having target forms you want to address in class. I usually use text of around 100-120 words. I do think the interesting content is very important. (See below for an example).

Step 2: Read the text at a normal speed for students to take notes. The reason why you should read at a normal speed is for students to focus on the meaning of the text.

Step 3: Read the text again at a slower speed. I don't read one word at a time, but I pause more after each intonation unit. Students are asked to take more notes. After this step, I sometimes ask students to talk in pairs to compare notes.

Step 4: Read the text again at a normal speed.

Step 5: Ask students to work in pairs to reconstruct the text. They don't need to try to have the exact same sentences, but should have as many details as possible. I tell them that it's not a summary.

Step 6: Give them the original text so they can compare their text with the original text. I often annotate the text to draw their attention to some forms in the text (See Picture). Ask them to correct their text.

Step 7: Correct their text.

When I did this activity in class, it took me around 30 minutes. I've been very happy with what the students could reconstruct as well as their self-corrections. As I said earlier, I feel this is time better spent than having them do fill-in-the-blank exercises and such.

Here's an example of a story I wrote.

After the morning lessons and a short walk, Mia goes to the cafeteria to have lunch. She has a meal plan, and all she has to do is to swipe her student ID at the door. The cafeteria is bustling with people and conversations as she enters. Mia glances at the various food stations there. Some allow her to just pick the dishes herself while others require her to make a request to a server. She stops by the hamburger station and asks, “I’d like a hamburger without tomato please!” “What would you like on the hamburger?” asks the server. “Without tomato please!” replies Mia. “Ok,” confirms the server. Mia doesn’t really know all of the options for a hamburger, but she definitely doesn’t want any tomato on it. A few minutes later, Mia’s burger is ready, and she is eager to take it to her table. To her surprise, there are three slices of tomato on the burger. “What happened? Was it because of my English pronunciation?” Mia wonders.

Btw, I'm writing more and would love to explore suitable materials for future use.

Dr. Linh Phung's bio: Linh is the director of the English Language Program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and founder and director of Eduling International, which offers English language instruction and services to students from any location. She has published about task-based language teaching, international student experiences, and learner engagement. Linh recently published a children's book called Tug of Words and released a free Eduling Speak app to connect learners to talk in pairs using communicative tasks. Professionally, she serves as the Chair of the TESOL International Association Affiliate Network Professional Council (2022-23).

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