Sample Dictation Lesson


Primary Education – Volume 28 – Page 215

Dictation Lessons:

Need for Dictation Lessons: In composition the thought is stressed all the time. “Bear hard upon your subject,” says a book of advice to adult writers. “What is it you are trying to say?” we ask again and again when a child becomes self-conscious and hesitates over the form. Always the thought is kept in the foreground, and rightly so. Yet some place and some time the child must learn the rules and regulations by which expression is governed. He must learn them and learn them thoroughly, but let this work be done by itself, not sugar- coated and passed over as something else, unless both types of lesson become equally hateful. To pretend it is something else is like the plea of the primary teacher who keeps calling a sentence a story because, she says, “children love stories so.”

There are very few forms of mental activity which children cannot enjoy if they are put clearly and rapidly. It is not doing things which becomes wearisome, but the waiting for something to do. The French children are among the best trained in the world when it comes to the use of language, and they have dictation work from the very earliest years. Some educators tried the experiment of dictating certain English paragraphs to boys in French schools. The form was more correct than when the same selection was given to children of the same age in America. More, when the experiment was repeated with college students it was found that they, too, were inferior to the little foreigners. Their training in writing contains much dictation work and experiments recently made in our own schools prove the wisdom of this course.

Special Advantages Dictation work possesses several points of advantage. The child is freed from the thought of subject matter and can turn all his energies to form until the points under discussion are mastered. Special topics can be stressed. If the class has been studying the use of the quotation mark, the example chosen can be such as to employ its use a number of times. If the pupils have no other drill than that given in the writing of themes, they may have no occasion to use their knowledge for a number of days. It is immediate and frequent use which clinches facts. The ease of criticising the result is another point in favor of this type of lesson. The skilled teacher should be able to complete the survey in a very few minutes by means of class and self-criticism. This can never be the case when the material under discussion is not identical.

Preparation for Lesson The preliminary work is most important. The material to be dictated should be placed before the children, prefer ably on the blackboard. Then let the teacher go over every point upon which drill is needed. “Why does this word begin with a capital?” “Why is a period used here?” ” Do you find any other place where a period is used for the same reason?” Interest is easily aroused. The children know they will have immediate use for all the facts which are run over and they are anxious to prove they know them all. Suitable rules are not difficult to find.

The following topics were discussed in a fourth grade.

Every declarative sentence ends with a period.

Quotation marks are placed around the exact words of a speaker.

A person’s name begins with a capital.

The name of a people begins with a capital.

When asking permission use “may.”

Every interrogative sentence ends with a question mark.

Every paragraph should be indented.

This list is given merely to show the material that is used. It is not in any sense complete. To put the matter briefly, every rule of  composition, should be tested in dictation lessons.

Method of Procedure in Lesson When the preliminary drill is ended the teacher should dictate the matter to the children, they writing it sentence by sentence. Naturally, in the first grade a sentence, and a short one at that, is all the children can manage. In higher grades they can take much more, a little story (if given a sentence at a time) is not beyond the power of third grade children. When they begin to write consecutive sentences to dictation it is best to tell them when to begin a new paragraph. The habit of placing each sentence by itself is hard to break, and it is well for them to grow used to the sight of the larger unit before too great a strain is placed upon them in the matter of deciding where the break should be made. As soon as the writing is finished the correction should be made.

If the material has been placed upon the board the curtain which has been used to cover it can be withdrawn and the children may make most of the necessary corrections themselves. This encourages the habit of self-criticism and self-correction, which is most desirable. Besides this, it gives the opportunity to say, ” Why is this the way it is in the story?” The reason is emphasized. It may seem that the drill given immediately before writing would tend to make them remember the location of the mark rather than its meaning. In theory there might be this danger. Practically I have never seen it happen. The placing will not come exactly as it did on the board, so position will not be of any great assistance. What if the child does remember that a period came after a certain word? Have you not asked why it is there? The reason has been made plain. We see that a certain mark occupies a particular position and try thereafter to use it in the same way.

Material Used It is better that all the selections used be by good authors. We can manufacture examples to fit almost anything, but we want our pupils to feel that these rules are not abstractions formed for the annoyance of children and subject to discard when they reach years of discretion. Rather they must be brought to feel that they are studying the conventions observed by all educated people, that they may take their own places with such men in the future and feel no awkwardness in the association.

Possibilities in “The Wolf and the Lamb

One day a wolf found a lamb drinking at a brook. The wolf said, ” What do you mean by making the water muddy at my spring?” “Indeed, sir,” said the poor frightened lamb, “I did not disturb your spring; it is farther up the stream, and the water does not run that way.” “Well,” said the wolf, “you trampled the mud up in my spring last year.” ” No, indeed,” said the trembling lamb. ” I was not born last year.” “Oh, well, if you didn’t do it, your father or mother did.” And he gobbled the poor lamb — which was just what he had intended to do all the time. — Aesop

All but two of the rules quoted in an earlier part of this discussion are illustrated in this story. We advocate the use of such material, not that the children may incidentally learn more stories, but that they may realize that these rules which they have to learn are a part of what they know to be ordinary expression.

~Rea McCain, 1920

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