Just about anyone you talk to in bilingual education whether it’s bilingual, dual language, dual immersion, etc., agree that dictado is a powerful way of teaching Spanish language. It can teach language structures, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and can be used to contrast with English. It can be tricky to do in the younger grades. Dictado in elementary, though, is just as important as dictado in upper grades.
How should your dictado look? What works? What doesn’t work? I’m not an expert, but I have made a lot of mistakes over the years with my dictado. And I’ve found that mistakes are the best teacher.
1. Less is More
For dictado in primary, less is more. I made the mistake in the beginning of writing these marathon long dictados and then couldn’t understand why my kids couldn’t complete the daily work in 20 minutes or less.
My first grade dictados were 4 sentences long. Looking back now, I can see just how ridiculous that was and how time-consuming it was. Now, even as a fourth grade teacher, my dictados are rarely longer than 2 sentences.
Longer than that, and it’s going to take your kids too long to finish and will either A) not finish or B) take away time from other subject areas. The former gave the kids a lot of anxiety, the latter gave me anxiety.
Keep your dictados short.
2. It’s NOT a Spelling List
Please don’t make your dictados a list of words that students need to spell. Even Kindergarteners with enough practice and modeling can eventually write short sentence dictados.
Dictados are more powerful than spelling lists because they show elements of the language only visible in complete sentences like verb conjugation, word order, syntax, the list goes on!
But Josh, I need to teach silabas trabadas! How are my students going to learn cla, cle, cli, clo, clu if I don’t have 10 words with that syllable?!
First, take a breath. Second, give yourself permission. If that’s not enough, if my random internet teacher blogger authority means anything, then I give you permission. Tell your administrator if they give you a hard time. I’ll field any and all administrator complaints in the comments section.
After you’ve given yourself permission, include one or two words with that pattern. Then ask students to brainstorm more examples in your dictado mini-lesson.
Bam! You’ve taught what you need to teach AND even more powerful, the kids have provided examples, maybe even some that you never would have thought of.
Dictados should almost always be complete sentences.
3. Connect to Internalize
Internalizing concepts. That’s what our goal for almost everything we teach right? Connecting new learning to previous learning is the way that we facilitate learning. Connecting that new learning to a story is the easiest way to make that connection.
The biggest problem that I see with dictados is that they are simply silly sentences that the students cannot connect with. If they can’t connect to it, they won’t remember it.
Back when I first started writing dictados, I made them by telling the kids a story about something that happened in my life. Usually something funny. That helped! But the thing is, not every student could connect to my experiences.
My tip: Use a mentor text or read aloud book to write your dictado. Better yet, pull your dictado directly from the mentor text.
Doing this sets up your dictado lesson to connect to a shared experience (the read aloud story) that all students have. If you’re doing your read alouds the right way, then they will be very familiar with the story.
4. Model, Model, Model
Okay maybe this one should be up at the top, but it’s important! Dictado, as in EVERYTHING else in your day, is a routine that needs to be modeled, modeled some more and modeled again.
It’s a short part of the day, but it can take a LONG time without proper modeling. I usually will model with my students EVERY part of dictado the first 2-3 weeks.
The first couple of dictados I make with the kids in a sort of Language Experience where we write about something that happened during the first week of school. Hello, instant buy-in, am I right?
5. Standard Correcting System
You’re in a bilingual school. Or maybe dual language one-way or two-way. Maybe you call it DLI or DLA. Whatever it is you call it, your school or even your district should decide on a standard correcting system.
Because who wants to see students crossing out a word 10 times and then writing it correctly above?
My district chose a correcting system, and it proved invaluable with the high amount of transiency between schools we experience. When a student moved from building to building, they didn’t have to learn a new correcting system.
Keep it simple, and as I said above: model, model, model!
This was huge. Many people struggle with dictado because they do not have a routine for it. I have a weekly routine that I always follow, and I guarantee that is part of my success.
Why? I don’t have to think about it! I know that on Monday we do X and Tuesday we do Y. If I deviate from that routine, my students get on me.
Commit to your routine. Make an anchor chart for it, and hang it up on your wall. That is when you start seeing real success because that anchor chart is you telling yourself and your students that THIS IS WHAT WE DO.
7. Focus Small for Big Results
My last tip for supercharging your dictado is keeping focused. When I am selecting a passage or writing a dictado about my mentor text, I am looking to focus on 1 or 2 teaching points.
I used to go overboard and focus on a different point from the dictado each day of the week other than the final dictado. The kids didn’t get enough practice with each concept, and instead of getting internalized it got FORGOTTEN.
Now, I’m keeping my focus on 1 or 2 points. But Josh, there are like 5 other things we could look at in my dictado. To that I say, congratulations to you! You’ve got yourself a great dictado.
Leave some of the teaching points for a different dictado. Focus on too much and you’ll muddy the waters.
Don’t Want to Plan it All Yourself?
You don’t have to! I made 30 dictados for 30 different picture book mentor texts available readily in Spanish. It’s enough dictados for an entire year with multiple teaching points. They’re really simple to use! Just print and you’re ready to go!
Not sure? Sign up for a free lesson below!
Do you want to give some of these tips a try? Want to see how I use tip #3 with a mentor text? Sign up below for a free dictado lesson.