A long time ago I came across an article that argued that a Dictogloss would be used in class to assess a student’s listening ability, that it could be used as a kind of diagnostic listening and the results could inform your following lessons. Sadly I have lost the article and forgotten the name of the author…which is pretty crappy of me.
At the time, I remember thinking that it was quite an interesting idea. OK, we all know dictoglosses as a great way of introducing a topic, as a nice listening exercise and as a way of working on a student’s general knowledge of English syntax…but, with a little twist it can work as a diagnostic! I’ve only ever taught this lesson once or twice and it’s always been quite interesting. I could see why people might disagree with the idea above but try it out and let us know how it goes.
Time: 1- 3 hours (depending on which activities you choose to do)
Materials: Safe House – Dictogloss
Level: Pre-int + above
I suppose it’s good to get the ould schemata activated so any little discussion question on films will do here. “what’s the last film you saw?” “Would you describe yourself as a film buff?” “Can you describe the plot of a famous film from your country?”
If you’re giving feedback at this point, I’d focus on gathering adjectives to describe different films as this will be useful later.
Hand out the page with the “Notes” box facing up. Make sure you tell the students not to turn over the page until you tell them to (if they do, give them a little tap on the nose, bad student!)
Let them know you’re going to read a description of a film to them but you’re going to read it at the normal speaking speed of a native speaker. Tell them to write down any words they hear in the “Notes” box. Read the description twice at normal speed and then allow students to check their answers.
This is where the dictogloss changes into a diagnostic. The theory being that everything the students have written down is what they heard and everything else is what they have missed and therefore their notes can be used as a diagnostic of sorts.
Have the students turn over the page and compare their notes with the actual text. I usually get them to circle the words they got correct. Then direct them to the reflection questions below the text. This is the really interesting part. Encouraging your learners to think about why they found a listening task difficult and going beyond “You speak too fast” can be really useful for them.
Once they’ve done it, it’s important that you sit down with them and talk it through. Their answers should give you the information to plan what is taught in future lessons. For example:
- if they have combined two words into a new word, perhaps you need to focus on linking between words.
- if they have focused on grammar words and missed out on the important words, then you need to encourage them to focus on content words.
- if they’ve completely ignored any content words that were new to them, then perhaps you could help them with writing what they hear or raise their awareness of common English pronunciation Versus spelling rules.
- If it was a speed issue, perhaps this type of exercise should be repeated more often so that they’re more confident with taking notes while someone is talking.
At the very least, the students will be able to focus on their own issues. Let them know that you will be using their answers to inform their future lessons.
(4) Engaging with the text
We always think it’s important for students to have a real response to a text and not just do TEFLy exercises. At this point, following the quite heavy reflection stage, I usually get them to read the text very briefly one more time and then discuss the questions at the bottom of the page.
When you’re listening to them, think about the kinds of things you might say in this situation and then correct them based on that instead of just looking at grammar errors. Think of the natural pieces of English you would use. E.g. “It sounds…” , “I’m not really into / a fan of…”.
(5) Language Focus:
Even though this is a tiny little paragraph, you’ve got quite a bit to work with here. I usually pluck out one or two features and, instead of doing an entire grammar lesson based on it, just use it to train students to notice language in context.
For example, you could choose to focus on present perfect continuous versus present perfect by highlighting the sentence: “Frost has been working with the CIA for years but has recently changed sides” and asking them to compare the two forms and discuss why each was used in this situation. You could also briefly examine the passive “Frost is marched” or you could look at reduced relative clauses: “Frost, played by Denzel,…”. You’re spoilt for choice.
(6) Writing follow-up
I think after all of this it’s nice for students to go back to the beginning of the lesson and think about the plot from a famous film in their country and write their own mini review. Limit the number of words and highlight the adjectives from the beginning of the class.
A nice idea once they’re finished it to put them up around the room and have students move around in pairs and discuss which films they’d be interested in seeing and which review grabbed their attention. Meanwhile you can be pulling out a few of the common errors and boarding them for a final feedback stage.