Adventures in (not) Running Dictation

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If you are a World Language teacher that has been teaching at any point over the past 10 years – you have probably heard of Running Dictation (originally from Jason Fritz). Nowadays, I hear many people talk about how much they really don’t enjoy this activity – for themselves or for their students. A lot people tell me that the feel it’s overwhelming, too fast, they aren’t seeing correct answers, they’re seeing a lot of missteps along the way, they don’t really understand what student roles are for the activity, etc. You may have even read Señora Ziegler’s January 2024 blog post about why she doesn’t think the activity is a good fit for her students. So here’s a little insight from me, AND some alternate ways to do sequencing activities that I have found to be a better fit for my students.

The OG version – The biggest issues I faced with Running Dictation came from student roles and student missteps with information. When I first began doing the activity about 6 years ago, I immediately eliminated the “cheerleader” and “drawer” roles. Why? The cheerleader was basically doing nothing and not getting any real input from the activity and the the drawer was often drawing sentences that were written incorrectly, or the wrong sentence all together – plus the pictures typically were drawn so quickly that “drawing” was a loose word to describe what they had done anyway. I put students in pairs and for 50% of the time, one student would write and the other would dictate, then I would call a switch. With it only being “dictation” at this point – I was much more easily able to check for wrong answers and missteps before students sequenced the events. I also started only doing the activity in Level 2 and Level 3 so that students had a better grasp of the language to be able to say / write the word correctly. Given these changes, this activity is one that I do still use and keep on deck for a “lower” energy day for me and a “higher” energy day for the students. With these changes, the activity typically only takes about 15 minutes instead of a whole class period.

The Sequencing version – This version I have been using for about 3 years now. I take 4 events and scramble them up on the board using colored rows that are lettered A, B, C, D. Students read the events and right down on paper or a whiteboard the order of the events according to the story. Sometimes I have students do this in pairs, other times I have them do it solo. The energy level is much lower since students are “running” but the focus here is on re-reading and sequencing events. The nice piece of this version is that students are re-reading the same 10ish events mixed in with other events over and over (I usually do 15 or so rounds) so they are getting input again and again that’s correct while able to talk about and justify the order of events. The rigor stays high because students are constantly being given new sets of information. This version targeting mostly reading and writing – though students could discuss them in the target language to add on speaking & listening skill work.

The Picture Match Version – This version I have also been doing for about 3 years now. You can read my first blog post on it here. I’ll start by saying that this is a multi-day activity – and I love that. After reading the story I give students a paper with a sentence from the story on the back, they have to draw that sentence. I usually pick 8 – 12 sentences or sets of sentences that are both important and easily visually depicted. Students spend 20+ minutes creating their drawings. The next day I choose the best drawing for each set of sentences I gave and I give it a letter (A, B, etc.) and hang them up in the hallway. I put students in pairs and give them a sheet with the sentences from the pictures on them. One student goes into the hallways and chooses a picture. They come back in and starting describing the picture (in the target language) to their partner that is looking at the sentences. The partner can ask questions and the hallway person can go back to the hallway as many times as needed. Once the partner decides which set of sentences matches that picture, they right the letter on the paper. When they have matched all the letters to sentences, I check their work. If any are wrong, they must fix them. Then students sequence the events according to the story. There are so many things I love about this activity – but watching my students of ALL levels speaking and listening to Spanish, and help each other are two gems. This version is heavy on speaking / listening practice, but the person holding the paper is also getting reading practice and so are students when they are re reading events to sequence them.

The paired version – This version is less “true” sequencing and more “general” sequencing. I create an image that matches a sentence of set of sentences from a text. Typically I create these images using clipart – but you could draw them. On the board, students see the image and have a chance to write a sentence or two that describe the image and matches the text. Then students see the same image with 4 answer options. Students then check their work – or match the image to the sentence. Once we have the answer, I ask students when the event happened in the story – usually I ask “beginning / middle / end” but sometimes I will ask “before / after X event.” I like that this version is differentiated in rigor for students AND that it gives students the opportunity to expand their answers.

There are tons of other sequencing type activities out there – and I’d love to know your favorites! These are 3 options that have worked great for me. As far as taking out the “movement” – no need to worry about my students and a lack of movement. I have found gallery walks to be a much more effective use of movement and we do them often!

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