Dictation is the process of writing down what someone else has said. With young children, dictation offers a way for a parent or a teacher to record a child's thoughts or ideas when the writing demands surpass writing skills. Dictation provides a chance for an adult to model many writing behaviors including handwriting, matching sounds-to-letters to spell words, and sentence formation.

When to use: Before reading During reading After reading
How to use: Individually With small groups Whole class setting

More writing strategies

Why use dictation?

  • It allows students to watch as an adult writes using many conventions of writing, such as letter formation, punctuation, spacing between words, and more.
  • Teachers can model listening to a sound and writing the associated letter.
  • It allows us to model that speech can be written down and read back.


Language Arts

Ask students to draw a picture of something of their choice; their family, a house, their pet, or another concept that the child is familiar with. Then ask the child to say a sentence or two about the picture, for example "Our dog is brown." Write the child's words on the bottom of her picture and read them back to her. As you write, model a clear sound to letter match. "We read a book about the moon. I'm going to write the word mmmmmmoon. What sound is at the beginning of moon? What letter makes that sound?" Encourage the child to read the sentence too.

Have students tell a group story. Sometimes called Language Experience Charts, group stories benefit from a shared class experience like a field trip or school assembly. Start by brainstorming a title. Write down the children's ideas. If necessary, prompt a sequence "What happened first? Then what did we do?" and so on. Record the sentences as the children dictate them. As you write, model a clear sound to letter match. "We read a book about the moon. I'm going to write the word mmmmmmoon. What sound is at the beginning of moon? What letter makes that sound?" When the story is finished, read the story aloud with the children. Read it several times, then ask if anyone would like to read it by himself. Give everyone a chance to read. Later, copy the story on chart paper and display it in the classroom.


Children learn to describe and care for plants and animals, recording their findings in science journals through pictures, dictation, or kindergarten-style writing.

Social Studies

Teachers can follow up with a read aloud by asking students to summarize a read aloud on a social studies topic. Teachers can write the student dictations on chart paper. Summaries can be read by the whole class.

Differentiated instruction

For Second Language Learners, students of varying reading skill, and for younger learners

  • Teachers should vary their expectations for the length of dictation based on a child's language and/or age.
  • Strategies such as this enable children from other cultures to bring their different experiences into the classroom to share. Sharing dictations through whatever means will enrich the other students' experience.
  • Dictations with the whole group in the form of a class story may serve to familiarize students with the strategy.

See the research that supports this strategy

Some of the research done that involves dictation comes from a whole language perspective. We've listed some of that research here. Our instructions for using dictation encourage a more explicit approach to using the strategy than what was included in some of the research listed below.

MacArthur, C. A., & Graham, S. (1987). Learning disabled students' composing under three methods of text production. The Journal of Special Education, 21(3), 22-42.

Stahl, S. A., Miller, P. D. (1989). Whole Language and Language Experience Approaches for Beginning Reading: A Quantitative Research Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 59, 87-116.

Stauffer, Russell G. (1970). The language experience approach to the teaching of reading. New York: Harper & Row.

Children's books to use with this strategy

Leaf Man

By: Lois Ehlert
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Observing changing leaves and tree life cycles are appropriate in fall. Also try Snowballs, Waiting for Wings, Growing Vegetable Soup, and Planting A Rainbow by Lois Ehlert for other seasonal science-related activities.

The Other Side

By: Jacqueline Woodson
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Clover and Annie — one black, the other white — are separated by a fence and attitudes that want to prevent their friendship.

Diary of a Worm

By: Doreen Cronin
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

What icky creature looks the same from both ends? The worm, of course! For the first time ever, get the insider’s view of life from this creepy crawler’s perspective. He lives underground with his family, eats his homework and does his best to annoy his sister — documenting it all in a diary. Simple illustrations are the ideal complement to the understated humor (though nonetheless laugh-out-loud tone) of the text.

Mama, Do You Love Me?

By: Barbara M. Joosse
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

This story of an Inuit child testing the limits of her independence, and a mother who reassuringly proves that a parents love is unconditional and everlasting. Beautiful illustrations of Alaska and the characters convey the cultural richness of this timeless story.

A Chair for My Mother

By: Vera Williams
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother save their money to buy a big comfortable chair. Suffused with warmth and tenderness, A Chair for My Mother celebrates family love and determination. A Caldecott Honor book. Spanish version also available.

Kitten's First Full Moon

By: Kevin Henkes
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Children will delight in Kitten’s mistake. They know that what she thinks is a bowl of milk is really the moon’s reflection. Mostly black and white (and shades of gray) illustration expressively depict Kitten. Children enjoy the visual and verbal patterns throughout. (2005 Caldecott Medal Winner)

Duck for President

By: Doreen Cronin
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Do you think things would be better if you were in charge? Duck thinks he can do a better job than Farmer Brown, but once in power he soon tires of the duties and responsibilities of leadership. So he decides maybe he's better off writing his autobiography – which he does on a typewriter that clever readers will recognize from another book by this talented team.

The Relatives Came

By: Cynthia Rylant
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A large, slightly frumpy family travels to visit their equally large and frumpy relatives to share food, conversation, and a good time, proving that there’s always room for one more! The relatives' visit is humorously chronicled in the lively illustrations and understated text of this Caldecott Honor book.

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