Friday, January 24, 2014


When I first heard about using dictationes in the target language with students, I had my immediate doubts purely because of what the activity was: it was a dictation exercise. What benefit could students gain from hearing me read sentences aloud in Latin and from writing them down word for word? To me, it sounded incredibly boring and not very interactive or engaging for students.

I, however, decided to give it a try and am now convinced of its benefits. This is now how I begin a new chapter. Here is how to do a dictatio:

  1. Look at your upcoming chapter and choose the vocabulary/language structures which you want to introduce. I have found that students can begin to acquire as many as 8-9 new vocabulary words in a dictatio (whereas in a TPRS story, I usually only focus on 3-4 new words).
  2. Compose around 10-12 sentences in Latin using these new words/structures. I tend to make the dictatio a story in order to make it somewhat compelling for students and so that the sentences do not seem disjointed on their own. I have colleagues who will use the model sentences in CLC as a dictatio. The key part is that the sentences need to be comprehensible for students. Repeat new words/structures as many times as you can in a dictatio; get in the reps!
  3. Write the sentences on an overhead or on a word document, as you will be projecting them for students to see in order to correct any spelling mistakes after they write them down.
  4. When it comes to a dictatio, I tell students to get out a clean sheet of paper and that we will be doing one; by this point, they know the drill.
  5. I tell them the following (a variation of the directions found on, and like Bob Patrick's says in those directions, I say it to them as if it is the first time that they are doing it):
    • this is a listening, comprehension and writing exercise
    • their job is write down the Latin sentence which I am saying as best as they can
    • I will repeat the sentence three times slowly. By the end of the 2nd repetition, they should have it written down completely so that during the 3rd time, they are just verifying what they have written.
    • after the 3rd time, I will project the sentence on the screen, and their job is to make any types of spelling corrections. If they need to make a correction, they are to cross off the word and to rewrite it either above or below the word. If the sentence is written correctly, they are to write “optime” next to the sentence.
    • following this, if there are words/forms which they do not know, they are to raise their hand and ask. I will give them the English meaning.
    • after this, I will proceed to the next sentence.
    • this is a quiz grade so if they do what I say (i.e., write down the sentence as I say it, make any corrections to it, write the word optime if the sentence is correct), then this is an easy 100%
    6.  After we complete the entire dictatio, I collect them and then I project the sentences again
         on the board, and we do a group choral translation of the dictatio in order to establish
    7.  I do take a look at the dictationes afterwards but since they are self-corrected, I do not have
         to do anything other than verify that students either corrected their sentences or wrote the
         word optime and then enter their grade in my gradebook.
  • In some ways, a dictatio can seem like a very passive activity, but wow, due to the listening, writing and comprehension aspects of it, students truly do internalize these new words/forms very quickly
  • If you never have had students write in the target language before, this is a non-threatening way to get them started, since they are not composing
  • It is not the most engaging activity for students and as a teacher it can be rather boring just reading sentences aloud, but the benefits outweigh the lack of engagement factor
  • Afterwards when I look over the dictationes, it helps me see what kinds of spelling errors students are making, how much of that was my fault due to the way I was reading it, and what kinds of things do I need to address better, e.g., did I make it clear that a particular word was one word and not two when I said it, what particular Latin pronunciation sounds are difficult for students to correlate in writing, e.g, long e vs. short e.
  • Due to the vast number of repetitions, students really do catch onto the way Latin sounds subconsciously and are able to mimic those pronunciations on their own in later activities
  • Remember that the sentences need to be comprehensible. I would never read sentences from Caesar's De Bello Gallico or Vergil's Aeneid to my AP students as a dictatio, because I do not think that student would understand what they were writing down.

An example of a dictatio (stage 17 CLC)

New Words to be introduced
1) benignus
2) insulam
3) diu
4) pervenit
5) maximus
6) multitudo
7) exanimatus
1) Joseph est benignus iuvenis, et ad insulam navigat
2) Joseph ad insulam navigat, quod vult invenire benignam uxorem.
3) Joseph diu navigat, et tamen insulam pervenit.
4) postquam Joseph insulam pervenit, vidit maximum templum.
5) in maximo templo est multitudo feminarum pro ara.
6) Joseph templum pervenit, et clamat, “O feminae, quis vult esse mea uxor?!”
7) feminae non respondent diu, et tamen una femina Josephem pulsat.
8) Joseph est exanimatus diu, et in ara excitat.
9) feminae Josephem in ara sacrificant; feminae in hac insula non sunt benignae.


  1. Keith, how do you make those new words comprehensible? Do you just gloss them as they come up, every time they come up? Do you project the new words with a gloss?

    Also is your story that you come up with here completely unrelated to the story you intend this to be a prep for?

    1. After I project the dictatio sentence on the board for students to correct their spelling, they can then ask for meaning of any words/forms which they do not know. This way, then I can establish meaning.

      I have used dictationes as a way to introduce vocabulary/structures for the target reading (the plot being unrelated to the dictatio), and I have also used dictationes as a form of embedded reading.

  2. I love this explanation and practice! I find dictation is actually a great calming activity for a rowdy class, and a wonderful rest for the teacher after doing a lively session of story-building or PQA. I've used dictado as an embedded reading strategy for novels: I write 8-10 sentences that preview the upcoming chapter (works best if it's a later chapter, so student have expectations about characters). I make some of them false, some true, and some of them true but unexpected. After they do the dictation, I then have students mark sentences as true or false. Then we read the chapter (or next embedded reading version) to see what they got right.

    1. That's a great idea of using a dictation as a preview for a novel and of using the sentences in a true/false manner - helps build anticipation for what students will be reading.

  3. Do you do TPR to introduce the new vocabulary first? Or is the dictation the first time the students have seen the new words? Also, you said that you can introduce more words with this method than with TPRS... Does that mean that you use this approach when you want to introduce more vocab quickly? Or do you somehow combine the two?

    1. I use a dictatio to introduce new words and structures apart from TPR or TPRS. What I love most about doing a dictatio is that with deliberate and scaffolded repetitions, I can introduce more vocabulary more quickly. With TPR or TPRS, I can introduce maybe 6 new vocabulary words, but with a dictatio, I can introduce around 10-12 words.

  4. Do you mean tandem for tamen above? I like the whole idea. My students actually requested dictationes, for one thing because they could easily get 100%.

  5. Hi! I'm afraid I don't get the meaning of the "Joseph est exanimatus diu". Is it "Joseph is dead for a long time"? Besides, wouldn't adjectives and possessive adjectives sound more natural when placed after nouns? Anyway, that's a very interesting post and thanks for sharing! :)

  6. Thank you for this! We will be starting another chapter in LLPSI in a week and a half, and I now know what activity to use. This has been helpful, and thank you for the example sentences.