Letter-by-Letter Dictation Raises Learning To Incredible Heights

Dictation, letter-by-letter, even at the kindergarten level, is a powerful application tool. It gives kindergarteners the opportunity to apply acquired alphabetic principles in a realistic setting.

It’s the application of the alphabet that’s key to reading.
Printing letters supports the utility of having learned to hear, visualize, and reproduce each individual letter quickly and accurately. 

This is especially so when a specific child is the topic of a very short story.

As a process, it’s a variation on A STORY ABOUT ME.

Transcription exercises bridge learning the names and shapes of the letters of the alphabet in an activity where that knowledge is used to communicate ideas in writing.

In writing A STORY ABOUT ME, it’s the child who tells the parent or the teacher the words and sentences to write down.

In a dictated story, it’s the parent or teacher who tells the child which letters to print on paper.

It also requires telling the student where writing conventions come into play. In other words, they need to be told when to use an upper case letter (capital letter), which end mark to use (a period, a question mark, an exclamation mark), where the commas are, and when to put a “finger” space between words (word boundaries).

Here’s an example of an on-the-spot, story-writing exercise:

Tyler is wearing a new shirt. He has new shoes on, too. I wonder if today is his birthday!

Here’s the procedure for this story, letter-by-letter.

Please note that I’d teach word boundary, comma, period, and question mark before the procedure is introduced. I’d also tell the child that all letters should be transcribed in lower case. Upper case letters (Capital letters), where needed, will be identified.

The end-goal is success.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to review the alphabet before each writing task.

A best practice is to…

  1. Recite the alphabet, together, by rote.
  2. Recite the alphabet showing the alphabet cards (A to Z).
  3. Recite the alphabet showing the alphabet cards in reverse order Z to A.

What this does is promote success by filling in the gaps in a child’s mind should any gaps have developed. One can never over-learn the alphabet.

Here’s what I’d say allowing enough time to print each letter:

Upper case t…y…l…e…r…word boundary…i…s…word boundary…w…e…a…r…i…n…g…word boundary…a…word boundary…n…e…w…word boundary…s…h…i…r…t…period. Upper case h....e…word boundary…h…a…s…word boundary…n…e…w…word boundary…s…h…o…e…s…word boundary…o…n…comma…word boundary…t…o…o…period. Upper case i...word boundary…w…o…n…d…e…r…word boundary…i…f…word boundary…t…o…d…a…y…word boundary…i…s…word boundary…i…s…word boundary…h…i…s…word boundary…b…i…r…t…h…d…a…y…exclamation point.

It doesn’t take long to complete the activity. It requires absolutely no preparation!

By the time the letters Tyl were dictated, Tyler shouted out in excitement, “Hey, that’s my name!”

Not only did I have Tyler’s attention, the others in the group were involved, too.

They knew that what I was doing had meaning! They were eager to find out more. Who would be next?

Interestingly enough, students within the group began to anticipate other words from just a few letters and from context. They were thinking appropriate to the activity…much of it through imitation.

They understood the message and Tyler was able to confirm it was his birthday, that day.

Relate the content of the sentences to a specific child to maximize effect.

If I am working with a small group of students, or only one child, I’d evaluate the work immediately to verify accuracy and to provide encouragement. I’d notice if the transcription was written along the horizontal line with appropriate spacing and comment on that with

  • “good printing,
  • good tracking along the line,
  • good spacing,
  • and good listening.”

Where there are errors, I’d simply tell the student he had trouble with listening…
or that he lost his focus on a word…
or forgot how to print a letter..
or had trouble keeping up…
or became confused.

I’d remember all facets for the next time the activity was introduced.

Later, I’d transcribe the dictated content onto chart paper for reading in the next session or at some future time.

The next day, before presenting a story for the next student in the group, I’d have Tyler attempt to read the story about him the previous day.

Powerful Effects
The value and benefits for children are many.   
Children love to show off in front of a caring adult. 
Children love to show off in front of their peers. 
Children love to succeed. 
This strategy does all of that…and much more.
            What children hate most about school is failure!
In order to succeed, the child must listen.
The worth of a letter-by-letter story-writing exercise is in training the ear…

to hear and to provide practice in accurate graphic representation.

A singular difficulty in learning to write is to consolidate how writing depicts sound. This is what I hear and this is how I write it.

Transcription forces students to distinguish what they hear from what they don’t hear.

The content of dictation is the thought of another. The necessity to create a complete thought is removed. The student doesn’t need to create as well as maintain neat margins, write on the line, and have clear spaces between words.
It enhances thinking. It handles spelling in a meaningful setting.
It helps to develop short-term and long-term memory. 
Students become active in their own learning. They work in their own behalf.
They begin to take responsibility for their own learning. 
In a sense, letter-by-letter dictation models how to write a complete sentence. 
It gives them practice in written communication.
Students gain in speed and accuracy in replicating the letters that make up words. 
It encourages them to speed up their recall of letter names and letter forms.

Dictation offers the opportunity to practice word recognition… and to develop a sight vocabulary.

Capitalizing on the children’s self-interest for dictated story content stimulates a strong desire to learn to read.

They are interested in reading all the stories generated within the group… not just their own.

To the parent or the teacher, dictating letter stories requires absolutely no preparation. It requires no prior experience.

Letter-by-letter dictation can be administered quite effectively by an inexperienced person. It simply requires the will to do it.

If need be, the parent or teacher can record the sentences as they are being dictated … on a separate sheet of paper, for verification.

The content of the dictation might even be written down ahead of time.

Letter-by-letter dictation extends the foundation and groundwork skills of letter-naming, letter recognition, and printing…in a way that fits with what children like best about school.
The personal stories become strong motivation to building a sight vocabulary. They prepare children to become proficient readers.
Letter-by-letter dictation is psychologically powerful and challenging. 
It has the power to raise student learning to incredibly new heights….
and that includes your teaching skill.
Dictation as a strategy is powerful. Its use is at your fingertips. Tuum est! That means … it’s up to you!
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