An impromptu interactive dictogloss in 10 steps

Today in my intermediate class, only 2 students showed up and my prepared last-lesson-before-Christmas revision games plan went straight out the window.

But not to worry – through the same classroom window, the 2 students and I saw our first London snow fall of 2011.  One comment about the weather led to another, and we ended up discussing two alternatives for keeping yourself (especially your hands) warm in such weather: ‘kairo‘ (common in Japan but which the non-Japanese student and I had never seen before, a sort of disposable heat pack that gets up to about 70 degrees Celsius and can last for up to 12 hours) and those reusable gel-filled hand warmers you can find pretty easily in many shops nowadays.

We got to talking a bit about how these things worked and trying to explain the science behind them.  It transpired that the students understood – but had quite a lot of trouble explaining – the basics of how to use them.  This seemed too good an opportunity to miss for working on ‘how to’ sort of language, and so this is what happened next…

1. After a sort of collective attempt at describing the basic principle of how to use a reusable hand warmer, I asked the two students to try and explain it again (without my help).  As they talked, I took notes, reformulating the steps of the procedure from their words into how I might say it (e.g. ‘after a while, it goes hard’ rather than ‘it stay hot for several hour and then it becomes harder’, or something like that).  The final text looked like this and formed the script for an impromptu dictogloss:

My dictogloss ‘script’

2. I set up the dictogloss concept, which we hadn’t done in this class before – i.e. I told them I would read out my newly-created short instructional text a few times at a fairly natural speed and they’d have to listen and note down key words, leaving space between the words and between lines, which they’d gradually fill up with each listening.  This is what it sounded like (excuse my stuffy voice – currently recovering from a nasty cold!):

And this is what one of the students’ notes looked like after hearing the text for the first time:

One student’s notes (after 1st listening)

3. The students compared their notes, tried to flesh them out a bit, and then I read it again and they tried to fill in some of the blanks in their notes.

4. Before I read it a third time, I invited the students up to the interactive whiteboard (IWB).  I’d never tried it before but had an inkling that this might be an interesting way to reconstruct the text, as it’s quite easy to move words around, change your mind and restructure notes on an IWB, just by writing something, then dragging it around to wherever you want it.  So I quickly showed them the basics of using the IWB tools and then let them get on with it.  This is what it looked like at this stage:

Building up the text
IWB slide: stage 1 of the students’ reconstructed text

5. They sat back down and I read it a third and fourth (final) time.  This is how that same student’s notes looked now, with the additions borne from discussion with his partner, the initial collaborative work on the IWB and the final listenings:

The student’s notes (after the 4th and final listening)

6. They went back to the IWB (this time writing in blue) and fleshed out the rest of the text, filling in any remaining gaps with whatever they thought made sense.  I was quite impressed with how much they’d picked up, and they were having a whale of a time moving all the various bits round on the board!  It’s quite easy to do…

Moving the words around

And it was interesting to see how they’d got most of the key content words and phrases (e.g. ‘chemical reaction’) the first time and were now adding in the ‘glue’ to stick them together, like unstressed pronouns or prepositions they hadn’t picked up initially:

IWB slide: adding harder-to-hear function words

…and more vague/filler phrases they were less certain they’d heard (correctly) the first or second time around:

IWB slide: filling in useful phrases

7. When they felt they’d done all they could, it was evident that they had done very well but still had a few grammatical issues.  They asked me to tell them what I’d said precisely (which we added in green pen after a bit of discussion about what they thought I’d (probably) said and what logical/grammatical alternatives there were):

IWB slide: the final reconstruction of the text

8. I asked them to pick out the phrases they thought were interesting/useful and highlight them.  It had started to get a bit messy by this point, but they seemed quite happy following the train of thought that they’d been building up visually on the board.  It was really refreshing to see how in control they were over their discovery of the language in the text. Getting them to manipulate the whiteboard themselves worked wonderfully – they collaborated to write, edit, move and highlight the text as they saw fit, and rarely actually needed any help from me.  This is what they chose:

IWB slide: useful language for describing ‘how stuff works’

9. Having made their final text and selected their ‘best bits’ from it on the board, they went and sat back down and copied it down into their notes.

10. They re-explained (together, taking turns as they saw fit) how to use a reusable handwarmer, describing it as best they could without referring back to their notes but trying to use the new phrases they’d learned.  Then they did the same for the other type of hand-warmer we’d discussed earlier (‘kairo’, the disposable Japanese kind).

So all in all, a great lesson, with a final result of evident pride and satisfaction from the students that was a far cry from my initial panic that my ‘fun last lesson of term’ had had to be abandoned!  A lovely note to end 2011 on.


About Laura Patsko

Teacher trainer, language learner, language teacher, linguist, researcher. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. Hi other LauraThat looks like a great lesson! Think I may steal that at some point 🙂 I have a silly question, but I want to know though how you got pictures to share at various stages of the lesson. Did you plan that? Do you always do that? Just curious. Thanks for sharing your blog. Lots of great ideas. You've inspired me. Maybe I'll start my own blog, when I finish my dissertation, of course. other MA Laura

  2. Hi, other Laura! Nice to meet you here. This was one of my proudest posts, actually. A totally random lesson that came out really well. By all means, steal it, try it, make it your own. And then come back and tell me how it went, if you have time!As for getting pictures to share, I realised not far into the lesson that it was looking like a good one and I always have a basic little point-and-shoot camera with me (for surprise photo opportunities like this!), so I took it out and asked the students if they minded me taking pictures of their notes (obviously, they said it was fine). I used the video function on the same camera to record my voice. And as for the screengrabs of the whiteboard itself, I basically duplicated each stage's slide before we moved on to the next stage (so we could go back and compare stages later), then just took a screengrab on my computer later. Simple (!).See you next week at uni! :)Laura

  3. I love dictoglosses. I am addicted to using songs in class so I tend to take out little clips of music, or even speeches from the VMAs or something. You summarize the process much better than I do however. I will be sure to send people here when they have doubts!

  4. Pingback: ETAS Conference presentation: Whiteboard wizardry | Lauraahaha

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