How Does Dictation Work?

Dictation is really the majority of our language arts. It is a tried and true method and has been used successfully for centuries. If used correctly, I feel that dictation covers so many aspects, that it really can be the basis of any language arts program.  It adequately covers both grammar and spelling, not to mention a deep exposure to great writing and literary techniques.

Starting around the 5th grade, I choose a passage to be studied for the week. These passages will come from whatever book we’re currently reading aloud. I write the passage on our whiteboard on Monday morning and we go over it each day. We pull any words the children think will be difficult and we practice them each day for spelling.  We discuss the punctuation and capitalization, and anything else I think worthy of note.

They use the passage for copywork on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then either Thursday or Friday (whenever they feel ready) I read the passage phrase by phrase while they write it down.  If they get all the spelling words correct, I erase them from the board.  If not, we leave them up for another week and I give them a spelling quiz the following week.  I also add words to the spelling list if they consistently ask me to spell them. This is essentially all we need to do for spelling.

Just for an example, here is a passage from Build Your Library’s fifth grade American History curriculum:

You might have been born the biggest fish in the sea, but the skill and perseverance of those lower born than you can take you down and destroy you. 

The words we might choose to study from this passage are – might, perseverance, and destroy.

For an older child, or a child used to doing a weekly dictation, I give two studied dictation assignments each week.  One on Monday, the other on Wednesday with two days to study before I give the dictation. These passages will usually come from our literature readings but occasionally a passage from history or science will be appropriate. I put the passage on the board, and the first day we go over it and choose words to practice, we discuss any interesting punctuation or grammar and anything else they find tricky.  Then the next day, they get some time to study over it before I dictate the passage. If a passage is especially difficult, we might only do the one passage for the week.

Here’s an example of a harder dictation also from the fifth grade American History:

When Tom reached the little isolated frame schoolhouse, he strode in briskly, with the manner of one who had come with all honest speed. He hung his hat on a peg and flung himself into his seat with business-like alacrity. 

The words we might choose to study here are: isolated, briskly, honest, business and alacrity.  We might discuss how schoolhouse is one word, why we hyphenate business-like, the meaning of the word alacrity. We can finish up with anything else the student might find challenging from this passage.

And that’s really it.  So very simple, yet also so rich and varied.


Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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