Welcome to Build Your Library’s “Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 8 – Dictation – The Language Arts Powerhouse”. In this new weekly video series, I will delve briefly into a topic related to homeschooling and will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated!
Dictation is a natural progression from copywork. First, a child must learn to form their letters, then they begin simple copywork. Eventually, they will progress to longer passages to copy. When they are proficient writers, we introduce the next level – dictation. Done properly, dictation can take the place of spelling lessons, and even cover quite a lot of grammar!
In the simplest of terms, dictation is the act of reading a passage to your child, slowly and carefully, as they transcribe what they hear. They should study the passage first, familiarizing themselves with the mechanics, spelling, and anything else of note. Charlotte Mason recommended beginning dictation around ages 8 or 9.
With Build Your Library, dictation assignments begin in Level 5. You should not begin dictation until a child can write all of their letters properly and is capable of copying a passage neatly. Dictation begins here, but it can be used throughout your child’s education – even through the high school years! Just adjust the length of the passages so you are challenging your teens.
Choose a passage from your child’s reading that you would like them to study. It should of course be well written. It should also be just the right length for their ability. Begin with short passages at first, even if they are capable of copying longer ones. This assignment requires more effort than copywork, so you don’t want to make it too challenging. Once they become proficient with dictation, you can increase the length of the passage.
Read aloud the passage to your child. This is where you can discuss things they should study. Ask them if there are any words they think might be difficult to spell. Talk about mechanics and punctuation rules. I like to have my children copy the passage once first. This gives them a chance to carefully observe and assess the passage. If they find some of the words challenging to spell, we’ll practice them as well.
Charlotte Mason spoke of taking a picture of the word in their mind. Write the challenging words on a whiteboard or on a piece of paper and ask your child to take a picture of it in their mind, close their eyes, and see the word. If your child finds that too difficult, have them copy the words 3 times each.
The next day, I’ll have them read over the passage again, focusing on those challenging words, and any mechanics they need to remember. I then have them get a new sheet of paper, and while I slowly read the passage, one phrase at a time, they transcribe it neatly and carefully. Do not repeat a sentence to them more than once. We are building the skills of focus and attention, so you want them to be attentive as they work. This is also why you need to read slowly, intentionally pausing longer than you would in normal conversation at commas, and even slightly longer at periods.
Once they are finished, have them correct their own work. Give them a red pen and let them circle any mistakes they made. Then you can go over it with them and talk about it. Have them practice any misspelled words either on the page or on a dry erase board. From start to finish, this shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes. This assignment can be done up to four times per week. But in our homeschool (and with Build Your Library lesson plans) we do studied dictation twice a week.
With continued practice, your child’s spelling will improve, and they will learn proper capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and beautiful writing. All from just this one simple dictation assignment! And it offers you an easy way to assess their learning. Is their spelling improving or do they need more practice? Can they remember when to capitalize letters? How to use punctuation?
When they make mistakes, you can look at them as learning opportunities. Dictation is not a graded assignment, it’s a learning tool. It’s a natural way to teach language arts concepts. However, you may still need to include some formal grammar, just not every single year. I recommend studying grammar once in the elementary years, once in middle school years, and once more in-depth during high school.
The gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to “take” (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit which must be cultivated in children from the first. When they have read “cat”, they must be encouraged to see the word with their eyes shut, and the same habit will enable them to image “Thermopylae”.
This picturing of words upon the retina appears to be to be the only royal road to spelling; an error once made and corrected leads to fearful doubt for the rest of one’s life, as to which was the wrong way and which is the right. Most of us are haunted by some doubt as to whether “balance”, for instance, should have one “l” or two; and the doubt is born of a correction. Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which.
Now we see why there could not be a more ingenious way of making bad spellers than “dictation” as it is commonly taught. Every misspelt word is in image in the child’s brain not to be obliterated by the right spelling. It becomes, therefore, the teacher’s business to prevent false spelling, and, if an error has been made, to hide it away, as it were, so that the impression may not become fixed.’ ~ Charlotte Mason
What if your child is struggling with dictation? Are you giving them too long of a passage? Do they have a learning issue like dyslexia that is causing difficulties? Do they need glasses?
If your child is a perfectionist, I recommend having them write their dictation on a dry erase board. This way, when it comes time to check over their work, they can easily write their correction without “messing up” their paper.
If spelling is not improving, I recommend taking a dictation break to focus on practicing words they commonly misspell. I recommend keeping a list somewhere and then having them work on those words for a few weeks, then return to dictation when you see improvement.
Dictation is a simple assignment that can reap amazing rewards if you keep at it. And because you are using real literature and meaningful prose, they are learning mechanics, grammar, and literary techniques from masters of the craft!
I hope you found this Tidbit helpful! Next week we’ll be discussing Picture Study! Until then, Happy reading!
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 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 18 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 make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.