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Horse race dictation

Average: 3.8 (24 votes)

In this activity learners try to predict the order of words in a jumbled sentence before listening for the answer.

Simon Mumford

It is enjoyable because students are asked to predict the first word, in the same way people try to guess which horse will come first in a race, giving a strong motivation for the short but very intensive listening activity, in the form of a horse race commentary, which gives the solution.


Choose a sentence and write the words in a random order on the left of the board, as in the example below. You also need to prepare a commentary, which should be challenging enough to make it interesting but not too difficult. In the example below there is only one major change in order, when, and other minor changes during the race.

  • finally
  • was
  • o'clock
  • eleven
  • home
  • when
  • I
  • it
  • got

Example commentary

They're off! I has made a strong start, with finally close behind, and home and got following. When is at the back, eleven and o'clock are just ahead. Was and it are in the middle of the field and it has just passed was. Both are ahead of eleven and o'clock and when is coming from behind fast, passing eleven and o'clock, and look at when go, flying up the field! When has passed finally and is now passing I, and into the lead. They're coming to the finish line, what an incredible finish! It's when first, I second, finally third, got beats home to finish fourth, with o'clock coming in last.

Example answer

When I finally got home it was eleven o'clock.


  • Make sure students are familiar with words showing order in races, e.g. first, second, last, at the back, following, ahead, in(to) the lead, behind, up the field, etc.
  • Tell the students to imagine that the words are horses who are going to race to the other side of the board. The winner will be the first word in the sentence, the second to finish will be the second word, and so on. Ask them to choose the word that they think will be the winner and write it down.
  • Ask students to compare their predictions in groups.
  • Tell the students they are going to hear a horse race commentary and that they have to listen carefully to find the winner and the order of words. They can make notes during the commentary and should write the sentence at the end.
  • Read the commentary. Stress the words in italics to differentiate them from the other words. Note that commentaries are spoken fast in real life, so read it fairly fast the first time.
  • Check the answers. You may need to read it more than once for the class to agree. Ask who predicted the winner correctly.
Language level
Language Level: 
Upper intermediate: B2