Stop, go back dictation

This is a dictation activity which pushes students to make sense of the language they hear by writing it down as accurately as possible.

Marta J. Sabbadini

Different to traditional dictations, the learners themselves control the dictation, with learners asking the teacher to stop and go back as many times as they want. My students particularly like this aspect which makes them feel in control of their learning. Suitable for classes of any level, this activity demands little teacher preparation.


You will need a short text (not more than 50 words) which you think will be of value to your students. This could be to introduce some new language, for revision, or to expose students to a particular text type, such as a short note.


  • I draw on the board three symbols as they are on a cassette machine: play, stop and go back (rewind).
  • I then elicit or pre-teach these terms, telling the class that in a minute I will be their 'cassette machine'. I explain to students that I will be playing a short text that they should write down word for word. I will read at normal speed but at any time they can ask me to stop and go back to a particular point in the text by saying, for example, stop, go back to 'she was wearing'.
  • Once students are ready to write I stand at the front of the class, without speaking. Students normally look at each other for a few seconds, then somebody thinks to shout out play and I start reading!
  • I usually read at a slow-normal speed, trying to read the sentences with natural intonation and linking between words, rather than uttering each word separately.
  • I let the class take complete control, stopping only when they ask me to using the stop, go back formula. It may take them a few goes before they understand how to successfully stop their 'cassette machine'.
  • The dictation goes on until all the students feel satisfied with their text. I find that even when the slower / weaker students ask the teacher to go back, the faster / stronger students still feel this is useful for them as they use this to carefully check what they have written.
  • Once everybody has the full text, students can then ask their 'cassette machine' to read it through one more time.
  • I give students a few minutes to compare their texts in pairs, and then hand out copies of the original for them to check against.
  • An interesting alternative for feeding back is for the students to re-dictate the text to the teacher. I make sure to write up the text exactly as they say it (i.e. keeping any mistakes). Once the whole text is on the board, I guide my students to identify any areas that aren't correct, and go over them.
  • Rather than then finish with the text, it can be productive for learners to look at it more closely, either for language focus, genre analysis or for a discussion of meaning. Having acquired the text themselves (through controlling the dictation), any work done at this stage can be particularly engaging for students, helping them to better understand and retain the language.

This activity was first published in 2007.

Language Level


Submitted by anupkumarr on Sun, 08/30/2009 - 17:52


Dictation is a useful technique an EFL/ESL teacher can employ. Now-a-days dictation is not popular with teachers. But dictation helps learners process language in terms of listening and spelling. Students need to be careful to write down words they hear and naturally link meanings to next words,phrases and sentences they are going to hear within a short while. Elt practioners do not recommend this dictation technique in second language pedagogy. But empirically, it is found an effective technique to correct spelling errors and building chunks to be stored in students'data bank as passages,outside recommended text pieces are of help to building up of structures with new words embeded therein. It is true students simply hear and write without applying their critical and anaytical thinking. They may not skim,scan or critically read but threy can make use of this to procees language at a later stage when they are required to write on their own.  I may here add that they may be given authentic text materials and exposure to listening to  them.Thus they will understand native variety of standard speech once they take dictation of the same passaages by listening to their teachers. 

Submitted by Adeniyi on Sun, 06/06/2010 - 20:00


Generally, dictation exercises are meant to be an appetiser for any language class. However these are no longer in vogue here in Nigeria. I find the stop, go back dictation exercise very useful and appropriate especially with my senior secondary students. I feel I can adapt the above version for my vocabulary development class by making use of flashcards. Each flashcard will have a word on it which I'll dictate to the class and as they write down each word I raise the flashcard and this goes on and on till the end of the lesson. This exercise will help develop and sharpen their listening, spelling and writing skills being less tasking and laborious compared to the above version. As we go on with these variated version for the exercise the students will be gradually introduced to the original full version and at the end everyone will be better for it.

Submitted by LilyFlynn on Thu, 06/24/2010 - 21:45


Hi everybody,

Dictation is  an excellent tool that was not used  for many years  as it  was considered  out of fashion. In my opinion it`s one of the best ways of understanding and improving the knowledge of the language.


Submitted by ketevanbarkhud… on Tue, 07/27/2010 - 11:08


Hi everybody

Great job. I like it very much and look forward to using it with my students. After reading such a brilliant version of dictation I had desire to share my opinion with you. When I remember my childhood all my classmates and I hated dictations because they were the most boring and uninteresting activities for us. The only thing teacher did was that she dictated the text word by word and we had to write it down. Than we were graded for accuracy. However, nowadays these kind of dictations are very interesting, involving and fruitful for our students, children do not dislike them any more and feel more confident.

Submitted by alimar on Sat, 08/14/2010 - 10:48

In reply to by ketevanbarkhud…


Hi, great job, actually i did a lot of dictation this past school year with great results, but this idea is fantastic, but i wonder how long does it take, it sounds as if it took at least 20 to 30 min. with correction and all.

Submitted by Gulshan Huseynli on Tue, 05/17/2011 - 06:37


I am one of the teahers who doesn't like to have dictation activity with students. But this a good idea. I think it willl make it more appealing to the students as they control it themselves. I am going to try it with my students. Thank you for this activity.

Submitted by Elena Nikitina on Wed, 06/20/2012 - 16:26

In reply to by Gulshan Huseynli


And dictations should be different to be interesting. I like this idea. It's new for me. Thank you!

Submitted by Delfino 72 on Thu, 06/21/2012 - 09:25


Thank you for renovating a traditional activity like dictation in such a nice way. I love the 'stop & go back' idea and I think my students will love it too. 

Submitted by cahidalgor on Fri, 06/22/2012 - 15:02


IT is  a very useful and clever one, involving the whole group and letting them have self control of their learning. Congratulatins to the creator.


PD It helps students create their own responsability while learning.

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