Prepared Dictation How-To

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Also, want to use the simplest and least expensive spelling program ever devised? We’ve had questions about how to do prepared dictation, and it’s fully explained below.

Subscriber Appreciation Month

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Prepared Dictation

Aloha, y’all!

Today I’m going to describe, in full detail, one of my favorite methods of working on spelling–prepared dictation. Best of all, this requires no curriculum, no money, and will only take about 15 minutes once or twice a week. All you need is a book of quality literature, preferably one that your student is reading or is at least familiar with. Yes, you can use random quotations, but I always prefer using the complete work rather than excerpts, [Warning: blatant self-promotion in 3, 2, 1…] which is why English Lessons Through Literature includes prepared dictation beginning in Level C. 🙂

But all you really need for prepared dictation is a book. This post is a bit long, so feel free to print it out or bookmark it on our site.

Prepared Dictation

Here are the basic steps for doing prepared dictation, followed by a more lengthy explanation:

  • Select a well-written passage from quality literature.
  • Help the student to choose 2-4 words to analyze.
  • Have the student study the passage for 5-10 minutes.
  • Read the passage slowly, phrase by phrase, while the student writes or types the passage.
  • Watch as the student types/writes and correct mistakes immediately.

I recommend prepared dictation—and only prepared dictation. In prepared dictation, students type or write a passage only after studying it for 5 to 10 minutes. Without this preparation, the exercise is not a teaching exercise—it is a test. The only purpose of a test is to tell you what the student already knows; tests have no benefit at all for the student. In Home Education, Charlotte Mason went further, describing dictation without preparation as “a fertile cause of bad spelling” (241).

Like copywork, dictation is a form of studying grammar, spelling, and the mechanics of writing. However, dictation requires students to take a more active role and actually study and think about the material as opposed to passively taking it in through copywork. This is why ELTL does not include prepared dictation until Level C, and in my own household, we do not use it until Level D. Students may type their dictations instead of writing them. This simplifies the process for students who hate writing. 

I know that dictation can sound like a huge, time-consuming exercise, especially with multiple students. It is not. We do prepared dictation twice a week, on the “off” days from grammar. Passages can be as short as a simple sentence or as long as a page, depending on the age and ability of the student. If you are using ELTL with a student who struggles with spelling, you can either shorten the passage or try prepared copywork instead, which is described at the end of this email.

Have your student study the passage for 5-10 minutes. Help them to choose two or three words to analyze—a passage should not have more than 3 or 4 unknown words to be studied. Have the student add these words to the Spelling Journal (our new permanent FREEBIE, details below), writing each word with a space between the syllables, which helps them to analyze each word syllable by syllable.

The Spelling Journal organizes words according to phonogram or spelling rule, and it is available as either a FREE PDF or as a printed book. I will write more about using the spelling journal in the next newsletter.
Dictations may be written or typed. My boys type their dictations. The spelling and grammar checks are turned off in our word processing program, and we increase the font size to 20+ points so that I can read over their shoulders. I read the passage while each boy takes his turn at the keyboard. I read a phrase at a time, approximately 5-10 words. This trains students to hold words in their head while getting them written down.

I stand behind them so that I can immediately catch and correct any mistakes immediately. Mistakes imprint on a student’s mind just as correctly written material does, and this confusion is difficult to correct. It is better to do nothing at all for spelling than to allow students to see misspelled words, and it is even worse if the students actually wrote down the misspelled word themselves–such as part of a spelling test, which I do not recommend for this very reason.

Prepared Copywork

If you have a student who has difficulty spelling–if the student consistently gets at least one word wrong in every dictation–then I recommend that you STOP prepared dictation. Instead, you can do prepared copywork. This just means that the student uses the passage as copywork after analyzing a few words from the passage. Prepared copywork can be a bridge between copywork and prepared dictation.

I hope this helps you understand prepared dictation better. Feel free to email us if you have further questions, and either my assistant Beth or I will be happy to answer!

Mālama pono,

Kathy Jo


Our last freebie, Handwriting Lessons Through Literature: The Aesop for Children, is available until August 15. This is a good opportunity to see how our copywork books are organized!

As promised, here’s a second chance–for ONE WEEK only–for those of you who missed the Quark Chronicles: Zoology freebie with the new, updated workbook. Yes, you get both the book AND the workbook.

I’ve added a NEW permanent freebie, the ELTL Spelling Journal, which will make your prepared dictations as simple as opening a book to a favorite passage.

And we also have two other permanent freebies. A Walk in the Park discusses our homeschool philosophy, and Daily Devotions for Kids includes four prayers for each day of the week to help children develop a habit of prayer.