Dictating to children can expose reading and writing problems

Dictating—speaking words aloud for another person to write down—is a great way to vary reading and writing instruction and to gain insight into a child’s spelling, punctuation and writing abilities. It can show many kinds of errors which the parent might not be aware of.

3rd grader writing an essay.

  • Spelling errors might indicate that rules such as using a silent e at the end of many long vowel words, or doubling the consonants in CVC words when adding suffixes, have not been learned yet.
  • Handwriting problems might show that the child still mixes up b and d or p and q. Or the writing might show that the child does not make ascending lines go high enough, or descending lines go low enough.
  • Capitalization and punctuation errors could mean that a child doesn’t remember to start sentences with capitals or that he is unaware of the rules for proper nouns.
  • Lack of knowledge of sentence punctuation might show that a child needs more practice using commas, quotation marks, periods, question marks and exclamation points.
  • Certain letters written incorrectly might indicate a hearing problem or confusion over which sound is associated with which letter.
  • If some letters in the same word are written with large spaces between them, and others are not, or if there are no spaces between words, the child could be confused about what a word is and how a word is demonstrated in print.
  • Homophones spelled incorrectly could mean work on the various ways to spell its and it’s, they’re, their and there, and other sound-alike pairs is needed.

The dictating parent should use only words that the child is familiar with. Sentences should be short and clear. The dictating parent should tell the child how many times the sentence will be repeated, if at all, to be sure the child pays attention.

If there are several kinds of errors in the child’s writing, I would not tell the child that. Mention one thing to work on in the future. In the back of your mind, make a mental note of other ideas to work on.

Dictating from time to time is an informal way to assess learning.

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