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Mutual dictation

Ellen Darling, Teacher, Trainer, British Council Naples

A pair work activity that I find works particularly well with learners of all ages is a 'mutual dictation'. It is especially appropriate for low level students. In a mutual dictation, the students are divided into pairs of student As and Student Bs and then each given the relevant worksheet, either A or B.

This is also a good opportunity to move students around and get them working with other people in the class, not just the person sitting next to them. If you number the worksheets A1 to A16 for example and B1 to B16 (if you have 32 students) then the students have to find their partner and sit down together WITHOUT looking at their partner's worksheet. If I have an odd number in the class, then one group will work as a three (with 2 student As, for example).

The aim of the activity is to dictate their information to each other in order to get the complete text. In the example attached, you will find a description of a job. When students have got the complete text, they need to do something with it, such as solve a riddle or answer true/false questions. This is so that they read the text and try to understand it, rather than simply reading out isolated words. I also encourage my students to ask for extra help if they don't understand their partner, for example by saying 'Could you repeat that, please?' or 'How do you spell "________"?'

It's a great controlled activity as it is completely learner centred and provides lots of student to student interaction. It is great for encouraging learners to cooperate together and also has a fun puzzle element which keeps motivation up. It provides integrated skills practice as students are reading, speaking, listening and writing all in the one activity. The advantages for the teacher are that you can adapt the activity to any topic and any (short) text and with word processing packages it is quick and easy to make the worksheets.

Print and copy the the worksheet so that students have one for each pair.

Mutual dictation >>44k


  • Get the students into pairs (as described above)
  • Tell them they each have part of a text and that they must complete the text without looking at eachother's worksheet.
  • Tell them they do this by taking it in turns to read part of their text. As one reads, the other partner fills in the gaps in the text, then they change around until the activity is complete.
  • They must then answer the question; "What's the job?"
  • At the end you can get the students to compare their two halves of the text and correct any mistakes.

I first saw this activity being used at the British Council in Bogotá.