The Silver Bullet of Classroom mangagement: el dictado

I don’t know about you, but when my Little Darlings start misbehaving, I start getting a little stressed, and when I get stressed, I get all sweaty and stop thinking clearly.  So I get all short and snappy with them, and they retaliate with more naughtiness and then I make bad decisions like thinking I can strong arm them into compliance. A power struggle ensures, which I *know in my head* I can’t win, but remember, I’m all sweaty and therefore can’t think clearly. It is a recipe for disaster. 

It’s taken a long time but I’ve figured out for me…and I bet for a lot of teachers… I need a few minutes of quiet to flip the script, to control myself first before I try to control them. But generally when they’re starting to become a little much, chances of them working independently while I pull myself back together are really slim. 

Enter the Silver Bullet of Classroom Management: El dictado. 

The thing I love about dictados, is you can pull it out anytime, with no prep at all. When a really awesome, input rich activity is going sideways, and they’re not playing nicely and you’re starting to get all sweaty, just ask them to take out a piece of paper. You’re not mad. It’s not a punishment, it’s just an activity to focus them and give you a few moments to calm down and regroup.  I believe it was Tina Hargaden who first introduced me to dictado and she said something along the lines of how powerful it is to change the tone in the classroom. She’s so right (about a lot of things, and) about this!  When there’s trouble a brewing, it’s dictado to the rescue!

Enough small talk, what is it and how do I do it?!

Either copy a stack of these Dictado Sheets, so they’re ready to go or tell them “Class, please take out a piece of paper”. They don’t know you’re getting mad and sweaty. It’s a very matter of fact statement, changing gears because the previous activity, for whatever reason, was not working. 

Instructions:  “We’re going to do a dictado. I will say a sentence and you will write it out on your paper. You are not going to translate it, but rather just write out exactly what I say. There will be ZERO talking. I will go slowly so you have time to concentrate and write it out. After I say it several times, I will type the same sentence for you to check your work. You will copy the sentence exactly as I have written it below your original attempt. I will grade the sentence you copied down, so if you are focused and copy it down carefully, you will score 100%.  Finally, you’ll translate the sentence into English. Let’s begin. ” 

Now make up a sentence. My first one, to give me a minute to calm down when I’m not thinking clearly, is always related to the date. Say it really slowly, one word at a time, and repeating it 3-4 times to give everyone a chance to write it down. Insist that it is totally and completely silent. The only sounds you should hear is your voice and their pencils madly scratching their paper.

“Número 1. Hoy….. es…. el…hoy es el cinco….de….. diciembre. Hoy es el cinco de diciembre. Hoy es el cinco de diciembre punto” (As you say out loud any punctuation, draw it on the board and point as you say it) 

Then sit down at your computer to type it for students to see,  or write it on the board. Students should still be completely silent. Remind them that everyone, even if their first attempt was perfect, will copy down the sentence onto the paper, right below their first attempt. 

Type out:

  1.   Hoy es el cinco de diciembre. 

Then, students should skip a line then translate it into English.

Then move onto the second sentence. Make up another sentence, targeting the vocab you’re working on or what’s happening in class or at school. So maybe something like “Número 2: Mañana es el baile de homecoming y todos los estudiantes están emocionados.” 

Sometimes after 3 statements the class has calmed down and Señora Chase has the sweat under control and can go back to being a kind and loving and patient teacher. Sometimes it takes 4 or 5 or even 6 statements. Sometimes my last sentence is something like “4. La Señora Chase está mucho más contenta ahora porque los estudiantes están más tranquilos”. 

Then  back to previously scheduled programming. Maybe we go to the next thing I had planned…maybe we go back to the activity we were doing when they stressed me out and made me get sweaty. “I really want to try X again, but it didn’t go too well when we tried it before. I think you’ll have fun with it, but I really need you to  X, Y. Z for this to work.”

What about grading them?

I’ll be honest with you now. If I didn’t have my fabulous TAs, I would not grade these. But since I have not one but two precious senior girls helping me out this year, they grade them. I print out the statements and figure out how many points I want the dictado to be worth:

# of statements # of points Minimum score possible
4 10 6
5 13 8
6 15 9

My TAs only look at the second statement for each number, the one students copied down.  For each mistake, they fix it and minus .25, for up to a maximum of 1 point off, per statement. (So even if there are 6 “mistakes”, they can’t lose more than 1 point per statement….that way, even if there are a lot of mistakes, students will not fail the assignment) I enter these into the “practice” category of our gradebook, since they really don’t give me any information about their language skills.

Tuck this one into your back pocket. It’s a tool you don’t know you need it until you need it! (Which is why I don’t have a video! I never know when they’re going to induce the sweat! There’s no time to set up the tripod…but we did a dictado with my Heritage kiddos this week, and it worked like a charm.)  And it is just me?! Am I the only one that starts sweating when the Little Darlings are acting like Little Trolls?!

Save the date:

August 1, 2019, in collaboration with the Professional Language Association of Nevada, I’m doing an all day Workshop focusing on CI Skills. As soon as the rest of the details are ironed out, I’ll be posting a link. I’d love for you to join us!


Join us at Comprehensible Online this year!


  1. I always learn so much from your blog – thanks for taking the time to share so many super ideas!
    I wanted to share one with you that is not quite so calming as a dictado, but it is a zero-prep community building activity in my classes. Here’s how to play:
    -All of the students have their own whiteboard and marker.
    -One student (Ana) comes to the front of the room and I ask a question related to what we’ve been learning. If we’ve been doing gusta phrases and hobbies, I’ll ask: ¿Te gusta cocinar con tu madre?
    – Ana will write her answer on her board without letting the class see. At the same time, the rest of the class is writing what they think Ana will answer. Then they show their responses, “A Ana le gusta mucho cocinar con su madre” or “A Ana no le gusta por nada cocinar con su madre” or whatever gusta phrase they choose to use.
    – After a minute or so, after all students have an answer written, a student asks Ana the question again. This time she answers and shows her answer on her board: “Me encanta cocinar con mi madre.”
    -Every student that wrote “A Ana le encanta cocinar con su madre” gets a point, and I call the next student up.
    For whatever reason, kids seem to love guessing about fellow students and we can play the game for quite a while by middle school standards (longer than 7 minutes).


  2. […] But as soon as I see a naughty picture scrawled on a whiteboard or have to remind them nicely a 3rd time of my behavior expectations, the game is over and we pendulum over to the boring side of the spectrum. Every single awesome CI game can easily be turned into a boring, silent input activity.  When Quick Draw wasn’t working, I stopped the game, everyone took out a piece of paper and we did a quiz. I selected five sentences  projected on the screen, students translated them into English while I read them in Spanish, then turned them in on their way out of the classroom.  When  The Lucky Reading Game came to a screeching halt, they took out a paper and answered the questions I had prepared, referring to the story in front of them, and turned it in at the end of class.  Or if you can’t figure out how to turn the game into something-not-fun-at-all, you’ve always got the Silver Bullet of Classroom Management: El Dictado.  […]


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