I choose a passage, poem or quote with the child to work on. Sometimes it’s short enough to do in a couple of days worth of dictation, or sometimes a couple of weeks. It doesn’t really matter what the level of the prose or poetry is, I give them what help they need to challenge them just a little each day.
I keep the dictation to a time frame of 5-15 minutes maximum. Sometimes one minute with an Extreme Wiggler. Sometimes negotiation is involved when deciding how long dictation needs to be. I have negotiated a time frame, and then I set a timer. Alternately, I have negotiated a word limit or length limit (for example, the length of one line of exercise book).
The “Negotiation Rule” comes into play in my house if a small person becomes uncooperative about dictation. And it goes like this:
I Don’t Want To Do This Anymore. My Hands Hurt When I Hold my Pencil. It’s Too Haaaaarrrrddd. (I usually start dictation as soon as the small person can hold their pencil and make most of their letters, knows the alphabet pretty well and, say spells their name, and I keep it to one or two words of their choice; “what word would you like to learn to print today?”)
Well. We have to do dictation every day. We can talk about how long it should be. But it’s important to be reasonable. No, one word is not reasonable. But one line is! Or two minutes! You can choose. One line or two minutes? (because I keep dictation really short to begin with, I have only had to employ this with a couple of my kids, but it has been really effective. Other children of mine would do dictation to the exclusion of all else.)
Because I’m left handed, I sit on the left side of my child. We use those small exercise books and I usually start off with the half and half ones, so that they can draw a little picture on the top half if they like. The child does their dictation on the right side of the page, a new one each day, and I use the left side for the lesson.
Personally I don’t ever pre-plan the lesson, but you could if you wanted to. I just pick a lesson out of the dictation that I want to use that day. I figure that each child, after 7 or 8 years of dictation, will have covered pretty much all the necessaries enough times to be literate. So far it seems to be working out that way. I prefer approaching dictation with a child like trust that it will all be okay. And it is.
I have not raised any illiterate children yet. And some are even grown ups.
Anyway. Depending on the age of a child, I give them as many letters and or words as appropriate. Sometimes that is just one letter at a time, for little ones, sometimes several words at once. I give them enough “helps” so that the dictation is correct. As we are proceeding, I build a couple of lessons into the helps.
Here’s an example.
Say the dictation chosen is a short poem like The Whole Duty of Children by Robert Louis Stevenson
A child should always say what’s true
And speak when he is spoken to,
And behave mannerly at table:
At least as far as he is able.
With a little person, I might say, “Capital A, (and then stop for 5 or 45 seconds while they make the A) space, the next word is child, so C, H, says the ch sound and then I (what do you suppose says the I sound?) (if the say B, you can say no! but good guess…B says B. I says I). now the last part of child is L and then what do you think the last letter might be, what makes the “d” sound?” And that might be the whole lesson.
To a bigger person, say someone who is reading pretty well, I might say, “Okay, A child should always say (and give them a minute to get that down) what’s true (now, this is poetry, so even though it is the middle of a sentence, we are going to start a new line, and it is capitalized). ( ‘What’s’ is a contraction of ‘what is’ so do you know how that will look?”) And speak when he is spoken to (there’s a comma at the end of this line)”
If I had an adept printer on my hands, I would probably finish the poem off in one day, we could talk about punctuation in poetry, or the rhyme scheme. For long poems or short, or prose for that matter, we always look up the poet or author so we know a little about them.
Some invaluable resources for dictation are:
Favorite Poems Old and New ( I really just can’t say enough about this book)
Any novel we are reading together
Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization (Institute for Excellence in Writing)
More to come on dictation…