A Dictation Lesson

Yesterday my year 5 student had dictation. We’ve just started Spelling Wisdom, book 2, and the beginning selections are short. He has done some dictation, but we’ve not been consistent. He is still learning the method. He is confident and quick with languages. This was the passage:

All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.

This was a wonderful passage for him, because while he is a good speller, he needs to attend to things like punctuation and capitalization. We quickly went over the sentence and punctuation. We discussed briefly what a colon was, and that this list had only commas, it did not use the word “and”. (No chance to delve into the Oxford comma.)

I decided to let him pick his own way to study – he is very independent. So he read it and immediately decided he was ready for dictation. (Usually we take 2 days per exercise, but this one was short and we’d had an abbreviated week, so I told him we could do it in one day.)

I asked him to orally spell “expressed”. He spelled 90% of the word, then stumbled on the “ed”. (Note: he is still smiling.) So I sent him to study again.

Two minutes later he was ‘ready’ again. I asked him to spell “simple”. He giggled and spelled it with an “el”, then back-tracked and spelled ‘simply’. I decided he needed more direction in his study and had him write the sentence on the white board. (Everything is better with a four foot by eight foot whiteboard.)

I reminded him to capitalize the first letter of the sentence. He laughed and made the “A” two feet tall. He finished and said he wanted to type his dictation, so I pulled up gmail. I took a second look at his writing and called him back to look at the word ‘honor’, which he’d spelled with an ‘-er’. He says “/on/-/or/” to help remember how to type it.

I walked him through getting the email ready – the “to” and “subject” fields. Then I dictated only 2-4 words at a time, because Charlotte Mason forbids repetition, and he needs to keep each word in his memory. He missed the capital, as usual, but caught two typos thanks to the squiggly red line of the spell checker. This is what he typed (recorded for all of you!):

all great things are simple and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor,duty,mercy, hope.

I asked him to proof read the sentence, and he fixed the capital A. He also missed the capital and corrected it after typing the whole selection last time, so I made a mental note to talk to him next week about typing it correctly the first time.

I handed him the Spelling Wisdom book to further check his own work. I’ve spotted his error in not putting a space after a comma, I can’t remember if we’ve covered that before, so I pointed out the space after the commas. He fixed his copy. He couldn’t see the other omission, so I gave him a hint: “you missed a comma”. He scanned his email, then laughed and added a comma after “simple”.

He hit send and the lesson was over. No lectures. No information he cannot use. No frowns. In addition to the beautiful thoughts in our selection, we’ve covered the need to study diligently, capital letters, commas, lists, colons, the spelling of several words, typing, sending emails, proof-reading and the importance of attention to detail. The personhood of my independent child has been respected, and he has time to play.


  1. Amy Marie

    What a great example for me. I need to remember to go over the punctuation. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Betty

    I love how he laughed his way through the lesson. I have one of those kinds of boys who is now 16! My 10yod, on the other hand, cries instead of laughs…and has meltdowns. So we are going to give her another year of just copy work and try again next year! I think she would also enjoy using the computer. Love this.

  3. unschool mama

    Thanks for this post!!
    My daughter is in year 1, I tried dictation.
    I asked her to look at the sentence..But she couldnt remember anything.
    In France kids should have dictations in year 1.
    I think it’s too soon for her.
    About copying, how much do you think she should do?
    PS= do you have a newsletter?

    1. Amy Hines (Post author)

      I missed your comment in the Christmas rush, I apologize. I don’t have a newsletter yet, but it’s on my radar for this year. I didn’t know France had dictation in year 1, Charlotte Mason did copywork but she also did word building and visualization (Joyful Shepherdess did a series on Charlotte Mason’s reading lessons). Both of these activities help with spelling. For copywork in the beginning years I assigned 6 perfect letters or 2 (short) lines. Lately I’ve been using a timer, 5 minutes for my youngest, wiggly boy.

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