ESL Game: Running Dictation | A Favourite 4-Skills ESL Activity

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Running Dictation ESL Game

Do you need some new ideas for your English class? You’ve come to the right place! Keep on reading for one of the best ones that focus not only on writing, but speaking, listening and reading as well.

Why Running Dictation is Awesome

Running dictation is a classic ESL game because it’s fun, covers all 4 skills in a single activity and it also gets students up out of their seats and moving around. It’s like the gold-standard of games! You can use it for adults, university students, kids-whoever!

My variation of running dictation addresses the biggest negative of it—the yelling and cuts it out completely. Don’t worry—no more angry teachers in neighbouring classrooms!

How to Do Running Dictation

Skills: Reading/speaking/writing/listening

Time: 10-20 minutes

Level: Beginner to Advanced, 8+

Materials Required: Printed sentences, blu-tack

Running dictation requires a bit of prep before students arrive. Ideally, you will have two areas: one for the sentences to be posted, and another for the “secretaries” to sit and write. Runners can only dictate, they cannot write for the secretary. Spelling words out is fine.

You need to emphasize to the runners that they can only whisper to their partners and not speak in a normal voice. If you let students speak in their normal voices, they will start shouting from across the room. I have a one-strike policy—any voice above a whisper and the game is over for that team.

Students should be divided into two main groups: runners/dictators and secretaries. The runners will find the sentence strips/story, and will memorize as much as they can.

Then, they will run back to their secretary and dictate what they remember. They will repeat running and dictating until they have correctly dictated the entire passage.

Then, they have to check with the teacher to make sure it’s correct. I usually have a prize for the first and second teams.

Variation for Higher and Lower-Level Students

It’s very easy to adapt this to whatever level of students you have.


For lower level students, I use individual sentences unrelated to each other, one sentence per strip, using vocabulary and grammar from the lesson. Even 2-3 sentences might be a challenge for some students.

A Bit More Difficult

I make the activity more challenging by using sentence strips which must be dictated, then arranged correctly into a dialogue or story at the end.

Emphasize to students that they need to make sure they have ALL of the sentences (6, 8, etc.).

Even More Difficult

Another way to make the activity more challenging is to post the passage intact, but use a letter or a list, so the runner must dictate the proper layout as well. Students can try to remember as much as they want per reading.

Variation for Multiple Classes

I have even done this activity with multiple classes (ages) at the same time by using different colored paper for the strips. Each team was told which color paper to look for.

I posted the strips in three classrooms, and the secretaries were located in the fourth classroom. I have even hidden some of the strips under desks to make it more like a treasure hunt.

Try It Out for Yourself!

Try out Running Dictation for yourself! It’s the best activity that covers all 4-skills in a fun, active, challenging way.

Where to Get ESL Dictation Passages?

If you want to do this activity in your class, you may want to know where to get the dictation passages. Remember that you can use:

  • Unrelated sentences
  • A conversation
  • A story of some kind, sentence by sentence

Generally, I’ll get them straight of the textbook we’re using. There are often conversations or short readings that lend themselves perfectly to this kind of thing.

Otherwise, I’ll write my own dialogue or story in just a few minutes. You can spend time searching around online for a passage, but this is often more trouble than it’s worth.

ESL Teaching Tips for Running Dictation:

  • I suggest this activity for ages 8 and up, but really, your students need to be able to write without visually copying. If your students are older than 8, but still are not able to write from dictation, this is not an appropriate activity for them.
  • For safety, you should ensure that students don’t actually run. Instead, you can mention that quick walking (or regular walking) is what you expect.
  • Make sure that the text is easy to read (24 point font or so works well). But, don’t make it too big that the people sitting down can read it!
  • Make a rule that whoever is dictating cannot touch the pen or pencil! They only want they can help their teammate is by talking.

Procedure for Running Dictation:

  1. Before students arrive, prepare the classroom, by moving the desks into a “secretary area” and leaving an open area for students to run back and forth. In the open area, post the sentence strips or story on the wall.
  2. When students arrive, divide them into pairs.
  3. Have one student from each pair sit with a pencil and paper. Have the other run back and forth between the sentence strips and their partner, until they have dictated the entire passage. Emphasize that students must only whisper but not talk or yell.
  4. You may need to remind students periodically that the runner can spell aloud, but cannot write anything.
  5. If the sentence strips form a story, have the partners work together to correctly order the sentences.
  6. Check to make sure it’s correct. If it’s not, the team has to keep working on it. But, I generally make a rule that they can only check with me twice in order to prevent random guessing.
  7. Finally, have a volunteer read the entire passage while the other groups check their work.

Learn More About Running Dictation

Check out this short video to see it in action:

Need More Games and Activities?

101 ESL Activities: For Teenagers and Adults
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If you think this sounds awesome, then you’ll need to get this book: 101 ESL Activities for Teenagers and Adults.  

There are 100 more activities for use in an English classroom. They require very little preparation time, are student-centred, and cover a wide range of skills from speaking, to reading to writing and listening.

It’s the book that will make your lesson planning easier, guaranteed.

“Love, love this book and I use it every single time I make lesson plans. They are really great and they are levelled well so I never have to guess what group to use them for. It’s one of the best resources for teaching English if you want some new ideas for your class.”

You can get the book on Amazon, in both print and digital formats. The (cheaper!) digital copy can be read on any device by downloading the free Kindle reading app.

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Have your Say!

What’s your favourite, 4-skills ESL or EFL activity? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts. Also be sure to share this on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.


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