Running Dictation

Student writing on poster board

Running dictation is an active cooperative learning strategy in which students work in teams to accurately write down a text that is written on a paper in another location. This strategy is part of Colorin Colorado's ELL Strategy Library and can be used to support academic language development for all students.

Photo credit: Photo by Allison Shelley

Strategy Overview

How It Works

During a running (or walking!) dictation, one student is the runner and one student is the writer.

  1. The runner reads a chunk of text from the wall.
  2. The runner returns to the writer and dictates the text to the writer.
  3. This process continues until the team has completed the entire text or the time is over.
  4. The runner and writer can switch roles to give both students practice with all of the targeted skills.

How This Strategy Supports Students' Language Development

Running dictation offers an interactive way for students to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing about content concepts they have learned.

  • The runner has to read the text and restate it clearly to the writer.
  • The writer has to listen to the runner and write what they hear, practicing active listening and asking clarifying questions.
  • The runner then has the chance to practice editing while checking the writer's work and suggesting edits so the team can produce an accurate text by the end.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Write or choose a short chunk of text related to the current unit of study.
  2. Post the text on colored paper on one wall of the room or in the hallway. 
  3. Divide the class into teams of two. The writers sit at a desk or table on one side of the room. Runners start standing near a posted text on the other side of the room.
  4. Runners read a chunk of the text, memorize it and quickly walk to their writing partner. Then they whisper that chunk of text to their writer making sure the writer understands and remembers what to write.
  5. Writers transcribe what they heard while the runner goes to the wall for more text. 
  6. Writers and runners change roles after a short chunk of text or after a short amount of time. 
  7. When time is up, writers and runners sit together to review their work. 
  8. Then, the teacher reveals the original text and teams check their work (or another teams' work) focusing on grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. 
  9. Close with a discussion of the meaning of the text or any specific grammatical point in the text.

Lessons Learned

  • Clear classroom space for this activity, so runners are safe. Depending on the space, however, it may be safer for runners to walk between the text and the writer.
  • Establish clear behavioral expectations for runners.
  • Post several papers with the same text across the front of the room or in the hallway, so runners don’t have to crowd around one text.
  • Start with a short chunk of text. In the primary grades, this could be just one or two spelling words. In the middle years, this short chunk might be just a couple of sentences.
  • Require runners to whisper to their writers at the team's writing space. They may not shout the next sentence from across the room to their writers.
  • Encourage writers to repeat the chunk of text back to the runner to make sure they understand each word before they write.
  • Encourage writers to ask for clarification on spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Create texts based on vocabulary and topics students have already learned in the class. The texts should be a review for the students or a mentor text for the type/genre of writing they will be doing later in the unit.
  • Have students switch roles (runner and writer) after 2-3 dictations or after a set amount of time so that each student gets the opportunity to participate in each role.
  • If there is an odd number of students, one team will have three people. The 3rd person could take on any of these roles:
    • Co-writer – they support the writer, help remember the text and what to write, help with spelling and punctuation
    • Illustrator – they draw the concepts for each sentence or word. This team should switch roles more frequently than the teams of two.
    • Co-runner – they work as a team to read and remember a chunk of text.



  • Partner two entering/emerging level students and provide them a reduced or modified text for their dictation. The runner will read from a different text on the wall, but still participate in the activity. 
  • Add visuals and/or heritage language translations to the text to support comprehension of the text. 


  • Partner a developing level student with an expanding level student.
  • Consider giving developing students a modified or slightly reduced text on the same topic as the rest of the class.


  • Partner expanding level students with more advanced readers and writers for models and support.
  • Have these students use the original grade-level text.

Co-Teaching Considerations

Content or Grade-Level Teacher

  1. Choose the essential paragraph or sentences for the dictation.
  2. Set up the room for the activity. Post texts on one side of the room for 'runners' to read. Seat 'writers' on the other side of the room. See videos for alternative ideas.
  3. Monitor students and manage classroom behavior.

English Language Development Teacher

  1. Purposefully partner students for the activity. Two entering/emerging level students could do the activity with a modified text.
  2. Provide translations for unknown words in the text.
  3. Simplify the text for entering/emerging students, if necessary.
  4. Monitor the activity and help with classroom management.



Post words and sentences students can read independently, using the phonics patterns they have learned. Post short chunks of text such as:

  • letters at the beginning of the year
  • individual words later in the year
  • single sentences by the end of the year

Post short passages of text about the content students have studied in class such as:

  • summaries of the content 
  • mentor texts for the type/genre of writing students will be doing later in the unit

Post short passages such as:

  • primary source material in social studies
  • a hypothesis or experiment results in science
  • a math word problem
  • a descriptive paragraph from a novel