The ‘running dictation’ method is a simple, fun, intensive way of imparting a detailed narrative to students. It is great for introducing a topic, or for revising it.

Before the lesson, anticipate dividing the class into teams of about five students and print off the timeline of events for each team.

Cut the first timeline into slips and place these neatly into an envelope with the first event at the top of the pile. Repeat for the other timelines.

When the class arrives, divide the students into their groups. Each group member should be given a number (1, 2, 3…)

When the activity begins, you should position yourself at the far end of the classroom (even better, go outside where there is more space).

Upon your signal, person ‘1’ from each team should run up to you and collect their first slip from their timeline.
They should be given a limited amount of time to read this, then they have to hand it back to you, run back to their teams and share as much as they can remember in a limited amount of time. The rest of the team (but not the speaker) should write notes.

At your signal, person ‘2’ from each team should run up to you. The process is then repeated until all the slips have been used up, with responsibility for ‘running’ looping through the students in each group for as long as it takes.

When the process is completed, students should return to the classroom and spend some time in their groups comparing their notes: after all, each member of the team will not have notes relating to the events that they related to the rest of the group.

Taking it further

Thereafter, students could analyse the events in the appropriate way: for example, a Venn diagram dividing the information into political, socio-economic or military explanations, or a diamond 9 diagram prioritising the key factors.

Running dictation exercises can also be combined with jigsaw narrative techniques: in this case, the slips are not given out in any particular order, and the plenary activity involves students having to reconstruct the narrative into the correct order prior to further analysis, as suggested in this video:


Example running dictation: Was the defeat of the Spanish Armada due to Spanish Mistakes, English Skill or Luck?