Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Dictation is a Necessary Note-Taking Skill

What?  Dictation you say???

Yes absolutely, being able to take dictation is an important part of taking notes.  After all, isn’t the teacher talking about subject matter, while moving about the classroom?  Isn’t the student supposed to be writing some of the things that the teacher is saying [not all, but some].

Learning to take dictation is simple.  You should start in kindergarten and 1st grade.  Yes, this young.  Remember, taking dictation is a motor response to an auditory cue.  When a child is young, learning to take dictation should be fun.  A scavenger hunt in the classroom, the house or in the backyard is a perfect way to begin.  First, dictate letters [no more than 5], have the child write the letters that you dictate and then have the child locate an item that begin with each letter.  Make sure that you are using the letters and words that have been practiced in class to reinforce what has already been learned.  Also, turn the tables and have the child give you 5 letters [words] and you must also find items.  You may also make the sound of a letter and ask the child to write the letter that he or she thinks it is. While some say that this is too early to learn dictation, it is not.  As long as you are using the same material learned in class and make a game out of it, you will be fine.  ALWAYS follow the child’s lead.  Never push a child to go faster.  The object of this exercise is for the child to write what he or she hears and not speed.  I would also include using a keyboard to type the letters.  First we want to create letter recognition and then familiarity with the keyboard.  As the child becomes more skilled in keyboarding, allow the child to choose the fonts and colors that he or she likes.  Again, this must be a fun activity.  If it is not fun then you are not reinforcing the excitement of learning.  Learning is not always fun and some students struggle immensely.  When working with a parent or therapist, learning should reinforce school skills and be fun.  We do not want the child to lose interest and shut down.


As a child grows and develops additional skills, vocabulary words can be used for dictation. Not only does this increase the amount of handwriting and keyboarding practice that a child gets, it also helps to learn study skills.  If your child is having difficulty with spelling, you can get a parent account on to practice spelling and vocabulary with computer games.  They have an iPad app, if you choose.

Increasing the complexity of the task, I would start with sentences in the 3rd grade. Sentences should be very short and be related to the vocabulary being learned in school. You can make a sort of Mad Libs and have the child insert silly words into the dictation. Again, follow the child’s lead and give him or her the time to write what you have said.  The goal, again, is for the child to reinforce what is learned in class and to be able to write what is heard.  By 4th grade, I would take a very short paragraph from the material that is used in the class and dictate from that.  I would also have the child dictate to me.  Again, it needs to be fun, a game.  I might also have the child correct my handwriting, to help them be more observant in making corrections on their own.  Even if you are perfect, make some mistakes that your child has already learned for editing their own work.  If you are at a loss for material, many of the local newspapers are written on a 3rd grade level.  Pick an interesting human interest or sports story and dictate a very short excerpt.

By the time a child reaches middle and high school, I work on dictating and entire paragraph from the newspaper, often something related to a DBQ [Document Based Questionnaire] that they are working on in class.  I have them either type or write the material and begin to improve speed.  Up until this point, accuracy has been the focus of the dictation and not speed.  I would also practice using the prompt words for note-taking and have the child take down the important points [based on my prompts].  As a therapist, I would be sharing what I would be doing in a session, with the classroom teachers so that they can see the value of the therapy and also follow through.  As a parent, if you have any concerns with handwriting, spelling, listening skills, etc., please discuss these with your child’s teacher or therapist.


I am an occupational therapist with 18 years of experience in the pediatric sector, much of that time as an independent contractor. I am very passionate about my work and my writing. My degrees include a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Sciences and a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Touro College. Since graduating as a non-traditional student, I have worked in a variety of settings throughout the life span but settled in the area of school-based therapy. My interests lie in the area of using technology to support independence and I often train students to use programming not only to monitor their own goal progress but also support educational, vocational and life skills. Another area of particular interest is documentation. As an independent contractor for many years, I feel that it is important to align methods of documenting goal progress with educators for greater consistency and understanding when writing for an IEP. It is better to plan a format for documentation used in the IEP, such as for assessment and goal progress and that a rubric, in many ways, fulfills the need for consistency in documentation across all domains. Combining my interest in technology and documentation, I use Microsoft OneNote to maintain all documentation. I create a digital notebook for each student or patient with any forms required uploaded as templates which can then be completed, and saved automatically. I strongly believe in student centered approach to therapy. Students must be active participants in developing goals and documenting progress. In order to help students understand their progress, I teach my students to develop electronic portfolios and to use spreadsheet programming with graphs to collect data and view progress, whenever possible.