Introducing the readogloss – by Anthony Ash

Many of you will be well acquainted with the fabulous ELT activity of dictogloss – if you’re not, then you can read more about it here.

Dictoglossing has become so popular in the ELT classroom that it is now a verb: to dictogloss a text. Yet, it isn’t a recent phenomenon, as it has been around for quite sometime – Thornbury made reference to it in an article in the ELT Journal way back in 1997.

However, this post wants to take the traditional dictogloss one step further and introduce  a slightly altered concept, termed the readogloss.

Background Information

A dictogloss can come in many shapes and forms. Regardless of how you set it up, there are many reasons why a dictogloss is an excellent activity for language learners. However, the benefit which stands out most is the fact that it promotes the cognitive processing of language: through this activity, learners are encouraged to “notice” salient features of language, be that grammatical forms, lexical items or discourse markers (Thornbury 1997).

Due to its nature, a dictogloss requires a multi-skilled approach: learners have to listen, take notes, write and speak with their partner. For some learners, this approach might be quite pressurizing, but it is generally well regarded, as it reflects real life communication, where several skills are employed simultaneously.

A readogloss encourages noticing and it also makes use of a multi-skilled approach. The difference between a dictogloss and a readogloss lies in the fact that the latter is based more on reading than listening.

Running a Readogloss

Like with a dictogloss, you take a text which you want to use with your learners. It might be a good idea to go for a text which is rich in the target language you want them to notice, be it a specific grammar point or a particular set of lexical items.

Unlike a dictogloss, you don’t read the text aloud. Instead, you give it to the learners to read with a gist activity.

Then, just like with a dictogloss, you ask them to find and highlight/underline keywords. How you go about this will depend on you and your learners. I usually ask mine to highlight all of the important nouns, which carry the meaning of the text, and then I get them to do the same with the verbs. You could equally ask them to highlight the main ideas in the text or leave the type of words they highlight to their own discretion.

Either way, by this stage the learners should have processed the main ideas of the text and have the key words/ideas highlighted. Now with a partner, get the learners to transfer what they have highlighted to a sheet of paper. Once they have finished, hide the text or take it away.

Now, using what they have got, the learners have to rebuild the text as closely as they can to the original. Point out the fact that you aren’t looking for a carbon copy but getting it as close to the original is the aim. With teens you could even gamify this, with the winning being the one which is closest to the original.

Rounding it off

Given that the underlying aim of this type of activity is to encourage noticing, it is important that the learners compare what they have produced with the original text. While doing this, they should be encouraged to notice the gap between the original text and their version.

If the text was chosen because it is particularly salient in a specific feature of language, such as a tense or discourse markers, then you might want to encourage the learners to notice this. If there is a significant gap between the learner’s version and the original in terms of the target language, then a language lesson on that topic might be worth considering.

Why a Readogloss?

As the dictogloss is such a successful ELT activity, it begs the question: Why change it?

I have recently tried dictoglossing texts with several groups of advanced learners, and the results have been poor: they were resistant to the idea, didn’t see the point of it and did a half-hearted job. Although I kept trying, the activity simply kept failing. So, with the hope that an altered version might work, I came up with the readogloss and tested it out – it worked wonders and was received much better. The learners were much more engaged and made a bigger effort.

So, if you want to try something different or if your learners aren’t responding well to dictoglossing, then give a readogloss a try and let me know how it went with a comment below.

Step by Step Guide

For ease of reference, here is a bullet-point step by step guide:

  1. Choose a text relevant to your learners
  2. Learners read the text once while completing a gist activity
  3. Learners highlight the key words/ideas in the text
  4. In pairs or groups, learners transfer what they have highlighted to a sheet of paper
  5. Learners reproduce the text based on their notes
  6. Learners compare their version with the original and notice the difference

Anthony Ash

Anthony Ash is currently an Assistant Director of Studies at IH Buenos Aires involved in Teacher Training and Development. He has taught adults and Young Learners general English and Business English in Dresden (Germany), Oxford (UK) and Poznan / Torun (Poland). This article first appeared on his ELT Blog and we’d like to thank him for giving permission to reproduce it here.


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