Daily Dictation Sentences


I used to use Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) to teach many grammar and usage concepts to my students. I thought I used it pretty effectively, too. Then I started to hear rumblings that maybe this was not the best practice, but I didn’t really know why, so kept doing it but behind closed doors. Even though I didn’t feel that I was doing any severe damage to my students, if there was a better way I wanted to know what it was so I began researching this.

In a nutshell, here is what convinced me: If we want students to improve their use of conventions, we need to show them good models, not bad ones! It only makes sense. A common rebuttal to this argument is, “But don’t I also need to teach students to edit? Isn’t this just editing?” Yes, we do need to teach them to edit, but 1) First they need to understand how to use conventions, and “sentence fixing” exercises don’t teach this and 2) It’s way more engaging and effective to teach editing through students’ own writing.

One alternative to D.O.L. exercises is to use mentor sentences. You can read more about that here:

Another alternative is daily dictation sentences which I first saw a few years ago in a first grade classroom. Each day at the end of writing workshop students would quickly put away their writing folders and take out an individual white board and marker. The teacher would dictate a sentence and the students would write it.

As soon as they finished, they would hold up their boards, and the teacher immediately gave feedback and hadstudents make corrections. The sentences did not come from a teacher’s manual. Instead, as the teacher conferred with individual students during writing workshop, she made note of high-frequency words they were misspelling or punctuation they were omitting. Then she made up sentences containing those skills. She would insert quick microlessons as needed: “I noticed that many of you are remembering to use periods at the ends of your sentences. Remember, sometimes we need question marks or exclamation points. Think about how you want your reader to say this sentence to decide which you should use.”

I love this daily routine because:

  • It’s quick and doesn’t take extra planning time.
  • It is assessment-based and targets skills students need at that very moment.
  • It’s not a one-size-fits-all activity from a teacher’s manual or worksheet.
  • It takes conventions work into students’ own writing.
  • It helps students develop automaticity.
  • It gives students practice with both using and editing for conventions.

If you want to read more about grammar practices that work and those that don’t, check out these links:

Be sure to check out other posts in my series: Where’s the Grammar?!

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