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Running Dictation Relay Race

June 30, 2011

Running Dictation is a review activity. Traditionally, language teachers have used this fast-paced team game to review a story. Students benefit from repeated exposure to information and to language, and so content area teachers will find this activity just as helpful as language teachers.

Running Dictation in a nutshell

In a Running Dictation, students are divided into teams and complete a relay race--one member RUNS to a specific location to read information, then RUNS back to the team to report it, where a secretary transcribes it.

A Running Dictation is typically used to review the events of a story, but it is extremely versatile and can truly be used with anything: definitions, descriptions, name it! There are many different roles that you can add and ways to extend the activity, and I encourage you to try all of them. As you read through these instructions, consider how you might adapt it to best suit your purposes!

Running Dictation is a review activity that gives students an opportunity to revisit content, stories, facts... anything!

This amazing activity came to me from Michele Whaley, who tells me that she learned it from Jason Fritze. As I first learned the game, it only consisted of two roles: a runner and a secretary. When using it with my students in the spring of 2013, my then-Intern Julia Stutzer added the role of the artist, and now I cannot imagine doing it without the illustration piece.

Plan your Running Dictation

If you're using Running Dictation to review a story

Typically, I begin by choosing a familiar story; one that our class has already created together. Break down the story into basic plot points; between five and eight is ideal. Each of the chunks should consist of one short sentence; something that could easily be read, remembered, and repeated. For example:

  • The boy goes to Walmart.
  • He buys a swimming pool.
  • He brings home the swimming pool.
  • He fills it with water.
  • His enemy comes to visit.
  • He slashes the side of the pool.
  • The water spills out.
  • The boy cries.

If you have a complicated story with many important details, I recommend either using just a portion of the story (ex: one scene from the story) OR using the most basic, main plot points and then extending the dictation with some of the ideas I describe later in the post.

If you're using Running Dictation to review a topic

If you are working with facts instead of a story, it might be something like this:

  • Cinco de Mayo means "May 5" in Spanish.
  • It is not Mexican Independence Day.
  • It is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla
  • when the Mexicans defeated the French!
  • It is not really celebrated in Mexico.
  • It is much more popular in the US.
  • It is a day to celebrate Mexican pride!

The sentences do not have to be related; it could be an assorted list of definitions, for example.

Set up your Running Dictation

1. Write your facts or events

Write or type each of the plot points on strips of paper. The text should be easy to read when standing at least an arm's length away (size 36 or larger if you type it).

2. Post the facts or events

Tape each piece of paper to a wall in your classroom or in the hallway, spread out and out of order. I like to use the hall, but only do this if you won't be disrupting other classes with the inevitable noise that arises. Once the events are scrambled on the wall, write a letter on each one (the letters should not correspond to the sequence of the events--they will help groups keep track of which posters they have already dictated).

3. Divide your class into teams

Each team should consist of no more than four students (unless you add additional roles). Groups of three are okay.

4. Distribute paper for transcriptions/illustrations

Give each group a stack of 1/4 sheets of computer paper (could be the back of scrap paper). Each group will need enough 1/4 sheets to have one per poster--if you posted 6 events, each group needs six-quarter sheets of paper. Each group will also need at least two writing utensils; if you want the artist to use color, they will need coloring supplies instead of or in addition to one of the writing utensils.

Some teachers prefer to give each team a single piece of paper with a grid on it, rather than separate sheets. I like having the 1/4 sheets so that the illustrator and the secretary can both be working at the same time, not having to pass the paper back and forth between each other.

4. Assign initial roles

Have each group choose the initial roles for each member. They will need a runner, a writer, an artist, and a cheerleader/editor. The students will take turns rotating through roles according to the posted order of rotation--see the image here with roles explained in English:

Running dictation roles should rotate each time that an event or fact transcription is completed. Learn more at

If a student in the group cannot run for any reason, that student should be the permanent secretary or artist while the other group members rotate through the other roles.


THE RUNNER runs from wherever the team is gathered to wherever the signs are posted. The runner READS one of them and memorizes it, then RUNS back to his or her team. The runner DICTATES the memorized information to his or her team for transcription. If the runner forgets anything (even spelling!), they must run back to the signs to REMIND themselves of what it was before running back to the team to continue transcription.

THE WRITER assigns a letter to the runner ("Go read "A"!"). He or she listens to the runner and transcribes what they precisely on one of the quarter sheets of paper. The writer should ask clarifying questions to guarantee accuracy--even spelling!

THE ARTIST takes the quarter sheet of paper from the writer once a transcription is finished (notice: this person will not have a job on the first round, and so should join the cheerleader!). On the same quarter sheet of paper, the artist should illustrate what the writer transcribed from the runner. Use color if possible! The artist can continue working through two rotations if necessary, until it is time for him or her to run.

THE CHEERLEADER cheers on all team members and checks for quality.

Now, get running!

Once you're set up, it's time to start your Running Dictation! Here's how to play:

  1. The team members take turns rotating through the roles. Roles change each time that a transcription of one of the posters that you placed in the hall (or at the other side of the room) is completed. Role responsibilities are outlined below.
  2. When all signs have been transcribed and illustrated, team members may have to complete an additional task (ex: put them in the correct order)--although not necessarily--and then present them to the teacher for approval.
  3. The teacher checks for accuracy and tells the group which of the papers contain errors and therefore need to be re-checked by running back out into the hall.
  4. The first team to receive teacher seal of approval wins!



In 2013, Julia Stutzer was Interning in my class, and she developed this awesome extension for running dictations! Now, I will never do a Running Dictation without this component (in fact, I added it to the above description).

Instead of having students transcribe the events of the story in a list on a single piece of paper (which is how I had always done a Running Dictation before Julia came along), she had the secretary write each event on a separate square of paper. After the secretary recorded it, he or she passed the paper to another student in the group (one that was not currently the runner) to illustrate. By doing so, she added another role to the activity and increased the level of engagement!

To put the events in order, students simply have to stack the papers in order (the first on top and last on the bottom). They can staple them and hand them in very easily, instead of trying to re-write the list or number them on the side.

The best part about this extension, however, is that you now have illustrations to use for any number of activities (see below).


Once all sentences have been transcribed, illustrated, and approved, have each team sequence their pictures.


After all groups have finished (or after you call time), have students add details and/or missing plot points. So that they have some direction, you could tell them to add details before or after the 3rd event or the 6th event, for example, so that they know which parts of the story you want them to add.


When you create your original sentences to post, leave out some of the words. As students dictate and transcribe the story, they work together as a team to make their best guess as to which words go in the blanks.


Use the pictures that the groups drew for more activities in future classes, or even for assessments (like Pick the Pic)!

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