Actively engage all students with running dictations--designed for language classes but adaptable for all content areas! Learn more at

Running Dictation Relay Race

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, facts…you 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!

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.


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 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!

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


  1. 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. 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 groups of no more than four students. Groups of three are okay.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 (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.)Running dictation roles should rotate each time that an event or fact transcription is completed. Learn more at
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. The first team to receive teacher seal of approval wins!


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.

  • Have students sequence the pictures
  • Once all groups have finished (or you call time), have students add details and/or missing plot points. So that they have some direction, you could tell them that #3, #6, and #8 are missing, for example, so that they know which parts of the story you want them to add.
  • Leave out some of the words in the plot points that you post, so that students have to fill in the blanks as they transcribe the story.
  • Use the pictures that the groups drew for more activities in future classes, or even for assessments!
A running dictation is a popular activity in world language classes that can be adapted for any subject area. Learn more at
Actively engage all students with running dictations--designed for language classes but adaptable for all content areas! Learn more at

50 thoughts on “Running Dictation Relay Race

  1. MJ says:

    Martina, this is a great twist on Jason Fritze’s invention of “Running Dictation.”

    I love the part where the kids have to put these in order, as well as the extensions.

  2. mpeto says:

    I have to say, sometimes I am really thick! I have seen this activity before, I even participated in a variation last weekend… but I didn´t really “get it” until I read your extension with the pictures. Before I just saw students memorizing snippets of text without showing comprehension, but the quick illustrations are brilliant.

    I´m going to use this tomorrow!

  3. A.Ameduri says:

    tried this. and LOOOOOVED this! My students were so enthused and speaking so much Spanish! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Emily Y. says:

    I tried this with my class today with the “illustrations extension” and the students were super engaged. I also put the plot points in different places outside the building so that students had to go find them and run around a bit. It was a great way to keep a bunch of restless students on task!

  5. SenoraChase says:

    Another variation that I use in my class… I have the story typed up on a single piece of paper and they students work in pairs. Both run and write. Partner A is ready with a paper and pencil. Partner B runs to the story, memorizes as much as he can, runs to partner A and dictates it while Partner A writes it down. Then Partner A passes the paper and pencil to Partner B, and Partner A runs to the story. Partner A has to read and figure out where Partner B left off, memorize as much as she can, then run back to Partner B to dictate it. Then Partner A takes the paper, Partner B runs to the story…
    This way they’re both reading and re-reading to figure out where the last person left off.

  6. Angelica says:

    One of the things I do so all students practice reading, writing, listening and speaking is just to rotate the roles. I love this activity.

  7. Emily says:

    Do you do this before you have them volleyball read a story or after? Or is there not any volleyball reading just seeing what they can rememeber? Is all the vocab new or some old? Sorry! I’m trying to be more CI and I still have so many questions! Thank you!

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