Back to the Future: More Low-Tech Activities for a
High-Tech Classroom

2013_Heyer_SandraSandra Heyer

In a previous newsletter, I described my state-of-the-art classroom and its hidden drawback: It was making my students and me a little lazy. I was glued to a high-tech console, and my students were glued to the seats of their sleek gliding desks. Concerned that our sedentary class-style might have a detrimental effect on our health, I looked for a remedy.

Fortunately, the problem caused by technology had an easy low-tech solution: simple interactive activities that got us out of our seats and moving around. We took a look at two activities, the Moving Line and Conversation Stations. In this article, let’s consider the Walking Dictation and Find Your Match.

Activity 3: Walking Dictation (also called Messenger and Scribe)
Levels: All

Almost any text suitable for dictation can be the basis of a walking dictation. Because students do this activity independently, it is best to choose a text that is a little less challenging than one you might dictate yourself. During a walking dictation, half of the students are out of their seats at any given time.

  1. Number each sentence in the text to be dictated. Then post the text on a wall in the classroom or outside in the hallway. (If you have a large class, you will need to post more than one copy.) Alternately, you could scatter single numbered sentences on walls around the room.SH_5
  2. Students pair up. Student A stays seated. Student B walks to where the text is posted and memorizes a sentence.
  3. Student B returns to Student A and recites the sentence. Student A writes it down.SH_6.
  4. Halfway through the activity, students switch roles.
  5. Write the text on the board or project it on a screen so that students can check their writing.

 Variation: Reader-Messenger-Scribe. Post the text in the hallway outside the classroom. The reader memorizes a sentence and recites it to the messenger, who stands at the door of the classroom. The messenger recites it to the scribe, who writes it down. This variation gets two-thirds of the class up and out of their seats at any given time.

Tip: Before beginning the activity, review helpful phrases such as Please say that again and How do you spell ____?

Examples of Texts for a Walking Dictation

A. Beginning Level: Dictating a joke

The Perfect Son

  1. A woman has a perfect son.
  2. Her son doesn’t smoke.
  3. He doesn’t drink whiskey.
  4. He never comes home late.
  5. He loves his mother.
  6. Today is his birthday.
  7. He is one year old.

The Birthday Present

  1. A rich woman sends her mother a birthday present.
  2. It is an expensive bird.
  3. The bird can sing.
  4. It can speak seven languages.
  5. It costs $50,000.
  6. The next day the woman texts her mother.
  7. How do you like the bird?
  8. Her mother texts her back.
  9. I’m eating it right now. It’s delicious!

B. Beginning Level: Dictating a story to solve

  1. Two mothers and two daughters are artists.
  2. One day they painted together.
  3. Each woman painted one picture.
  4. At the end of the day, they were happy.
  5. They had three beautiful pictures.
  6. Why did the women have only three pictures?
  7. There were only three women.
  8. They were a grandmother, her daughter, and her granddaughter.

Tip: There are many versions of this story. For example, two fathers and two sons each catch one fish, for a total of three. Or two mothers and two daughters each eat one hamburger, for a total of three. Feel free to invent your own version.

C. High-Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Levels: Dictating song phrases

1. Prepare a song lyrics worksheet by deleting about eight phrases from a song and replacing them with blanks for writing. For example, from the song “Sound of Sunshine” by Michael Franti you might delete these phrases

    • it’s six o’clock
    • but the sun is hot
    • where I learned to swim
    • this storm to pass me by
    • but not my friends
    • where the summer never ends
    • like suntan lotion
    • relax your feet

2. Number the phrases in random order (that is, not in the order in which they appear in the song) and post them on the walls around the room.

3. Divide students into small groups, and distribute the worksheet.

4. Play the song once; students follow along with the worksheet.

5. One student from each group (the messenger) goes up to a phrase on the wall, memorizes it, and recites it to the group members, who write the phrase down on their own paper (not in the blanks on the worksheet). The messenger keeps going back to the wall, memorizing phrases, and reciting them to the group until all the phrases are dictated. (Students take turns being the messenger.)

 6. When the dictation activity is complete, write the phrases on the board or project them on a screen so that students can check their writing.

 7. Play the song a few times while students fill in the blanks with the missing phrases.

Tip: There is a story behind the song “Sound of Sunshine.” You will find the story, written at the high-beginning level, at http://sandraheyersongs.com/songs/list-of-songs/. The story is with Teaching Tip #2 under the “Sunshine” theme. Permission is granted to reproduce the story for classroom use.

Activity 4: Find Your Match
Levels: All  

This activity gets the whole class up and moving around the classroom as students try to find matching cards.

  1. Make two sets of cards with information that is linked in some way. You will need colored paper or colored index cards so that the two sets are contrasting colors. Be sure that each card in set 1 has only one logical match in set 2.
  1. Distribute the cards in set 1 to one half of the class and set 2 to the other half. Give one card to each student; put leftover cards aside. Clarify the meaning of unknown words.
  1. Students mingle with classmates who are holding cards of a contrasting color until they find a match.SH_7
  1. When students find a match, they confirm the match with the teacher and then walk to the front of the room with their partner. (Or they can “freeze” in place with their partner.) In pairs, students read their cards aloud to the class.SH_8

Variation: Scatter the cards on a table. Students stand around the table and work collaboratively to make matches.

Examples of Linked Information for Find Your Match

    • words / definitions
    • words / pictures
    • words (three words on each card) / categories
    • words / opposites
    • verbs in their infinitive forms / past-tense forms
    • questions / answers
    • sentences with words missing / the missing words
    • sentence beginnings / sentence endings


  1. A quick way to make cards is to use word processing software to put the information into tables with gridlines: Put set 1 in one table, and set 2 in another table. Then print out the two sets on contrasting paper and cut along the lines.
  2. Students can make the cards themselves using information about their home countries. They write a question on one index card and the answer on a card of a contrasting color. For example:

Q: What are the colors of Burkina Faso’s flag?
A: green, red, and yellow

Q: What is the city of Berat, Albania famous for?
A: It is called the town of a thousand and one windows.

You can find more jokes like the ones in Walking Dictation on the Internet TESL Journal (http://iteslj.org/c/jokes.html) and in the textbook Just Joking: Stories for Listening and Discussion by Sandra Heyer, published by Pearson Education and available through the ELT online store.

Thanks to: Taylor, a teacher in Japan, who posted the sequence of steps for the song lyrics dictation at Pacificloons.com.


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