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Audacity or Sound Recorder: Dictations

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Computer(s), speakers/headphones, audio recording software, USB headset (for instructor)

Activity Description

Use the free audio editing software Audacity or the Sound Recorder available on Windows operating systems to make audio recordings for dictation exercises that students can listen to, repeat as needed, and complete at their own pace. In order to complete this activity using Audacity, you would need to have "administrative rights" (on the computer you use to do your recording), to download and install software. Or you will need to have your tech people do this in advance. (Snacks for the techs are always a motivator. :-) Otherwise, use the internal Sound Recorder on Windows computers will work fine too.


  1. Plan the words, sentences, or paragraph you will record for the student listening dictation exercise based on your students’ level, course content (topic, vocabulary, grammar structure), and course outcomes. If you need some text, try this site created by an ESL teacher that has short stories (lots of ads to avoid but decent text) . You could record something similar, using your own location or interests to complete the information.
  2. To use Audacity, download it  and familiarize yourself with how to use the program by reading the Audacity tutorials  or view and print the Example Document (above) titled Simple Audacity Directions as needed.
  3. Using a built-in microphone (on a laptop) or USB headset (with microphone), follow the directions for recording your voice and saving the audio file.
  4. Export the audio file as an mp3 file so that it will be more accessible on more types of computer systems and mobile devices (rather than as a wav file). In order to be able to export audio files created on Audacity to mp3 files, you will need to download the LAME mp3 encoder. Instructions on downloading and installing  the LAME encoder.)
  5. If you use the Sound Recorder on Windows computers, locate it on the menu under Accessories and familiarize yourself with it. See the following links: Windows 7 sound recorder , Wikihow Using Sound Recorder , Windows 8 Sound Recorder App .
  6. Test the audio file on the computer(s) students will use to make sure that there is an audio player installed.
  7. Decide how you will share the audio file with students (have it pre-loaded on the computers’ desktops, share via e-mail as an attachment, upload to a class Web site or Course Management System such as Moodle, or create an account and upload the audio file to a file sharing Web site such as Google Drive , Dropbox , or Box  and share the URL [Web address] for the file with students for downloading).


  1. Once you have planned the dictation exercise with an answer key, record your voice reading the text with pauses between sections that will give students time to transcribe what they hear.
  2. Share the file with students and show them how to download and listen to the file on the computer or mobile devices, using speakers or headphones as needed.
  3. Explain to students how to pause, stop, rewind, and replay the file using the media player on the computer or device they are using.
  4. Have students complete the dictation task. When they finish, you can check their work or have students compare their transcriptions in pairs or small groups, and then you could have them listen again to parts they heard and/or transcribed incorrectly. You could also have students check their own transcriptions using a key you provide.

Teacher Tips

  • Some file sharing sites have apps, so students could alternatively listen to the audio file on their cell phones or tablets.
  • There is a listening activity PDF file above, that you could do. Email students the file and have the listen and follow the instructions.

More Ways

  • If teaching EL Civics units or Citizenship, in which students need to answer questions (such as government and history questions for the Citizenship interview), you could create an audio recording of the questions which students need to transcribe.
  • As a follow-up, students could write their answers (and optionally use the audio recording programs to record themselves reading their answers for oral practice).
  • You could also record lectures and create outlines for higher level ESL students to complete by taking notes.
  • Other types of listening activities to create with audio files are the following:
    • listening to sentences to determine verb tense (present, past, future)
    • listening to dialogs to determine speakers and their relationships, intention or purposes of the conversation, situation, etc.
    • listening to a lecture or short story to answer main idea, supporting detail, information, inference, and other questions about the passage
    • listening cloze exercises
  • Additionally, you could create pronunciation practice passages for students to listen to and repeat in order to practice oral skills (phonemes, stress, intonation, etc.)
  • For more ways to use dictations, read through these at



  • Beginning Literacy
  • Beginning Low
  • Beginning High
  • Intermediate Low
  • Intermediate High
  • Advanced
  • All Levels


Basic Communication

  • (0.1) Communicate in interpersonal interactions

Basic Communication

  • (2.1) Use the telephone and similar communication systems

Basic Communication

  • (4.6) Communicate effectively in the workplace

Basic Communication

  • (5.6) Understand civic responsibilities and activities

Basic Communication

  • (7.3) Demonstrate ability to use problem-solving skills
  • (7.4) Demonstrate study skills
  • (7.7) Demonstrate the ability to use information and communication technology
  • (7.1) Identify or demonstrate effective skills and practices in accomplishing goals
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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN200091-A2 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.