Short Stories From a Distance: An Epic 1-Liner

A few weeks ago, I mentioned I wanted to briefly change directions with what I was writing about, and I’d like to start telling my audience a few quick stories about things I’ve found funny during the Distance Learning year; I think of it like a mini-series. 

Here’s the first installment of “Short Stories From a Distance”

There’s this really neat ELD (English Language Development) strategy that my awesome 5th grade team and I have been doing for a few years now. It’s called “Dictado”, which my Spanish-speaking audience members would recognize as “Dictation”.

As simple as it sounds, that’s basically what the strategy is: I read a short passage, the kids repeat it, and then they write it down. (My teammates would get a little frustrated at how I have made the strategy seem too simple and trivial, but they don’t read this blog, so we’re good).

We do this Dictado strategy every week, even through Distance Learning. It’s an activity that is very consistent, repeatable, and easy to execute. This makes it easy on students and easy on teachers. (Everyone loves a good ol’ win-win situation.)

Each new week, we have a new passage. It’s usually a topical paragraph of 60-70 words about a text we have read, a historical figure, an interesting animal, or even a grammatical concept. And on the first day of the dictation, I tell my kids the same things:

“This is the first time you’re hearing and writing this passage! It’s totally ok to get a few things wrong.”

“Dictado is all about improving through the week; if you miss anything today, try to get it right tomorrow!”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Day 1 is always the toughest.”

“I’m going to try to trick you! Do your best, but know that it’s pretty much impossible to get it all right on the first try.”

And I do try to trick my kids. We throw in exclamation points, quotations, hyphenated words, and sometimes we get fancy with a semicolon.

I also let kids know that I will NOT be impressed if they tell me they get a perfect score on the first chance, because it is designed to be tricky for even the best writers. There are hidden capitals, commas, and spelling words. Not impossible to get, but we intentionally put some teaching points in each passage.

So a few weeks ago, we begin another Dictado. It’s Day 1 boys and girls. May the odds be ever in your favor.

I read the new passage. Then I read it again and the kids repeat after me. Then I read a 3rd time, but slower, so the kids can repeat and write. Then I read a 4th time (boring for me, helpful for them), and they have a chance to make any corrections they see or hear.

Then the 5th read happens. And on the 5th read, the teacher writes (or in this case, types) out the dictation. Throughout the modeling, I’m doing a “think-aloud”, (which is just another way for us teachers to run our “neener-neener” mouths) in order to give kids pointers or tips for when we do this passage tomorrow.

Students are asked to correct their work with a red pen. (or a blue pen; or a black pen; or a red marker; or a pencil; or a colored pencil; or a crayon; or a sharpie. You know how it goes.) Revisions are made; students collectively cheer and moan as I type out the correct spellings and punctuations.

Some of my more engaged students are asking clarifying questions. Some of my less engaged students are watching YouTube.

After all the grading, students then type to me how many they got wrong. Again, the goal of Dictado is to improve as the week progresses. Most of the time, even my highest readers and strongest writers miss at least 3 words or capitals or punctuation marks on their first try. By the end of the week, my sharper students are proficient, but even they can’t get a perfect score on Day 1 of a Dictado passage.

The 5th read is over, so I ask my students to start messaging me privately how many they missed, just as a way for them to participate, as well as a way for me to gauge how difficult the passage was. Individual scores begin coming in privately via the chat. 

“4 Wrong”

“I missed 18 :(“


“Only 4!!”


“I had 5”

And then, my lowest reader types to me.

He’s been my typical Distance Learning student who knows there’s nothing I can do (outside of robust encouragement) to make him participate. He rarely answers questions, hates writing assignments, and struggles with any sort of out-loud reading.

He stays on Zoom calls 10 minutes after they’re done, not because he wants to learn more, but because he isn’t paying enough attention to know the meeting is over.

This student occasionally turns on his camera, but only to show me he’s really playing Minecraft or watching TV. (And honestly, I’d probably do the same thing as a 10 year-old being forced to be on a virtual, glitchy meeting for 5 hours of the day.)

Sure, he’s a selective learner, but hey! at least he’s typing to me! When I first saw that he had messaged me, I was pleasantly surprised to see he was participating. But then I looked a little closer. 

In all seriousness, he sent a response that will go down in the Dictado Hall of Fame: 

“0 rong”

I didn’t know what to say. I was derailed for a few seconds, evaluating how/if I should respond. I ended up not addressing it in class, but told my 5th grade team the next opportunity I had; I also knew it had to be the first installment for Short Stories From a Distance.


2 thoughts on “Short Stories From a Distance: An Epic 1-Liner

  1. This is an interesting idea to me. Where do you get the material – just write it each week or pull from a grade-level source?


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