Dictation with Ben, Aged 7 (an Actual Session)

An actual and frustrating example of homeschooling dictation practice.

provided by Ben (aged 7)
and Susan (aged 33 and learning more patience every day)

Ben is doing dictation from Phonics Pathways to improve his spelling.

SUSAN (holding a copy of Phonics Pathways): Ben, look at your paper.  Now listen to the sentence.  “Ben held his pet pig, Gus.  Gus is just a big, fat lump.”
BEN (falls off his chair laughing)
SUSAN: Get back on the chair.  Where’s your pencil?  Are you ready now?
BEN: Does it really say “Ben?”
SUSAN: Yes, it does.
BEN: Can I see?
SUSAN: After you write the sentences.
BEN: I forgot what they were.
SUSAN: “Ben held his pet pig, Gus.  Gus is just a big, fat lump.”
BEN: If I had a pet pig, I would name it Fuzzy.
SUSAN: What is the first word you’re going to write?
BEN: “Ben.”
SUSAN: Go ahead and write it.  (Ben begins to write a small b.)  What kind of letter do we use at the beginning of a sentence?
BEN:  Oh.  A capital.  (He erases the small b and writes a large B, e, n.)  What’s the next word?
SUSAN: Ben held his pet pig, Gus.
BEN: How do you spell “held”?
SUSAN:  What’s the first letter?
BEN (makes huffing noises): H.  (He writes it right after the “n.”)
SUSAN: Did you leave a pencil-wide space between the words?
BEN: Oops.  No.  (He erases the h and writes it halfway across the page.  Susan decides not to correct this.)  What comes next?
SUSAN: You tell me.
BEN:  Eh, eh, eh.  El, el, el.  (He writes e, l).  Duh, duh, duh.  Which way does a d go?
SUSAN: Straight line down, make the loop towards the living room.
BEN: OK.  (He finishes the word.)  Now what?
SUSAN: Do you remember the sentence?
BEN: Can you really have a pet pig?
SUSAN: Asian potbellied pigs can be pets.
BEN:  What are they?
SUSAN: You saw them at the petting zoo.  They have stomachs that hang all the way down to the ground, and you can teach them to – Let’s finish this sentence, Ben, or we’ll never be done.  “Ben held his pet pig, Gus.”
BEN: I would name it Fuzzy.
SUSAN (voice slightly louder): Write “his pet pig.”  (Ben writes “his pet” and makes the p backwards.)  That’s a q.
BEN: There’s so much to remember!  (He erases the backwards p and writes it correctly.)  I forgot the next word.
SUSAN: Read your sentence so far.
BEN: “Ben held his pet…” Pig!  (He writes “pig.”)
SUSAN: What was the pig’s name?
BEN: Gus!
SUSAN: Write “Gus.”  Don’t forget to leave a space between your words.
BEN: How do you spell “Gus”?
SUSAN: What’s the first letter?
BEN:  G, G, G.  (He starts to write a small g.)
SUSAN: What do you do to names?  (Ben looks blank.)  What kind of letter do you use at the beginning of a name?
BEN: A capital letter.  I forgot again.  (He erases the small g and writes a capital G instead.)  What’s the next letter?
SUSAN: Sound it out.
BEN: Uh, uh, uh.  A u.  And then an s.  (He finishes the word.)  Am I done yet?
SUSAN: No, you have another sentence.  And you’re not done with this one.  What goes at the end of a sentence?
BEN: A period.  (He adds it.)
SUSAN: There’s something else too.  Listen to me read it again.  “Ben held his pet pig…[long pause] Gus.”  (Ben looks puzzled.)  Do you hear the pause between “pig” and “Gus”?
BEN: Uh-huh.
SUSAN: Do you remember what punctuation mark we put into a sentence to show that there’s a pause between two words?  (Long silence.)
BEN: (eventually) What’s that thing called that goes up here?  (He makes little dots at the top of the line he’s writing on.)  A catastrophe?
SUSAN: An apostrophe.
BEN: Yes, one of those.
SUSAN: No, that’s not it.  (Another long silence.)  A comma is what you need.
BEN: Oh, right.   (He very carefully draws an extremely dark comma between “pet” and “pig.”)
SUSAN: That’s a great comma, but it’s in the wrong place.   Listen.  “Ben held his pet pig…Gus.”  Where’s the pause?
BEN: Oh.  After “pig.”  (He erases the comma and writes it in the right place.)  Now am I finished?
SUSAN: No, you have one more sentence.
BEN: But it’s so looong.
SUSAN: As soon as you write the next sentence, you can have a break.
BEN: What is the next sentence?
SUSAN: “Gus is just a big, fat lump.”


BEN: Now am I done?
SUSAN: You did a great job.  Take a little break.
BEN: Woo-hoo!  Woo-hoo!  I’m done dictation!  I’m done dictation!  (Dances away to play with Legos.  Susan eats chocolate chips straight from the bag as preparation for the next subject.)

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Susan Wise Bauer

Susan Wise Bauer is an educator, writer, and historian. She is the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (now in its fourth edition), and the author of (among others) The Well- Educated Mind, The Story of Western Science, the Story of the World series, the History of the World series, the elementary series Writing With Ease, and the pre-rhetoric series Writing With Skill. Susan was home educated through high school and has taught all four of her children at home. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English language and literature, an M.Div., and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she taught writing and literature for over fifteen years.