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Horse race dictation

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This is an activity in which students try to predict the order of words in a jumbled sentence before listening for the answer, in the form of a horse race. Choose a sentence and write words on the left of the board, in random order, as in the example below. You also need to prepare a commentary, which should be challenging enough to make it interesting but not too difficult. In the example below there is only one major change in order, ‘when’, and other minor changes during the race.


They’re off! ‘I’ has made a strong start, with ’finally’ close behind, and ‘home’ and ‘got’ following. ‘When’ is at the back, ‘eleven’ and ‘o’clock’ are just ahead. ‘Was’ and ‘it’ are in the middle of the field and ‘it’ has just passed ‘was’. Both are ahead of ‘eleven’ and ‘o’clock’. and ‘when’ is coming from behind fast, passing ‘eleven’ and ‘o’clock’, and look at him go! He has passed ‘finally’ and is now passing ‘I’, and into the lead. They’re coming to the finish line, what an incredible finish! It’s ‘When’ first, ‘I’ second, ‘ finally’ third, ‘got’ beats ‘home’ to finish fourth, with ‘o’clock’ coming last.

The answer: When I finally got home it was eleven o’clock

Make sure students are familiar with words showing order, eg first, second, last, at the back, following, ahead, in(to) the lead, behind. Tell the students to imagine that the words are horses who are going to race to the other side of the board. The winner will be the first word in the sentence, the second to finish will be the second word and so on. Ask them to choose the word that they think will be the winner and write it down, then tell them to compare their predictions in groups. Say they are going to hear a horse race commentary and that they have to listen carefully to find the winner and the order of words. They can make notes during the commentary and should write the sentence at the end. Read the commentary, stressing the words in quotation marks to differentiate them from the other words. Note that commentaries are spoken fast in real life, so read it fairly quickly the first time. Check the answers. You may need to read it more than once for the class to agree. Ask who predicted the winner correctly.

Simon Mumford

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