Picasso and the art of dictation

September 16, 2011


When I wrote about dictation I suggested that whilst dictation in the past may have had a bad press there are ways in which it can be done which can be more engaging.

One way is to do a “Picasso dictation” whereby the pupils show their understanding of what they have heard not by reproducing the text but by drawing a picture.  This can start as a whole class activity with the teacher describing a picture, e.g:

  • Dessinez un grand rectangle horizontal.
  • Divisez le rectangle en trois bandes égales verticales.
  • La bande verticale à gauche est verte, la bande verticale à droite est rouge et la bande au milieu est jaune.
  • Il y a une étoile jaune au milieu de la bande jaune.

At the end of this the teacher shows the picture of what has been dictated (in this case the Senegalese flag) so that the pupils can check whether they have understood correctly

This particular example is linked to a unit of work looking at countries, flags and international events and can be preceded by a collective memory exercise to teach the core high frequency vocabulary needed to be able to describe flags e.g. à gauche/droite, au centre/milieu, en haut/bas etc and the shapes that can be found in flags e.g. un carré, une bande verticale/horizontale, une étoile etc.

In a collective memory exercise the pupils work in groups.

  1. Each group has an unannotated plan or image.
  2. One member of each group comes up to the front of the class and is shown the annotated  image/plan.  He/she studies it for a short period (e.g. 10/20/30 seconds) and tries to memorise as much as possible.
  3. He/she returns to the group and dictates/spells out the words he/she can remember and where they are located on the plan.
  4. The next member of the group comes up and stages 2 and 3 are repeated until the group has managed to replicate the image/plan that the teacher has.
  5. They then discuss the strategies they used to complete the task.

Once the pupils have some sort of grasp of this core vocabulary they are ready to do a Picasso dictation which then can lead on to pupils “dictating” descriptions of a flag or other image to his/her partner.

Any image (photograph/painting etc) can be used as a stimulus for Picasso dictation but there are some which have the scope to introduce some intercultural understanding to a topic such as “ma chambre”, “ma ville” as well e.g. Van Gogh’s room in Arles, Monet’s Rue Montorgueil, Matisse’s Ma chambre à BeaurivageThere is also scope for pupils be creative and to describe images they themselves have produced/photographed.

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