Dec 17, 2011

Would you like it gift-wrapped?

Video dictogloss

A dictogloss is an integrated skills activity in which a teacher dictates a text at normal speed and students note down as much information as they can. Students then work in groups and try to reconstruct the original text.

In the video version of a dictogloss, students follow a particular character in a scene and note down all their lines. Then they work with another student in order to reconstruct the dialogue. For this activity I use a scene from Love Actually (2003). 


Option 1: Freeze Frame
Show students a short snippet of the clip and pause. Elicit where the scene takes place (jewellery section of a department store). Ask students what language they are likely to hear in this scene and tell them to write as many expressions, collocations and key words as they can think of, e.g.  “How can I help you?” “How much is it?” “Can I have it gift-wrapped please?” etc.

Option 2: Sound off
Play the whole scene without sound and do the same language elicitation task as above.

While watching 1
Watch the scene (with the Sound On) and check: students tick the expressions they hear. After watching the scene ask them to recall what other language they heard which they did not have in their lists. You can also discuss possible reasons why the customer was in a hurry and a little nervous - perhaps he wanted to surprise his wife or he was running late etc. (The real reason is that he was buying a necklace for his secretary)

While watching 2
Divide the class into groups of four, then further divide them into pairs. Assign a role to each pair: jewellery salesman or customer, i.e. each group should have 2 salesmen and 2 customers. Tell students they are going to watch the scene again and jot down all the lines said by their character. Warn the students that they will not be able to write down whole sentences word for word - this is not the aim of the activity. They should try to note down the key words. It’s important that all the students take notes but they should only focus on their character. 
After watching, students compare their notes with their partner (another student who followed the same character) and help each other reconstruct their character's lines. 

While watching 3
Play the scene again and tell students to add whatever they can to their notes and discuss it with their partner again to improve their drafts.
The watching part can be repeated as many times as necessary.

Repair students within their groups so that a jewellery salesman now works with a customer. They should now role-play the scene. Obviously, in order to do that, they will have to use a bit of imagination to make up any missing lines. When students have had a chance to rehearse in pairs, invite two volunteers to act out the scene in front of the whole class.

Post-watching 2 
If time permits, and if you’re using the original DVD of the film, you can watch the scene again with English subtitles on. Students can compare their dialogues with the original.

This activity is, of course, adaptable for other film scenes where two characters have more or less equal number of lines. Hotel and restaurant scenes or other customer/clerk situations generally work best as well as scenes with two characters having an argument. 

The dictogloss technique was originally proposed by Ruth Wajnryb (1990). Resource Books for Teachers: Grammar Dictation. Oxford: OUP

For more ready-made activities and ideas for Love Actually click HERE


  1. Hi Leo,

    Thanks to alerting me to this one. Like it a lot and thought it an excellent application of the dictogloss technique. Have just posted a link to it on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you'd like to check there for comments.

    Please feel free to post on the page whenever you have anything you'd like to share.



  2. Thanks, Ann

    I've seen it - lots of likes and shares :)

    Merry Christmas


  3. Just to say, I used it with an Advanced class yesterday and it worked a treat!

  4. Great activity! Very adaptable to different levels!

  5. I am glad to hear that, Ann. Do you normally teach Advanced levels or not only?

  6. Thank you, Naomi.
    Let me know if you get to use it and how it went.

  7. Really good, Leo. I'll let you know how it goes!

  8. Great activity. I wish I had seen this yesterday... We have started our Christmas holiday here in Spain.

  9. I've wanted to use this clip in class for some time now but never came up with any fun activities to go with it, thanx!

    1. I am glad you know what you can do with it now! Do let me know how it goes. Thank you for the comment.

  10. Great! I had a lesson last year with this scene ("Would you like it gift-wrapped"), and I plan to do it this year again. Thank you for the additional ideas!


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