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Transcribing a Text


In this activity, students listen to an audio text and attempt to transcribe it into written form.  This activity encourages students to listen closely and to notice the details of a text, such as sentence structure and word choice.  It also guides students to think carefully about text conventions such as paragraph indents, punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks, and to consider how these elements contribute to meaning and reflect sound. It is important to note that when completing this activity, students are not creating an ”on-demand” transcription, but should have the opportunity to listen, stop, and re-listen to the text as often as needed to create an accurate transcript.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Inferring
  • Synthesizing
Listening Comprehension

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation

Content Areas 

  • ELA

Learning Strands 

  • Listening

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Staircase of Complexity


  • Identify the audio text that you want students to listen to. You will generally want to choose a text that is somehow complex or challenging.  Poems, or texts with a lot of dialogue or long and complex sentence structures, can be particularly interesting. 
  • Determine how students will listen to the audio text, and make sure that you have the necessary technology available.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher describes the task, and briefly models listening to a line of a text and transcribing it, using the technology that students will be using. Teacher briefly review the features that students will need to be aware of, such as punctuation, capitali

    As you model, think aloud about any aspects of the transcription that might be tricky for the students, such as disambiguating homophones or determining punctuation.    

  2. Individually, students listen to the audio text and transcribe it into written form.
    Circulate as students are working, asking them about what they are noticing and thinking.
    Encourage students to back up and re-listen to the text frequently. 
  3. When students have completed their individual transcriptions, they get into pairs and compare their individual transcriptions. They notice and discuss any differences.
    Circulate as students are working and help them to clarify their thinking and notice any differences in transcriptions.
    Encourage students to listen to all or part of the audio text as they are looking over their transcriptions.
  4. Teacher distributes the original printed version of the text to each pair of students. Pairs compare their transcriptions with the original.

    Circulate as students are working, asking them about their thinking and helping to clarify any confusion.

  5. In pairs or individually, students write a paragraph identifying one to three differences between their transcription and the original, explaining how these differences might contribute to difference in meaning, and explaining how and why they arrived at
    As you circulate, ask students to tell you what they notice and to describe their thinking.  Offer additional suggestions and help guide them towards a deeper understanding of how subtle differences affect meaning.
    This activity is often most interesting with texts that are particularly challenging, and texts that use formal aspects of writing in an unusual way.  For example, you might select a poem with unusual line breaks, or one that doesn’t use punctuation or capitalization, or you could select a poem that sounds like it would include line breaks but that is written as a block of text.  You can also select a text with long, unusual, and challenging sentence structures (Proust and Joyce are prime examples for advanced students), or a narrative that doesn’t represent dialogue in a traditional way.  If you select such a text, then there are bound to be discrepancies between a student’s transcription and the original, which can then be the topic of conversation.
  6. Students reflect on their learning alone or individually, orally or in writing.
    Students should respond to questions including:
    How are writing mechanics and writing form related to meaning? 
    How did this activity affect your understanding of this relationship?
    What is hard about transcription?  Why is it hard?
    How did this activity affect your understanding of the text?
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