Integrating DOGME into your teaching

Do you sometimes feel that your teaching is stuck in a rut? Do you think you are ready to become less dependent on teaching materials and more responsive to emerging learner needs. If most of your answers ‘yes’, you are likely to be ready to run ‘conversation-driven’ lessons to trigger learning process by making use of learners’ contributions and focus on emergent language.

Dogme is a set of principles that have been developed by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, which they presented in a variety of articles, blog posts and their book ‘Teaching Unplugged’. The idea is to run lessons by trying to notice what learners can produce, what they need to know and attract their attention to relevant linguistic points.

The key principles can be summarised as following:

  • Interactivity between the teacher and learners leads to co-construction of knowledge.
  • The most engaging material will come from the learners themselves.
  • Language is not acquired. It emerges organically given the right conditions.
  • If materials are used, they should have relevance for the learners.
  • The teacher’s role is to draw attention to features of emergent language and “optimize learning affordances.”

Planning such a lesson may be tricky as learners might be reluctant to participate in some tasks, they may work at an unpredictable pace, some learners may dominate and extend teacher wait-time or teachers may not recognise the right time to exploit emergent language.

However, there are a whole host of reasons for ‘unplugging’ the learner as a resource. First, teachers who use elements of Dogme are trying to use a variety of ways to initiate learner talk and engage the learners in a variety of meaningful activities. Teachers can act as a facilitator scaffolding learning and helping learners express their ideas and use the target language in a creative way. Finally, it can boost confidence as the teachers will develop teaching skills for coping with unknown.

Some tips for teachers who want to experiment with Dogme lessons

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out activities like guessing games, poster making, a variety of dictations, mind maps, task-based activities, role plays and learner-created tasks.

Be ready to respond to different types of content, language areas such as grammar or functional language, pronunciation or aspects related to meaning, issues of cohesion and discourse features.

Reflect on your teaching experience and help your learners reflect on their learning experience.

Involve them into lesson planning and making informed choices.

Work on building learning strategies, plan how to recycle and reinforce learning.

I gave a seminar, which is our monthly routine at BKC IH Moscow on 18 May 2019. The teachers were keen to find out how to teach without either materials or preparing at all. Unfortunately, this is not the case. To be able to run a series of Dogme lessons teachers have to think how to shape these lessons, choose relevant materials (yes, it does not have to be material-free!), anticipate problems and be ready to scaffold the students’ discussion, build on the conversation and help them notice, learn and extend their language, which is obviously not easy as it requires determination and the ability to stay tuned.

I was glad our teachers were really involved in a variety of activities and we worked out some principles that hopefully will help us run lessons in a smart way.

My slides from this seminar that I gave are available here.

References and useful resources

Meddings, L. Thornbury, S. (2009) Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Surrey: Delta Publishing.

Rebuffet-Broadus, C. Wright, J. (2013) Experimental practice in ELT: Walk on the wild side. Smashwords Edition.

Hugh Dellar’s blog

British Council article