Dogme: A teacher’s view

An old but relevant Dogme post. A useful insight into what a Dogme class might look like.

Follow this link – Dogme: A teacher’s view


Dogme with False Beginners?

ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

As I participated in the most recent #eltchat I realized that I haven’t had much experience with beginners in the last few years. The topic of the week was focused  on “False Beginners” and it brought me back to a previous teaching job. (Here is a summary of the chat

For reasons that were never completely clear to me I decided to take a job teaching employees of a major South Korean shipbuilding company in early 2005. Since I was the youngest and least qualified (the only one without an MA) I was assigned to teach the beginner’s class. (The reasoning behind this decision is another thing that has never completely clear to me either.) I think my students were about as close to real beginners as you could find in South Korea in this day and age. I will never forget Mr. Kim telling me on the first…

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Dogme through the students’ eyes – Part Six – Implications for teachers

Implications for teachers

  1. The importance of genuinely involving students and creating conditions for authentic interactivity

In language class, we as teachers want to give our students opportunities for real communication in the target language. Often we find the “personalization” activities in many course books hint at this, yet somehow fall short. Learners do these activities, but often, provide little beyond minimum output to complete the task.

Yet Dörnyei reminds us to “Find out what [our] students’ goals are and what topics they want to learn about, then build these into your curriculum as much as possible,” (2001: 63). If students are genuinely interested in something, they will want to talk about it. Asking students what they want to learn (and really listening) shows the teacher accepts students’ interests as valid. At the same time, it empowers students to make decisions about their learning, which becomes a collaborative process between all present.

Teachers may ask students to prepare a short presentation on a topic of interest and use those as lesson catalysts. If subjects are imposed by the school, a mandatory course book, etc., teachers can ask students their opinions on the topics or what they would like to know about them and build the lesson from there. The key idea here is to allow students to drive their learning.

  1. Balancing focus-on-form activities with focus-on-fluency activities

While many learners come to English class to practice speaking English, it must not be forgotten that they do not come only to speak. Learners expect many things from their class—opportunities to build fluency, help learning new vocabulary, pronunciation practice, error correction, grammar explanations, and sometimes more.

A study carried out by Ollerhead and Oosthuizen (2005) found that groups of learners who received form-focused activities and explicit error correction in addition to fluency activities outperformed groups of learners who only focused on meaning in terms of both accuracy and fluency. They pointed out though that this focus on form came “within a relevant, communicative context,” (Ollerhead and Oosthuizen 2005: 81) not in isolated grammar exercises.

In placing learning in a conversation-driven context, Dogme provides the relevancy that makes focus on form meaningful. Teachers must not be afraid to incorporate various forms of explicit study into class sessions at various points in the learning process. In his practical article “Why Study Language?” (1999), Jeremy Harmer provides several ways of doing so, all the while varying the form of study, as do Meddings & Thornbury in Teaching Unplugged.

  1. 3.       Careful pacing to avoid slowness

Hess underlines the importance of pacing, noting that “without correct pacing, we can lose control and make our students either bored or frustrated (2001: 9). In Dogme lessons, this can present a challenge because not only must the teacher (perhaps in collaboration with the students) decide how to deal with emergent language but also when to change activities, if and how to scaffold, how much time to allocate to certain activities, etc.

In Dogme, these decisions all depend on what is happening and how learners react, which means teachers cannot pre-plan class rhythm. It may be useful for teachers using Dogme to consciously develop their pacing skills through feedback, reflection, and developmental activities like the ones included in Jim Scrivener’s Classroom Management Techniques (262-265).

Coming to class with a mental supply of activities that can be done with no extra resources can also help pacing. This way the teacher can offers extra ways of engaging with the target language to early finishers. Starting a teaching journal to record successful activities of this type can be useful, all the while contributing to reflective practice.

  1. 4.       Materials can and do have a precious place in unplugged lessons

Despite its reputation, Dogme is not anti-materials. This experiment tested an extreme form of Dogme and while learner reactions were generally positive to the approach, the learners did indicate that they would have appreciated some texts, exercises, and other traditional tools of a language classroom.

The key to reconciling Dogme and materials lies in choosing those which “support the establishment of a local discourse community, and which foster the joint construction of knowledge,” (Meddings and Thornbury 2009: 12). This may mean inviting students to contribute materials or taking in materials as stimulus, vehicles of information and springboards for discussion. Texts as linguistic objects are equally acceptable (and even desirable) providing that the choice of language focus comes from the gaps in learners’ interlanguage noticed by the teacher.

Further questions

Admittedly, this experiment is limited in scope—two monolingual groups of students, working over one semester, with one teacher. To have a more reliable understanding of Dogme as seen by learners, further research into their attitudes to and appreciations of an unplugged approach is needed. Ideally, this project would incorporate teachers in different countries to account for cultural differences in learner groups.

It would also be interesting to prolong the experimental period, in order to see how sustainable Dogme ELT could be. In the feedback, a few students mentioned that it was hard to get used to such a different approach, while others said they liked it because it was effectively different. Over a longer period—one or even two years—would they get used to Dogme and enjoy helping build the lessons or would it just become the next routine method?

A broader study would also help us better understand the qualities of a good Dogme teacher, possibly with the aim of incorporating these into teacher training programs. While I am in no way suggesting that all teachers should be formatted “Dogmeticians” offering trainee teachers concrete considerations for successfully unplugging as well as advice for seizing and exploiting “Dogme moments” in lessons could help them become more attentive to the gaps in learners’ interlanguage so as to find ways to best fill those gaps. It also has the potential to shape the way they approach the trade of teaching.


Amador, Yohanna Abarca. “Learner attitudes toward error correction in a beginners English class.”

Comunicaión. Vol. 17, number 001. January-July 2008. Accessed Jan. 26, 2013.

Hansen, Grethe Hooper. (1999). “Learning by heart: A Lozanov perspective.” Affect in Language

Learning. Jane Arnold, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cadorath, Jill and Harris, Simon. “Unplanned classroom language and teacher training.” ELT Journal.

Vol. 52/3. July 1998. Pp. 188-196. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chambers, Gary. (1999). Motivating Language Learners. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Beddall, Oli. (2012, January 19). Reflections on an Unplugged Course. Retrieved from

Chomsky, Noam. (1988). Language and Problems of Knowledge. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Chong, Chia Suan. (2012, May 16). The Teach-Off: Studet Questionnaire Findings. Retrieved from

Coulter, Dale. (2011, December 8).An interesting conversation. Retrieved from

Dörnyei, Zoltàn. (2001). Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

Goldsmith, Joshua. “Pacing and time allocation at the micro- and meso-level within the class hour:

Why pacing is important, how to study it, and what it implies for individual lesson planning.”

Bellaterra: Journal of Teaching & Language Learning & Literature. Vol. 1, No.1, November 2009, 30-48. Accessed Jan. 28, 2013.

Harmer, Jeremy. (1999). “Why Study Language?” English Teaching Professional. 12 July 1999. Accessed Feb. 2, 2013.

Hess, Natalie. (2001). Teaching Large Multilevel Classes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meddings, Luke and Thornbury, Scott. (2003). “Dogme still able to divide ELT.” The Guardian.

April 17, 2003. Accessed April 15, 2012.

Idem. (2009). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Surrey, England:

Delta Publishing.

Nettman, Kinga. “Peer-correction: Support or Discouragement? The Psychological Aspect of Peer

Error Treatment from the Correctee’s Perspective at Secondary School and University

Levels.” Studia Anglica Posnaniensa.  XXXII. 1997. Accessed Jan. 25, 2013.

Nunan, David. (1999). Second Language Teaching and Learning. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Ollerhead, Sue and Oosthuizen, Johan. (2005). “Meaning-focused vs Form-focused L2 instruction:

Implications for Writing Educational Materials for South African Learners of English.”

Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics. Vol 36, 59-84.

Rebuffet-Broadus, Christina. (2012) [Citations from learner responses to questionnaires during

experimental semester wit Dogme]. Unpublished raw data.

Rebuffet-Broadus, Christina. (2013). [Issues in using Dogme with groups].

OAOEljqTdEaYhd_2BDn/k7sg_3D_0A . Last accessed Feb. 12, 2013

Shoemaker, Connie L. and Shoemaker, F. Floyd. Interactive Techniques for the ESL Classroom. Boston:

Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Sultana, Asifa. “Peer Correction in ESL Classrooms.” BRAC University Journal. Vol. VI. No. 1. 2009. Accessed Jan. 25, 2013.

Wade, Phil. (2012, February 12). EFL Experiment 2: The ultimate Dogme criticisms and

responses. Retrieved from


Jane Zeni (1998): A guide to ethical issues and action research,

Educational Action Research, 6:1, 9-19

Accessed Jan. 7, 2013.

Dogme through the students’ eyes – Part five – Post course


The last day of the course, students completed a questionnaire again asking for positive and negative aspects of the approach but also how well they felt they had learned compared to a traditional course. In order to know what each student understood by “traditional course,” they were also asked to define it.

Positive post-course feedback


The chart above shows post-course positive feedback. As was the case halfway through the semester, the quality most often mentioned concerned interactivity, conviviality, and student involvement in the lessons. The fact that Dogme encouraged lots of speaking also continued to rank as one of the strongest positive aspects of the approach. After a semester, however, the fact that students could choose the subjects became less important compared with other remarks at the end of the semester. Without further information from the students, it is difficult ascertain why. Perhaps they had become used to doing so, meaning this aspect of Dogme stood out less than at the beginning of the course.

 Once the semester had finished, many more comments (16.98% post- vs. 2.33% mid-course) stated that Dogme allowed students to progress more in L2. Nearly 10% of the post-course feedback also mentioned that speaking had become easier over the course of the semester. At the end of the semester, students were surely in a better position to evaluate their own progression, however informally, than they were halfway through the course.

 Negative post-course feedback


In post-course criticism, the response “no negative remarks” again ranked high, but it is more pertinent to look at the criticisms learners did provide. Pacing problems and slow class rhythm remained the biggest drawback of Dogme in both groups. However, this may not necessarily be due to the approach itself.

Remember, this experiment was part of my DELTA Experimental Practice assignment. Throughout the observed DELTA lessons, my tutors mentioned pacing as one area in which I could improve. This means that the pacing problems identified by these groups of learners were surely partially, if not totally due to pacing issues in the teacher’s own practice.

In an informal poll of 9 teachers on common problems encountered when using Dogme with groups, pacing as a problem was mentioned only 4 times (as was “learners feeling lost at times” and “learners lacking vocabulary to participate in conversations”), whereas the difficulty for learners to get used to Dogme was cited 5 times and the idea that success of the approach depends on student motivation came up 6 times, more than any other (Rebuffet-Broadus, 2013). Informal as this poll may be, it does suggest that the pacing problems identified by the students in my experiment were possibly due more to my teaching than to Dogme itself.

Interestingly, a lack of grammar exercises was also prevalent in students’ criticisms of Dogme. During each class, some time was spent looking at grammar that had emerged either in the form of mistakes, questions from students, or something that became needed in conversation. As the experiment was full Dogme (no imported materials on the part of the teacher) grammar was covered in guided discovery board work and student-created exercises. Traditional grammar exercises such as worksheets, texts as linguistic objects, coursebook grammar drills, etc. were absent, but learner feedback seems to suggest that these would have been a welcome pedagogical tool, helping to vary the channels through which learners manipulate new or developing language.

Another option would have been spending more time on grammar through more learner-generated activities. In many contexts, spending a certain amount of time on grammar lends face validity to a course—it is what students expect. Failure to meet these expectations (and possibly genuine needs) can lead to negative feedback. Again, even in a full-Dogme course, it is possible and desirable to offer students as much or as little materials-less grammar practice as appropriate to give them ample time to focus on form.

Quality of learning

After the course had ended, students were asked how well they felt the Dogme approach had helped them learn English. Of the 21 students present the last day, the responses were as follows:

Learned better with Dogme than with a traditional course 18 out of 21 students (85.71%)
Learned as well 2 out of 21 students (9.52%)
Learned less well 1 out of 21 students (4.76%)

Admittedly, this data has its limits as it is based solely on learners’ perception of how well they learned but we accept that learner perception and feelings play an important role in quality of learning. Jane Arnold edited an entire book on the subject in which Hansen points out that “Negative emotions typically lead to defensive reactions which include the passive…as well as the aggressive. Positive emotions have the opposite effect, opening the mind—to learning, among other things,” (1999: 214). Judging from students’ feelings about how well they learned with Dogme, it seems their positive feelings of the approach did indeed open their mind’s doors to learning.

The teaching approach cannot be the sole factor responsible for quality of learning however. Variables such as learning styles, group dynamics and rapport, teacher adaptability, topic/language/task addressed, etc. all enter into the effectiveness of a teaching or learning technique. That being said, there is support for the non-linear learning that Dogme encourages. Larsen-Freeman (151-152: 1997) drew a parallel between second language acquisition and complex nonlinear systems occurring in nature. She noted that the chaos of learners’ evolving interlanguage is self-organizing and given feedback and continued input, will remain as an open, developing system. Again, larger-scale experiments in Dogme would be required to test this theory.

What is a “traditional course?”

In order to know what we were comparing Dogme to, students were asked to define a traditional course. Twenty-one students gave their ideas, ranging from explicitly negative to mixed feelings. Since some ideas showed up in different categories, I did not look at the ideas globally as in the previous analyses. It seemed more interesting to provide the idea as well as the general tone of the comment in which the idea appeared. However, some comments that were explicitly negative about traditional approaches may also include factual ideas. For example, one learner provided overall explicitly negative comment but also simply noted that a traditional course included vocabulary work; one can hardly argue that including vocabulary is a bad thing.

“What is your definition of a ‘traditional course’?”

Comment Explicitly negative(12 learners—54.14%) Negative undertones(4 learners—19.05%) Unbiased factual description(4 learners—19.05%) Mixed feelings(1 learner—4.76%) Total Percentage (of all 44 ideas provided)
Content comes from teacher






Based on grammar explanations












Includes tests






Learners copy lesson to learn at home




Always the same format : text + questions




Includes vocabulary work





Lessons learned by heart without necessarily understanding




Lack of real participation




Doesn’t address learners’ real needs/difficulties




Mostly based on writing




Includes written exercises




Speaking (but about a topic of teacher’s choice)




Unsurprisingly, the majority of comments stated that the course content comes from the teacher. Probably few teachers have the freedom I enjoyed in these courses and in similar contexts, the subjects may be imposed on the teachers who then impose them on the students to meet program requirements or prepare learners for specific tests.

The second most cited characteristic of a traditional course was the prevalence of grammar-based activities, cited three times more than reading work and nine times more than written work. Interestingly, no students included listening in their definition of a traditional course; only one student mentioned speaking, also pointing out that it was on teacher-chosen topics.

In the positive feedback, speaking, interactivity, and student-chosen subjects were the most appreciated aspects of Dogme, contrasting directly with students’ definition of traditional courses. Taking into consideration both the positive and negative feedback in this experiment, it seems that we can identify several things for teachers to keep in mind when planning to unplug, especially over a longer period of time such as a semester.

5 reasons why newly qualified teachers can do a Dogme lesson and 5 reasons why they should

Language Moments

5 Reasons why a newly qualified teacher can do a Dogme lesson

1. There’s time to brush up on your language awareness

Most teacher training courses request that applicants have a first degree, which means those who complete the course will have studied independently before. It doesn’t take a professor to open a copy of a grammar book for teachers and spend half an hour reading it. In fact, add this to the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about ways to get language emerging and that’s probably less than the amount of time spent grappling with a course book. What’s more, it’s time well-invsted. What I mean by this is that the language awareness gained is useful in more situations;  p.36 of X course book you might only teach once or twice in the next year.

2. Everyone has access to a pen and a piece of paper

Which is…

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Dogme through the students’ eyes – Part four – Halfway through

Halfway through

After six weeks of full Dogme, both groups were again surveyed on the characteristics they felt defined a Dogme classroom and their opinion of the approach. To find out what students particularly enjoyed or disliked, specific requests for this information were included. The groups were also asked for permission to continue the experiment. To this last question, 90,90% of the students gave unconditional permission, 4,55% said yes but suggested including more games, and 4.55% said yes but suggested more video or a student-created film project. No one objected to continuing the experiment. Note that only 20 students responded here as five students had either left the course or were absent.

Positive mid-course feedback


As illustrated in the chart above, the main characteristics of a Dogme course according to students were the use of learners’ own subjects as the basis for course content, more student involvement in the lesson (perhaps thanks to a heavy reliance on group work), and the opportunities to correct their mistakes. It is interesting to note that only one characteristic, “interactive, more involved and convivial,” remained in the top three from students’ first impressions of the approach. This characteristic also shows up at the top of all positive feedback, suggesting that creating a convivial classroom where students can interact and feel involved is of primordial importance to learners.

Although the necessity of creating an environment where students interact is hardly a new idea in language classes,  it begs the question “What differentiates Dogme lessons from others in terms of conviviality and student involvement in such a way that students consistently cited this as a top characteristic AND quality?”

One may consider the other various ideas students mentioned to help answer this question, as they contribute to making a lesson convivial and encouraging student involvement. The fact that classes are based on topics relating to and chosen by students and that a conversation-driven approach obliges students to express themselves orally (both cited as characteristics and qualities of the Dogme approach) motivate students to participate. As Dörnyei states, “one of the most demotivating factors for learners is when they have to learn something that they cannot see the point of because it has no seeming relevance whatsoever to their lives” (2001: 63).

In contrast, motivation breeds motivation. If the subjects interest students, if they feel confident and comfortable, and if they feel they are progressing, they will be more likely to contribute to the lesson, leading to a more involved interactive experience. A virtuous cycle, in sum.



In the two preceding charts, conviviality and interactivity dominated the overall opinion of the approach and what learners liked about it.  Halfway through, students had an overwhelmingly positive opinion, with 98% of the opinion comments being positive.

It is also interesting to note that when the learners were asked what they liked and disliked about Dogme, they provided 43 “like” comments, whereas only 23 negative “dislike” comments were identified (of the 30 “dislike” comments provided, 4 stated there was nothing they disliked and 3 were left blank, representing 23.10% of the total “dislike” comments). Students thus found nearly twice as many positive things to say about the approach after six weeks. The negative mid-course feedback is presented in the chart below.

Negative mid-course feedback


The biggest issue with Dogme in this experiment was pacing and the slow rhythm of the lessons. In both groups, this was the most frequently recurring criticism. Goldsmith’s definition of pacing seems appropriate for this discussion, as it corresponds to the specific pacing problems mentioned by students:

The rhythm and timing of classroom activities or units, which includes the way time is allocated to each classroom component and the process of how one decides that it is the right moment to change to another activity, sub-activity, or sub-sub-activity. (2009:33)

Within this experiment, the teacher often called upon the students to help decide what type of activity to do to practice a specific language point. This indeed meant that part of class time was spent deciding what to do next or how to practice language. In the mid-course feedback, the comments on pacing were general such as “sometimes it’s a bit long,” and “maybe we could go faster” (Rebuffet-Broadus, 2012) but in the post-course feedback, learners identified specific pacing problems to address.

Although learners often said they appreciated the opportunities to correct their mistakes, they appreciated peer corrections less. Several surveys of students’ appreciation of peer correction (Amador, 2008; Nettman, 1997; Sultana, 2009) noted some student anxiety regarding peer correction, either because they preferred teacher correction for its certain validity or because they felt embarrassed and inferior when corrected by a peer.

However, half the feedback on peer correction in this experiment stated they disliked it because it wasn’t always clear; no learners mentioned the affective aspects. This suggests that peer correction may still be a useful tool in the Dogme classroom, but it may be worth dedicating some time to showing learners how to correct their peers’ errors in a clear and efficient manner.

Dogme through students’ eyes – Part three – First impressions

First impressions

At the end of the first lesson, students provided their first impressions of Dogme. In analyzing the feedback, several ideas emerged, some more so than others. The percentages in which these ideas occurred are presented in the graph below.

Photo 1 First impressions

Note that the percentages shown reflect how often a specific idea recurred in the total number of ideas presented, not the percentage of students who provided the idea. For example, “Interesting” accounted for 22.9 percent (16 out of 70) of the total ideas provided by students, but was actually mentioned by 64 percent (16 out of 25) of students.

Although 25 learners responded, they sometimes included several ideas in their response. For example, one learner stated “I think it’s interesting to try. It makes the class more interactive and that allows us to talk about more subjects that concern and interest us” (Rebuffet-Broadus, 2012). In this one comment, three ideas were identified and presented in the graph: interesting; interactive, involves students, convivial; and more personal topics. Although feedback came from 25 learners, 70 different ideas were identified. This method was used in analyzing all three questionnaires and for each questionnaire the total number of ideas identified is indicated.

Three ideas are prevalent pre-course: interesting; positive in general; interactive, involves students, convivial. Perhaps predictably, these ideas are much more general than some of the less-frequent ideas. Nevertheless, they are all positive. In fact, 92.85 percent of the total first-impression feedback was positive and the remaining 7.15 percent of feedback stated that Dogme was still abstract, something students were not used to, or not different from previous classes. While this initial positive feedback could indeed be due to the nature of Dogme as experienced in the first lesson, other factors may also have contributed to learner enthusiasm: the excitement of a new semester and a new teacher, the simple fact that it was a change from previous courses, teacher personality, etc.

However, when looking at the more specific recurrent ideas—better teacher-student exchange, better improvement in L2, and more personal topics—we find some of the qualities of Dogme that are often highlighted by its supporters (Chong, 2012; Coulter, 2011; Meddings and Thornbury, 2009; Wade, 2012). These characteristics of Dogme—though not limited to this approach—have also been identified in earlier research on the link between student motivation second language acquisition  (Cadorath and Harris, 1998; Chomsky, 1988; Dörnyei, 2001; Nunan, 1999;)

Dörnyei and Chambers note the importance of relevance in student motivation. Chambers, quoted in Dornyei, states that “if pupils fail to see the relationship between the activity and the world in which they live, then the point of the activity is likely to be lost on them” (Dörnyei 2001: 38). Learner feedback hinted at this, citing as qualities inclusion of more personal topics and the fact that Dogme helps prepare them for real life where they will encounter “situations where [they]’ll work without any help” (Rebuffet-Broadus, 2012).

The importance of creating an atmosphere conducive to genuine exchanges is paramount in a language classroom and after this initial Dogme lesson, the idea was mentioned by five students. These exchanges, ‘conversations’ we could say, lend “a degree of equality between the participants that blurs questions of status and social distance” to the classroom (Meddings and Thornbury 2009: 11).

This equality often lacks in French classrooms, which as mentioned earlier, can lean heavily towards a transmission style of teaching. The learners in this experiment approved of this shift, perhaps feeling that such equality meant more security, less fear of making mistakes, and the chance to take a more active role in their learning.