Recycling Language in a Dogme Classroom

I have often have teachers asking me, ‘If language just emerges, how do you ensure learning takes place? How do you recycle the langauge?’

Many of you have read, or written blogposts on the same subject, but I thought I’d share my favourite ways of recycling language (which I’ve, of course, stolen and adapted from all the wonderful teachers and colleagues around me).

First things first, I find a retrospective record of my Dogme lessons useful in helping me keep track of what has gone on, so as to revise the language covered, and also to enable me to provide the appropriate scaffolding for subsequent lessons. To do this, I simply take a photo of my boardwork (with my mobile phone) at the end of each lesson. (The other advantage of taking photos is that when students tell you that they have no recollection of a language item being clarified, mainly because they had forgotten to take notes of it, there’s photographic evidence in your pocket!)

Here are photos of three different days of my Low-Intermediate lesson. Pardon my bad handwriting… *cringe*

(You’ll need to click on the picture to enlarge it.)

The emergent language is then transferred onto cards. Lovely coloured cards provided for by the school… On each card is either a lexical item or a structure in the form of a model sentence/phrase. These cards are brought into class every day for language recycling, and the pile grows quite rapidly, to everyone’s amazement and satisfaction.

Here’s how I use them.

1.  Recall

This is something I have adapted from an idea that originated from  my colleague, Melissa, and have done it every lesson since. (Thanks, Mel) At the start of every lesson, students tell their partners what they remember from the lesson before. It is important that the recall is not simply focussed on language, but also what was talked about, who said what, and how those emergent language items came about. This could last anything from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, and is also a great way for students who were absent to have a chance to catch up and be taught by their peers. I sometimes distribute the language cards as prompts for students to remember the contexts they arose in.

2.  The traditional and much-loved Back-to-Board

You could do this at the start of every lesson, and students seem to love it all the same. Divide the class into 2 groups, have one represetative from each group sit in front of their groupmates with their back facing the board. The teacher writes the lexical item (collocations, phrases, even sentences) and the group members have to describe and explain the language item to their representative without using the words on the board (or related words e.g. made-make, friendship-friend), without spelling any word, and without using ‘sounds-like’ clues. The first rep to shout out the answer wins a point for the group.

3.  Taboo (without the taboo words)

As the pile of cards stack up, this activity is ideal for a end-of-week revision. Again, divide the class into two groups. One representative from one group comes up and takes the stack of cards. They have 2 minutes to explain as many words as they can for their group members to guess. Rules for Back-to-Board applies. If they choose to pass a card, the opposing team will have a chance to guess when the 2 minutes is up. One point is awarded to each card guessed right.

4.  Fastest hands first

All the students sit on the floor in a circle with a ball/bottle of water/soft toy in the middle. The teacher explains the word/phrase/sentence, the fastest person to grab the ball/bottle of water/soft toy gets to answer. If they fail, their group will have one point deducted from their total score.

5.  Sabotage

All the cards are placed faced up around the floor. The teacher leaves the room (or turns away from the students and cards) Again, in groups, students will have to pick the word/phrase/sentence that they think the other group might have trouble with. The other group will then have to explain the language item to the teacher. If the teacher guesses it right, they win a point. If the teacher can’t guess it (e.g. because they’ve got the meaning wrong), the group that picked the card would have to take over the explaining. A right guess at this stage wins a point for that group. A bad explanation would mean 2 points deducted off that group’s total score.

6.  Board Rush/ Mini-Whiteboards

Ever since I’ve bought a set of mini-white boards, the traditional board rush has taken on a new meaning. The teacher explains the language item, the students have to write their answers on the board as quickly as possible (and flip them over for the rest of the class to see if you’re using mini-whiteboards). Correct answers scores a point. A great way to check for spelling errors. The teacher could always vary this by giving one part of the collocation and have the students write the other, or giving the context in which this language item occurred and have the students remember what was said/reformulated.

7.  Charades/ Win, Lose or Draw

Students pick a card and act/draw out the language item for their team to guess. You know how this works.

8.  Language Auction

Students are divided into 3 or more teams (This could also be done in pairs). Each team/pair is given a set amount of money to invest/gamble e.g. £10,000. The teacher could explain the language item, give a gapped sentence, or write up a sentence using the language item wrongly. The teams/pairs then bid to answer the question. The highest bidder wins the amount they bid if the answer is correct. If they get it wrong, that same amount is deducted from their pot.

9. Tell me a story

This could be done in pairs, or groups of 3. The groups are given a random number of cards and have to use the language item on the cards to make up a story. They write it up and the story is then posted on the wall for a gallery activity.

10. Pick it up, Take it home

At the end of each week/course, my students help me to place all the coloured cards face up on the floor. Students then walk around the classrooms in pairs discussing the different language items, explaining to each other the contexts they came up in and exchanging opinions about which ones they found easy or difficult. Students then have a chance of picking up the cards containing the language items they have trouble remembering or using, and take those home with them. I find that the physicalisation of actually picking up the cards and keeping them really helps with students’ memory of the item.

So there you have it. These are the 10 things I do on a regular basis to enable recycling to happen in my classroom. In fact, I tend to do one of the above activites on a Tuesday to revise Monday’s language, on a Wednesday to revise Monday’s and Tuesday’s language, and so on and so forth. On a Friday, I dedicate more than half of my 3 hour lesson to recycling all the language covered thus far (that week and the weeks before that)…

You probably already do some of them (if not all) yourself. But if you haven’t, do give it a try and tell me how it goes! If you have some that I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to share your ideas!

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

23 thoughts on “Recycling Language in a Dogme Classroom”

  1. Hi,

    Great blog. I have just attended the Unplugged conference in Barcelona so this is all very fresh in my mind. I am hoping to convince my DOS to allow me to pilot a full teaching year using just Dogme for two of my classes next year. I hope that I can put some of the above ideas into practice.

  2. Hi Adam,
    I’m so envious! Wish I could have attended the Unplugged Conference! It must have been amazing.
    Have you thought about using Action Research methodologies and designing a research plan that will show your boss (and the rest of us) how Dogme can improve or enhance the language classroom? If you’re planning on piloting it for a year, I think you could use the opportunity to do some good Action Research there…

  3. Hi Chia,
    Thank you a lot for sharing your ideas with us!
    In our school we mainly teach one-to-one and I think it is not easy to adapt those ideas to our routine but I’ll give it a try.
    Take care,

  4. Thanks for the tip on Action research. Even more stuff for me to read and to try and get my head around. To be honest this is my first year of teaching so I think I might be trying to run before I can walk. Still it’s worth a try, and maybe it can contribute in a small way. I had the opportunity of spending two hours in the company of Scott Thornbury at the conference in a workshop detailing ways in which we could research unplugged teaching. I was somewhat inspired to say the least. Any more tips would be grateful. I will be following your blog closely. Speaking of blogs. My final thought is how can I create my own blog and which is the best site/network/programme to use?

  5. Another great post! 🙂 Got a question though…how/when/by whom are the vocabulary cards made in the first place and what exactly do they have on them?


    1. They are just coloured card paper with nothing on them. I cut them up and put the emergent lexis on them. So if you see the picture of my board with lexical items on the side? They are basically what goes on the cards. One card for each item. As I mentioned in the post, I take a photo of the board at the end of each lesson and transfer the emergent language onto the cards just before the next class…Doing it every day, the cards tend to pile up, and students often find it quite satisfying seeing how much language they have learnt when they see how many cards they are in the pile…
      Hope that helps.

  6. Your research is scholarly. However, what is the systematicity in the syntax of a language when O‘Grady say “a sentence is grammatical if speakers judge it as a possibli sentence of their language“

  7. Hi

    As already mentioned above, great blog and some fab ideas which once again I will add to my treasure trove. I would like to share a method I use for recycling previously learnt / emerged language. It’s based on a game show here in Germany (I love using games in my class)

    Using language to be recycled, various questions are created. I use powerpoint, with fancy colours, presentation & audio to give it more visual effect but you could use paper cards or even read-out the question verbally. The questions could be based on lexical chunks, collocations, functional language, grammar point, many vs much vs a lot of, pronunciation…anything that has emerged. The questions are generally multiple choice (2-4 choices). The types questions could be true or false, spot the odd one out, fill in the blank with the correct word, which phrase is suitable / unsuitable for meeting someone for the first time…there are countless question themes / formats.
    The Ss are ideally paired and are given 100 in monopoly money. If there are an odd number you they can work in a 3 or alone (3s works better than alone but if alone I give them 150). The groups are given 4 cards with A,B ,C. D on them (these correspond with the multiple choice possible answers).
    The idea of the game is to not lose your money. For each question the groups must bet ALL their money by placing it on one or more of the cards (labelled A-D). IF they are certain of the answer they will place all the money on for example B. If they are unsure they can split the money and put on multiple cards. It is a good idea to set a time limit on how long the groups have to negotiate the answer. The answer is revealed and any money that is place on a card that is the wrong answer is returned to the teacher (banker). Then move on to question 2. The game finishes after 10 questions and the remaining money is counted. If you want to continue after 10 questions you can give the groups (maybe even change the groups) an extra 100 monopoly money. During the game if a group loses all their money I give them another 100 and explain that it is a loan and they are now in debt to me)
    To make the game more exciting I have random bonus questions where they groups have chance to win extra money by answering aquestion correctly first. (for example unscramble the phrase)..this works really well.

    In my class each week I record each persons remaining money and at the end of the course the winning person / boy / girl (whatever you chose) receives a gift.

    I hope I have explained myself clearly. Feel free to ask me to clarify anything. If you like I can send you a copy of my powerpoint file I use.


    1. Thanks Karl,
      Some great ideas here. Love the betting aspect of the game. Reminds me a bit of the famous Grammar Auction, but this one actually allows you to hedge your bets! Fantastic!

      Noticed you’ve just started blogging! You really should post that activity as a blogpost and let more people benefit from that idea! BTW are you on Twitter?


      1. Hi Chia and happy Sunday.

        My twitter address is (my user name is caritas_kd)

        Took your advice and put that recycling activity on my blog as a revamped post. I also thought of a few other great fun games / activities yesterday for recycling language. I am going to map it all out today and use them in my lessons on Tuesday. I will let you know how they go. If they work well I will make a post so you and others can use them.


        1. Hi Karl,
          Yes, I have noticed that you’ve posted the recycling activity. Good to see you blogging and have just followed you on Twitter. Looking forward to hearing more from you!

  8. Hello, Chia,
    thank you for ideas.

    I also use cards. Here are some other activities:
    1) (for one-to-one lessons) I give 5-6 cards with words (language items) to the student and take 5-6 cards myself. Then we write down sentences with the words given. After that we read the sentences aloud not saying the word from the card. The other has to guess the missing word.
    Sometimes I make the task more difficult by asking to use some grammar pattern. So that grammar is revised as well.
    Or I ask to use the stem but change part of speech.
    For example, we have “aware” but are free to use also “awareness”, “unaware”.

    2) Story telling can be done in a bit different way. Give each student 3-4 cards. Students in turn say sentences using one of their words. Aim: to create a reasonably logical story.

    This one is risky. We did it with my friend when we were 2 in a class and ended up with a story about hallucinations and mushrooms (lots of laugh but no language practice). And sometimes it can be too difficult or boring, depends on the words and the students.


    1. Thanks for the ideas, Mayya.
      I love the fact that your storytelling session turned into one about hallucinations and mushrooms! Bet that is something a coursebook would never print!


  9. Reblogged this on Wandering in Absolute Freedom and commented:
    Since I will soon be posting about my personal Dogme experiments, I found this post amazingly interesting and useful. It’s quite old (2011) but I am re-blogging it here both as a reminder for myself and for those of you who missed it. 🙂

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