Devil’s Advocate vs Dale Coulter on Dogme and Newly Qualified Teachers

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA). After all, it’s always healthy to rethink our views and justify them.

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

Second on the hot seat is Dale Coulter

Dale currently finds himself in Rome where he is an English teacher.  He specialises in Dogme and reflective practice in teaching, both of which he has spoken about at ELT conferences in the past year. You can find out more on his blog here. Or follow him on Twitter here.

Chia:  Hi Dale, are you ready to be DA-ed?

Dale:  Hi Chia, great to be speaking to you, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for a DA-ing.

Chia: It is a well-known fact that you are a Dogmetician who have been practising Dogme ever since you finished your Celta. Many would argue that newly-qualified teachers (NQs) should not be attempting Dogme. What would you say to that?

Dale:  Interesting point, Chia. As a teacher trainer what would you say are the reasons why you’d be skeptical about your trainees attempting Dogme?

Chia:  Answering a question with a question…very cunning, Dale… Well, there are several reasons for the CELTA trainers’ skepticism.

For starters, NQs are not experienced or skilled enough to be dealing with emergent language and reacting to spontaneous and specific needs…

Dale: True, the teaching practice element in CELTA courses does not provide enough classroom time to prepare a teacher thoroughly to react to emergent language. Mind you, attempting a Dogme lesson doesn’t mean throwing the book out the window and unplugging your whole course. For instance, my first Dogme lesson was a 1 hour 15 minute slot as part of a three hour lesson. I think that somewhat minimises the the risk of ‘failure’, wouldn’t you say?

Chia:  Not really, because you could still have a 1 hour 15 minute flop, which could lose your credibility and destroy your confidence…something that NQs don’t need. NQs need confidence-boosting experiences, don’t you think?

Dale:  Definitely, a complete flop using any teaching method or approach is a big dent in the confidence of any teacher, not just an NQ. You need to be prepared for the lesson. Emergent language doesn’t just emerge on its own; the teacher needs to know how to exploit language opportunities in the classroom. It is also about the language the teacher selects to deal with, and how it is dealt with. I was definitely reassured by the fact that I had some experience of being guided towards learning to deal with emergent language from my teaching practice on the CELTA. We can’t underestimate the importance of knowing what ’emergent language’ is and what it means to deal with.

Take an experienced teacher who tried Dogme, for example. What if their lesson was a failure and they failed to react to students’ emerging needs and the language they were producing? I don’t think this is a criticism that can be soley aimed at NQs.

Chia: On a CELTA, one can get experience of dealing with emergent language through teaching practice, but they are mostly lexical items. What about grammar? Most NQs don’t know their grammar well enough to be able to deal with the questions or the emerging reformulations that are needed.

You said so yourself in a post on your own blog on November 12th (reflections on Tesol France) that NQs often think, ‘There’s so much I don’t know about grammar, I am terrified that my students might ask me questions’. This is from your blog.

Dale: I knew that one would come back and bite me one day. Jokes aside, what’s to say an NQ can’t pick up a grammar book and read it? Take a proactive approach to it by dealing with the lack of knowledge. Obviously you can’t read up on the grammar of the English language in one week, which is something I realised too, so I chose to do Dogme with a class that is least likely to throw up difficult questions: an intermediate level. After all, when teaching Dogme, you can always guide the conversation towards areas that you know students may have difficulties with – to make your life easier, and secondly, research those areas and make sure you feel confident to answer questions about them.

You know they don’t know X or Y and you can guide them towards that, almost like leading them towards a cliff then when they reach the edge, building them a bridge to the other side

Chia: Is that then not really Dogme? It sounds more like a planned lesson where you have manipulated the needs…

Dale: In that case, I guess I’m not a Dogmetician then, I just manipulate conversation driven lessons around the needs of my students and work with the language they produce. Guilty as charged…hahaha

Chia: Stop acting cute, Dale. But in all seriousness, conversation lessons can sound like a chat. As many opponents have said, Dogme could be seen as ‘winging it elevated to an art form’… Couldn’t students get that from sitting in a pub? Where’s the structure?

Dale: Of course, I’ve heard that one a million times before… for me Dogme has always been a manifestation of principled eclecticism in the classroom. It’s not like you’re hashing a lesson together at random, you’re providing the most suitable solution to what has emerged, which, obviously a NQ would have some difficulty with on a long-term basis, but generalising that all of them couldn’t I think is a bit of an insult to the ability of an NQ.

By the way, I remember one of my trainers saying that to me “a speaking activity should give students something more than they could get in the pub” …

Chia: And how do you give them that extra that they can’t get in a pub?

Dale: Well, firstly I think there’s a difference between conversation-driven and a conversation lesson. The former implies that conversation is the vehicle with which learners and the teacher arrive at their destination, the latter is like conversation as a road to learning, which is where some cynics have their doubts.

It’s a teachers’ job to pick on thematic or linguistic elements of conversation-driven time and use them for lesson content, that way what is taught is immediate and contextualised.

Chia: Yes, but NQs will not be able to differentiate between conversation lessons and  conversation-driven lessons, needless to say have the confidence or ability to pick out linguistic elements to use as lesson content simultaneously and spontaneously.

Having linguistic aims prepared and how these aims are to be achieved in each stage of the procedure does not only provide structure for the NQs but also for the students. Jeremy Harmer said that Dogme is like ‘jungle-path teaching’, i.e. a lesson with no plan and structure, and therefore no continuity…

Dale: So you are going to quote Harmer at me, are you? Let me quote one of my classes back to you. They said they believed I prepared more than any other teacher and that my lessons were very structured and organised. Doesn’t that pay tribute to the fact that Dogme is a form of principled eclecticism working on a materials-light level. Didn’t you yourself call it Improvised Principled Eclecticism?

Chia: Sshhh, don’t tell anyone, Dale. I’m trying to play Devil’s Advocate here.

Dale: No, you’ve raised a good point there about the perceived lack of structure. I think it’s a criticism levelled at Dogme very frequently.

Chia:  So what do you do in your Dogme classes that helps students to feel that they are well-prepared and well-structured?

Dale: I have always applied a lot of what I learned in CELTA and then subsequently in DELTA. You see, lesson stages, as such, still exist: there is still a stage in which you check meaning or form, practice, review, drill, feedback, practice. The difference is that they are not rigid in a Dogme lesson; stages are at your disposal when they are necessary, if they are necessary. Students feel like it’s structured because it is structured.

Chia: Are you therefore saying that it is important to teach CELTA trainees to write lesson aims and and execute the procedures and lesson stages they have planned? Isn’t that contradictory to Dogme principles?

Dale: Well, the teaching of linguistic aims, lesson plans, lesson procedures, achievement of aims etc is easier to teach directly to trainees, in the sense of transferring information from A to B.

By the same token it’s easier to assess and benchmark to decide on a general standard. Is this contradictory to Dogme? Without the foundational backbone that lesson aims and procedures provide, a lesson lacks structure, which is why I consider them to be important as a foundation to build on.

However, identifying positive teaching behaviours in trainees like dealing with emergent language, building on them and reinforcing them with positive feedback corresponds more with the demands on a Dogmetician. I’d say a lot of the cynicism about Dogme and NQs stems from the fact that training does not cover these areas. The ability however is there, it just needs pulling out.

Chia: The thing is Dogme requires the teacher to have a certain rigour and an ability to deal with emergent language, correction and reformulation whilst combining structuring, multi-tasking abilities and knowledge of language in order to come across as organised and well-prepared. NQs often are still struggling with these aspects and are not going to be as able to cope with combining them in a flexible and improvised manner.

Dale: Exactly, it takes a long time to become an expert in these areas, which required years of practice, positive models to follow and experience in the classroom, so why are we not focusing on these things right from the beginning, to give trainees a better start?

Chia: You sure you’re not digging yourself into a hole there, Dale? You’re right, it takes lots of years of experience honing the skill of dealing with emergent language. If done badly, it could either result in all talk and no language work, or even worse, teacher-centred explanations and lectures that are contradictory to the communicative approach to teaching.

Dale:  But Chia it takes time to refine the skill and the road is a long one. Which comes back to my point that why aren’t we starting the journey straight away?

And on the topic of communicative language teaching… many teachers work under different definitions of ‘communicative’, and there’s disparity between their ideas and what others consider it to be…but that’s another topic for a sequel to my first DA, perhaps?

Chia:  So you’re enjoying this grilling enough to come back again then? ; )

But, honestly, a common point made by CELTA trainers is the fact that many coming on courses like the CELTA already think that teaching English should be relatively easy simply because English is their native tongue. Introducing NQs to Dogme and dealing with emergent language at such an early stage of their teaching can mislead them into thinking that chatting with their students in English is all they need to do…into mistakenly believing that Dogme is easy.

Dale:  A very good point. You could also say that trainees may be misled into thinking that following the instructions in the teacher’s book, doing the practice exercises in the back of the book and teaching from page 1-100 is all they need to do. Coming back to Dogme though, I think in these cases the better-judgement of the trainer is needed. As I’m sure you know, each group of trainees is different from the last; some groups are stronger, some are weaker. Introducing elements of Dogme to a stronger group, pushing them to deal with emergent language and use their knowledge of the English language to help students pushes the trainees to their  i+1. To a weaker group though, I will admit that it is not a good idea to encourage them to use Dogme and could lead to such opinions. Like a hierarchy of needs, Dogme lies at the top and lower levels need to be satisfied first.

Chia: Are you therefore saying that Dogme can or should only be attempted if and when trainees are able to use the coursebook and when they are able to deal with shaping a traditional PPP/Test-Teach-Test/Guided Discovery lesson from pre-assumed lesson aims?

Dale: I think trainees should have the benefit of a ‘backbone’ to English language teaching, as I mentioned earlier, it gives them an invaluable introduction to the profession. With a stronger group that grasps these concepts with ease, and one whose beliefs about teaching fit with the ideas behind, then I would say yes. I think it’s up to the trainer(s) to assess the level of the group and provide suitable challenge for them. I think I’ve touched on another point here that’s important: how Dogme fits with a teacher’s developing belief structure.

Chia: What do you mean by that?

Dale: Well, let’s face it, everyone believes languages are learned and taught in a different way and some teachers just don’t see Dogme as a way of playing to their teaching strengths and/or compatible with what they believe about SLA.

If there is a group containing many trainees who have the experience of learning another language, the experience of being a language student, and from this have understood the need for communication, immediacy and sensitivity to students needs, then it makes a more fitting environment in which to attempt Dogme.

Chia: Hang on, Dale. I’ve got two questions I’d like to ask here…

1. Are you saying that if the trainees do not believe in the need for communication and immediacy, that if they believe in that languages are learnt by grammar translation or the Direct Method, or by completing countless gap-fill exercises, then we should not encourage them to attempt Dogme?

2. Are you saying that native speakers who have never learnt another language and have no experience of being a language student would be far less suited to Dogme?

Dale:  Ok, I’ll take your first question. No, I’m not saying we should settle for this and simple pander to their needs. I referred to a kind of hierarchy earlier. In this case, guided-discovery, test-teach-test etc would be the next level on the hierarchy. In this situation, a trainee must train to level and encouraging them to attempt Dogme would be pitching too high, don’t you think?

In response to your second question, I think that non-native speakers or native speakers who have had some form of language instruction/experience of learning another language have in their possession key abilities for Dogme and for teaching. One of them is empathy with their students, which makes a teacher more sensitive to students’ needs, both emotional and linguistic.

Chia: Interesting points there. Can I take this debate on a slightly different direction?

We have so far been arguing about the ability for NQs to use Dogme in conversation-driven lessons with language focus. How about the other skills like reading, listening and writing?

The Importance of Listening in Class

Dale:  As a Dogmetician, I’m sure you’ve considered this as well yourself.

Chia: Dale…I keep telling you, I’m not talking to you as a Dogmetician at the moment…only as a DA…

Dale: Sorry, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference, especially when I’m used to you playing the role of DA consistently in daily life anyway.

Back to the point, we bang on about being sensitive to our students’ needs and responding to them, but what if these needs are specific to writing/reading/listening? This throws up another question: how does a NQ handle these without coursebook materials?

It’s a good question and it focuses us even more on the difference between attempting some Dogme lessons and being a Dogmetician. Materials-light is sometimes confused with materials-free, and it would be wrong to think you can’t use materials altogether. Certainly if this were the case, skills that require materials would not receive focus. A Dogmetician, in my opinion, selects materials to teach skills which can be exploited for conversation, engage learners and provide space to deal with difficulties learners have when practising those skills.

I think some NQs would have trouble teaching reading, writing and listening skills without the supportive framework of materials. On the other hand, if a NQ wants to use authentic materials, use learner generated and produced materials, then shouldn’t we be supportive in this pursuit? After all, isn’t that what assignment 3 of CELTA is trying to encourage anyway?

Chia: What kind of materials could an NQ use to focus on such skills that still keeps the lesson a Dogme one?

Dale: I would recommend short texts, both listening and reading, and authentic. Your ideas for using BBC news were very helpful for me, also short newspaper articles, parts of short stories or even teacher-written texts. In creating tasks, try and move away from testing comprehension and encourage students to interact with the text, pick out language they identify as useful, share ideas about a text, have them create the questions, have them respond to the text, rewrite it.

Chia: NQs would have greater difficulty in selecting authentic texts and creating tasks for their learners, in addition to the previously-discussed ability to pull out appropriate language for learners to focus on and dealing with them in sufficient detail.

Dale: You’re right there Chia, in selecting appropriate language and creating tasks, experience puts you at a great advantage. That’s why, just like emergent language, it’s better to get NQs practising asap.

Chia: Wait…if you are using such materials, what then is the difference between a Dogme lesson and a non-Dogme one?

Dale: Maybe there isn’t much of a difference.

Chia: Maybe it’s just good teaching.

Dale: Maybe the labels aren’t important.

Chia: Yeah, maybe it’s the learners’ motivation and needs that should take centre stage.

Dale: Maybe Dogme is a platform that provides the most space for this in the classroom.

Chia: Maybe.

Dale: Wow. That was intense.

Chia: Thank you for letting me put you in the hot seat.

Dale: It’s been a great pleasure, Chia.

Epilogue: Dale and Chia still argue like siblings at a family Christmas dinner. They also love each other, especially when the exchanging of expensive gifts is involved… Dale was only expressing his own views and does not represent any organisation he’s associated with. Chia is, in fact, a Dogmetician too. She was only playing DA.

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.

31 thoughts on “Devil’s Advocate vs Dale Coulter on Dogme and Newly Qualified Teachers”

  1. Ai Ai Ai. This gets tougher every time.

    I think you both outlined the core 3 elements very well at the end:

    Yeah, maybe it’s the learners’ motivation and needs that should take centre stage.
    Maybe it’s just good teaching.
    Maybe Dogme is a platform that provides the most space for this in the classroom.

    =a good teacher is one who enables the best lesson to evolve for his/her students

    Happy New Year

  2. Thank you both for this. I don’t have any particular comments, but your conversation has raised a fiew questions for me that I would love your take on:

    1) why is material equated with support and reduced risk?

    2) why should the priority be on eliminating risk for the teacher?

    3) Who says emergent language is mostly lexis? And even if it were, why would this be a problem (considering everything we know thru LA and LP about the grammar that lexis accretes)

    4) If Dogme is going to be anything particular at all, apart from “good teaching” (which is a vacuous label), then how important is it for a Dogme teacher to eschew student disempowering actions (however subtly done) such as “steering” conversations to “desired areas? how is this different from intending to slip in some coursebook material at an opportune moment, making the opportune moment in fact a fait accompli?

    5) Is conversation really the vehicle, or is it more like the fuel?

    6) What does “structure” mean, in the sense of a lesson?

    7) Chia said: NQs would have greater difficulty in selecting authentic texts and creating tasks for their learners, in addition to the previously-discussed ability to pull out appropriate language for learners to focus on and dealing with them in sufficient detail.
    Q: if they were working with a coursebook, would there be any “selection” (and by extenxion, any “difficulty” and thereby any “learning and development”) by the trainee/neophyte teacher at all?

    8) You question “What is the difference between dogme and “simply good teaching”?
    Q: Isn’t it that “good teaching” is really a technical measure. Dogme is closer to a theory of teaching/learning – a set of notions which guide practice, rather than being mechanics of the practice itself? Might this be why initial TT courses might tend to avoid really useful stuff like dogme, as it is harder to “production-line”?

    And further, isn’t the difference that, with dogme (as opposed to coursebook/syllabus-driven) courses, “the future is unwritten”. While the teacher and the learners may resort to things that they pick up on the way, their raw materials are more germane and usefully inevitable than the arbitrary “support” of whatever happens to be in unit 5…?

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

  3. Thanks for your input Anthony. Appreciated as always.

    I guess I’ll take your first point first. You’re right, why is low materials equated with higher risk? Is a lesson less likely to ‘flop’ for an NQ because they’ve used their intuition before a lesson rather than during a lesson? I’m not so sure the assumption is completely watertight. Granted, there’ll be more decisions for a NQ to make in a Dogme lesson, rather than simply sticking to the plan, which could be overwhelming. That said, sticking to the plan amongst a lot of emergent language can be overwhelming too ; )

    On the emergent lexis/grammar point, I’d say that at lower levels there’s perhaps more emergent grammar than lexis, or degrammatised lexis, in need of grammar. Not trying to put words into Chia’s mouth, but I think she meant it’s easier to notice/focus on lexis for an experienced teacher…

    Your point on how desirable it is to ‘steer’ a lesson is the one the stuck out the most for me. I still haven’t come to a conclusion. It’s a very good question. In your opinion, at what point does subtle guidance run the risk of turning into disempowerment? I see my role in this as the one who pushes students to the frontiers of their language knowledge, which I don’t consider disempowering, unless there is no appropriate language focus to follow.

    Another question, what’s your opinion of a NQ steering conversation towards an area previously noted as difficult for students (previous lessons, field notes etc) in order to do some language work?

    One more thought on this topic, as a trainer, what advice do you give to teachers who want to give more power to their students, but are facing an uphill struggle against the top-down teacher expectations of their students?

    I’m glad you commented on the final remarks “isn’t Dogme just good teaching” which is verging on a cliché these days, don’t you think? I think I’m still stuck between two divergent ideas of teaching: the production line “you can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black” Henry Ford style and the one to which you refer. Being a product of the former which aspirations to the latter, it’s hard to find your identity.

    Sorry, I seem to have asked as many questions as I’ve attempted to answer here.

    Thanks again for the comment.


    1. That’s right, Dale. I did mean that it seems easier for the NQT to notice issues with emergent lexis and pronunciation for correction, reformulation or more extensive language focus. With more complex grammar (and by that, I mean anything more than using past simples and remembering to put in the third person ‘s’), NQTs seem to shy away from dealing with maybe because they don’t notice it, or they do notice it but are not sure how to deal with it (or both).

      And Anthony, thanks for your very insightful and thought-provoking questions. You raise some valuable questions about some of the assumptions we have with regards to teaching and teacher training here. These are the reasons why we started DA in the first place (right, Mike?) and for that, I’m very grateful. I’ll continue to play DA by responding with the following.

      1) Yes, why are materials equated with support and reduced risk?
      Perhaps by narrowing down the scope and limiting the language that the NQT has to clarify and deal with in the classroom, the NQT would be able to do the needed research into said area and plan a ‘structured’ and logical procedure which they would use to deal with the skills and the language they are teaching.

      This way, thorough planning ensures that the NQT can think through the most effective and efficient way to deal with the target language beforehand, instead of being cornered and put on the spot in the classroom and then perhaps resorting to long teacher-centred lecture-type explanations which may or may not be accurate (I know a trainee once who told students that we use the definite article for things we can touch and the indefinite article for things that we can’t).

      2) As mentioned, confidence-building is as big a part of our job as teaching and training. If risk is reasonably eliminated, trainees would feel confident and thus be able to experiment and try out ‘riskier’ approaches to teaching. Isn’t it like the scaffolding that we do with our students amidst loads of praise and encouragement?

      5) Is conversation the tool in itself of the vehicle with which to present language to be worked on?
      That’s like asking if TBL in its purest form (with no language focus) could encourage SLA… a topic for a DA instalment perhaps?

      6) Structure within a lesson and overall course structure are two different issues to be dealt with separately, but they are both criticisms that have often been levelled at Dogme.

      Structure within a 40- or 60-minute CELTA teaching practice is often equated with the typical lesson shapes of PPP, Test-Teach-Test, Language from a text, the Receptive Skills Procedure, Guided Discovery, etc. which are all always preceded by a lead-in.

      Is this how your real lessons go? Are these ‘lesson shapes’ sound and logical structures that we should be drilling trainees to use? How do they compare and contrast with the dealing of emergent language in the classroom?

      Some really big questions here…

      1. Chia you’ve picked up on an interesting thread in your comment: confidence and attempting a Dogme lesson and I think it links in with the lesson structures comment too.

        If I’m feeling at ease and relaxed I find Dogme comes very naturally. Not relaxed and I’ve learned that making things a bit more structured puts me at ease more, it gives me more confidence. Is it because it’s riskier? I don’t perceive risk vs non risk, but instead how I’m feeling regarding my ability to help and support students in a lesson.

        This is why I started the ‘skeletons’ ideas, to add some structure to a lesson but creating space at the same time for student-led structure.

  4. Loved this, but need to re-read again, and probably again. I was thinking about posting about the same kind of thing, with reference to my own experiences. So instead of commenting here I will write up the post and ping, mention and probably plunder your post in mine. Hope that´s okay?


  5. I’m finding this debate very interesting. As a teacher trainer I would be thrilled if my NQTs were willing to dispose of their books and ‘wing it’ – at least some of the time. But there is, in my opinion, an issue with Dogme (correct me if I’ve not understood it correctly): if you use ‘emergent language’ how do you arrive at the necessary difference between BICS and CALP i.e. how do you ensure your more advanced learners progress to the C1/C2 levels of the CEFR (where the focus seems to be on more ‘academic’ lexis)? Is it otherwise necessary that you plan your lessons so ‘tightly’ as to ensure certain language aspects emerge (lexis/collocations for example) – is this then not very similar to having a course book and just choosing what does and doesn’t work i.e. using the course book as a guide rather than a bible? As a ‘connectionist’ at heart, I believe in (oral) input input input and reading mileage (a student of the 80s so still have one foot rooted in Krashen), but believe there comes a point when students (NB I’m talking secondary school age here) want more, they want to sit down and ‘study’ the language and learn the finer intricacies albeit often via a more traditional ‘method’, perhaps simply because this is what we have taught them to expect?
    Please correct me, please give me ideas – I’m definitely not a fan of course books and am looking for ways of encouraging my students (NB here I’m talking MEd students) to broaden their horizons (see also

    1. Hi Louise, thank you for commenting.

      You make a good point – It’s possible that CALP will not just emerge in a free-flowing conversation environment. How many conversations you’ve had lately have turned academic? In which case, I don’t think a ‘tight’ lesson plan is necessary but instead a ‘tight’ set of stimuli, still resulting in a conversation driven lesson which focuses on their language and their output and what they want to say. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to teach in such a context so my response is more speculation than experience, but Fiona Mauchline has lots of good ideas on this topic:

      If the focus is on academic lexis, my guiding questions would be:

      1) How much topic knowledge do they have?
      2) Do they know these concepts/words in L1?
      3) Have they chosen to take this class or is it compulsory?
      4) Are students taking the same subjects at school/university?

      These questions give an idea of how much you have to work with/pull out of students and with which to construct your class.

      On the topic of BICS and CALP – do you think they are realistic language goals for students or realistic means of assessing for the European Union? Should teenage students be studying English under the impression that academic language is the goal to which they should aspire?

      Traditional English teaching methods in Italian high schools are book-based. The teaching method is very top-down; the teacher inputs information, the students repeat the information and tell the teacher the information. Consequently, the classroom routine students are used to makes it difficult to use a more dialogic approach because it doesn’t correspond to long-established classroom habits. Is this always true? I don’t think so. Motivated students will see the opportunity to develop their language. Students that are naturally more prone to messing around (don’t want to be there, not motivated etc) will do so.

      1) Introduce pause/play parts of the lesson – in pause time the lesson structure resembles what they are used to – reduces loses in concentration too (especially after a long day at school if English class is in the late afternoon).

      2) Use texts in the classroom to provide focus and input (the teenage mind sees A and B and the quickest route from one to the other, in my opinion).

      3) Make sure there is head-down time for language work; challenge them; let them shine; give them feedback; make it positive.


  6. OK. I’ll have a go at Chia’s comment:

    Is this how your real lessons go? Are these ‘lesson shapes’ sound and logical structures that we should be drilling trainees to use?

    I think in a traditional CELTA grad lesson as I was taught, we classified them as Reading or Listening or even Grammar and they lasted about 45 minutes and in there we used TTT etc. But when you start getting longer lessons or shorter ones or ones with nonbook subjects etc the parameters change and you cling to what you learned and try to figure out how you can cope. I’ve heard some bosses say “we don’t want TEFLers” as many they hire just drill and conduct lessons with the ‘TEFL smile’, by this I mean the mask/appearance/character some people put on before they teach.

    The shape of lessons is an interesting one and something my last CELTA observation picked up on and I’ve reflected on since. I feel there’s an undercurrent or rhythm or tempo or all 3 to every class. Afterall, we do warmers to get the momento going and then do timed activities and are told to give time warnings, stop before everyone has finished and also do competitive games. All designed to get adrenalin pumping and get and keep students interested. We all also feel when an activity isn’t working or students are getting bored or something just doesn’t work. While at the end of the class we do revision or something fun, all aimed at exploiting the ‘primacy recency effect’.

    With this in mind, how much time to we actually dedicate to helping our students progress? I mean, between the warmer, lead-in, cooler, reviser, consolidator, PTV…. All those things we are told to do.

    I’ve come to use minilessons/topics which I list before a class and now offer lots of options and choice to my 121’s. I’m a great disbeliever in repetitive structures and limitations and I enjoy it when classes take a new turn.

    What is the alternative for CELTA training though? In such a short time frame should you been equipping teachers with a full teaching arsenal which they can draw upon for the rest of their careers or just ticking boxes so students will get an A and your school will look good. Well, I personally would like the first but I would also like an A for my career.


    I think I did feel a bit drilled after the CELTA and I kept trying to use those methods in every situation and many failed. Whilst doing the CELTA I was told that the best career path is to go abroad for 2+ years and then return as by then you will have figured out what works and what doesn’t. This was also evident in trainee comments about observed teachers “they don’t drill”, “they don’t do warmers” etc.

  7. “With this in mind, how much time to we actually dedicate to helping our students progress? I mean, between the warmer, lead-in, cooler, reviser, consolidator, PTV…. All those things we are told to do.”

    Another question for you here Phil: between the seamless implementation of this process, how much time is there for a teacher to sit down, listen and think about what their students are producing?

    I’d like to throw a spanner in the works here. Did these methods fail or did they need adapting and humanising? Take a meaning-check question for example:

    1) Students do vocabulary activity
    2) Teacher gets feedback
    3) Teacher asks the class questions about vocabulary
    4) Students respond

    Seem quite pre-packaged and contrived? That’s why there are some blank faces looking back at your.

    Situation two:

    1) Student asks the meaning of generous and teacher gives an explanation in the context of money.
    2) Another student asks the meaning, first student explains to the second
    3) T asks if generous is just for money.
    4) Ss explain new words to each other after activity
    5) T asks some questions about the collocation of generous, can it refer to things rather than people? (generous portion/generous comments).

    Students respond more in this sort of context. No more strange looks or nervous nods. In this example, a teacher benefits from the training on the back-bone techniques but implements them naturally during conversation. Hope the example helped outline my point.

    Which makes me wonder, do these teachers to which you refer who return from their two years abroad. Have they dropped these things because they didn’t work or they didn’t adapt them? Have they pandered to their students’ bad habits and fallen at the first hurdle instead of persevering, reflecting on their practice, adapting and evolving?


  8. Wow, this is an amazing discussion. Good work guys!

    I’d like to comment on Dale’s last point about CCQs.

    You describe what you see as two different ways of checking understanding, but I don’t really see the difference between them. Rather, I think they are two different ways of explaining the same thing, just one has more detail.

    I guess unfortunately, some trainers may express it like in your first example, meaning that the trainees think you can only ask a question like “If I am generous, do I feel bad about giving away lots of money or not?” etc..
    However, surely CCQs are (or should be) really a catch-all term for “checking understanding” rather than “asking a convoluted question”? Asking questions that are long-winded or a bit silly/ too easy are going to get those blank faces you mention. But by asking for examples (like “is it just for money? No. What else can we use it for then?”), getting students to mime it (I had a great set of crooked walks in my class earlier!), asking for stories related to the word (when was the last time someone did something generous for you?), put it in a sentence, draw it, do the facial expression for it, collocate it etc.. we can expand and improve the way we check for understanding, rather than limit ourselves to these CCQs that most people find hard to do on the spot.

    It is so important to check understanding and I think that the big scary world of CCQs has meant that many teachers don’t do this as soon as they are out of the Celta. I know I shied away from it. We need to expand the range of techniques we use both for conveying meaning and checking understanding to make sure that people are involved, attentive, engaged and therefore also able to retain the information.


  9. Thank you both so much for your (very perceptive) comments and the post! I’d like to react to one point, namely the CEFR ‘requirements’. The CEFR has ‘arrived’ in the Netherlands and become rooted in the national exams and the course books. The debate as to whether or not ‘academic’ language is necessary (my interpretation) is an interesting one, certainly in light of the Dutch educational set up. It is more or less assumed that the top ‘stream’ of education will go on to university where many courses are in (academic) English. The national school requirements (final exams) are actually set at B2 level for the top tier, but as many schools have bilingual education, the pupils often reach B2 with ease and, for many, the next logical ‘level’ or step is towards a more academic English – assuming they have already achieved (near) native fluency. (Of course many native speakers never actually fully attain the “C” levels due to the academic lexis requirements.) The BICS CALP debate is an interesting one here, especially for bilingual schools where the pupils receive a more CALP based English through their daily contact in other subjects (CLIL).
    Nonetheless another reaction (sorry, I seem to have a bad case of verbal diarrhoea – love the dogme debate!): I think the dogme ‘issue’ really comes into play with regards to motivation. Both students and staff are often content to know that each lesson is predictable (routine is safe) but this also exposes them to more likelihood of boredom setting in and, of course, less possibility for differentiation and personalisation. The ‘minus’ point to the dogme issue, as I see it, is the (what I perceive as) heavy emphasis on speaking (though I firmly believe that speaking – and therefore listening – is vital to language learning, Vygotsky, Piaget, Ebbens+Ettekoven etc) with perhaps less emphasis on and time for literature, reading and reflection. There are students (cf Gardner, Armstrong, Tsai, Kolb, to name a few) who prefer to sit in the back row and not participate in discussions but merely learn through observation (listening) and reading (I was guilty of this myself in the lower school). Indeed there were some studies carried out in Canada, which indicated that (at lower levels) pupils who were exposed to audio books and nothing else learnt as much as pupils in more traditional classes i.e. listening and reading is adequate at lower levels. As I mentioned previously, I used to teach a type of dogme before dogme, i.e. my lessons at a language school were negotiated with the class and often I would ask the students to prepare a presentation or such like (based on a negotiated topic) for the next meeting and the rest of the lesson would simply ‘emerge’ from their own input and questions. This worked well for a group of 15 or fewer students of generally homogeneous ability. In secondary school classes of around 30 teenagers (as is generally the situation in the Netherlands) a dogme lesson thrown in occasionally is ok/great but I do not believe it would work permanently (especially with the school inspector wanting to see plans, tests etc in advance – please prove me wrong). As far as teacher training is concerned, I think there is nothing better than dogme – I think teacher trainers MUST react to the needs of their trainees at that moment, whilst keeping an eye on the basic curriculum (which inevitably comes around at some point as the trainees will eventually ask all the right questions;) ).
    Sorry – this has become much longer than I originally planned and I understand fully if you’ve trailed off and are snoring!

    1. Thanks Louise for some really interesting comments.

      I think that conversation-driven lessons can certainly be useful for academic English and a great springboard for reading and writing work.
      I don’t know how relevant this might be but I was teaching an Academic IELTS class a couple of months back and here are some of the ideas I used teaching the class ‘dogme style’…

      I was at the IH DoS conference over the weekend and Alastair Grant delivered a great presentation about the use of Dogme to deliver a syllabus and how he incorporated lots of reading and writing skills work into the course by having learners generate and bring in texts to work with, to analyse, to emulate.

      If one is working with a school where there is a syllabus to be covered, I do believe Dogme is still possible. Keeping in mind the language items that the syllabus hopes to cover, the teacher could make use of opportunities in the Dogme classroom to have students notice and focus on these language points. There were many times when I have got students to take out their course books at the end of a course and turn to the contents page. We then would tick off the language items that have emerged and we have covered over the course, and often find that we have done all the items on the content page of the course book + more….

      ; )


  10. Jem, I agree whole-heartedly with what you said above and I am guilty of making the second more rich in detail, I guess that’s what you get for writing whatever comes into your mind!

    Pictures, stories, cartoons, sentences, facial expression, paraphrasing – keeping learners engaged and involved is what matters. I shied away from CCQing for a long time too. Do you think that in CELTA training it needs to be demonstrated when learners are engaged and involved in the lesson, in the zone? I can honestly say I’ve never seen it in practice so have no positive model on which to base what I do.

    How would you prepare trainees to check understanding of new lexis in a Dogme lesson?


    1. That’s the difficulty with this online writing malarky, isn’t it? We write what we are thinking at the time and then someone picks us up on it! (Sorry…!)

      You are right, the best way to show trainees how to check understanding effectively is to do it with engaged students. They also need input on it though, and this needs to come in the form of a focussed session but also with mini-inputs throughout the course during feedback/TP prep etc… to consolidate the skills.

      In a Dogme lesson I don’t think it works any differently to any other type of lesson.
      The basic structure I show the trainees to focus on unknown words is like the one you mentioned before –
      1. Elicit / try to elicit the word by giving the meaning. If the students don’t know, tell them.
      2. Then give the form (with lexis this means the spelling by writing it on the board in a sentence).
      3. Work on the pronunciation (mark intonation/phonemic script/drill).
      4. Depending on the word, select a way of checking the understanding. If it lends itself to an action, do that. If it’s got a direct, unambiguous opposite, ask for it. If it’s a genre of film/book etc, ask for an example.
      5. Move on to collocations and recording the word somewhere etc..

      Our trainees get to practice doing this with each other in mini-demo sessions, and they also get to see us trainers do it in our lessons with the same students they will teach.

      I am surprised that you have never seen it done in practice. But I guess it’s not actually that surprising when so many people are in the mindset we’ve already talked about. Something needs to change, and I think it needs to come from people at the entry-level qualification end, i.e. Celta/CertTesol trainers. Making the idea less scary, less about asking stupid questions which only get blank faces and more about making sure that our students know what’s going on in class, which is surely why we are there in the first place?!


      1. Not sure what this says about me, but I managed to get through to being a CELTA assessor (!) before I ever recall being confronted with the terms CCQ (which I could just about work out from context – employing my work attack skills like a boss, thank you C. Nuttall) and ICQ (which stumped me, and I had to ask the trainers whose course I was assessing and in whose feedback notes I had encountered them, to enlighten me.

        I think this is actually quite significant, now I come to think about it. It IS possible to get through over a decade of teaching, including diploma level training, without being focused on peripheral and obtuse nonsense like these abbreviations and the limited and ritualistic behaviours for which they stand. It IS possible to do a thorough job of “seeing if they’ve got it” without feeling obliged to employ a single, “prestige” technique for doing so.

        The perils of CCQs…
        TT = trainee teacher, S 0 students

        TT: “So, is this a window?”
        S: “Yes”
        TT: “So, Can you see through it?”
        S: *faces suggest “are you sh!tting us?!*
        TT: *deep feeling of discomfort, likely to give up trying to check understanding ever again*

        Sorry, bit of a rant. I’ll get back in my box.

        But not yet, actually. This little scene (a real one, by the way) illustrates the dangers that I think trainees are exposed to on courses where the trainers overly stress the a priori good of CCQs etc.

        Unthinking ritualism, praise on the plan for their mere inclusion, regardless of their necessity, fitness for purpose or efficiency, with the result that neophyte teachers are being led to believe that mere implementation of technique equates with “teaching a good lesson”: is this really what we want to be sending these people away with, especially when time is at a premium and, statistically speaking, it is likely to be the only coordinated training experience that they ever have?

        In the words of Monty Python: “It’s enough to make you want to chew your own foot off…”

      2. @Jemma
        I was happy to read that trainees get the chance to practice those in mini-demo sessions and see you trainers demonstrating the techniques you outlined, it’s important. Some sort of check-list of techniques for trainees to practice and reflect on in their unassessed lesson slots (not sure if you had them but we did) might be useful? Again, not sure of your schedule/practices.

    2. I think Hugh Dellar (Dogme-disser though he is) does a good job of showing how on the fly lexis work can be combined with thorough checking of understanding and raising awareness of form, collocation, colligation etc. in a talk/article called “Putting our words to work”. If you google the title plus his name, the second hit should be a word doc of the talk, including some very useful question skeletons.

      1. Thanks Anthony, I’ll check it out. I’m a sucker for anything lexisy.

        I think the example you provided explains more what I wanted to say above and your expansion of the point to ‘unthinking rituals’ is where I’d like to continue. For an NQ who has finished CETLA, attempting a Dogme lesson is one of the first steps towards questioning rituals. Asking questions doesn’t mean abandoning everything you learned; it means adapting what you learned. Adapt, make space, fill the space with your own and new ideas/experiences.

        On the checking understanding thread, does the inclusion of the sorts of questions you mentioned in your comment ticks the boxes of a good teacher ‘outline’ or attend to the real issue that is, working with the learners to understand and expand their knowledge of the language? Does that give the right idea to trainees? Furthermore, is it right that for many trainees, assessed teaching practice is the only way to try these, under pressure? Sorry if I’m repeating myself.


  11. This example you mention is exactly what I mean with asking stupid questions. I think there is clearly a place for checking understanding, but it doesn’t have to be done with absolutely every word which comes up in class. There is certainly such a thing as overload. However, we do need to make sure that everyone is on the same page, so to speak, and therefore these techniques need to be transferred/taught/demonstrated to the trainee teachers along with the package of other techniques they expect to leave the course equipped (at least partially) with.

    A colleague of ours Anthony, often tells the story of his Celta when a trainee was introducing the word lightbulb or something similar and the tutor at the back made clear that he needed to ask a CCQ, so he asked “Is it an airplane?”. Needless to say, the students did their blank stare face back at him.

    1. Thanks Anthony, Gemma and Dale for some really thought-provoking discussions regarding the techniques that we have our CELTA trainees practising, including those for clarifying meaning and concept checking.

      To add on to the anecdotes of disastrous CCQs, here’s a funny one checking the meaning of ‘season’ at Pre-intermediate level.

      T: How many seasons are there? (Starts off with a good CCQ!)
      Sts: 4
      T: Does it mean to put salt and vinegar in your food?
      Sts: Blank stare….

      On a more serious note, I usually include at least 3 input sessions on my CELTA that allow for opportunities for trainees to practise checking meaning. I give them a random word/phrase/collocation and a couple of minutes to discuss with a partner. Then I would randomly nominate a trainee to demonstrate how they would clarify this piece of lexis with the class.
      To add on to Gemma very useful list of ways of clarifying lexis, I’d say setting a context and creating a scenario or exploiting the existing context is probably step one to showing students the meaning and use of the lexical item.

      With the trainees permission, I’d video them doing this, and put it up on Youtube as an unlisted video so that the trainees can watch it back at their own time (and no one else can watch it) and reflect upon it, perhaps thinking of better ways to clarify meaning.

      I also encourage trainees to attempt conveying and checking meaning of lexical items they encounter on their way to school or home everyday. e.g. You’re sitting on the tube and you see an ad that say ‘50% discount’. You ask yourself, ‘Hmmm…how would I clarify the word discount for a pre-int group…’ etc.
      After all, practice makes perfect!

      ; )

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