Only in a Dogme class…

Thanks for all your interests in my previous post! Today was Day 2 of my Advanced class and boy, are they amazing! Conversations flowed, topics took surprising turns and interests were piqued in a way that only a Dogme class could afford!

The day started with a recall of the previous day’s discussions and language, and this led to them reminding me about how I clearly had a pet peeve with the London Underground and RMT. I fed in the lexis ‘pet hate’ and ‘to rant about something’ and that led to the binomial ‘to rant and rave about something’. This then led to the discussion of what a binomial was.

I decided to put them in pairs  to brainstorm in pairs and write on their mini-whiteboards as many binomials as they could think of. What emerged in the eventual mind-map I had on the board were gems like ‘out and about’, ‘down and out’, ‘rhythm and blues’, ‘trick or treat’, ‘back and forth’, ‘hit and run’ and ‘pros and cons’.

But what was more interesting was the emergence of ‘high and low’, which we figured only really existed in the expression ‘to search for something high and low’; ‘black and blue’, which often occurred with the phrase ‘He was black and blue all over’; and ‘odds and ends’ which frequently collocated with the verbs ‘to tie up’.

Once the geeks in us were pacified by this nice chunk of a language lesson, we went on to discuss their homework from the day before – finding out why some countries drove on the right and others drove on the left. Putting students in groups, I had those who did do their homework to relate to those who hadn’t a summary of what they had found out, and then moved those who had not done the necessary reading to the next group in the style of a carousel so that they could relate back what they were told to their new group members.

In open class feedback, we were fed with all kinds of information – from the mounting of the horse from the right to the avoidance of samurai swords from banging against other samurai passer-bys, but one thing was clear: We all used to drive on the left, UK-style. The righteousness of being right-handed dictated that driving on the left was a necessity. Somehow, along the way, some countries deflected…then others followed. Now, those that drive on the left are a minority…

After their break, the students were meant to come back with the adverts they had brought with them. Their homework had been to spot an advert they liked…but coincidentally and interestingly, one of the students was eating straight from a Nutella jar during the break and the conversation became about how Nutella was a lot cheaper in London than it is in Peru…

We started talking about spreads and I asked if they had tried Marmite. We looked briefly at the bell curve compared to the Marmite curve and then I showed them an advertisement of Marmite. In pairs, they then discussed the following questions: Considering the slogan, font, layout and pictures used, what do you think is the target market? What image are they trying to portray. We then went to the Marmite website and saw the memorabilia they sold and how they even had an area for haters of Marmite.

This was the perfect lead-in to the adverts they had brought to class. Using the same questions they had been asked about the Marmite advert, the students discussed the adverts they brought with them.
But in true Dogme fashion, not everything is predictable. In open class, a student was sharing a dentistry ad laid out in the style of Facebook.

The conversation moved on to social networking sites and we started talking about digital natives and how they learnt differently from digital immigrants. The students started on their views about Facebook and social networking online and it only seemed natural to put them in pairs to talk about the disadvantages of such social networking and the stories they had heard.

The buzz in the classroom reached a significant peak at this point. Students were clearly enthused by the topic and had a lot to say about it. They started talking about stories of cyber bullying and celebrity slagging matches. It seemed pointless at this point to pursue the adverts they had brought with them. This was clearly a much more interesting area that sparked reasonable debate.

I immediately searched for ‘Tom Scott’ and ‘Flash Mob Gone Wrong’ on Youtube and set the following questions ‘What happened in this story?’, ‘What happened in the end?’, ‘Is this a true story?’ and ‘What is the presenter’s message?’ and played the clip as a listening text. The discussion of what a flashmob was and how the phenomenon of the internet took us to the end of another very fruitful and exhilarating lesson.

Gosh, I love my job! Wouldn’t you?

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.

14 thoughts on “Only in a Dogme class…”

  1. Sheesh Chia! What a roller-coaster of a lesson, but that is how I have been doing it for 12 years. It is fantastic and the only way to really get relevant and self-directed language learning into the classroom. I sometimes compare it to helping a blind person cross the street. What if they didn’t want to cross the street and were merely waiting for the bus? ASK the students what they need and then listen to what they talk about. It could NOT be simpler. Any teacher worth their salt will go with whatever comes up and the lexis, grammar, pairwork, practice, recycling, reforming are all natural developments. Brilliant.
    Incidentally – the left-hand side/right-hand side is interesting. Initially it was left-hand side because one ALWAYS gets on a horse from the left, which naturally followed the right-handed majority who wore their swords on the left hip. Napoleon however was left-handed………..which is why the UK and all her colonies are still driving on the left. 🙂

    Candy x

    1. Thanks Candy! Love your blind person analogy! And yes, it’d be impossible to whip the horse with one’s right hand if one is driving on the right, because the whip would get caught in the leaves of the trees or would end up hitting the pedestrians. So the only way was to drive on the left. I’ve also heard that Napoleon and his troops were famous for surprise attacks by approaching armies from the ‘wrong side’ of the road…and soon they all moved sides to avoid Napoleon…

  2. Hi Chia
    I really like this post and it has some great ideas but it has to be said that your class took place in what could be described as teaching Utopia: 1. Your students are learning in England, so are surrounded by language stimulus. 2. Your class is advanced. 3. You have, at the least, internet access with a screen that can be seen by all the students, if not an IWB. In such idyllic conditions, it’s easy to teach unplugged.
    I don’t know exactly, but I wouldn’t mind betting that 80-90% of the worlds English teachers are working in conditions that are nowhere near as ideal as yours. For them, it’s not so easy to apply Dogme in its purest form. Please don’t think I’m critical of you, I just think we need to look at how we can have unplugged teaching in ALL scenarios.
    Most of my teaching experience has been as an in-company teacher in Spain. There are thousands like me, and more thousands in the rest of Europe and the world. An in-company class is usually conducted in an office or meeting room with no internet access, no whiteboard (often not even a flip chart), and the students are in their work environment with all of the attendant pressures. These students come to classes in their own time, either before or after work, so that they can learn how to cope better with their daily interaction in English. This daily interaction consists of telephone and conference calls, emails, meetings, presentations, training courses, trade press and technical manuals to name but a few. These students cry out for real language input. They need to know how to complain, apologise, describe things, greet visitors…the list could go on and on. If a teacher applied pure Dogme in these classes, the students would simply stop coming. In fact, during my year as a DoS at an in-company school in Barcelona, the main complaint I heard from students was, “All we do is talk.”
    Please don’t get me wrong, I like Teaching Unplugged. I think it’s a breath of fresh air and I apply it as much as I possibly can. What I can’t get on with is the notion that Dogme is a complete solution. In the business world, students need to learn the language they need in order to do their job effectively, and to achieve this we need a little of everything, including the dreaded coursebook. Perhaps this could be called Pragme.
    I’m glad you love your job, and I love mine, but they’re two different worlds!
    Best wishes
    Gary Jones

    1. Hi Gary,
      Thanks for your comments. You are right, I’m very lucky to be working in the environment I am now, with not just the modern facilities, but also the support of my educational management team and my DOSes.
      But if I could be honest, when I did Dogme with my one-to-one classes and my business English classes (which at my school have a maximum of 6 students to a class), I was told, ‘You had a small class and that’s why you could use easily unplug and still cater to all the students’ (My blogpost was done with a class of 15).
      Then I did Dogme with a beginner’s class and was told, ‘There was so many gaps in their knowledge and so everything they said presented an opportunity for language focus and emergent language work.’
      Then I did Dogme with a monolingual class with students of similar background, and was told, ‘They have similar histories and shared interests because they were more or less of the same age group, that’s why you could do Dogme’.

      Judging from what you are saying, you clearly believe strongly in catering to your students’ needs and wants, and that’s exactly what unplugging is about. I’m afraid some seem to have the impression that all Dogmeticians do is chat. There is a lot of scope for steering your students towards the language they need to know and the goals that they need to achieve. My current class will tell you that I spent the entire first day discussing their goals and their needs for English, which will then inform the way I guide and moderate the conversations, facilitating them in a way that allows their goals to be met.

      I don’t know if this would help but here is a post I wrote quite some time ago about using a needs analysis to guide the Dogme class.

      Meanwhile, I think it’s really important to keep discussing this and because at the end of the day, we’re all doing this to engage the students and help them do what they need to do with the language, right?


    2. Dear Gary,

      I have been teaching corporate again after a long break of teaching group and I have used full on Dogme and Dogme style classes. I have had great FB and my boss is amazed by how much input students are getting. For instance, I fill 2 pages of language/vocab work after a 30 min lesson while for a 2 hour one it can be more.

      My students don’t want to be lectured, they want to choose their topics and want help. Dogme suits these aims. I have taken materials into class but they have tended to destroy the flow and turn it into ‘gap fill time’.

      Before my lessons I do plan some aims/areas but only possibilities and ideas. Some of which we do and others we don’t, then lots more come up and I add them to the syllabus.

      I also teach in a uni with no whiteboard and just a projector. The students have no books and don’t even bring pens, just laptops. They learn English online and many will never need it. This is far away from an ‘utopia’ but I do agree that many classes we see and read plans for are designed for these ‘dream students’. Anyhow, what do I do? Well, I choose a shrt video/text and think of some questions and the real underlying issues that are discussable/debateable. Then the lesson develops on its own, I just control interactions, stick in some group work, organise a debate scenario and correct and support talk. Easy!!

  3. Hi, I was led here by twitter, and am really enjoying reading this series of 3 lessons. I am inspired. Could you tell me the size of the mini-whiteboards? I’d never thought of this before and it seems very sustainable!

    1. Hi Glenda,
      Thanks for your comments. The mini-Whiteboards are about A4 size and I have a pack of 18 in my bag and I take them to class everyday. I don’t know if you have seen this but I wrote a post called 10 Things I do with my Mini Whiteboards a while ago, and also, another called Dogme in Exam Preparation Classes, which discusses further uses of the mini whiteboard.

      They have been so popular in the staffroom that I have been having colleagues borrowing my mini whiteboards from me for both General English and Teacher Training classes. The school then decided to buy a stack of them and put them in the resource cabinet of every floor. It is now so popular that the school is considering buying more of them. So yes, they are very sustainable and very useful, and it gives learners the autonomy and ownership of the language they produce in a way that a simple notebook can’t.

      Hope you have fun with them!

  4. Hi Phil
    It doesn’t seem fair to reply to your post on Chia’s platform, so I’ve posted a reply here, as well as a summary of the debate so far:
    Best regards

    1. Hi Gary,
      I am totally happy for you and Phil to be discussing the subject on my blog. After all, that’s what a blog is for – provoking thought and sparking discussions, isn’t it? Glad to see this happening!


      1. Hi Chia
        I still think it’s a good idea to move it to my own blog because I’m hoping the debate will develop widely. I can’t get this word ‘Pragme’ out of my head and that’s what my new blog is called. Basically I think Dogme is being presented as a total solution and I don’t think it is, at least not in all situations. I believe a more pragmatic approach by teachers, using the best of all resources at their disposal, makes sense.

        I sometimes compare it to food. If Audiolingualism was meat and two veg (boring), and Silent Way, TPR and Suggestopedia were those quirky boil-in-the-bag curries that were spicy & tasty (still are sometimes) but not very satisfying, the Communicative Approach was the arrival of the Mediterranean Diet. Dogme keeps the sun-dried tomatoes and olives (the best bits) but takes out the pasta.

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