The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 1

I love the place I work for!

I went to work today and found out that the DOS team had not allocated the class I’m meant to teach because they wanted to ensure that I get the perfect number of students in the classroom (it would be difficult trying to do this teach-off with only 2 students).  So, we waited for the new intake to be processed, interviewed and put into levels, before I was told the best class to take. I cannot express enough about how grateful I am for the support this little challenge is getting from everyone!

For a recap of the premise of this challenge, click this!

These are the things that I found out today:

  1. The level is Mid-Intermediate A. The class:  daily Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 12noon. I will be going Dogme with this group for 2 weeks.
  2. The coursebook I am up against is one of the best coursebooks in the market – Lindsay Clanfield’s Global (Macmillan)…yes, it’s time to panic!
  3. There are 5 students in the class at the moment but the DOS team is adding a few more in tomorrow so that I get an optimum size (which I believe is about 8 -10).
  4. Here is some brief information about the students:

Student A

Japanese female, IT Systems Engineer, in London because her husband has been transferred here. Needs English for day-to-day survival.

Student B

Iranian female, potential undergraduate in Management and Marketing. Wants to study at an English university.

Student C

Japanese male, film graduate, in London because he loves the art scene in Europe and dreams of travelling around the world after 6 months of English studies.

Student D

Korean male, ex-salesperson who has quit his job to come to London and wants to do a Masters in Business Management.

Student E

Brazilian male, marketing manager who needs English for his work.

The lesson started off with some self-introductions, as I probed the students for the above information. The following questions are things I always ask my students on the first day…

Where are you from?’

‘What do you do?’

‘How long have you been here?’

‘Why did you decide to come to London to study English?’

‘Why do you need English?

As they answer them, I ask more questions to expand on their answers…partly for my needs analysis, and partly because I am just curious…

After talking to different students and dealing with lots of emergent lexis about what they do in London, Student A said she had been here for a month, but it was her first day at IH London. Naturally, I followed up by asking, ‘What have you been doing for the last month?’ but her answer clearly showed her lack of understanding of the question. So I quickly clarified and asked her if I was asking about the past month or the coming month. We, as a class, established that I was talking about the past month, and Student A answered, ‘Shopping, staying at home and talking on Skype to my family and friends in Japan.’

Sneakily, at this point, I asked the class, ‘What was the question I asked her? Do you remember? Tell your partner.’

Although I had just asked the question a couple of time just moments ago, the students struggled to formulate the question, which clearly showed that they hadn’t got to the stage of noticing the grammatical form of the present perfect continuous yet. I drew the timeline for the present perfect continuous on the board and Student B said, ‘What did you do last month?’ while Student D said, ‘It’s continuing until now, so it should be ‘What were you doing last month?

This was the information I needed to know where they were at with their knowledge and usage of grammar and allowed me to plan the scaffolding on the spot as appropriately as possible.

So, I wrote ‘What did you do last month?’ and asked the concept questions:

Is this talking about the past, present, or future?’  (past)

‘What is the first verb in the sentence?’ (did)

So where in my mind am I? Am I imagining myself in the past, present or future?’ (past)

Is this connected to the present?’ (no)

This was further clarified with a timeline.

I then set up a scenario: Student A sees me in class and asks me out to lunch. I say ‘I have eaten’.

What is the first verb in the sentence?’ (have)

So where in my mind am I? Am I imagining myself in the past, present or future?’ (present)

Is the second verb in the past, present or future?’ (past)

We establish that ‘I have eaten – so NOW I am not hungry’ suggests that the second past verb is connected to the present, and we label this ‘Past in the Present

I have eaten
Subject First verb in the present Past (from point of view of the first verb)

This was further clarified with a timeline and lots of jumping around the classroom.

I then set up the scenario: Student A decides then to ask me for dinner tomorrow. She says, ‘Let’s meet at 3pm!’ But at 3pm, I _______ ______ ____________.

Students agree that the first verb ought to be in the future and choose ‘will’. They then agree that the verb ‘work’ should be signaling the present (at 3pm tomorrow) and there should be ‘working’. With a bit of prompting, we decide that ‘I will working’ is not correct as the modal ‘will’ must be followed by an –ing form. A student cleverly suggests ‘will be working’.

We then labelled the above ‘Present in the Future’

I will be working
Subject First verb signalling the future Present (from point of view of the first verb)

I extended the scenario: I then say to Student A, ‘How about we meet at 5pm? I don’t know exactly what time I will finish but I know that I will finish before 5pm. I might finish at 4pm or 4.30pm. I don’t know. But I know that by 5pm, I _____ ______ _______________.

Students agree that the first verb is still in the future and quickly say ‘will’. They then discuss and agree that ‘finished’ should be in there somewhere because it is something that is the ‘past’ from the viewpoint of 5pm the next day. However, ‘will finished’ did not seem right. Eventually, a student suggests ‘will have finished’.


We labelled the above ‘Past in the Future’.

I will have finished
Subject First verb signalling the future Past (from the point of view of the first verb)

We go on like this, giving new labels to the tenses they already know, revising them while clarifying the underlying meanings of the different aspects and highlighting the importance of the first verb in indicating where the speaker’s mind/imagination is at.

Now, the students are ready for the present perfect continuous…

I take them back to the original context: Student A came to London on the 2nd of March. I want to know about her actions until now. The hint ‘until now’ suggests that my mind is in the present, past or future?

My students suggest that I should be standing in the ‘present’ part of the classroom but looking back at the ‘past’…but the ‘past’ would continue till the ‘present’.

We thus work out that ‘I have been shopping’ is the ‘Continuous from the past into the present’.


I have been shopping
Subject First verb in the present Past (from the point of view of the first verb) Continues to the first verb


At this point, Student A said she has been going shopping in the supermarkets. We started to look at the difference between ‘to go shopping’ and ‘to do the shopping’, highlighting that ‘doing the shopping’ involves groceries and is not often the most enjoyable activity for many of us. I mentioned that I prefer to do my shopping online as it reduces the hassle of carrying all the heavy bags home, seeing that I don’t drive.

This led the conversation to online shopping, and a student mentioned how she didn’t like to shop for clothes online because she couldn’t try them on. I then said that I liked shopping for my tops online in shops that I am familiar with, but hesitated to do so with trousers because they might need alterations. If the trousers were too long, I would need to have them __________.

We looked at making verbs from adjectives e.g. short – shorten, fat – fatten, wide – widen; verbs from nouns e.g. length – lengthen, strength – strengthen; and adjectives describing functions using those verbs e.g. whitening toothpaste, fattening foods, bone-strengthening milk (always with contexts and example scenarios, of course). We then talked about the difference between fattening foods and fatty meats, and the conversation led to the types of healthy or unhealthy foods they ate.

I didn’t explain to them the nature of this teach-off/experiment, for fear of skewing their opinions and feedback…but as it was important to do what I always do in my normal classes, I spent the remaining 6 minutes explaining to the students my method of teaching (Dogme) and how I don’t use coursebooks, and they agreed to it (I didn’t force them, I swear!). I also highlighted that we would be covering lots of grammar and lexis (I pointed to the board at the point) despite not using the coursebook, and that it was essential they brought a notebook with them everyday so as to make notes of what they cover in class as they would be tested on them the next day.

I walked out of the class smiling and feeling really optimistic about the teach-off.

I love the place I work for!

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.

20 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 1”

  1. Go on Chia!! You got them on the ropes.You own them!!

    It’s interesting that this lesson is a DT/Fill in the grammatical gaps lesson. This sets the foundation for the rest of the course. Many 1st lessons I’ve seen just set allegedly communicative/getting to know you activities which are not actually respected as you have a book and the rule is 80% book so even if a group says the want X,Y and Z you can’t really do it.

    Is there any chance of getting a student(s) to keep a blog/diary of your classes, like Adam does? Then we could observe from both sides.

    I think you should get serious and take Dogme to the extreme ie creating different learning environments. Dogme is made to be used with ‘what’s in the room’ but that gets stale so go out or change room. You are in London so do activities or lessons in real places and get students to interact or do real conversations with natives. They can get texts like leaflets or magazines, do you music class but go and listen to some or go to HMV/Virgin and give them 10 minutes at a listening post.

    After collate everything into a post-coursebook and that would show what was covered and allow others to compare it to the actual book used by your nemesis.

    May the Dogme force be with you!

    1. Thanks, Phil, for your very constructive suggestions!
      It’s only a 2-week course (before they switch to the use of coursebooks) and so I might hold off on the Learning in London Outside Class (LiLOC) ideas. But it’ll definitely be worth doing some action research on its effectiveness and student motivation levels.
      I love the learner diaries idea and but get them to do a ‘diary of the week’ tomorrow!
      The post-course coursebook is also a fascinating idea, but being the perfectionist that I tend to be, it might prove a little too much work…but I would certainly be putting the lexis they learnt into cards for revision purposes.


  2. Love Phil’s idea of getting out into the ‘real world’. I wish I could do this more but unfortunately it tends to be restricted to an annual trip or ‘homework’ (gangs of teens roaming the streets, extra staff, insurance, health and safety etc etc). Classrooms are such ‘fake’ environments for language learners ;(

    On another point: I wonder how ‘safe’ the students feel – many students like to have a lesson skeleton i.e. an idea (such as the aims of the lesson or an outline) at the start of the lesson as to which way they are going and what will be expected of them in order to be able to ‘test’ themselves at the end of the lesson (in the sense of, I set out to do ‘a’ and, hey, look at me, I can indeed do ‘a’ now!); it’s been proven to be one of the main (intrinsic)motivational factors…Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti ‘dogme’ (or whatever label one chooses to give it), in fact I’m always convinced my student teachers are better than their course books, but guidelines can be useful for both sides (certainly when aiming at national exams).

    Another point you make is the ideal class size – I’ve mentioned this in the past on various blogs, with a class of 30+ teens, the odd ‘unplugged’ style lesson may work but only on the condition that the children are grouped and given clear instructions for speaking/reading/writing – and how is that different from any standard CLT-style lesson? I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has tried ‘book-less’ (or pre-planned handout-less) for an extended period of time with a class full of teens.

    Nonetheless, a great ‘experiment’ and it’s clear that in this situation, with these students, the teaching (learning?) is of a high standard!

    1. Some really interesting questions and points to think about Louise.
      I often preach that language learning is not linear and that it is truly unfortunate that the so-called structure of most coursebooks and ‘lesson shapes’ like PPP (at its basic form) often assumes that the ability to produce language can be broken down into tiny grammar mcnuggets that if we ‘master’ in the bottom-up fashion, we would be able to improve our language ability.
      However, that just isn’t how the brain works and that isn’t how languages are acquired. I believe that by giving students more of that kind of ‘structure’ based on discrete items is only perpetuating the myth that SLA is achieved by the false conversations of discussing one topic at a time, topics often determined by a predominantly grammar syllabus through gap-fills and verb drills. So although it may lure students into being intrinsically motivated by perpetuating such false beliefs, this motivation will soon fade when students realise they can’t communicate with the same effectiveness in the real world.


  3. Pooh-pooh! Too much grammar! How come a dogme class does so much grammar? 😉
    I suppose your DoS will be doing the conversations?

    1. Nothing wrong with doing some grammar, Chiew. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water!
      I didn’t really intend to cover what I did but I quickly realised in the first lesson that the students needed a quick review of their tenses and more importantly, to find a way to feel the tenses, rather than just know them theoretically in their heads…

      And no, I have absolutely no expectation of them being able to reproduce any of this grammar stuff… It was only to introduce them to a different way of ‘feeling’ the tenses and with this foundation set, I could always go back and use it anytime it is needed throughout the course…


      1. You did realise I was just being ironic, didn’t you? We all know, only too well, about the feeble anti-dogme-no-grammar criticism…

  4. Haha, did you like that?
    I suppose having a 3-hour class makes a lot of difference as to what you can or should do in class, no? How do you manage to keep their interest going for so long? Do you find that students tend to drift away or get tired?
    How much preparation goes into your lessons?
    Certainly, if I were in London and the students were adults, I would love to be able to bring the class into the streets as Phil suggested.
    Looking forward to more posts, but you’re going to be monopolising all of our reading time!

  5. OK.Public spaces like a museum then meet in the cafe or ask if they have a classroom, many do and book it. Another is the bank of London, they do class visits and Q&A sessions, you could also go to a careers fair and set tasks. Each of these can involve reading/listening and interacting and then you bring them together for language work.Get them to iphone what they’re doing and look at it later.

    You also have ‘survival English’ when you work on doing daily tasks and you could record that too. In a way, this challenge is limiting dogme maybe as it is just comparing it to how a book teaches but when you have a spoken-based learning mechanism it is more suited to functional language perhaps and ‘getting things done”‘ in various contexts. Maybe you are being restrained by the coursebook-led class which is bound by the typical classroom idea of room,book,teacher dominance. If we are breaking 1 or more then why not all of them?

    Most students I had in London wanted to survive at uni or in the world of work and always stressed the important of speaking.Here you have the opportunity to create a course that’s 100% crafted to exactly what the students want and need.I’d be interested to hear what they have told you about these things.

  6. Here’s a comment from Jemma Gardner, who seemed to be having problems posting comments. She emailed me this to be posted:

    Hi Chia,

    Sounds like you’ve got off to a great start with the group. Good on you!! And good on your school for being so supportive.
    I think we can safely bat off any suggestions that Dogme doesn’t deal with grammar now. But I have to say, if I may play DA here, this lesson seems rather grammar presentation heavy and practice light, doesn’t it? I think one of the most difficult parts of teaching Dogme is coming up with practice exercises on the spot that are student centred and communicative, without being same-y (such as the ever-so-creative “write questions using the grammar point and ask your partner them”). Do you think your lesson needed more practice? What practice activities could you have used? Do you plan to think of some and use them later? Or would that be against the rules of the experiment? It would be interesting to hear what you think.

    I really like Phil’s idea above of collating all the lessons into a coursebook and comparing with Global to see the similarities, differences. Will you be able to do that?

    I think this is great, and is spurring me on to actually start my own action research experiment. Thanks!


    1. Thanks for your comment, Jem!
      I wonder why it is that WordPress didn’t let you post a comment…!?!

      Anyway, with regards to the grammar practice, I hope that my answers to Louise and Chiew’s comments on the subject would suffice to clarify the beliefs behind my actions.

      Some controlled practice was done on the spot when those tenses were reviewed and when the present perfect continuous was introduced (for the first time, for some). I wasn’t expecting any kind of instant absorption or production just after a few very-controlled practice stages…and was more hoping to use the next two weeks as a platform to prompt students to notice when these tenses can be used accurately and help them to produce them through the natural scenarios and conversations that emerge. Thus, the freer practice stage really is the rest of the week!

      After all, language learning is not linear and we can only hope to plant seeds and remind theme along the way…


  7. It’s a very interesting challenge. Your lesson looked pretty good to me, sound like the students clearly walked out of it able to do things that they couldn’t do when they walked in.

    Over the course of the blog, one thing I’m interested in is whether the students feel like they are getting enough variety of input. I hope your feedback investigates this as I really think that its one of the challenges for dogme style teaching for a whole course. I love doing the occasional dogme style lesson, but I also love getting my student’s teeth into a nice big authentic chunk of language too!

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