The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 3

Three more students were transferred into the class today. One Japanese male, a Japanese female, and a Korean male. The Korean male was actually in my class last month, and this suddenly made the challenge a whole lot harder…I can no longer pull out tricks from my bag that I had pulled last month. This Dogme course is going further and further into the deep end!

The class started with the usual recall session, pairing the new students with students who were here the day before so that they can be brought up to date. As and when I heard students making generalized statements like, ‘We talked about places we would like to visit, then we talked about the laws in our country…’, I would jump in and prompt them for more details, saying, ‘Where did Student B want to go? What recommendations did she get? See if you can remember the details what your classmates said.

During the recall, one of the new students clearly showed some confusion over the word ‘emu’, and I realized that I owed the class a clarification. Using the computer and IWB in the classroom, I pulled up a picture of an ostrich, and one of an emu, and I had students comparing and contrasting the two, and using some descriptive language as they went along. Ostriches clearly had longer necks and emu had more feathers on theirs. As I filled in the word ‘feather’, we started talking about the ‘hair’ on dogs or cats and naturally, I fed in the word ‘fur’. The conversation moved to furs that one could use for clothes like mink coats, rugs made of kangaroo skin, etc, eliciting the lexis ‘controversial topic’ and ‘controversy’.

I then wrote on the board, ‘What would you do/not do?

And then wrote a selection of phrases that ranged from ‘buy a mink coat’, ‘use a neck piece made of rabbit fur’, ‘put a rug made of kangaroo skin in your living room’ to ‘use leather products’ and ‘eat beef’.

Students were put in groups of three to discuss the above.

While the ones who were clear animal rights supporters were much more vocal about what they would not do, those who did not see anything wrong with the use of animal fur for fashion purposes were slightly more hesitant to make their point (and this could be due to the nationalities and cultures of these students. They simply would not feel comfortable being provocative over such issues). It was at this point when I suddenly realized that this would not be a suitable topic for the members of this class, and decided to move on. Before I did, a Brazilian student very appropriately summarises his group discussion as follows, ‘If we are already using the meat for food, we should also use the rest of the animal.’

I took this opportunity to feed in the phrase ‘might as well’, as in ‘If we are already using the meat for food, we might as well use the rest of the animal’.

To exemplify its use, I gave students a few more example scenarios (that intentionally took the topic off dead animals):

‘I wanted to buy a Mulberry bag in Tokyo, but when I went to Japan, I saw that Mulberry bags were more expensive there than in the UK. Since I live in the UK, I thought I might as well buy it when I get back.’


‘I missed my train, and when I checked, I realized the next one is in 5 hours. I might as well walk home.’


‘For my history exam, I started studying chapters from my history textbook. Then my friend said that the teacher had mentioned that none of the questions will be related to the coursebook. I said, ‘I might as well not study’’.

With a few concept questions,

‘Is it my first choice?’ (no)

In the present situation, is it the best thing to do?’ (yes)

Then I established that ‘might as well’ is similar to saying ‘In this case, why not?’

As we returned to talking about the clothes we wore, the fire alarm went off for about one second, and we started looking at the phrasal verb ‘the alarm goes off’. We were talking about when our alarms go off in the morning, when a student struggled to say that he woke up at 5am every morning because he did it all the time and was ____________  _____  ______.

I fed in ‘to be used to + -ing /noun’ and was in the middle of concept checking when another student asked, ‘Is that the same as ‘get used to something’?

I got the students thinking about the difference between ‘to get married’ and ‘to be married’, and how ‘get’ signals a change, to action of ‘becoming’ while ‘to be’ was a state. In pairs they told each other of the difference.

I then redirected them back to ‘used to’ and got them to apply the differences between ‘get’ and ‘be’ by getting them to pick the correct verb in the example scenarios that I painted them.

e.g. ‘I didn’t like the food in London when I first got here. I _____ used to eating rice. I ________ used to eating potatoes everyday. After a few years, I ______ used to eating potatoes. Now I _____ used to eating potatoes.’

Then in groups of threes, they told each other about 3 things that they were/are not used to in London.

One mentioned the way everyone stood on the right to make way for those walking up the escalators on the left. In Japan, it is apparently the other way around and he kept getting confused in London. He then asked why we drove on the left but kept right on escalators. I must say I was dumbfounded by that question. How very astute.

Another student talked about how he was used to taking his shoes off when he entered someone’s house and couldn’t get used to the fact that he had to leave his shoes on in the shared flat he stayed in.

Another student then added that he could not get used to the self-checkouts in the supermarkets in London, and this led us into a whole new conversation about the evils of supermarkets. We spoke about the benefits of buying from smaller specialist shops, going to the baker’s for bread, the butcher’s for meat, etc. When a student asked if ‘the baker’s’ meant ‘the bakery’, we looked at how ‘Michael’s wine shop’ could be shortened to ‘Michael’s’, and therefore how ‘the butcher’s shop’ is simply ‘the butcher’s’, ‘the chemist’s’ is ‘the pharmacy’, and why when we say ‘I’m going to Chia’s’, we mean that we are going to ‘Chia’s house’.

The penny dropped at this point for some of the students when they realized why we say ‘MacDonald’s’, ‘Marks and Spencer’s’, and ‘Sainsbury’s’. At that point, a student asked why it was that we don’t say ‘Tesco’s’, and other students suggested that it was perhaps because Tesco wasn’t a person. Since nobody knew where Tesco got its name from, I decided on a quick skimming activity.

I googled ‘Where does Tesco get its name from?’ on the IWB, and was led to the Wikipedia page on Tesco, and said to students that I was going to scroll down the page and they should shout out when they see the information they are looking for.

When they found the relevant paragraph, they read it in detail and shared with their partner’s what they had learnt about the name ‘Tesco’ (The first three letters came from the initials of a shipment of tea, and ‘co’ came from the first two letters of the founder’s name ‘Cohen’).

I revealed to students at this point that I had decided to boycott Tesco several years ago, and this really piqued their interest. I explained that Tesco was undercutting their rivals, driving smaller shops out of business, and monopolizing the market, especially in smaller towns in the UK.

After a look at some of the lexis that emerged from that discussion, we had a 15-minute break, and I spent this time scouring the shelves of our Business English department, and came upon a DVD of a 2-minute news item regarding Tesco’s dominance in the UK. Now, I must admit, I had never seen this DVD before, but hey, isn’t the whole point about Dogme to improvise eclectically as and when something is needed?

I came back to the class after the break and I popped the DVD in, telling them that it was a news item about Tesco. Here I set them the following 2 tasks:

  1. What is the journalist’s take on Tesco? Is he positive or negative about Tesco? Is he for or against the supermarket chain?
  2. Take notes to summarise this news item for a friend who hasn’t seen it.

The first listening proved a little difficult for the students, so after a brief pair discussion, I elicited a basic premise and as I did so, I fed in certain key lexical items such as ‘to dominate’, ‘to have 58% market share’, ‘competition commission’ and ‘ombudsman’, all of which were crucial to the understanding of the news story. I then played the news item for the second time and had another pairwork stage, I again elicited more information about the news story.

We then went back to the beginning and did some intensive listening, whereby each sentence was played a few times until students were able to identify the individual words in the sentence. We did this with half the story, and then looked at some of the lexis in the story, followed by some progressive deletion (I deleted several words from the transcribed story on the board and students had to fill in the gaps…I then deleted more words, thus creating more gaps. See boardwork below).

Check out my atrocious drawings of the Ostrich and the Emu! And can you guess what the one at the bottom might be?

But how do we get a group of students from Far Eastern cultures to take part more actively in a conversation-driven lesson? I’m doing much more than mediating at the moment…

I still have yet to find the topic that motivates them, that fires them up…and I have this feeling that coming from cultures that pride structure and systematic learning, I still have to prove to them that this can be done with the coursebook…

Considering the fact that the brief on the way I teach was done on Day 1, and since then, the class has doubled, half the students have no idea why I am teaching in this maverick way… Do I explain again to the class what I am doing and why? Do I get those who were here on Day 1 to explain to those who weren’t? Do I just leave it, and do a massive revision session during the next lesson to solidify what they have learnt?

Nevertheless, Day 3 was so much better than Day 2…

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.

12 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 3”

  1. Chia, I would love you to just post up pictures from your Dogme lessons and get us readers to guess what you covered during the class. I love the way you split up the whiteboard for vocab., phrases, etc. It is very organised and I hope learners are developing their note-taking skills.

      1. which makes sense since if you drive on left, you overtake on right.
        things must have changed alot in uk cause when i moved to france i always used to stand on left on escalators and got people cursing me as they wanted to move up the escalator on the left. in france you drive on right and people stand on the right when stationary on escalators.
        great classroom blogging by the way!

  2. Really great but I do agree that you need to find the right topics.Some more serious discussion is necessary but on things that need talking about. Given that losing face is probably an issue you could give them roles to play.Try getting them to choose a topic but always one that has 2 sides. It might be good to cover necessary language too.

    Try tasks and small projects too.

    I think the mixed skills work is amazing but I guess you are nacked.

    1. That’s true, Phil! Giving them roles to play can help the discussion of sensitive topics without risking a loss of face. Brillliant! Will try that the next time!

      I was hoping to get them to do some tasks or small projects next week but still have hit a topic that they seem totally passionate and convinced about yet…

      Oh and Yeah, I’m trying my best to ensure that Dogme does not mean neglecting the practice of reading and listening skills as well…


      1. What I really like is that we can clearly see that you have used and absorbed lots of books and materials and now are selecting things from your experience ‘as and when’. One one going debate on Dogme blogs seems to relate to where new teachers can do Dogme because they haven’t had this experience. Do you think we need to go through ‘following books’ or can we skip to ‘being selective’ or even doing our own thing?

        One thing I’d definite suggest is doing a quick focus group and finding out what students want to talk about or just their interests. Then go from there. When I did a CBI discussion course in Asia I had the same issue and I had to start by hooking students with a topic related to them and then developing it out into a wider perspective.

        Videos of students giving their opinions is also very good. I found lots of Youtube and our students feel fine about disagreeing with them.

        You can also just walk in and say a challenging opinion and get people to say why they disagree with you.

        Keep us all posted and have a great weekend.

  3. Great post, these reviews of your classes give me the possibility of practising my vocabulary. I’d rather go to your classes,though

    Greetings from Peru

  4. It certainly sounds like there are lots of opportunities for learning. The students are asking questions and getting answers. The answers are being expanded to take in wider contexts. You’re providing instant, relevant and contextualised examples and practice.

    I particularly like how the work on ‘used to’ led easily to new topics of conversation initiated by the students.

    Your last paragraph interested me. Will the new students think you are teaching in a maverick way? Might they not just think this is how English is taught in the UK or at your school? I know you like to explain the approach to students, but I wonder how necessary it is. One of the reasons I wonder is that I don’t do it often, well not explicitly. I do explain why I think activities we do in class are useful and see whether people agree, but I’ve never considered saying why I don’t use a coursebook, possibly because it would be not be at all practical in my current context.

    Perhaps the new students will be happy that so much is happening in the three hours, that it’s interesting and dynamic, and rather than thinking it’s ‘maverick’ will recognise that it’s different from their past experiences…but in a good way 🙂

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