The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 4

This is Varinder Unlu’s account of her 4th Day using the coursebook.

Click here if you need a refresher on what’s happened till now.

Meanwhile, let me hand you over to Varinder




26th April 2012

Today we had four observers visit us during the class.


To revise countable/uncountable nouns

To increase knowledge of abstract nouns

To practise reading

To practise speaking

Pages 82, 83 and 144 from Global Int

A few students were late coming to class as there were problems with the underground.  We talked briefly about the weather and transport system with the students that were there on time.

The lesson today was around a reading about motivation and what motivates people.  It was also introducing/revising countable and uncountable nouns.  On first look at the two pages, it doesn’t look as if there is enough to last a three hour lesson and I think if it were an inexperienced teacher sticking to the book, without exploiting the materials to the full, they would probably get through it in about an hour.

I, however, did it in a three hour lesson with my class:

  1. For the lead-in I took the idea given in the teacher’s book: ________ is/are the most important thing(s) in the world.  I had this sentence on strips of paper to give to each student to fill the gap in however they wanted.
  2. In small groups the class compared what they had written down on their bits of paper and explained why they had done so.  This was followed by very brief class feedback.
  3. I then asked students to open their books to page 82 and focused their attention on Exercise 1 in the Vocabulary section.  Students filled in the missing letters to complete the words (abstract nouns).  They checked their answers in pairs before I played the listening for them to check their answers.  I then asked two students to come to the board and write the words.  We checked for spelling mistakes. (There was one – Wellthy).
  4. Students then read the Language note in the grey box about abstract nouns and completed the 5 sentences below it so that they were true for them.  In groups I asked them to discuss their answers and ask questions about why they had written what they had.   We conducted a brief class feedback.
  5. I put “Meeting our demands” on the whiteboard” and explained to the class that they were going to read a text with this title and asked them to predict what it might be about.  One student volunteered something about supply and demand (which we did in yesterday’s lesson).  Another student said something along the same lines.  I told the students that they had three minutes to read the text and answer the following question:  “What is the author’s intention in the text?”  (I didn’t focus their attention on the 3 options given in the book because I wanted them to figure out the answer without the options).   Students read the text, some took a bit longer as they were trying to understand every word.  I stopped class after about three minutes and asked them for the answer to the questions.  They were all able to tell me what the text was about but could not tell me what the author’s intention was.  I eventually managed to elicit the answer from them.  I felt that I needed to speak to the class about the importance of reading new text all the way through for the first time without worrying about the unknown words.  I explained that it was good to get into the habit of not getting stuck on every word and taking their dictionary out to check meaning and that this way of reading was particularly important in exam situations.  (During this stage I also found out that one of the students is a psychologist and was very familiar with the theory being described in the text).
  6. Next I asked the class to look at the words in the grey box and in pairs explain any words they knew to their partner.   Students read the text in more detail and completed the pyramid with the words from the box.  One of the Japanese students was very interested in what people had put in the top part of the pyramid and really wanted to discuss this in detail.
  7. When I grouped the students for the next activity, I made sure that the Japanese student mentioned above was in the same group as the psychologist so that he could ask questions.  This worked really well during the discussion activity when the students talked about the theory and whether they thought it was a good explanation of human motivation.  He was able to ask questions about the theory and the psychologist was able to explain it to him.
  8. We discussed their answers as a class and it was apparent from what they said that there were differences in their views about this theory.  The Asian students felt that for them the top part of pyramid was not as important as the bottom part and the European/Brazilian students thought the opposite.  We got on the topic of respect and the Asian students said that this was not something that motivated them as they were taught this from young age and the rest of the class felt that respect was very important as you had to earn it – be worthy of respect came out of this discussion.  The psychologist then told us that this theory was based on studies done with Western society and based very much on Western culture – which explained a lot about why there were differences.  During the discussion stage I had noted down student errors and we did some error correction.
  9. After the break we looked at page 83 – grammar section.  I wrote up all the words in white in the text on the board and asked the students to work with their partner to decide which was countable or uncountable.  As they were discussing their answers I realised that there were quite a few disagreements.  These were clarified during feedback and I asked the students to read the grammar explanation.  They then completed the sentences.  We checked the answers which raised more questions.
  10. I asked the students to complete the exercise on page 144 for homework.
  11. We moved onto the final activity of this lesson which was speaking – I asked the students what motivates them.  Then asked them what demotivates them.  After this I asked them to think about one time when they felt very motivated and to look at the questions in the speaking activity and make notes of their answers.
  12. In groups students discussed their stories and asked each other questions.  I conducted a brief class feedback.
  13. To wrap up the class I went through the lexis that had come out of discussions and checked if students remembered meaning and pronunciation.
  14. Finally we checked what we had done in today’s lesson.

The topic of this lesson was of interest to the students and they had their views on the theory which generated discussion.   At the end of this lesson, I heard one of the students say how good the lesson was.

As for the countable / uncountable noun tasks – these went down very well with the learners – they asked lots of questions to clarify.  My Dogmetician friends will obviously have strong opinions about why grammar, especially countables /uncountables should not be taught in this way.  It worked, the students were engaged, learning and asking questions and surely that’s more important than what we think we should be doing according to Dogme, ELF or any other approach/method.  This lesson and my discussion with Chia after the lesson left me thinking one question: What do the learners want?

We as teachers, trainers, writers, educational specialists and academics talk about what is the right and wrong way of doing things all the time.  We have conferences/events/seminars/workshops  where we have people who have done tremendous amounts of research into something telling us that this or that is what we should be doing or that we have been doing things all wrong.  If the learner is happy and learning is taking place, does it matter?

I’m tired and rambling now so I shall stop here!

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.

57 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 4”

  1. Hi Varinder,

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to be the first one to comment on this particular post, seeing that the discussion we had about grammar (ref : countable and uncountable nouns) was mentioned here.

    First of all, let me first clarify a couple of things.
    The issue at hand has nothing to do with being a Dogmetician or any teaching methodology for that matter.
    It is about attitudes and views on grammar, on how languages are learnt (SLA), and on what is learnable and what is useful/relevant for the learners.

    Taking the Dogmetician hat off and putting on my Grammar-fanatic linguist hat…

    Over time, as we move from grammar translation through into the communicative approach, there has been more and more focus on communicative competence and the communication skills that enable such competence.

    Meanwhile, on the SLA front, research started to show that presenting lists of discrete items of language in a linear fashion simply does not coincide with how the brain learns languages.

    Language learning is emergent, feedback sensitive and non-linear (see e.g. Michael Long, Vygotsky, Krashen, etc.)

    Moreover, spending an hour on generalised rules about countable and uncountable nouns when there are just so many exceptions to the rule might not be the best use of classroom time. As you said in class, ‘A lot of it can be used in both.’

    In fact, many coursebook writers are now trying to get away from labelling them countable and uncountable nouns as the labels are a misnomer in themselves.
    Some writers now use the terms ‘count’ and ‘mass’, while others choose to use ‘count’ and ‘uncount’ nouns, preferring to deal with how the noun in question is referring to an idea of an abstract mass, or an individual single entity.

    Moreover, the design of the task in the coursebook had students filling in the gaps as follows:

    Fill in the gaps with ‘countable’, ‘uncountable’, or ‘countable and uncountable’.

    1. ________ can have the plural form.
    2. ________ cannot go with ‘a’ or ‘an’.
    3. ________ can go with ‘the’.
    4. ________ can go with ‘some’ and ‘any’.

    Now, I don’t have that much of an issue with numbers 1 or 2. They are fairly straightforward rules (aside from the fact that we can all think of many exceptions of nouns that are always in the plural but not necessarily countable e.g. ‘news’, ‘studies’).

    But my gripe is with questions 3 and 4, to which the answers are ‘countable and uncountable’.

    By making students fill in those gaps, the task is misleading the students into thinking that either ‘countable’ or ‘uncountable’ can go into the gap.
    Although the answer at the end is ‘both’, by flagging this up, the students is made to sit up and take note of how ‘some’ and ‘any’ is used with countable and uncountable nouns.

    Now, memory works in strange ways.
    It is known that students will not remember all that is in the grammar exercise.
    But what they will remember is that there was some issue with ‘some’ or ‘any’ used with countable or uncountable nouns.
    This creates doubt in their minds when they are choosing to use nouns with ‘some’ or ‘any’.
    Voila, we’ve created a problem where there wasn’t one before!

    Now, we could argue that some students might have a problem with ‘some’ and ‘any’ before the exercise, and therefore the exercise serves to clarify the issue for those students.

    Sure, but if these are only a portion of students, why not wait for the problem to arise in conversation, and then through the use of correction and scaffolding, the teacher can bring attention to this, solving it quickly, in context? This makes it more relevant and definitely more memorable to the student.

    Taking the grammar-fanatic hat off, and putting my sociolinguist hat on…
    ELF (English as a lingua franca) is not a methodology or approach. ELF is a global phenomenon that is happening all around us, a phenomenon that changes the reasons and the purpose for learning English. This is turn affects what and how we teach.

    Apart from the very important fact that the misuse of countable and uncountable nouns is not going to alter meaning drastically in most cases, their use have also taken on special meaning with ELF research into NNS-NNS (non-native speaker to non-native speaker) communication.

    Here’s an example:
    The material in Global today said,
    We don’t use ‘the’ with abstract nouns when we’re talking in general.
    e.g. Love is important.
    NOT The love is important.

    But in extensive analysis of ELF use, it has been found that expert speakers of English as a lingua franca are using the articles ‘the’ with abstract nouns in order to give it emphasis.
    e.g. The love is important; The life is good in Italy.

    Whichever hat I choose to put on, at the end of the day, my point is this:
    Using countable and uncountable nouns wrongly is not going to affect the meaning of what the speaker is saying. At an intermediate level of English (which these learners are at), there are lots of other skills and language (lexico-grammar) that would make a huge difference to their communicative abilities and their communicative competence.
    This grammar area is certainly not one of them.

    And if learners think they want it because that’s what their past learning experiences have taught them, then I think it is time to have an informed discussion with our learners with regards to how language are learnt, and the relevance of what they are learning.

    Perhaps therein lies my issue with course books.

    (Jeez, this response is so long that I think I should copy it into a separate blogpost! Yikes!)

  2. Hello Varinder, I have to say I’ve been a keen follower of the teach-off so far and I’d just like to express how great it is that such a thing is being broadcast to the whole online community.

    You said “Dogmeticians will have strong opinions about why grammar, especially countable and uncountable nouns, should be taught in this way”. I’m not so sure if we would really? I mean, I don’t speak for the whole community but the difference in this case seems to me to be that the context for this language in a Dogme lesson would have arisen from the here-and-now-need and relation to learner lives instead of a preset context from materials.

    I liked the emergence of ‘be worthy of respect’ which in this case is uncountable, but I might have explored this a little with learners, introducing ‘pay your respects’ and discussing the differences between the meaning of the collocations. Not a Dogme moment as such, but a nice learning moment all the same. Maybe even ‘in some/many respects’ and talking about in what respects Asian and Western culture differ, introducing the chunks and lightening the somewhat needless cognitive burden away from the rules behind the bits of grammar making up the phrases and using them for their communicative meaning.

    Another thing that stood out to me in your post was “what we should be doing according to Dogme/other approaches” but I’m not sure I see things that way. Dogme is so hard to define because it is the incorporation of so many approaches and methods to fit the situation emerging in your class, so it stands to reason that it is somewhat difficult to do something according to it (Dogme) if the idea behind the approach/insert preferred term here is to adapt according to your students. Are you still following me or have I wondered off into nonsensical nothing-land?

    I have to say, it does certainly appear as though you are definitely exploiting your materials well to engage the students in the class.

    Thanks for sharing, looks like your taking quite well to the blogging world!


    1. Thanks for the comments Dale but you are stating what I already know. If you had been there – in fact Melissa was in observing the part where “worthy of respect” emerged you will have seen how long we discussed this issue and what came from it.

      I haven’t said anythinng about Chia’s Dogme lessons observed last week as I’m waiting for the end of the teach off to do. But there’s plenty that could be said about Dogme that is wrong……

      1. Thanks for clarifying that point on the emergent language, apologies if I missed the classroom interaction on that point.

        As regards right or wrong, it’s somewhat difficult to apply a dichotomy when what we are referring to, i.e. the approach or method, is informed by different beliefs based on theories of second language acquisition and language. Add teaching context to the argument and one enters a maze of well-grounded beliefs behind an individual’s approach; black and white just doesn’t quite seem to fit the purpose.

        On a little side note… if one takes a holistic view of language, which I guess is what I was referring to in my previous comment, there’s much less need for prescriptive rules like for example for some/any/a for countable and uncountable nouns (which tend to confuse learners in my experience and cause them to falter and stutter when trying to retrieve the rule) instead they have the chance to see the communicative meaning of their phrases as a whole. Where I think Dogme is different in this case is that it focuses on the ‘now’, the ‘immediate’ and relates language directly to students’ lives – that’s the appeal to me.

        I find that having learned a language and from what I’ve studied, this seems to make more sense than an atomistic approach to it, focusing on the word and its rules like in the case of ‘a, the, some, any’ + countable and uncountable nouns. It appears to me that these beliefs about language that influence the efficacy of one’s approach are more important than the approach per se. I guess Chia covered that a lot in her post too.

        I look forward to reading and reflecting on the debate to come, especially the conclusions. I’ll have to get you and Chia a drink in London to thank you for such fascinating reading – you can both hold me to that!


      2. Varinder, I love that you feel safe enough to say there is plenty wrong with dogme on Chia’s blog. That is one of the biggest compliments you can give Chia.

        The safe feeling is what allows one to take risks, to make mistakes and be ok with that a as learner. And that sets the scene for what is plenty right about dogme.

        1. Is there a like button that I can click on on WordPress?
          Coz I’d definitely like to do that with your comment right now!

  3. Is wrong?? EEEEk!

    I may have said this on different blogs but I think it’s worth repeating:

    My understanding of Dogme is that it’s a “state of mind” as Anthony Gaughan puts it. It is an idea or rather 3 principles. I met the same thing in CBI too but Dogme is a way of being and is all about freedom I think. You can chuck in what you want but at the centre is your students, communication and building on what they can do. If you work from there then you have more choices. I think after doing DELTAs/MAs, Trinity…you have a lot of stuff in your head but you may not have developed your own style. Dogme says “yes, you can” and gives you some core principles to guide you. There is an amazing support network too.

    My Dogme is VERY different to Chias because my situations are but Dogme lets me ‘do what needs to be done’ and it works. I couldn’t apply a book-based TEFL approach,well I don’t have books for a start. I’ll give you some examples from my recent expeditions:

    1)121 online conversation class with no book and students who won’t do any homework ever
    2)A conversation English class where students have already had extensive grammar classes and English online
    3)High level BE classes with high level business execs who don’t want to be taught “like children” as they put it
    4)Private speaking/writing CPE prep based on student writing and topics
    5)High level uni students who have had book-based classes for 18 years and want ‘activating’ and challenging.
    6)Very strict syllabi that set out week to week what I should cover but that don’t provide the right materials and expect students to improve their speaking via lectures
    7)IELTS exam prep with students who just need speaking and writing help
    8)Foundation and pre-masters courses where students want content

    If I hadn’t started Dogme I would never have survived these classes. After studying /researching/developing debate classes for 5 year, I can honestly say that doing it as real conversations and then inserting activities and working with language ‘on the spot’ is the best answer. I have done CBI/CLIL/TBL versions but the Dogme one works the best because it lets me use whatever and is all about real discussion, well in my class.

    Stick in there. I think you deserve a serious drink on Friday courtesy of Chia!!

    1. Stick in there?? I’m thoroughly enjoying this experiment and wish it could be longer. I love being back in the classroom and teaching. It’s an interesting debate that’s raging on and a little bit pro Dogme as there aren’t many people giving the opposing opinion – they are out there. Maybe that’s because Chia’s post is mainly read by people who support Dogme??

      I will be expecting a drink from Chia on Friday though and in return may give her a free copy of Global!

      1. Ah Varinder,
        If you look at all the comments again and count, you will notice that only four or five people are Dogmeticians. Most have been regular EFL teachers and/or coursebook writers.

        And I must emphasise the fact that I think this debate has moved from being about Dogme to Holistic teaching of lexicogrammar-which as I said has nothing much to do with Dogme aside from the fact that Dogme allows for it.

        I love a good debate and I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am!


        1. I know – it’s endless. I am really enjoying this experience and it has given me a lot to think about.

        2. I know! Isn’t that amazing?
          There are like different threads and different discussions happening simultaneously in the comment sections to different posts!
          It’s fascinating – some of the discussions that have emerged.

          All credit and kudos to you commenters! You are amazing!


        3. Yeah that’s all well and good, but what about my drink? No mention of that is there? 😉 I’ll give you a signed copy of Global (with all my notes made in the two units I’m covering!!

    2. Phil, I’d be fascinated to see you teach an IELTS Academic part 1 writing Dogme-style. I mean, where do you get the data to analyse?

      1. I blogged about that on Dale Coulter’s site I think. Easy peasy.

        Sam McCarter says he usually teaches IELTS with just a text for 2 hours.

        So, part 1 recipe.

        1)Describing a graph(s)/chart(s) (not process, that’s a bit different)

        Ingredients for a good answer:
        1)Addresses the question
        2)Is organised with a clear intro that summarises the data
        3)Has internal organisation and good use of linking devices
        4)Has suitable vocab and grammar

        Now, choose a topic,get students to write Qs,ask each other then collate info on the board (make sure it’s set up to resemble P1)
        Then cover which ever point you think they need, do plans, write, develop adapt, mine, expand, compare them to others from the students or even your version, write one together, correct some etc. But make sure you are covering the points.

        Get them into the habit of reading graphs in papers or online and planning P1s. Work from both ends too ie from graphs to descriptions and from descriptions to graphs.

        As long as you know enough phrases for the descriptions them the rest is easy and FUN!!

        The essay is even easier and the speaking is better done but topic and focussed on really discussing things and not just answering exam questions. If they can debate a topic for 10 minutes then a few Q&As will be easy. They’ll be better than students trained just to answer questions as quick as possible and give the impression that they can and want to speak so higher marks!!

  4. When you all start getting into the big grammar debate, don’t forget to factor in the issue that students actually LIKE doing grammar exercises, such as gap fills. There is something fulfilling and comforting about having rules to follow, feeling that you have a clear cut way to control your learning – just memorize the rules!
    Students reactions to such exercises are in no way an indicator of how much they actually learn from them in the long run, so let the debate rage on!

    1. I’m not a huge fan of gap fills either Naomi but I don’t agree entirely with your comment about these exercises are in no way an indicator of how much they actually learn. I think there is a time and place for them in learning and if used well can actually indicate that some learning has taken place.


      1. My apologies Varinder for not puttng it clearer!
        I did NOT mean that gap fill exercises and other grammar exercises are in no way an indicator of how much is learnt. I can certainly support your claim that they have their uses! What I said that students’ REACTIONS to doing these exercises do not indicate how much they have learnt. They may report being extremely satisfied/ or extremely bored, depending on their learning style, depending on how much they like rule based exercises. The degree of satisfaction they report is related to THAT and not how much they have or haven’t learnt from the exercise. Naomi

  5. OK. Varinder is up for continuing, Chia too?

    From Monday on we want it streamed and we’ll organise a live tour too. We also want viewer participation so we’ll be voting students out of your classes. Surprise students or guests will be introduced too.

    We’ll also be installing webcams in your homes for after-class reflections.

    I have some TV sponsors lined up but you’ll have to teach wearing giant Coca Cola can and Pepsi outfits.

    Sound good? This is what the public want!!

  6. -Excuse me, I’m just going to burble. (This is nothing new, I just fancied trying to write it down).

    While brushing my teeth this morning I was pondering this whole ‘Teach-off’ thing, and the word ‘pride’ kept popping into my head. Wait, wait! Bear with me! This is a good thing – it is not coming before any type of fall!

    We all take pride in our work, and some people take pride in not using coursebooks and others take pride in adapting coursebooks. Some take pride in meeting students wants by doing pages/grammar points etc they have asked for, whilst others take pride in discerning through conversation an area to work on. Some take pride in being well-informed about theory and change within the industry. Others take pride in quietly developing what they believe to be the most effective form of teaching. Some take pride in utilising technology in the classroom, others take pride in using the simplest of tools very well. Some take pride in their dedication. And I think we can agree that all take pride in their students (and, personally, this is the most important one).

    I think we can all also agree that these things are not black and white.

    My point with all this is warm and fuzzy. I think if we were to build a venn diagram with Dogme and Coursebook Teaching we would find that the centre piece which overlaps would be incredibly large. (Cue cheesy music) There is clearly more that unites us than divides us. But more importantly, it makes terms like ‘Dogmaticians’ seem irrelevant to me, as we are all in a way Dogmaticians and I would argue that most people are also not-Dogmaticians, if you see what I mean.

    I used to really dislike the whole ‘Dogmatician’ gang thing. Possibly, because I wasn’t part of it :(. Possibly I felt it was condemning my teaching style whilst proposing an approach that seemed to me impossible to implement entirely as I felt I was lacking in some tools. Also, I’m just a big fan of the lexical approach.

    But having read this Teach-Off I think I’ve realised I am in fact part of that group, just not entirely, and I am part of the Coursebook Teaching group too (I do love a good coursebook), just not entirely.

    So I’ve come to a nice happy conclusion that sits well with me. Ah, the birds are singing. Isn’t that lovely?

    1. Hi Jo,
      Thanks so much for your very lucid comments. I really enjoyed reading what your wrote.

      First of all, I must first admit that the online Dogme PLN (personal learning network) are a tight gang.
      This is perhaps due to the fact that Dogme’s birthplace took place mainly online, in a Yahoo group some 10 years ago with pioneers like Fiona Mauchline and Rob Haines who dared to take Scott Thornbury’s proposal and ran with it.
      These days, the Dogmeticians tend to use Twitter and the blogosphere to stay connected (in addition to lots of pub meetings, but that’s just to drink) and this means that non-Dogmeticians are privy to the discussions that are now taking place in a more open environment.

      I have heard some people mention similar things about the ‘Dogme gang’ being exclusive and exuding an almost religious quality through the things we say.
      So allow me to use this space to clarify this once and for all.

      I wouldn’t dare speak for all my fellow Dogmeticians, and certainly wouldn’t dare represent the pioneers who have been discussing Dogme for over 10 years.

      But I truly believe that we don’t mean to come across cliquey and exclusive, and if we do, I apologise.
      After all, even the London Society of Dogmeticians was formed in jest (check out the acronym! hahaha)

      More importantly, that the things we ‘preach’ about Dogme, we are speaking not to those who are happy adapting the course books, but to those who are over reliant on course books and who believe that there is a need to follow a tight syllabus.
      We ‘preach’ to those (schools, examination boards, teachers alike) who think that SLA is linear, and who think that by implementing a linear grammar syllabus, they are going to be able to chart progress in language learning.
      We ‘preach’ to those who do not understand the principles of Task-Based Learning and do not realise that letting students negotiate meaning is not just developing their fluency. It IS language learning happening before their eyes.
      We ‘preach’ to those who feel guilty about deviating from the coursebook when students go off on a tangent.

      Meanwhile, you are absolutely right…You are already partly a Dogmetician.
      You don’t necessarily do away with the coursebook completely, but you allow for Dogme moments in your classes.
      And you don’t let the materials become the focus and the centre of your lessons…because the students are.

      And the Lexical Approach and Dogme are far from being mutually exclusive, as you have noticed.
      Dogme, as I have said on numerous occasions, is not too different from the Principled Eclecticism we talk about on the DELTA.
      Dogme is simply Improvised Princpled Eclecticism that focusses on the language that emerges from the students.

      And so welcome to the ‘Dogme gang’, Jo.

      PS: Hey, my Dogme Brothers and Sisters (bar Phil, Luke and Dale). You know who you are! Are you going to comment or what? Or am I left to fight this battle alone (albeit with Phil, Luke and Dale)? : P

      1. The Dogme gang is an interesting concept. From the point of view of someone in Latin America, it has always seemed a very Euro-centric and increasingly London-centric thing. I don’t say that as a criticism. I mean, you can’t help where people live, but all I’m saying is that for me at least, I have never felt part of any gang or clique or whatever it is. I’ve never even met Scott Thornbury or any of you and doubt I ever will. I’m just a teacher and I just teach and I happen to like Dogme and so I blog about it and incorporate t into my classes and that’s it.

        As to people’s perceptions, that’s a difficult one. Where I teach, many often express guilt about using a coursebook and I spend time telling them there’s nothing wrong with it. I’m a teacher trainer and I’ve observed some brilliant, useful, engaging and wonderful coursebook-based lessons in which the book has been adapted in really interesting manner and geared towards the learners’ needs. I have no problem with that and in my feedback do not attempt to promote a Dogme approach. Why would I? I’ve clearly just seen a very good teacher at work and I’ll try help them get even better. If they express an interest in Dogme or watch me teach, then we can move things in that direction.

        Anyway, cheers for the debate, which is indeed an interesting one.


    2. Hey Jo

      Finally! welcome to the big debate. I don’t believe in being part of a gang – suppose I’ve always been a bit of a lone ranger – probably because I like to see both sides to anything and I don’t tend to follow any trend, social group, fashion etc. I have my opinions, you have yours – that’s what makes life interesting. What I do have in abundance is tolerance.

      Seriously though, you say some interesting things and I think the pride something teachers have tonnes of. We do take pride in our work and when it’s criticised in any way, it’s hard to swallow.


  7. Yes.This is getting into a wider discussion indeed.Great stuff.

    Chia is right in that there are only a few of us Dogme folk commenting. the majority or just average teachers. I think the stigma of ‘being dogme’ may have waned a bit now. I know when news got round my department that I wasn’t ‘doing all the book/handouts’ and doing dogme I received some varied reactions from “why the heck aren’t you doing what we pay you for” to “wow, I always wanted to try that, does it work?”. Since then I have generally had “what?” and even “who is Scott Thornbury?”. I’ve learned that it’s not always a good thing to admit in interviews except if they are strapped for cash then the idea of a teacher who won’t incur any book or copying costs lights up their eyes like it’s bonfire night.

    I like being in the dogme group, if I am but it’s just a group of people who seem to speak the same language. We also have VERY different ideas and approaches with span across EFL,TESOL, FE, material writing, studying and even zombie films it seems. What I think is special about these people is that we/they have all had an awakening at some point and realised that what we were doing wasn’t suiting us and then we found/heard of dogme and something clicked. When I talk to other teachers who haven’t had this it’s not the same. I’m sure they are passionate and dedicated but there’s just something special and supportive about the people often labelled as ‘dogme practitioners’. Hence, why you see lots of guest blog posts, tweets about dogme tweetups or meetings, conferences, discussions and the like.

    I really think the Yahoo group has a lot to do with it. You can post there and people comment and are generally very very helpful.

    Oh, I forgot to mention the Dogme handshake, secret signal, code works, tattoo, funny dance, initiation ceremony, rites of passage and the dogme mobile and sidecar, not to mention the dogme cave, dogme sign and even a possible, dare I say it……dogme book. Saints preserve us!!!

    1. Lindsay created a Dogme meme the other day…he looked well scary…

      Now let me see if I am a true Dogmetician by trying to figure out what the classic Dogme icons could be…

      The Dogme initiation ceremony simply involves toasting virtually every once in a while?
      And the Dogme rites of passage must involve getting drunk with other Dogmeticians?
      The Dogme tattoo I’m sure Dale and Adam would tell you all about.
      And the Dogme funny dance needs Luke and Willy’s guitar skills to make an appearance.
      The Dogme mobile is just Jemma’s bike, no?
      And the Dogme code lies in the first letter of every page of New Headway.

      Where is the Dogme cave, Phil?


      PS: Phil, you are simply the best!

  8. Hi guys, this is absolutely fascinating, thank you so much Chia and Varinder for allowing us to share in this experiment. I apologise for not commenting sooner.

    There has been so much said here already that I don’t really know where to start this comment….

    On Wednesday at my school (SGI), we were lucky enough to host Luke Meddings doing a workshop on Dogme ELT. It was a great introduction for some of my colleagues into the basic principles of what teaching unplugged means, and it sparked a huge debate which will continue (hopefully) about how our teacher training course is run. Ten of my colleagues attended, so on Thursday morning there were many others who were interested in what had transpired. Most of my colleagues are unaware if the fact that I am a true believer in the principles set out by Dogme and Whole Language Learning, mainly because I do not actually preach and have been biding my time, watching, listening and reflecting on how most of my colleagues view learning and teaching (i have only been working at this school for 2 months…) in order to see how the school works and where I fit in. So when a colleague asked “so what did you all learn about Dogme then?” on Thursday morning, I was eager to find out what people who had attended would say. To my absolute disappointment, the only reply which came back was “basically you just go in and wing it”. This was my chance. And I took it.
    I spent the rest of the time before classes began defending Dogme ELT to a crowd of teachers who mostly believed it was a pile of crap (their words). It seems that so many people still think that there is nothing to it than being lazy, unprepared and having a chat. It is hard to clear this up without inviting people in to see what it really means in practice, just as this Teach-Off is doing.

    I tried to explain to my colleagues that teaching unplugged is what I do, and that it is possible with ielts, difficult students etc… One colleague commented that surely it depends in the students, I replied that actually I’ve found that the students who are the most difficult n terms of “getting them to speak” respnd so well to Dogme because it allows them the freedom and choice and personalisation that a course book can’t. (yes, I said can’t) and that, in my experience, it works wonders for students in all the contexts that i have taught ‘(eg. BE, 1-1,
    GE, exam classes, mono-lingual, multi-lingual, continuous enrolment to name a few)

    Another colleague commented that it wouldnt work with a certain 1-1 student that has been at the school for a long time having 4 x90 minute lessons per day, needs a 7 on ielts that she is unlikely to get, is a nightmare to teach for a lot of my colleagues because she is wholly uncommitted and rather prococious and who is often the topic of staff room conversation. I have taught her many times and I havent used the course book she has been assigned once. And I can safely say that, actually – Dogme works with her. It pushes her and expects more from her than the book does. It means she has to pay attention and she has to contribute, she gets tonnes of new lexis, grammar, exam technique practice, and fluency practice.

    The debate then had to stop as it was time to go to class. However, I plan to continue it and I hope that I can help my colleagues truly understand what I / we mean when we talk about Dogme.( As part of this i will be giving a workshop at the start of June at our SGI CPD club, open to all teachers in the area. I plan to video a class of mine, do some activities to show how to actually deal with emergent language in the classroom and generally try to clear up this issue of what is Dogme for those who attend.) I think debate is healthy, I think this debate is really healthy, and I hope that by having it we are improving ourselves as educators, learners and thinkers. Long may it continue.

    I don’t see the problem with being staunchly behind the way I teach, so if I may come across as evangelical sometimes, I don’t care. I believe in it, I have seen the fruits of my labour, I have experienced both sides as both learner and teacher and I have come to the realisation that teaching unplugged makes more sense than anything else out there for me and for those who I teach. If anyone else thinks differently, that’s fine. But before anyone puts down my way of teaching, they need to truly understand what it means and study the affects it has. The more I talk about it, the more it makes sense. Top down learning and prescribed syllabuses (be it from course book, teacher or institution), to me, are not the way forward. Bottom up learning and emergent syllabuses are.

    So much more to say… Will stop here for now.

    Keep up the good work, all of you.


    1. Nice one Jem.

      It’s probably important to point out that Dogme was initially a wake up call for many. When it surfaced I was knee deep in book teaching and photocopies, portable OHP projectors, DVD players, slides, video packs, lesson plans, homework resources and endless paper and pens. But that was what we all seemed to be doing. If I was carrying lots to class I looked professional. It took me a long time to hear the calling but now maybe teachers are different and it is less groundbreaking for them.

      It would seem that Edutech is becoming the new coursebook so dogme does seem relevant and perfectly placed to say “oy, why are you using 10 websites, 3 mobile apps and video conferencing in a 30 minute conversation class?”.

    2. Thanks for taking time to comment, Jem.
      I know you have been massively busy in the last few weeks.

      I like what you said about the fact that you’ve seen in working with your students and you know that this way of teaching makes sense to you.
      And it is frustrating indeed always having to justify the way we operate and the sound SLA principles behind the decisions we make.
      I know Phil would agree with me in saying that we probably spend more time defending how we do things rather than trying to convince other people to do what we do…

      But what I love about this Teach-Off is the ability to stop defending it, and just doing it, so that people can see what it is all about, openly discuss it and make informed decisions about it.

      I do love the fact that everyone involved in all the discussions so far has been so honest and unafraid of disagreement but yet totally respectful and willing to try and see the different points of view.

      I really look forward to hearing more from you, Jem.
      Always love reading your passionate points of view.

      And meanwhile, let’s try and make time to meet up for a Dogme Rite of Passage at the Dogme Cave (I’m assuming that’s the Hercules Arms at Long Acre aka the LSD pub?).
      Oops, should I have said that in Dogme code?


      1. Seriously, my Dogme colleagues – you are joking about the Dogme code aren’t you. If not, this is getting seriously weird!!

  9. Just thought I would chime in and add that I agree with a lot of what both sides are saying. In fact, like Jo I would place myself somewhere in that overlapping part of the Venn diagram (I liked that description!).

    I would also argue that their is no wrong or right and that I have observed terrible and wonderful lessons based on coursebooks, TBL, dogme, etc. Also, I know for a fact that a lot of dogmeticians have completely different styles than my own. While my lessons are pretty structured and include TBL task cycles (although not pre-planned), I know that others focus more on critical thinking, others on debate, others on open-class conversation, others incorporating technology, etc. Different contexts, different needs, different personalities – it’s all good.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ben.
      You are absolutely right in saying that no two Dogme teachers or even Dogme classes are the same.
      Well, I suppose, if no two students are the same and no two class dynamic are the same, then how can two Dogme lessons be…?

      It looks like the consensus emerging from a lot of the discussion here is that many belong to the overlapping part of the Venn diagram…and even those have many different ways of doing things too…

      Makes our job really interesing, doesn’t it?


  10. I have to say that my main issue with course books is not what happens in the classroom as much as the fact that they shape what is taken into the classroom. As Chia said in her post about SLA the other day, we need to not teach because w can create rules of thumb for a grammar point, instead we need to Tach because it’s needed at the time. This, we all know, aids retention, motivation and engagement.

  11. I never understood the whole concept of dogme as a group. We were – and are- too disparate a bunch of individuals to belong to anything that unified us! But the bedrock of what brought us altogether online was a sense that the established way of doing things was not actually a very effective way. And that can be paraphrased as “using course books was not very effective.”

    My issue with course books was more that they contributed to an anodyne world where nothing bad ever really happened and people were content to sit around listening to weak anecdotes. I always felt that ELT should try to position itself more in the field of education rather than linguistics and it seemed to me that course books were anti-educational in that they rarely, if ever, provided material that stood alone in allowing students to critically engage with the world. Oh dear. It’s sounding heavier than I mean it to.

    In short, I found that for students to actually do something or to actually laugh or to actually engage, course books required such a lot of supplementing that I rarely had the time or the inclination to do what was within their covers. Then I read Luke and Scott’s call to arms and it all made sense. I didn’t join a group, I joined a community where I could ask questions, get answers and occasionally have a brawl.

    I have heard so many times about the exclusive nature of dogme and its judgemental members. But I suspect that these were self-serving condemnations. It’s easier to alienate and condemn than it is to engage and debate. Which is what makes this teach-off such a refreshing change. Dogme was -is- an open discussion group. How that qualifies as exclusive is anyone’s guess. Perhaps because when people came along and were dismissive and critical, it didn’t provoke a warm response? Do dogmetricians think themselves better than other people? I doubt it…personally, I have slaved away under an inferiority complex for a very long time! I think most people, on the other hand, feel quietly confident about the way that they conduct themselves and this is as true of teachers as it is of most people and as true of dogme teachers as it is of teachers in general. So, dogme teachers may have created the impression that their way was the way when what they really meant was that their way was the way…for them. A cleverer man than me once said, the style that you can stick a label on is not really the way to do it (I’m paraphrasing). By which he meant, I guess, that when you limit yourself to any one particular style or methodology or approach, you are blinding yourself to what may really be needed.

    These days it is ineptitude that keeps me away from course books – I look at them and see nothing that I feel confident I can make interesting or relevant. I look at the way a unit segues from a text to a grammar study that disregards the juicier elements of the text. I look at the way that students are led into a text with questions that they don’t respond to. I look at the way that the follow ups to texts are bland and insipid. And I realise that if I am to make this work (for me as much as for the students). I am going to have to supplement so much that I might as well abandon the book anyway.

    So I go into the classroom, start a conversation and pause every now and then to discuss the difficulties that X has just had. Then I export the IWB notes into a PDF and email it to all of the students. It seems to work. Students seem happy. Students seem to engage. Nobody has complained (for some time). Is it better? For me, yes. Better than my colleague, A., who is resolutely anti-dogme? Good god, no. She has a fantastic relationship with her students and they learn heaps. She has a systematic approach to vocabulary and can point to concrete improvements in her students. I can’t. Or at least I don’t feel that I can. My conclusion? The way that can be told is not the eternal way. Caminante, no hay camino. Or as Rubin and Thompson put it (when describing what language learners should be doing): 1. Find your own way. 2. Organise. 3. Be Creative. 4. Make Your Own Opportunities. 5. Learn to Live. Therein lies the recipe for success (in more than language learning, I am tempted to conclude).

    Rubin, J. and I. Thompson 1982 How to be a More Successful Language Learner. Boston, MA, Heinle and Heinle.

    1. Hi Diarmuid,
      I’m really happy to see your comments on my blog. I have read much of what you have previously written on Dogme, and really honoured to have one of the original Dogmeticians here standing up for what we do.

      You are absolutely spot on in saying that we have found what we believe is the most effective way of doing things for us and our students, and we are in no way advocating that everyone goes full-on Dogme.

      We participate in groups, we tweet and we blog and discuss issues, but surely these are all signs that we are truly interested and passionate about what we do and are continuously seeking to improve and develop ourselves professionally.
      Yet, we get criticised for being clique-ish and evangelical (I’m not referring to you here, Jo…I’ve heard wilder and angrier accusations).

      I often get the, ‘What??? You haven’t used a coursebook in 5 years? You see, this is what I hate about you Dogme people! You are so stuck in your ways!’

      Wait a minute.
      First of all, not using a coursebook isn’t exactly a ‘way’ to be ‘stuck into’.

      Not using coursebooks means that one has to draw from all our knowledge and ideas as a teacher and as a social being to facilitate and exploit the conversations and emergent language from our learners.

      Not using coursebooks means that one has to really listen to the students and tailor each lesson, moment to moment to fit that interests and their needs, while helping them to achieve their communication goals.

      Not using a coursebook, and going Dogme, means that we have to do all of the above in an improvised fashion.

      Second of all,
      We Dogmeticians are stuck in our ways?
      If you were to say you haven’t taught a lesson without a coursebook in 5 years, would we say you are stuck in your ways?
      We might ask you to try using the students as your resources just to see how it can work, but would we say,
      ‘This is what I hate about you coursebook people! You are so stuck in your ways!’

      So who’s evangelical now?

      ; )


      1. Chia! I love the way you can have an argument with yourself! I can just imagine you ranting at the keyboard…. Don’t break your ipad!

        1. An Ode to Chia

          Imagine there’s no course books
          It’s easy if you try
          No photocopies in our hands
          Above us only skype
          Imagine all the people learning more today 

          Imagine there’s no mcnuggets
          It isn’t hard to do
          Nothing to sweat or rant over
          And no useless rules too
          Imagine all the people learning life in peace

          You, you may say 
          She’s a dreamer, but she’s not the only one
          She hopes some day we’ll join her
          And ELT will be as one

          Imagine there’s just Apple
          IPads and twitter chat
          No need for paper or resource packs
          A staffroom without that
          Imagine all the students sharing experiences

          You, you may say 
          She’s a dreamer, but she’s not the only one
          She hopes some day we’ll join her
          And ELT will be as one


    2. I felt the same about ‘handouts’ too. One place used to give me them for every class. It got to the point that I felt naked if I wasn’t carrying a stack of copies. This was coursebooks to the extreme but there were never EVER any exercises, just fact sheets and we were expected to conjure up amazing lessons from out of nowhere. In a way this was far worse than not having anything. I tried and tried to get my head around it and I just gave up and did my own thing.

      However, other staff seemed perfectly happy as they seemed to have secret plans or lesson ideas and didn’t know what I was fussing about. This got me thinking that you can’t do another person’s lesson, especially if they only give you a piece of it. In fact, we shouldn’t. at least with books though you have choice and extra stuff. Handouts OUT!!

    3. Hi Diarmuid, Chia and anyone else who might find this comment…

      I agree, Diarmuid, that there can’t be a way of teaching or learning that is ‘the’ way, but it’s good to know that there are different ways that might be just as effective as long as we know why we’re doing something, why it’s worth doing, who we’re working with and what they want to achieve. It’s also great that there are some ways that might suit us more as people than others.

      I don’t use course books myself at the moment because in my context I just can’t see how they’d be relevant or effective, or even the best use of the limited time available but I can see how they would be extremely welcome in other contexts – and I’d be quite keen to try out some of the activities that I’ve seen in presentations by Antonia Clare recently.

      I do have a preference for a Dogme approach because it feels, to me anyway, like there’s a bit more space for the students and there’s more connection. At the same time, if I feel that materials, activities, or even a course book, would engage or be useful for the students I’m working with, then I’ll use them.

      In the past, I’ve pushed to try to get people to pin Dogme down – to say what it is or what it isn’t. It didn’t happen that I could see. I don’t know if it will, but I don’t think it matters much for my practice any more.

      What I think is most important is that we understand WHY we are doing something and why we are doing it in particular ways. If we are following the course book because it’s the course book rather than because we understand how the activities will help the students, then that’s not enough. Similarly, if we are having conversations with our students without a clear idea of why that’s a good idea and how we can maximise learning opportunities, then that’s not enough either.

      I can’t help but think that what’s needed more than revamped coursebooks, new resource books, grammar references and activities or conversation starters is a better understanding of how languages are learned and a better awareness of how the students we are working with learn best.

      1. Having said that, I’d certainly find resources produced to support a conversation-driven approach, with ideas for grammar focus ideas etc, very useful… if someone were to write one.


  12. Just to add my penny’s worth regarding Dogme and to give Chia a little support from ealier comments (even though it certainly isn’t needed). I am currently working on a project that allows me great freedom and includes training 8 BE classes for a leading German company. In these classes, for the last 12 months I have been developing my dogme mindset and skills for listening, picking-out and handling emerging language and using conversation and learner centered contexts (I have NEVER in these 12 months used a coursebook). The powers above have altered the project concept (not due to my results or performance) and it is now becoming a more standard course. This means coursebooks, company produced folders with printouts and a planned-out structure, schedule and agenda. Not 1 (I repeat not 1 learner) has welcomed the news or wants this new system (course books etc). Most have openly frowned or expressed their frustration and annoyance.

    For me since becoming a trainer, a modest 2 years ago I began by systemattically and entirely using course books and worksheets. This became less and less as the months passed and as I I could quickly see the learners engagement and negative reaction to coursebooks, planning and the tight structure. Now my coursebook usuage and pre-lesson planning is almost zero.

    For me Dogme is here, I am so glad that I found it (from the blogosphere -especially Scott T and Chia’s) and it is the future (well certainly my future!)


    1. Hi Karl,

      I’ve had the same thing and found when I pulled out a book things reverted back to unresponsiveness. I found that I did need a book for ideas, language and functional language, and even the odd reading but that it worked better for homework, pre-reading or just for me to swat up on and then feed into the class.

      I also do a lot of phone lessons that don’t have materials, I do email the odd roleplay but have found it works very well when we build stuff up and then I email a sample for consolidation. I also do TOEIC help/prep on vocab where I choose a TOEIC theme, check the vocab in a book and then have a discussion and check/feed in/develop the vocab. The after-class FB can then be a short text that recycles the language or a listening either I record or find online. My students can then use their books before or after class and they feel very happy because they have learned quite a lot and are surprised.Yes, some don’t get why we aren’t using the book in the class but it is about conversation but a lot of them learn better this way than when I do F2F.

      1. Hi Phil

        Thanks for your comments & tips (some which I use already and some are new and will take on board 🙂 ). No matter the circumstances and who I am teaching I promote my beliefs and encourage the learners to be open to change and different methods & self aware. Like yourself, even if coursebooks are issued by the client / language school I only use them for mainly homework, idea generation (me and the learners), establish needs and desires, and for learner and also trainer self-study.

        Regarding the program I am workingon now that is due to change to coursebooks, rest assure (and I have ensured my learners), even though we have the course books nothing much will be changing in the classroom :-).

        1. I agree, Karl.
          Coursebooks, if they are a standard issue, can be used for homework.
          It also reassures the students that the lexico-grammar you are covering is indeed in the ‘syllabus’ and therefore gives a sense of structure!

      2. Phil,
        I do love how you always provide students with something to remind them of what they looked at during the lesson whether it be in the form of a handout or a after-course syllabus!

    2. Hi Karl,
      Thanks for the support! ; )
      But I think especially in Business English teaching, one cannot simply stick to a coursebook because so much of Business English is needs-based (and boy are those needs varied).
      Having said that, there are still many companies out there that prefer to prescribe a coursebook and a syllabus so that they can ‘measure the progress’ of their learners. I use the introverted commas there because clearly, progressing from Cutting Edge Low Intermediate to Cutting Edge Intermediate is not a reliable sign of the learners’ progress in English…and even the learners soon figure that out.

      Every human being is different and what they need and are able to do in English is different. We should be tailoring courses to suit the individual and scaffolding their progress, and not just produce a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.


  13. I just want to add…

    When I think about society (certainly western), society’s values and the world we live in. Our society unfortunately determines when we die the person with the most money and belongings we have ‘WINS’ / is the ‘MOST SUCCESSFUL’! SUCCESS is based on results. Often financial results.

    Now does learning English or teaching English have to be the same? Does the method or approach that is the most the best results wins? What defines a good result? Is it simply languge / grammar / lexical / liguistic competence or progress? Are we putting to much focus on this? I think we need to think how we measure success?

    Now of course progress and language competence is important as that is what the learner or client is paying for. But lets not forget about the humanistic sides of things. Life is about being happy, fun, bringing people together, compassion, trust etc etc. Very deep I know, but should we also allow these principles to guide our teaching approaches and methods and also how we measure & judge success? Food for thought? I certainly think we should

    Let me expand. I have had a company based class of 7 BE learners for 12 months. Before this class started they didnt even know each other. Now I can honestly say that over the last 12 months their English has progressed well. However for me the most satisfying aspect is that by using a dogme approach & promoting collaboration this group and I have flourished, become tight and firmly bonded and I dare say very good friends..hopefully for a long long time. Now to get language results I believe there are many ways to skin a cat, but I truely believe Dogme allows the group and trainer to focus on the more humanistic & life values of people more effectively and more easily than a non dogmatic approach.


    1. Fantastic Karl.
      That’s a really good point. A Dogme approach allows for the space and opportunities for the learners to get to know one another better, to really listen to one another and care about what each other is saying.
      However, of course, such rapport and camaraderie is a sign that the teacher has done an amazing job too!
      I’ve always said that the teacher is a little like the energetic antenna of the group, and as a good mediator and facilitator, the teacher should facilitate the bonding of the class…and by this, I don’t only mean the relationship each student has with the teacher (which often is the definition of ‘good rapport’ when it is mentioned), but also the relationships the students have with each other.

      Sounds like you are a great energetic antenna, Karl!


      PS: Remind me where in Germany you teach again? You work with Charles, don’t you?

      1. Hi Chia

        You guess right on both counts. I am in Germany and yes I do work with Charles. From my perspective (and I think Charles would agree), we have great respect for each other and we have built a great understanding and working relationship, even though our styles, backgrounds, personalities, principles and beliefs are often quite different. I must admit though, over the past 12 months, I have my training has developed and I have learned hell of a lot via our regular & often spontaneous chit-chats, reflections and idea sharing. For me this is an integral part of English training and development.

        Thanks for your reply and comment..and of course your compliment. Much appreciated.


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