The Teach-Off – The Twist Part 1

As some of you might know, I used to work at Callan School of English following the Callan Method strictly, which involved reading a script from the Callan books 8 hours a day.

Now, I’m in no way dissing Callan or any behaviourist methodologies, because I learnt a lot from them. If you don’t believe me, read this.

I then went on to work for a school that basically gave me free rein to do anything I wanted with the students as long as I did the Callan 25% of the time.

I spent 75% of the time exploring coursebooks the school had and trying them out, sometimes just doing exercise after exercise, page after page, without fully understanding what I was meant to be doing.

By the time I did my CELTA at International House London, I had already been teaching for 2 years.

The CELTA completely changed my life.

It opened my eyes to the communicative approach of teaching and really helped me to make sense of my own language learning experiences with Japanese and Spanish, and showed me how to better help my students to learn English.

The CELTA also showed me the range of materials that were out there.

I was thrilled to find books like English Phrasal Verbs in Use, English Idioms in Use, The Anti-Grammar Book, Recipes for Tired Teachers, Mark Fletcher’s Visual Grammar, Ron Martinez’s Conversation Lessons, Mark Hancock’s Pronunciation Games, Jill Hadfield’s Communication Games, Vocabulary Games and Grammar Games, etc., on top of the wonderful coursebooks like Cutting Edge and Inside Out that I was introduced to.

I was in ELT materials heaven.

Back then, when IH London was in Piccadilly, we had a bookshop in the school, and on the last day of my CELTA, I went to the bookshop and bought a whole stack of books (and a set of cuisennaire rods) as I kicked off my reinvigorated teaching career.

For more than a year after the CELTA, I was the materials girl.

Colleagues in the staffroom would tease me about constantly cutting bits of photocopied cards and pictures every single morning before lessons began.

Some colleagues even started to use me as a reference and would ask me questions such as ‘Look at this photocopy? Which book does it come from?’, to which I would immediately reply, ‘That’s from Ron Martinez’s Conversation Lessons Chapter 2’.

And I was proud of it. Why should I not be?

The experts wrote the books, and I knew them all.

We would be given, say 9 units of a coursebook to play with in a month-long course, and one day, a student said to me on the last day of his course, ‘You are the first teacher at IH that actually did every single exercise and every single page of the 9 units, and finished the coursebook! I have never finished a coursebook before!’

And he meant it as a compliment.

Since my DELTA, I have not used a coursebook.

I sometimes start to try and use one but never get past the lead-in.

It’s been 5 years since I have used a coursebook.

Today, I feel like I have come full circle.

Today, I did Varinder’s class. With a coursebook.

Below is my account of it.

Boardwork 1

Lesson aims:

  • To give students opportunities to practise reading for detailed understanding in the context of famous doctored photographs.
  • To enable students to better understand four pieces of lexis used in the reading text after processing the text for meaning.
  • To raise students’ awareness of object nouns that collocate with the verb ‘take’ and to offer controlled practice of these collocations by using sentences beginning with ‘The last exam I took…’, ‘The last train I took…’, ‘The last time I took a long walk…’, etc.
  • To enable students to notice the meaning and form of the passive voice used in the reading text about doctored photographs, and practising the use of the passive in a controlled practice about another doctored photograph, and another in the context of the writing of a formal letter.
  • To offer students opportunities for speaking practice in the context of cameras, photographs and the doctoring of photos.

Materials: Global Intermediate Pg 66 & 67.

The lesson started with me walking into the classroom and greeting the students, asking them if they knew I was taking the class today. Those that had been in my 2 weeks of Dogme classes already knew of the experiment and said that they had been informed that I was teaching today. The new students, however, didn’t quite understand who I was and why I was there, and so, I briefly explained to them the nature of the experiment and who I was.

I then revealed that I was going to be using the coursebook today.


(Stage aim: To contextualize the lesson, generate interest, engage the students and activate schemata)

As a lead-in to the lesson, I asked the students if they all had a mobile phone and asked what they normally did with the phone, aside from making calls.

Students were put in pairs as they discussed their favourite apps and games, and language like ‘to do list’, ‘address book’, ‘navigation’ and ‘online banking’ naturally emerged. I couldn’t resist and the language was begging to be fed in, and then clarified. I then elicited that one could also take photos on their mobile phones and asked if they owned a separate digital camera or if they used their mobiles for that purpose.

Using the lead-in questions in the book, I then asked, ‘Do you remember your first camera? What was it like?’

I described my first camera and told students that it was a disposable one, but I noticed that my example was not quite enough to prompt them to say more. Some said they couldn’t remember, while others didn’t think their first camera was that significant and couldn’t be bothered to describe it.

So, instinctively, I got them to close their eyes and do a visualization exercise.

Using questions and prompts, I asked, ‘What did it look like? What colour was it? Who gave it to you? What photographs did you take with it?’.

When they opened their eyes, they were put in groups to share what they had visualized.

One or two of the students of my generation had stories to tell of the days when cameras that had separate disposable flash cubes that had to be purchased, but most of the younger students didn’t seem to have many remarkable tales to relate, and so I moved on to the next question in the book – ‘Have you ever manipulated a photo? Why?’ while clarifying the question with an example.

This question definitely needed more prompting because most of the students’ first reactions were either ‘No’ or ‘Yes, just to change the colour or for red eye reduction’. It wasn’t a topic they seemed to have much to say about. One of the students asked what kind of changes we were talking about.

Pre-Reading Prediction Task

(Stage Aim: To activate schemata and generate interest in the text)

This, I thought was a nice segue into the prediction task of the reading text, so I asked students to look at the two pictures given (one of a doctored Abraham Lincoln photo and one of a doctored Stalin photo) and asked the following questions.

‘What do you notice about them? What has happened?’

Quick pairwork showed that the only things that could be said as answers to those questions were, ‘They are different’, ‘This guy’s head was changed to Abraham Lincoln’s’ and ‘They deleted these people from Stalin’s photo’.

Some students, while doing the task, instinctively tried to read the text to find the answers, and my classroom management skills took over as I said, ‘Wait, don’t read the text yet. Just look at the photo.’

I suddenly felt kind of silly doing that. Students were appropriately motivated to read the text to find out more…and here was I telling them to wait till the next stage…was I frustrating them?

So, I prompted further, ‘Do you know of any other pictures that have been doctored?

As students spoke in pairs, one talked about a very old Brazilian celebrity who had her legs photoshopped so severely that it looked ridiculously smooth. Another spoke of Belusconi and how he always has his photos touched up. She added that he liked to be positioned in such a way where he looked taller, and I jokingly mentioned Tom Cruise. The class laughed and there seemed to be more to be said about the topic. But I could see Varinder from the corner looking at me with the ‘80% coursebook!’ eyes and thought I shouldn’t let my Dogmetician side take over…

I then asked students why they think the pictures in the coursebook were doctored and they suggested that in the first picture, they might have wanted Abraham Lincoln to look taller or have a better body for propaganda purposes, while in the second picture, they have removed the people around Stalin perhaps because they don’t want to be seen with him.

Reading for Detailed Understanding

(Stage aim: To offer practice of reading for detailed understanding)

At this point, I asked students to read the text to check their predictions, and to do the reading for detailed understanding task: ‘How and why was each photo changed?’

This was a rather odd question to be asking them, to be honest, because the paragraph on the doctored photo of Abraham Lincoln simply did not state the reason for doctoring the photo, and after realizing this, students could only guess that their prediction that it might be due to propaganda might have been true.

Post-Reading Lexis

(Stage aim: To exploit the text by pulling out and clarifying some useful lexis for both receptive and productive use)

Some paircheck and feedback later, we moved swiftly on to the 4 pieces of lexis that were pulled out from the text: ‘sophisticated’, ‘fallen out with’, ‘regarded’ and exaggerated’.

The page of the coursebook provides a multiple choice exercise where students have to deduce the meaning of the lexis by looking at the co-text.

After a paircheck stage, in the open class stage, I started to further supplement the clarification of meaning with additional CCQs, highlighted the form and drew attention to certain pronunciation features and drilled the words or phrases.

At certain points, I felt that I had to supplement a lot more so as to fully exploit the four pieces of lexis and enable students to better understand their use. Here are two examples.

1. ‘We regarded that afterwards as a mistake’

Nobody in class go this one right. Many thought regarded meant ‘apologised’ (one of the multiple choice options) perhaps due to the co-text.

So, I wrote on the above sentence on the board, and then added,

‘Please regard my house as your own house’

‘You can regard me as your friend’

I then had the students in pairs discuss what they now thought ‘regard’ meant.

They all agreed it meant ‘to see things a certain way’ (one of the multiple choice options).

When we were happy with the meaning, I elicited that ‘regard’  (in this meaning) is usually followed by an object and then the preposition ‘as’ and another object.

i.e. ‘to regard somebody/something as somebody/something’

2. People who the Soviet leader Stalin had fallen out with or no longer trusted were often eliminated from pictures.

After establishing that the multiple choice answer had a disagreement with’ was the correct answer, a student then asked, ‘Can I say “I had fallen out with the newspaper or the concept or opinion?if I disagree with it?

What a brilliant question! Further concept checking was clearly needed.

So I went on to clarify that the phrasal verb could only be used when you fall out with somebody e.g. a friend, a partner, a family member, and this happens when you have a argument with them and stop talking to them.

I elicited (then fed in) that after you fall out with someone, you then say sorry and you ‘make up with someone’.

Once meaning was clarified, I wrote on the board, ‘I fell out with my friend’ and then elicited that it was a transitive phrasal verb that took the object ‘my friend’.

(Most of the students were from my 2-week Dogme class where we had previously dealt with transitive and intransitive verbs, and this was a good chance to revise this with them. The 2 new students spoke Portuguese and Italian and seemed familiar with the concept of transitivity from study of their own L1s)

I did the same for ‘make up with my friend’ before asking them how I could make this intransitive.

I started the sentence with ‘My friend and I…’ and elicited ‘fell out’ and the fact that we drop ‘with’ and the object when making this phrasal verb intransitive.

I then elicited the same for ‘make up’.

It was now time to move on to the vocabulary section.

Vocabulary and Collocations

(Stage aim: To raise awareness of collocations with ‘take’ and to provide controlled practice of given collocations)

‘Chesting’ the book, I showed students the table on the page that showed 5 categories of collocations with the verb ‘take’.

Transport                   take a taxi…

Food or medicine        take sugar…

Activities                     take a shower…

Exams                         take an exam…

Control                        take control…

Images                        take a photo…

Students now had to put the following nouns into the categories above to make collocations with ‘take’:

the bus,      drugs,       the metro,      milk,      nap,      a picture,      a pill,      power,         responsibility,      a test,       a train,      a walk.

To be honest, I found this activity quite frustrating as the collocations were out of context and the only thing they had in common was the word ‘take’… but hey, I was using the coursebook, and I was going to put my heart and soul into it.

After open class feedback, and clarifying the difference the use of ‘to walk’ and ‘to take a walk’ (where I also asked learners if they were two different words in their L1s), we moved on to the controlled practice exercise.

Learners had to complete the following sentences:

The last exam I took…

The last train I took…

The last photo I took…

The last time I took a long walk…

The last time I took responsibility for something…


This example sentence was given in the coursebook:

The last photo I took was when I went to Egypt. The temples were incredible.


This was a complex structure, especially for the large number of Far East Asian students in the class, and so I felt the need to scaffold the practice for them.

I wrote,

‘The last exam I took was very difficult’

and asked students what the subject of the sentence was.

Some said ‘exam’ and others said ‘I’ and they clearly had difficulty with this (and considering that all the phrases given to the learners to complete were noun phrases that were acting as subjects, I thought it important to guide them through this).

I elicited that the main verb was ‘was’ and then guided them towards realizing that the subject was ‘the last exam I took’.

The last exam I took


very difficult.




Some students then cleverly asked if we could replace the adjective slot with adverbials like ‘last week’ or ‘with my friend’ or ‘at school’, and I sent them off in pairs to complete the exercise.

However, if you look at the example sentence given (The last photo I took was when I went to Egypt.), you would notice that the scaffolding was still in progress at this point.

After completing the sentences with adjectives and adverbials, checking with their partners and sharing with the class, I then pushed them to see that

‘The last exam I took was when I first came to London’ was also possible, with ‘when I first came to London’ acting as the object.

This time, students made sentences with ‘when’ phrases as the object.

But the most amusing thing was when I tried to expand on the sentences students made in open class feedback.

One student said, ‘The last exam I took was last month’.

I asked, ‘Oh? Which exam was that?

He replied, ‘Oh, it’s not true. I was only doing the exercise.’


As I went round the class, I realized that more than half the class did the same. None of them were able to tell me more about their ‘experience’ because those sentences were simply not true.

It was a practice exercise, and that’s how they saw it.

Watching them in paircheck and open class feedback stages, it was also obvious that they did not see those stages as speaking practice or chances for interaction in English.

The goal for them was the practice exercise and trying to get the answers for it.

And they certainly didn’t see the point in expanding much on their answers.

If I had told them to complete the sentences with ‘real’ answers from their lives, would it have made a difference?

Or are the sentences so random and devoid of context that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway?

Does it matter that they weren’t giving real answers and were just drilling the use of ‘the last time I…was…when I …’ and collocations with ‘take’?

We took a break at this point and I promised to look at the passive voice when we came back.

Boardwork 2

Grammar: The passive (Present stage)

(Stage aim: To help students better understand the use of the passive, the reasons for its use, and the different tenses the passive can take)

The top of the grammar section had three sentences from the previous reading text featuring verbs in the passive voice.

This photo was taken in 1862.

Parts of the photo have been changed.

Photos are being manipulated more than ever now.

This was followed by the following rules

  • We form the passive with ‘be’ and a past participle.
  • We use the passive when we don’t know who did the action, the action isn’t important or the action is more important than the person or thing who did it (the agent).


I had students look at the example sentences and read the grammar rules.

It was a moment that I must admit I felt rather uncomfortable with.

I would have much preferred to give them as chance to notice the structure themselves, and to read the text and speculate reasons why they think the author has chosen to use the passive instead of the active voice in each case that the passive was used.

Of course, some might argue that giving students the ‘rules’ would save time and can be just as efficient.

Anyway, after eliciting that the tense changes in the passive happens on the verb ‘to be’ and not the past participle, I then proceeded to ask students to find 7 examples of the passive voice from the reading text.

I then expanded on the task on my own by asking students to change those passive sentences to active ones.

Students ended up with sentences like :

‘Somebody put Lincoln’s head onto the body of Southern politician’

‘Somebody eliminated the people from pictures.’

‘Somebody squeezed together the Pyramids of Giza’, etc.

Students started to say, ‘Sounds strange. They all start with “somebody”


So I asked them what was wrong with that, and together we agreed that it was boring, and not deserving of subject position because it was the theme of the sentence and because we didn’t know who that somebody was.

This time round, I felt as if they understood the reasons for the passive much better.

Controlled Practice 1 (Practice Stage)

(Stage aim: To provide controlled practice of the use of the passive by allowing students to choose between the active and the passive in the context of a text about another doctored picture)

As controlled practice to the passive voice, students then had to fill in the gaps of a text with the correct form of the verbs in the brackets, putting them in the active or passive voice.

The text was about a Chinese photographer Liu Weiqiang, who had doctored a photo with a high-speed train and a herd of antelopes and was given an award.
The photo was not on the page, and so while students were completing the gap-fill, I took the initiative of looking for the photo in question on the internet and on my iPad.

After students finished checking their answers with their partners, I asked, ‘Would you like to see that photo?

To my surprise, the answer from most of the students was, ‘Which photo?’

I said, ‘The one in the text you have just read!

The students said, ‘It was about a photo? We were not reading it! We were only doing the grammar exercise!

Is it my fault for not doing a gist reading task before the gap-fill?

Even if I did, would the students be so focused on the grammar task that they wouldn’t really care about the text?

Does it matter that they didn’t read the content of the text?

If not, then why have the text? What would then be the difference between that and having random practice sentences a la Murphy?

Controlled Practice 2 (Practice Stage)

(Stage aim: To provide controlled practice of the passive by having students convert sentences in the active to the passive while using different tenses in the context of a letter)

Deviating from the context of doctored photos (but still having some connection to photos in there), the text given to students to convert was as follows:

We’re sorry, we have lost your photographs. We usually keep them in a box on the table. The other day somebody was cleaning the shop. They moved the box. I’m afraid we can’t find the photos now. We will send you a new set of photographs to your home address.

After a paircheck and open class feedback stage, I asked students whether they felt that the original text or the one with the passive sentences were more formal.

Looking at the content of the text,  and with some eliciting and prompting, we then established that the passive voice made the writer seem more distant, less personal and therefore allowed the writer to take less responsibility for the loss of the photos.

The activities of this unit then ends at this point, and I had students look at all the emergent words on the board and do a quick recall with their partners as to what they meant. Thanks, Varinder, for this! It worked really well!

There was one thing, however, that I didn’t quite expect to feel, but consistently did throughout the coursebook lesson I taught today.

I felt distinctly more authoritative, more in control, and more of a teacher.

I felt in charge with the coursebook.

And the way I acted started to tend towards those roles too as the lesson progressed.

I felt my rapport-building jokes and conversations not as genuine and certainly not able to run its course.

I felt like I wasn’t really listening to all the students had to say, and not asking the natural questions that led on from their utterances.

I felt teacher-centred.

I felt like a performer. A performer with a script.

I felt like I’ve come full circle.


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.

35 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – The Twist Part 1”

  1. This is a dilemma isn’t it? What do you do with a student who has no interests or passions, who is content with a yes-no answer? Then an attractively presented course book with lots of gaily coloured pictures and texts in brightly hued boxes with exotically shaped borders looks like a lifeline that should be grabbed with both hands. The teacher and the student then comfortably ignore the possibility that Anatolian spaghetti weaving isn’t something that is likely to crop up any time soon in the life of a normal person but it does provide an opportunity to practice the pluperfect split passive or whatever.

    We sometimes jokingly speculate just what we as EFL teachers could actually get students to do. They are so used to us with our bits of string, coloured cards, dice and imaginative activities that they would probably stand on their heads for half an hour if we asked them to. So introducing a topic, unconnected to the learners life, by text, photo or whatever just induces the “exercise mode” of mindless regurgitation.
    Course book writers have the unenviable job of providing a vehicle for the assimilation of a wide variety of elements of the language in a way that is potentially interesting and stimulating for people with the widest range of backgrounds imaginable. Frankly an impossible task and it’s surprising that they do as well as they do.

    I find that many learners have been so “schooled” that it takes some time for them to realise that they have to engage in their learning by providing the source material rather than being spoon fed by a teacher. They have to realise that it’s all about them, not the teacher, the exercise, the bleary photocopy or the razzy course book.

    Was it not Ivan Illich in the early 1970s who wrote about deschooling society and learning webs? I seem to remember that he wrote about using each waking moment as an opportunity to learn and share and I feel that we as EFL teachers are in a unique position to do this. I learn a huge amount from my learners such as their cultures, businesses, language, leisure activities and so on. This enriches me and I think enriches my teaching.

    So where to from here? We have the advantage of a lot of technology that makes it possible to bring fresh relevant material into the classroom, we have tomes of methodology wisdom from the Harmers and Thornburys of this world and even the recent e-publication of 52 ways to get your P45 from those naughty boys Luke and Lindsay so we’re not short of ideas to get learners talking. Maybe we are a bit short on time and inclination. It’s OK for me to sit here and pontificate. For me TEFL is a paid hobby and I don’t do a full day so I have time to cogitate and read around the subject but for a career teacher doing a full day I think that things are going to be different. Couple that with the disincentive of the frankly scandalously low financial reward of teaching and you don’t have a situation that encourages people to be courageous enough to abandon their comfort zone.

    It will be very interesting to see what if anything comes from the IH learners at the end of this remarkable exercise and to see if the outcome confirms or indicates changes in current practice.

    1. Thank you so much Peter for your very insightful comments.
      You are so absolutely spot-on in saying that although we try to present the context and the communicative purpose with pictures, cards, texts, etc…learners come in with their expectations and their experience of what language learning is like…
      So they ignore all the razzmatazz and go straight for the grammar point and mindless regurgitation. Sigh.

      Now, I have no problems with mindless regurgitation at all. I do believe there is a time and place for that. But there needs to be a time and place for authentic interaction and negotiation of meaning too.

      And if the razzmatazz is not providing the motivation for such interaction and speaking practice, then perhaps we need to consider the fact that all the resources we need are right under our noses.

      The students have so much to say and all we need to do is get them talking about what they really care about.

      It’s an interesting point you made about the amount of time a teacher has for their professional development, and the low salaries they receive.
      Perhaps if we want to be seen a real experts of our field, it’s time to invest in our own CPD before we can expect to see changes to the attitudes of how much pay we deserve.

      But there are always those who think, ‘That’s my working hours done for the day. I’m not going to talk or read about language teaching or learning in my free time…’


  2. Hi Chia!

    So much of this post resonates with feelings I have on a daily basis about teaching! I am an ESOL teacher in Shetland, where I work with an intermediate level class for two lessons each week. In one lesson we work from Headway Intermediate; the other is book free. I totally agree with what you write about the shift you feel in your role as teacher when working from a course book. I guess working from the book puts you, the teacher, at the centre of a world where language is much tidier and tasks more structured, in contrast with the messier, more democratic environment of the Dogme class.

    Thanks for the insights!


    1. Wow, you work on the Shetland islands?
      That’s so amazing!
      What kind of students do you normally get?

      Thanks for your comments, Genevieve.
      I’m glad you share my sentiments.
      The tasks and activities are indeed more structured in a coursebook-based lesson. And there’s a beginning and an end to everything.
      But real life isn’t like that, is it?

      ; )


      1. Hi Chia!

        Most of my learners are migrant workers from Poland and Hungary. But I also teach learners from Thailand, China, Morocco, Slovenia and Spain. I love my work and my home!

        Look forward to reading your next installment,


  3. Thought-provoking post! I had a moment today, where I was using a bit of a course book. A student piped up with something related but not what I had planned to do. I loved having the freedom to run with what the student wanted to know more about and leave what I’d planned for later. The students got really fired up about it and there was a lot of good fluency practice. That’s the nice thing about not having a rigid time frame/course book scenario. I’m still not confident enough to go pure dogme though. I want to but I’m just not sure how to go about it!

    1. Fantastic! Sounds like an amazing Dogme moment that you ran with, Lizzie!
      I love the fact that you said the students got really fired up about it!
      That’s the amazing part, isn’t it? The motivation levels are just through the roof!

      I think that it’s more than just fluency practice that was taking place though.

      First of all, I don’t really buy into the whole fluency/accuracy distinction…
      For me, every so-called freer speaking activity is also a chance to look at certain aspects of the learners’ accuracy (lexis, grammar, pronunciation and discourse).

      But more importantly, the process through which the learner is trying to construct sentences in his/her head, trying to say what he/she means, trying to negotiate meaning in the dynamic interaction…That process is language acquisition itself.

      It’s not just fluency practice, but it’s the brain of the learner trying to get round how to phrase things and put things in place to mean what he wants to mean.

      As you can probably tell, I get really excited when I see moments like that happening.
      I get even more excited when learners struggle to say what they want to say.
      Because that is it.
      That is language acquisition happening right before our eyes.


      1. I think you put it all so much better than me!

        When I said fluency practice, I kind of more meant that it wasn’t talk disconnected to communication, as per the coursebook exercises you described where the student was just trying to say the correct structure.

        And because they were motivated to express what they wanted to say, they were talking more. They were struggling, I was helping, and in the end they succeeded. And it certainly set the tone of the rest of the lesson (it happened early on in the lesson and throughout the lesson, we made joking references back to it too).

        It was certainly the part of the lesson they were most fired up about! Which is telling. I really want to do more dogme. I suppose the only solution is to jump in and try! Maybe tomorrow…

        1. Ah, I see.
          Yes, indeed, communicative interaction is so central to language learning and what better way than to use the natural communication that occurs among people.

          Sounds like you are talked yourself into trying a deep-end Dogme lesson tomorrow!
          Good luck!
          Let us know how it goes!


  4. After coming across your blog, I realised that, in fact, I`ve been using (unawarely, but with great fluency results) Dogme/Dogma in my one-to-one lessons quite often. It would be extremely useful and interesting to lively observe a pure Dogme lesson during my CELTA course in September. Do you think this is possible?

    1. Hi Camelia,
      Thanks for your lovely support.

      I would of course be happy for you to come and observe me but if I’m not wrong, I’m going to be working for the Business English department that month.
      Also, There are observations planned for you during the CELTA (although you do get a choice of a few teachers/classes to choose from)…

      Unfortunately, if you are talking about a pure deep-end Dogme kind of lesson, I might be the only teacher at the school that does it, but most of our teachers adapt and supplement the coursebook anyway, and so you’ll definitely be observing quite a few Dogme moments, I’m sure.

      Nevertheless, it’d be great to meet you in Sept. Come say hello!


  5. Hi Chia,

    This is brilliant. So much that you say is exactly how I feel about using published material in class. The effect on the students is paramount. By having something in the room which the teacher has brought in is obviously going to create a more top-down environment. Also, we are more likely to assume the traditional roles that many contexts of learning have instilled in us. I have found this too, and it shows me that by moving away from published material we open up the possibilities for more realistic communication between the people in the room, and as your experiment is proving – we can still cover many different language points.

    It’s amazing that you have felt first hand the difference in how the learners respond to the activities by not making them personalised because they are only “doing the grammar exercise”. Of course, you could argue that a coursebook teacher could make the students personalise the task, but that’s the point, isn’t it? Why should it be forced? And if it is forced, how much will be retained later? I would hazard a guess that not as Much as if the language was fed in to fill a gap in knowledge that came about through really wanting to express something.


    1. Thanks for your very well-worded comment, Jem.

      Indeed, can you imagine me trying to hide my giggles when the students said, ‘Huh? It’s not true. I was only doing the exercise!’

      And then later,
      ‘Huh? What photo? I didn’t read the text. I was only doing the exercise!’

      All our efforts (or the writers’, rather) to provide a context, to make the activity as communicative as possible, and the students hardly notice it.

      Can I giggle now?

      (in a corner….hee hee hee….)


  6. I have to say I’d been waiting eagerly for this since the start of the experiment, as I remembered that you had mentioned it in the original premise of the whole experiment (Varinder’s turn at teaching dogme to come, right?). So, I was a bit confused when you tweeted earlier – had you thought up another twist, and what was going on?!

    I guess it’s the nature of the beast, in that detailed narration of the lessons and your (and Varinder’s) choices in how to go about it in class means the posts are really long. But maybe that’s saying something more about my attention span when reading? I know I’ve been doing a fair bit of that recently!

    Anyway, a couple of points immediately jumped out at me. This seemed like a definite dogme take on the coursebook (see the sneakily inserted visualisation for example) making the most of the smallest part of the exercise on the page and milking it for what it’s worth. Also, I got the feeling throughout that the language that you covered, while in as much detail as in one of your dogme lessons, seemed a lot more artificial. The phrases were stilted, the content wasn’t wholely relevant (the learners reading about doctoring photos – come on, a DELTA observer would have your guts for garters in asking you to provide the real-life need you’re addressing there with that reading text!).

    On the whole, the language and the content just didn’t seem important to me, and I’m not sure how important it will have been for the people who matter the most in the class: the learners. Surely if you’re taking what they have to say as the starting point, as in a dogme/unplugged way of doing stuff, there will be immediate relevance and contextualisation. If we’re working with the learners’ ideas and language, what we’re really saying is ‘Hey, guys, you know what’s really important, here and now in this lesson? It’s you.’ Not some book written by some one else, no matter how well researched, colourful or jam-packed with activities it is.

    1. Yep. I agree on that one Mike. Yes, you were ‘doing the plan’ and had aims related to the syllabus (book) but it’s not a ‘tailored to their needs’. This is a huge argument but I guess your school works on ‘the book as the syllabus’ in a way.

      Yes, it was disjointed and you could see things coming and it was just X, Y, Z with bit of grease thrown in to ease things a long but what do people want? Is ‘going with the flow’ and ‘doing what they apparently need/want’ the solution? Or is half-half the best? These are the questions that keep popping up.

      To be very honest, I’d say that I can choose and work on texts and listening quite well, I’m also goodish at creating and developing speaking and writing BUT I definitely bow down to the expertise of people like Lindsay when it comes grammar, lexical work and functional language. Yes, I can use a concordancer, thesaurus etc when I’m teaching specific stuff like Transport logistics, Import/Export or Customs procedures. General English phrases and lexis just doesn’t cut it. I need the correct language for those areas. This is, as we all know, one criticism of Dogme. Countless lessons begin from “what did you do at the weekend?” and just focus on social topics. It’s clear that you Chia are a linguistic master and can fill the grammar gap left from the book but do you think you know enough or can access enough lexis/functional language to match or beat the/a/several books? How many teachers do you think this applies to?

      I like a good text, always have and there’s so much enjoyment everyone can get out of them, and yes, mining and exploiting the grammar too. Same for listening.

      Academic writing and different types of writing is also something I enjoy and that many of my students need.

      So, I think it would be nice to hear and see more Dogme from outside typical ELT classrooms and also to hear how people plug these gaps. The current class solutions seem to be 1)students select texts/listenings 2)everything is speaking-focussed with some writing 3)dictionaries/concordancers are used. Does this match or beat a coursebook though? Hmmmm.

      1. Thanks for your very relevant and thought-provoking (as always) comment, Phil.
        This is a very good point you are making about ESP, and it was very much the theme of Evan Frendo’s talk at the English UK Business Trainers’ Conference on Saturday.

        Considering that more and more of our students are really learning English for their own specific purposes and fewer and fewer students are doing it for no apparent reason, this is a very relevant question that we should definitely be addressing.

        I think that as a teacher, I clearly can’t know everything about my learners’ expertise. But they do and more of than not, they already know the jargon and the technical words in English, and all they need is to put it in a coherent sentence.
        In such cases, I get learners to ‘teach’ me about their field and to bring in texts that they frequently encounter in their field of work.

        However, this may not always work.
        If you are getting a learner who is about to start working for the shipping and trade department and still doesn’t know their INCO terms, then clearly, I’m going to have to do some research and come in with the relevant lexical phrases and terminology (although in my very short 5 years of Business English teaching, I have never come across a learner that wants to know the INCO terms).

        This research I do may be the hours of searching and trawling the internet, or may simply be a well-written ESP book in that particular area. Sometimes, I might not even have a choice, seeing that not all areas have ESP books written about them.

        I have a friend who teaches English to Poultry Farmers in Scotland.
        I don’t think there are many ESP books about that…
        But he can search for authentic texts like the Health and Safety regulations of the farms and use the text and the language in that for his classes.

        But I do concede that if I have to teach a very specific area that I know nothing about, I would find an ESP coursebook in that area very helpful.
        Am I being lazy?


    2. Some really astute perceptions there, Mike.

      First of all, you’re right…it’s not much of a twist when I kind of mentioned it in post The Teach-Off – the premise…
      I might just go back and delete it! heh heh…

      Secondly, I must apologise about the looooong posts…but as you said, it’s the nature of the beast…
      I fear that shortening it would not do the lesson any justice.

      In fact, funny that you said that because as I was writing this yesterday, I thought of you.
      I was thinking, ‘Hmmm…this post is about 3000 words long… I wonder if Mike Harrison’s Delta Lesson Plan is this long?…I feel like I’m doing the Delta again.’
      Honestly, those were the exact words that went through my head!

      Okay, now for the more serious part of your comment.
      Just to play Devil’s Advocate,
      do you think this is a Dogmetician’s take on the coursebook?
      e.g. me using Visualisation techniques, delving deeper into some of the language points than the coursebook did, providing more scaffolding, eliciting lots and providing opportunities for guided discovery and consciousness-raising when possible and appropriate, milking the conversations and feeding in some emergent language…

      Some might say that that isn’t Dogme…
      That that is what teachers should do to supplement the coursebook anyway.
      That that is what teachers should do to lift the lesson off the page (as opposed to ‘turn and burn’)
      That that is just good teaching.

      What do you reckon?


      PS: Love all the stuff you said about the phrases being stilted, the content not being relevant and the language seeming artificial. But to a Delta tutor, a coursebook user could claim that the reading text was relevant in that it provides reading sub skill practice, and that alone is the real life use…

      1. Sorry, I must jump back in.


        I have tried and tried them and they just have never worked. students have generally thought I was mad. they seem to belong to a hippy/esoteric branch of ELT which my students just don’t see as useful and even insulting. I can’t count how many times I have heard ‘he/she/you treat us like children, this isn’t primary school’.

        Am I doing them wrong maybe?

      2. 4000 words 😉

        Good point to DA what I said about it being a dogmetician’s take on a book. Perhaps not, perhaps just good teaching. But as you mention, some teachers are of the turn and burn variety, so having a dogme ethos allows you to see where the activities can be introduced differently, broken up, extened more readily. I think someone whose training was mainly book-based might not be able to see/sense those opportunities as they appear. Of course that does depend on the teacher in question, their imagination, creativity and mindset.

  7. This was an interesting lesson to watch as i could see Chia struggling to keep to the book and on many occasions failing to do it. It also showed me a range of teaching techniques that Chia has which have not been apparent in the Dogme lessons I have observed her teach. Interesting indeed ……..

    1. Ah hah! Was I ‘failing to keep to the book’?
      Or was I simply ‘lifting the book off the page’?
      Haven’t lots of anti-Dogme proponents suggested that this is simply good teaching and has nothing to do with Dogme?
      Let me quote what I wrote to Mike Harrison here, as it seems relevant.
      Just to play Devil’s Advocate,
      do you think this is a Dogmetician’s take on the coursebook?
      e.g. me using Visualisation techniques, delving deeper into some of the language points than the coursebook did, providing more scaffolding, eliciting lots and providing opportunities for guided discovery and consciousness-raising when possible and appropriate, milking the conversations and feeding in some emergent language…

      On your second point, Varinder,
      You haven’t seen me teach enough to know of the techniques that I use in my Dogme classes (partly because of timetable issues, and partly because I only did 8 Dogme lessons for this teach-off, and partly because no two Dogme classes are ever the same)

      As I have said many a time, it’s improvised principled eclecticism
      I have many many tricks in my bag (or as Dale prefers, ‘up my sleeve’) to pull out as and when it suits the occasion and the learner…

      Wait till you see me use the technique when I get learners to float around the room in a meditative state to Baroque music and they feel the passive voice!

      ; )


      1. I don’t think I need to see every lesson you teach to see you display different teaching techniques – I remeber another lesson I observed outside of this teach-off which was very similar (a bit “samey” if that’s a word). I would love to see you getting your learners to float and feel the passive voice!! I’m just happy my learners can produce a few sentences using passive voice let alone make them float and feel it. Wow!!

        I don’t doubt you have many tricks in your bag – it’s the least I would expect from a teacher with your experience and knowledge. The problem is I haven’t seen those tricks before and I saw some in one lesson yesterday. Coincidental? Maybe. Or maybe not.

        1. Oh? Which tricks might you be referring to, Varinder? Which teaching techniques/skills do you think the coursebook lesson brought out in me that a Dogme lesson couldn’t?

    2. ‘i could see Chia struggling to keep to the book and on many occasions failing to do it’

      Forgive me for jumping in, but I think this quote illustrates something I feel fundamentally about learning and books (whether language learning or not).

      The object of a lesson should never, never, never be to ‘keep up with the book’. To believe that is a fallacy. Nothing should dictate the progress other than the learners and what they are ready for.

      1. I made that comment because the rules of this teach off was at least 50% course book and I have been sticking to the book at least 80% of the time. Of course the lesson objective should never be to keep up with the book – I think most teachers are aware of this!! I am more learner focused than Dogme ever will be – ooohhh controversial…

  8. Loved this last week, still going strong…where do you get your energy from! I think you are both super brave for doing this all out in the open: this is an amazing data set you are building up, hope that you (or someone) is able to use it for some kind of research.
    Hats off to you both…looking forward to reading about Varinder doing the dogme walk 🙂

    1. Hi Ed,
      Boy, are we both knackered!
      Thanks for the support and encouragement.
      Hopefully this will all serve as good qualitative research for the future.

      Hope you are enjoying Varinder’s blogpost about doing the ‘Dogme walk’.


  9. Hi there

    It’s been interesting to read both the post and the comments here as they cover so many different points. I teach ESOL and have never really found any coursebook suitable with my learners so have generally tended to come up with materials myself as I needed them and to look for authentic materials where I can. That’s not to say that I don’t find some exercises useful in coursebooks but generally more for self-study. I’m always amazed by how obsessed some colleagues are with their latest ‘find’.

    Some of my students are still at the very beginning of learning to read so there is very little that would be appropriate for them in a standard ELT coursebook anyway – I guess this may be something which comes up more in ESOL teaching? Having said that I discovered an ancient old basic reader in one of our cupboards the other day and my two beginner readers were fighting over it!

    I only really came across the ‘Dogme’ concept in ELT fairly recently and was suspicious of it just being another ‘label’, however it’s been really interesting to find out a bit more. I think I would still avoid the label myself but kind of like the fact that I definitely agree with some of the ideas behind it….

    1. Hi Diana,
      Thanks for your comments. It is always interesting to hear the relevance of our EFL experiment contexts like ESOL.
      Not sure if you know this, but Melanie Cooke, who has written some books about ESOL, did some action research into a method that is very similar to Dogme, but was labelled as such. You might want to look into that.


    2. Hi Diana

      I’m quite suprised that you say there aren’t many materials appropriate to ESOL learners – have you tried the TALENT website? What about the Skills for Life materials which are specifically designed for ESOL learners and are tied in to the Skills for Life curriculum. there is also the Institute for Learning (IFL) which has an enormous amount of support for ESOL teachers. Of course there’s also onestopenglish which has a very good ESOL part.

      I’ve worked in ESOL and found there to be plenty of materials and all relevant to the learners. I have also taught basic literacy classes and again plenty of stuff on the above websites for them – for both reading and writing.


  10. I am sorry it’s taken me a while to find the time to ask this question, but for me the key is:
    “Students were appropriately motivated to read the text to find out more…and here was I telling them to wait till the next stage…”.
    In other words, not only did you use the coursebook, but used it in a specific way and according to a specific methodology as prescribed by the coursebook writer. And that was according to a PPP paradigm.
    Is that really what ‘using a coursebook’ or a ‘coursebook lesson’ means? Aren’t there other ways to use a coursebook other than slavishly following it in order?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: