The Teach-Off – The Twist Part 2

Yesterday, I had to teach with the coursebook.

Today, Varinder Unlu’s had to teach with pure Dogme.

This is her account of the events.

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

Meanwhile, let me hand you over to Varinder


2nd May 2012

Sticking the original rules set out by both Chia and myself, today I had to teach a Dogme lesson.  The day started with me feeling quite exhausted as I had done CELTA input on Tuesday evening and didn’t finish work until 21.30 and had spent the day dealing with day to day running of the General English department.  But I was not going to let tiredness stop me from fulfilling my duties.

The lesson – as much as I can recall:

I started by collecting some dictionaries and a set of mini white boards for a vocabulary revision activity I was thinking about doing with the class in the 45 minutes of the lesson.

As I entered the room, four students were already there.  We greeted each other and then one of the students approached me with his CV and explained that he had been invited to an interview for a job and they wanted him to send them his CV in English.  He asked if I could have a look at it and see if was ok.  As I was going through his CV , other students started arriving and one of the Japanese students asked me what was happening.  I explained that I was checking a CV at which he became very excited and asked me if I could do the same for him.  I told him to bring it in tomorrow and we would look at it tomorrow.  This all happened before 9 o’clock.

I started the class by asking students what they did yesterday after the lesson.  One student said he had gone to Harrods.  The conversation about Harrods became about how expensive it is and one student said that he thought people had to pay £5 to use the toilets there.  I could not tell the student if this was true or false as I have never been to Harrods!! The other students were also not sure if this was true or not.  We moved on to what the student bought from there and he said he had bought a handbag for his mother.  We talked about different departments in the store and then one student mentioned the shrine in memory of Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed which is in one part of Harrods.  She said it was kitsch and the other students wanted to know what this meant.  I asked her to explain and she tried by saying “it’s the opposite of elegant”.  We tried to explain with some examples and I said “cheesy”.  This is a difficult word to explain unless there are some visuals and I would normally bring up a picture on the IWB to show meaning but the IWB hasn’t been working all week.  I don’t think I did a very good job of explaining.


Then the conversation changed as one student started talking about another big shop on Carnaby Street, near Oxford Street.  I actually didn’t know what he was talking about and it took quite a while before someone said “Liberty’s”.  I’ve heard of the store but have never been there either and did not actually know where it is. (I’m not a fan of big shops and department stores and generally keep away from them).  The students obviously know where these shops are as they are not only students but are also tourists.  The student said he likes the fabric at Liberty’s and I asked the class if they knew what “fabric” is and one student said “a place for producing things”  – he was obviously thinking about “factory”. I clarified that fabric here did not mean factory and other members of the class told him what it was by pointing to their clothes and saying clothes.  This moved us onto what else fabric can be used for and language emerging: sheets, pillowcase, duvet cover, blackout blinds, curtains, sponge, feathers, cotton, lie-in, get up.  From a description of duvet the conversation went onto one student talking about how he likes to get up late on a Sunday morning , have a large breakfast, read a newspaper.  We spoke briefly about lie-in and how many people liked to do this on a Sunday morning.  I said that I don’t like to lie-in on a Sunday and get up at 6 and one student said that’s when he’s usually coming back from a party or nightclub.

Here I thought the conversation was starting to (panic on my behalf?) so I started talking about someone I’d seen on the train this morning who was being selfish.  I said rude people were a pet hate of mine and tried to get students to talk about pet hates which did not happen.  The conversation somehow ended up being about driving and different kinds of drivers, passing tests and getting points on licences.  We discussed that in the students’ countries people have to re-take their tests after a year or five years.  I eventually put the students into pairs and asked them to tell each what happens when they take a driving test.  I then changed the pairings and asked the students to explain what they had learned from their previous partner. There are two students who do not drive and one of them was clearly bored with the subject and did not really want to talk about driving and anything related to it.

As students were working in pairs I monitored and helped when they needed me with language or clarification and I also noted down errors and new lexis.  After the pair work I tried to move onto the error correction slot but ended up explaining cut off in great detail to students because they asked different questions about its uses.

After the break I put the class into two groups and each group had to choose 10 words from the last week.  Each student had two words each and they had to write three definitions with only one being the correct definition and the other two being false.  The students worked in their groups to choose their words and then divided them up. I monitored and helped.  When they had finished writing their definitions, I gave the students a mini whiteboard each and explained that each person from the teams will read their word and the three definitions and the opposing team had to write down A, B or C depending on which definition they thought was correct.  We played this game until the end of the lesson.

Varinder doing an Alan Sugar as she explains, ‘You’re Fired!’


In my own opinion this lesson, apart from the final activity was not a good lesson.  The board was covered in loads of lexis, similar to what I’ve seen in Dogme lessons (not only Chia’s, I might add) and it left me thinking about how much the learners would retain from this lesson.  Of course if I was to continue teaching in this way I would revisit the language in the next lesson to consolidate but in my feeling is that it was far too much.  I’m also not a fan of going into grammar terminology with students and like to keep things simple.

I also felt bad about the students who had no interest in driving and didn’t really want to talk about this topic.

I don’t think my learners went away with much knowledge of anything new and it left me feeling rather depressed.  I hate it when I know that my lesson has been pants and not much learning was taking place.  We went from one topic to another and covered about six in total because that’s where the students were taking them, I had follow.  I couldn’t actually remember much of the lesson afterwards and had to really think about what happened.  The above account is not entirely accurate as I still can’t remember some of the stages.  This could be down to number of factors – general tiredness on my part or just too many things happening in the classroom.  I think I’m my own biggest critic and am honest enough to know when lesson was not as good as I would like it to be.

Overall opinion: not a successful lesson which left me feeling disappointed with the learning outcomes and very thirsty (TTT very high).  Teacher-led, teacher focused, not catering to everyone’s learning styles and needs.

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.

24 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – The Twist Part 2”

  1. Nice to hear about your Dogme experience Varinder even if it didn’t go how you’d like. Will you try it again at all or is that it for you?
    It’s interesting that you mention the number of lexical items that arose as this is something I’ve been wondering about recently. I try to help my students with whatever items they want to know but worry about overloading them with new words and lack of retention. Perhaps it is because some of the words are relevant only to 1 or 2 students and so those students remember those words whilst the others forget them.
    Did you do any activities to introduce an element of practice of the lexis that arose? It seams like the class just kept moving on to the next topic with out activities to help reinforce the learnings (sorry if this is a misperception.
    Thank you (and Chia) both for this series, it’s been really great to read and very interesting.

    1. thanks for you comments Christopher. Yes I would try Dogme again in such a pure form. I had absolutely no materials when I walked into the classroom apart from a boardmarker.

      I think there always some elements of Dogme in my teaching anyway but three hours of teaching with no materials isn’t something I enjoy doing. The one pairwork activity I did was on the driving test and the final hour was revision of lexis that students had learned over the past month and that was done in groups. But yes (your perception is not wrong) most of the lesson went from topic to topic. I think that’s why I felt so frustrated after the lesson because nothing much came out of the lesson apart from loads of lexis.

      I did speak to the learners very briefly after the lesson and I will be including this feedback in my final post. It was quite interesting……..

  2. Oh, oh, oh. I finally get to comment on this fascinating experiment and blogathon. Firstly, I feel your pain. Sometimes a Dogme style lesson can sometimes meander out of control and it is hard to nail something down and choose the right topic to talk about. I have some questions, which I hope you have time to answer. I know you’re busy so I understand.

    1) how much pair work went on in the class?
    2) What stopped you from concentrating on one of the main talking points and focussing exercises or activities on this topic?
    3) the last time you did a topic from the course book, was every student interested in that topic?
    4) Did you go into the class with any sort of plan?
    5) Will you go into the next lesson with a skeleton plan or more structured idea of what you want to do?

    I really admire both of you for taking on this challenge and more importantly for being so brave and sharing everything that happens along the way. Great reading by what sounds like great teachers. Lucky students.


    1. Hi Adam

      So glad that you’ve commented. Finally someone who feels my pain!! There was some pairwork in class but not as much as I normally like to do. The lesson was very much teacher led and I absolutely hate this.
      As for your second question – I think as soon as we started looking at one thing another point would come out of it and we would start talking about that …
      Last time I did a topic from the book – yes the all the students were interested in it as they had all chosen it together. That’s what I usually do – allow them to choose.
      I had no plan – is this wrong??
      Because this is a Dogme v coursebook teachoff I will be going in with a plan – as i am teaching from the book.

      Thank you so much for your final comment. Hope you enjoy reading the rest of the lessons and our findings.


      1. Hi Varinder,
        Looking at your responses to Adam and Chris, I wonder if you might have misunderstood Dogme…
        Sure, Dogme is about using students as a resource and using the topics that students generate to dictate the topic of conversation.

        However, the teacher also needs to be a skilled mediator and direct the flow of conversation towards the things that either would interest or benefit the most number of students in that class.
        e.g. Once my students were talking about religion and it was generating lots of wonderful speaking practice when one students started attacking another…I had to quickly jump in and manoeuvre the conversation away towards something else and we picked up on a topic that we left off earlier in the lesson.

        The teacher also needs to be a skilled linguist, in the sense that he or she needs to be able to pick up on the lexis that needs feeding in, the emergent language that would be useful to the students, and scaffold their language abilities and skills accordingly.

        Thus, Dogme isn’t about feeding in whatever lexis the topic churns out or even lexis that one student after another asks for.


        1. Hi Chia

          I don’t think I have misunderstood Dogme – have done some research and reading on the approach and seen many lessons taught in this way to understand what it is – slightly patronising on your part to be saying that! I believe I am a skilled mediator and a skilled linguist – you’re almost implying that I’m not in your reply!! I just don’t believe in Dogme as passionately as you do. I still believe there’s more to teaching than conversation lead lessons and that variety is key. Dogme is just one part of teaching and should not be used exclusively.

          The more I talk to Dogmeticians and read what their views, the more frustrated I become at their doggedness of approach/method. There’s more to teaching (and life) than focusing on one thing.

          Dogme has some good points but it also has it’s flaws as with any method/approach and that it what needs to be taken into consideration. I don’t believe in a blinkered view of things.

    2. Hi Adam,
      Thanks for commenting. Sorry, it took me this long to respond. It’s been rather hectic…heh heh…

      Your questions are really astute and are always good questions that a Dogme teacher should always ask him/herself before teaching a Dogme lesson.

      Thanks for being part of the Teach-Off!


  3. Hi Varinder,

    I enjoyed your interesting account. Just one thing that I noticed; at the beginning, or even before the class got going, students were expressing interest in CV writing in English. I wonder if this could have been an opportunity to lead into some task-based activity; in my experience students love writing and upgrading and tweaking their CVs!


    1. Hi Tom

      Yes you’re right two out of twelve students did show interest in CV writing but that was all. I didn’t want to the rest of the class to feel as if they were being forced to do something they didn’t want to. But you are right if the whole class had been interested this would have been an easier lesson.


      1. Hi Varinder,

        How I could see this going is:

        1 Find out who wants to tweak CV, or help tweak.
        2 focus on what is important in a CV, job search.
        3. Role play a job interview based on those CBS in pairs.

        I think the next direction would emerge. It would also be a chance to get into more formal language. Just my two cents… But I think Tom sniffed out an opportunity that comes up when you get the material from the students. You know your chops well enough, so with more practice at noticing opportunity (easy to do from the peanut gallery) you could add more tools to your already well stocked toolkit.

  4. It seems like they did a lot of talking and thinking. Every now and then I believe these kind of lessons are quite good for students. They practiced what they learnt before and talked about useful, real life related situations. It is something that you are not used to do and maybe that’s why you think that it wasn’t a very successful lesson, maybe you felt a bit insecure to get out of your normal teaching. But it doesn’t sound like an unsuccessful lesson to me.

    1. Thank you Elif for being so nice. You are right that sommetimes students need these types of lessons where they can practise their language and play and experiment with it.

    2. Thanks Elif for your very insightful comments.
      Indeed, sometimes the lessons we think were horrible might be the lessons that students find most useful!

  5. Hi Varinder, Hi Chia,

    I remember my first “full Dogme” lesson. It was incredibly liberating, but also damn scary too! So good work Varinder for going for it!

    There are a few things which come to mind as I read this.

    Firstly, as Adam says above, it can be hard to know when to hit the pause button and focus in in on something. But we need to do ths in order to stop the meandering lesson shape take place and to avoid the feeling which you are now experiencing of having had a “pants” lesson. Choosing the moment to hit pause requires the teacher to notice a few different things. 1. Are the students engaged enough in this topic? 2. Is it useful for them at this level/in this context/etc…? 3. Do we have time for it? 4. Will it lead to useful practice of a certain language area, skills Etc…? This moment can be a language point (error or good use of language), a chance to focus on a functional area (using the toilet in Harrods?! Or shopping London and the type of language you need for that), vocabulary expansion (words related to shopping) etc…

    The CV idea which Tom caught onto above would have been good too. You could have asked the rest of the class if they have needed to or will need to write cvs in Engish to get an idea of the level of interest. I bet there would have been quite a bit. And if not cvs, then perhaps job interviews? Or do a focus in CVs and then move on to job interviews? This would also have brought up quite a lot of language to have a closer look at and could have been student centred etc etc….

    I think one of the most challenging things as a Dogme teacher is to think of these things n the spot, but with all the experience you have, you will have built up a bank of activities in your teacher toolkit that you can use in class. It just about accessing these on the spot without pre-deciding them. (Not to say that a new teacher can’t have a few activities up their sleeve too though!)

    Keep it up guys, this is truly fascinating.


    1. Jen: I am on my phone, which makes reading and writing different, and just saw that I just repeated what you said. Maybe dogme thinking is more heterogeneous than I thought… Cheers.

        1. Jem, we know how that finishes…

          I was thinking how much better you expressed it and fleshed out the outline i wrote 3 minutes before i submitted it…

          Probably Tom was thinking the same thing, but wanted others to build it up themselves…

        2. Sorry , that parsed badly. Meant to say:

          You fleshed out an article I wrote…

          3 minutes before I submitted it.

          Once again, have to apologize how I write on a phone. Someday I’ll get it…

  6. I love it:
    “In my own opinion this lesson, apart from the final activity was not a good lesson.”
    The final activity which YOU brought in and covered vocabulary (and please correct me if I am wrong) which was decided upon by YOU last week.
    Which part of this was actually a dogme lesson again? I mean as Scott says of Dogme on Teaching Unplugged:
    “The important thing, I think, is to capture text, whether sentences, bits of talk or whole conversations, and then put it to work, improving it, rehearsing it, performing it, re-formulating it in another mode (speech to writing, writing to speech) or register (formal, public or informal, private). And there must be some focused attention on the language – but not just the weaknesses, also the strengths. And there must be some kind of summarising activity, for the record.”
    When did any of this happen? You may have had a conversation or two, but certainly didn’t provide a dogme lesson.

    1. Hey darridge,

      I think that the above comment is not only unnecessary, but also way out of order!

      Who are you to go around saying what Dogme is or isn’t? Are you Scott Thornbury in disguise? Did you help him write the book? Actually, I have the answer to the first one, No! I have had the pleasure of meeting Scott and I know for a fact that he wouldn’t have written such a short sighted comment as the one above.

      Everybody’s opinion and take on Dogme is different. Varinder clearly sees it in a different light from you, and not only that I would say she is a relative newcomer to it. Coupled with the fact that she is publicly broadcasting everything that is happening in the classroom as well as taking time out of her own life to blog about, needs to be applauded, not slagged off and undermined by comment like yours.

      Did you get your first Dogme lesson right? When was the last time you opened up your classroom for the entire teaching network to poke their noses in and observe your every move?

      Varinder and Chia are both very brave and undoubtedly excellent teachers who are willing to not only experiment, but share this with their PLN. We, their PLN, are all the better off for it. If you’re going to continue to comment make your comments constructive and helpful and hey, why not think about providing support for your fellow teachers.

      1. Fair enough – point taken and well made. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples and commentary about ways to dogme, and Varinda herself provided the judgement on the lesson – not me.
        For me what it demonstrated, and as such what I learnt from it, is that dogme is NOT just a conversation with a bit of vocab thrown in. And I still fail to see why people think it is.
        As for being applauded, yes – I thank both Varinda and Chia for their efforts both in the classroom and on the blog – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be critiqued and/or criticised – otherwise it’s just a love in, isn’t it.
        As a matter of interest, which bit of my post do you think is short-sighted?

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: