The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1

This is Varinder Unlu’s account of her 1st Day using the coursebook in the Teach-Off at IH London.

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

Meanwhile, let me hand you over to Varinder…

23rd April 2012

Ok, can’t say that I wasn’t nervous this morning. I had already met the group several times when I observed Chia last week and I was sitting at the back of the classroom when Chia conducted feedback on Friday. I knew the learners had already developed a really good rapport with their teacher and my biggest challenge today was to create a tiny bit of that rapport.
Today was an intake day and we had two new students join the class after the break. I didn’t want to dive straight into the course book as that’s not what I would normally do when starting a new class. So this is what happened:
As I walked into the classroom at 8.55, three students were already there. I was introducing myself to them when four more students arrived.
Stages of my lesson:
1. Introductions – in order for students to learn something about me I invited them to ask me questions. Two out of the six students actually took this opportunity:
“Where are you from?” was the first one.
“What do like doing in London?” was the second.
The rest of the class looked at me with suspicion. This was going to be harder than I thought.
2. I explained what we were going to be doing in today’s lesson and boarded my lesson objectives:
• Needs analysis
• Choosing the topics of interest to them from the course book
• Learning to learn – being a better learner

3. Students answered their needs analysis questions. They were keen to do this and put quite a lot of thought into their answers. What surprised me was not their answers but the number of spelling mistakes, lack of punctuation and lack of structure in their written answers. Their speaking is definitely stronger than their writing.

4. I put the class into two groups and explained that we were going to be using the course book that they had been given the week before. I asked them to look at the contents page and discuss in their groups which topics appealed to them. I told them that because we only had two weeks together we would not be able to cover all the topics in the book and that each group had to decide to two. Interestingly, the two groups choose the same topics! So the two units we will be looking at this week (and possibly carrying on into next week) are: Unit 6 and Unit 7 from Global intermediate.

5. Now it was time to move on to learner training – we talked about what the students do to help improve their English outside the classroom. This discussion led to the importance of reading and we established that most of the class likes to read books about history and detective stories. So during the break I took the opportunity to get a class set of Edgar Alan “A collection of short stories” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes – short stories”.

6. After the break students were given the books and I asked them to choose one that they would like to read over the next two weeks. They chose Sherlock Holmes. They will be reading the first story in the book this week and we will discuss it on Wednesday morning.

7. As I was so surprised at the lack of sentence structure in their needs analysis answers, I decided to do a quick test of present simple and continuous – page 17 (gap fill) from the course book. They actually found this challenging. We discussed the differences between the two as we checked the answers. As we were doing this, I dealt with language that was emerging as a result of some of the vocabulary in the text, for example: a student asked me what “sense of humour” meant. I threw it back out to the class and someone said “to make fun”. So I had to explain the difference between to “make fun of sbdy/sthg” and “to have fun”. We also discussed what the word “Liverpudlians” is used to describe leading to “Mancunians” “Geordies” etc.

8. We then moved on to exercise 2 – questions. During feedback, we looked at subject/object questions.

9. It was now 11.50 and we had ten minutes to re-cap the lexis that had come up in the lesson. We went through pronunciation and meaning of the words and phrases that I had written on the whiteboard.

So we got through quite a lot in three hours. I’m happy to say that as the lesson progressed, the learners relaxed and started responding better. They asked me for clarification when they were not sure about something and they even asked me a few personal questions as lesson went on.
Tomorrow we start using the course book properly…….

The Teach-Off – Introducing the Coursebook Round

It’s round two of the Dogme-versus-Coursebook Teach-Off, and today, my General English DOS, Varinder, starts teaching the same group I had for the last two weeks using the coursebook Global.

Varinder kindly volunteered to tell us a little bit about herself before embarking on posts about her coursebook-based lessons.

So, here’s introducing Varinder Unlu:


Thought I had better introduce myself to everyone.  I work at IH London and I am the one who very foolishly challenged Chia to a Dogme v coursebook teach-off.    Just a little background information about me:

I’ve been in the world of EFL for about 20 years and started teaching in Turkey.  After five years of teaching there, I returned to the UK and began working in a private language school in Greenwich where I spent twelve years, eight of which were as a DOS and Trinity teacher trainer.  I’d always had an interest in ESOL and wondered how it was different to EFL teaching and so in 2009 I thought I’d try my hand at ESOL and got a job at Greenwich Community College.  It was a really developmental time for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it every minute of it.   I learned that, yes, ESOL teaching is different in many ways but there are also many similarities to EFL.  Just as I was settling into the world of public sector teaching and environment, the private sector enticed me back with the role of DOS at IH – an opportunity that could not be overlooked and I’ve now been working here for just over eighteen months.  It’s an amazing place to work and I’m surrounded by so many talented and creative people with a real passion for teaching and developing. Oh, and I’m also an examiner for Cambridge ESOL, ESB and an inspector.

Dogme is something that raised my interest as an approach because I’ve never really followed one method or approach in my teaching.   I’m curious as to why some people feel so strongly about using it exclusively in their teaching.  So I hope some of the following questions will be answered for me:

Is it the best way to teach?

Does it work better than course books and materials for teachers? What about newly qualified teachers?

What do students think?  Do they/can they see the difference?

Are the learning outcomes increased by using this approach?

Is it good to use just one method/approach  in teaching?

Does it matter which approach you use?

Of course there are many more questions in my mind and there are many factors involved in why the results/answers will be what they are.  However, I am really excited and a little nervous to be teaching with Chia.


The Teach-Off – The Dogme Observer’s POV

During this entire Teach-Off, we’ve decided to implement a open-door policy in which any teacher who wanted to watch the class could walk in at any time. As a result, we’ve had Shelly Terrell, Adam Beale, Emi Slater, several of colleagues at IH, and my DOS, Varinder, who will be teaching the coursebook lessons in the second half of this teach-off, come watch the class unfold.

On Thursday, Emi Slater sat in with us for the whole three hours, from 9am to 12noon.

So far, all of the blogposts on the Teach-Off have been from my point of view (POV).

We thought that it would perhaps add some objectivity to the experiment if we could hear the observer’s POV.

It is in this spirit of objectivity that I invited Emi to guest blog about her POV…

So, here is Emi Slater:

Thursday 19th April 2012-04-20

In the spirit of trying to learn more about Dogme I was lucky enough to be allowed to observe a 3-hour lesson by Chia today. I loved it. The overall impression was one of intimacy and lots of laughter. The students talked almost continuously.

Intimacy and Warmth

When I arrived bang on 9 am about 3 students were already there and Chia was sitting closely with them eliciting language already. She was asking them intimate questions about their journey to school, their home life for example

What time do you need to leave home? If you live near St. Pauls where do you do your shopping?, Who do you live with?” – within minutes she was spotting problems with ‘live’ and ‘leave’, eliciting past tenses and dealing on the spot with any little grammar or lexis issues that came up. As the other students gradually dribbled in, she gently drew them into the conversation saying things like “Oh Hello, we’re just talking about….” It is only about ten past nine by now, and she has already created a lovely, warm, sensitive atmosphere where the students clearly feel comfortable and totally engaged. And a lot of language has already come up. Chia listens intently to the students and sometimes engages with one student for quite a long time helping them reformulate what they want to say. The other students listen carefully and chip in with questions and write notes constantly.


She moves on to a recall of yesterday’s lesson. The way they support and help each other is testament to how involved they are with the lesson. James Zull of Glasgow 2012 Plenary IATEFL fame talked about  “not forcing knowledge into the brain but about motivating and creating circumstances for students to learn”. Well, in this case, Chia has certainly done that. How involved the students are in the lesson surely depends on the teacher?

Of course this could apply to any teacher, using a course book or not – that old adage – is Dogme just good teaching?

One student says to another “Oh, I wish I had your brain!” – much laughter from all. The point is, they are very enthusiastic, and it’s only 9.30 am in the morning.

Natural Conversation/Authenticity

While one group recalls and discusses the huge amount of lexis from yesterday’s lesson (Chia urges them to remember the discussions they had), she spends quite a long time with one of the groups. There are two groups of 4/3 at this point. The other group seem quite happy to continue discussing while she attends to the questions of the other. This made for a very intimate interaction between Chia and the students. She answered their questions and fed in new language and supported them carefully. The conversation is flowing naturally and fluctuating between many different topics and both groups are now discussing different things. This means that before long both groups are singing from different hymn sheets because that is of course how conversation goes. This naturally makes it difficult for the teacher whose job it will be to eventually bring all the students back together again. It is the sign of an experienced teacher that Chia was able to do this effectively later on in the lesson. By allowing this to happen, she was able to wait for the language to emerge naturally rather than from an imposed piece of text or a course book “topic”.

Of course, this begs the other old Dogme adage – do you have to be an experienced teacher to teach Dogme style?


Never let it be said that Dogme lessons are all lexis and no grammar. In this lesson, the students were exposed to, discovered for themselves and practised, so many of what Scott Thornbury calls ‘Grammar Mcnuggets’ (check out his excellent video on G is for Grammar Syllabus) that any course book would have been put to shame. The structures emerged from the natural conversation and were ALWAYS RELEVANT. The students were trying to express something – Chia reformulated and then elicited or focused or did a guided discovery on the relevant grammar point needed to help them express their point – The students naturally wanted to know how to form the relevant structure (in this case the passive), because they needed it to say what they wanted to say.

Bingo! Motivated students learning the passive form with enthusiasm. This doesn’t happen everyday does it? I’ve heard teachers marching around where I work, on more than one occasion, muttering, “Why do the students hate the passive so much? I don’t understand. They keep asking me why they need it.”

The grammar forms which emerged, and which Chia teased out and focused on when necessary, were passive, causative structure – have something done, past participles in general, adjective forms ed/ing, and at the end a little review of present perfect and past simple. She didn’t spend hours on each form – when it was obvious that it was a new one, for example the causative structure “have + noun + done”, she created on-the-spot discovery exercises and got the students to repeat and practice.

Perhaps the students might have benefitted from more time to practise the new structures – perhaps giving them a mini role play on the spot or asking them to describe different situations in pairs – or to share their experiences might have been good. But I suppose this comes from the course book mentality of imposing a conversation topic on the students in order for them to repeat and practice. I don’t know whether Chia is planning to give them time in another lesson to practice the grammar structures she focused on more, or whether she believes that the students will do this anyway themselves. There is something to be said for the fact that these are all adults with extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to learn English so the chances are if they are introduced to a new grammar structure in Chia’s lesson, then they will probably try and practise it further themselves later in the pub, or in a conversation lesson or in the break. If Chia is relying on this motivation, it’s a risk and a very controversial one, but I quite like it!

An interesting debate related to how much we expect from our students perhaps related to Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill’s High Demand ELT question

A question many people ask about Dogme often is – how much of a chance do the students get to practise the language that emerges from a conversation driven lesson? I would say as much or as little as a course book lesson – it all depends on the teacher.

The language work at the end of the lesson on reformulating sentences emerging from the students’ presentations was a chance for the students to really go in depth into all the possibilities, and in depth they did go. This was a real chance for them to analyse the language.

For those that are wondering, there was no doubt in my mind that the amount of grammar structures that Chia discussed with the students was appropriate. Much more was covered than in a “normal” course book lesson as the structures were linked together rather than separated into Scott Thornbury’s sliced up omelette, but it was not too much. The students were totally engaged and keen and not overwhelmed in any way. On the contrary, I think they were glad to be exposed to grammar they clearly already had questions about.

 Lexis/Language Retention

One thing that struck me was the amount of lexis the students remembered. They had so obviously had memorable conversations during the week and this way of teaching lexis clearly works! It has to be the way to go.

Dogme for lower levels

I cannot understand where this idea has come from that Dogme cannot be done with lower level classes. In my limited experience, I would say that Dogme with lower levels is probably easier for the teacher. She/He can draw out and focus on grammar structures and lexical sets, phrases, functional language, chunking, sentence structure, and so on and so forth, in a much more controlled way. What becomes complicated is when Advanced students are asking about more complicated language, and the teacher has to have a much wider range of idioms, collocations, complex structures, and so on, at their fingertips.

It is also inevitable perhaps that at lower levels the teacher is going to manipulate the conversation more simply because the students don’t have the language or the confidence to initiate much. Chia initiated simply by being the one that kept asking them questions. Initiating the questions made her the one in control, I suppose . But even so, I think her questions and the students’ responses made for a much more natural and motivating conversation than if she had been using a course book.

Teacher as person/hiding behind the course book

The teacher is after all a person too and very often students are really interested in the teacher as a person (and the questions he/she asks) and I have never understood why so many teachers don’t want to reveal their real selves in lessons. With teenagers I can understand but these are adults. Teachers often hide behind the course books. Surely this is verging on the downright stupid?

If a teacher reveals something of themselves, then the students will do likewise. Course books are constantly asking students to talk about quite personal and intimate topics. We are always being told personalize! Personalize! If a teacher shares his/her own experience and then asks the students to do the same, surely it’s obvious that it is going to work better?

Also, perhaps more importantly, the teacher can tell very quickly if the topic is not appropriate or relevant and can switch and move on much more quickly than if the students have all just started a task on page such and such of the course book. Chia was super sensitive to this and was able to assess quickly whether students were responding or not.

Student hiding behind the coursebook

One student came to the class who had been moved from another group. After she had been in the class for about 15 minutes, Chia asked her if she had brought her notebook and pen. The student replied “No, I haven’t been given the book yet (meaning the course book)”. Chia replied “No, we’re not using a course book so you’ll need your notebook and pen more than ever. It is very important in these lessons.”

Does this reveal that perhaps the student was relying on the course book and was not thinking of taking notes. This has wider implications I think – course books certainly make teachers lazy (I know this from my own experience. When I am tired or have had a difficult week or am covering a class, I know I often rely on the course book, find me a teacher who doesn’t) but do they also make students lazy? They think “Oh, it’s ok I don’t need to write that down it’s in the book. “ The chances are they won’t look in the book after class and the action of writing the language down during the lesson will surely be better than nothing.

Style, Confidence and Content

Chia has a very sensitive teaching style. I really liked the way she gave positive delayed feedback. She said things like “That’s a great way to start a presentation but how could we change it to make it better?” or “How have you reformulated that sentence? I have chosen to change three things and you?”

It came across as respectful to the students and not patronizing. I think this style of error correction makes for more confidence building, rather than just ripping apart what the students have just said. She managed to elicit some great functional language for the students to use in their future presentations and all the language work for the last half of the lesson was based on language emerging from the students themselves.

To summarize, she covered about 5 grammar structures, a huge range of lexis and expressions ranging from topics such as money, clothes, shopping and phrasal verb, pronunciation (she drilled regularly and elicited stress patterns throughout) and some functional language for presentations plus a review of lexis from other lessons all in a three-hour stint. You could tell the students were hungry for it. None of this “Oh, we’re not doing that today, wait until tomorrow” stuff – she covered pretty much everything the students wanted to know there and then. It was full on for the teacher – never let it be said that Dogme is an easy way out.


It is incredibly brave for any teacher to have an open door policy for two whole weeks – I am not sure I know any other teacher who has ever done that. Chia has left the door of her classroom open throughout the Dogme teach-off so any teacher can come and observe at any time. This kind of generosity in the spirit of research and sharing should be applauded and a lesson to us all.


If this style of conversation driven teaching is the way to go, and teachers and schools finally admit that language isn’t linear and cannot be divided into bit- size chunks…If they read Vygotsky about language acquisition and start listening to what Scott Thornbury has to say about all of the above…then the CELTA will have to be completely redefined in the way that Anthony Gaughan has been saying for the last few years

Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill want better quality, higher demand learning and teaching both from the teachers and the students. It seems to me the CELTA has allowed too many of us to get away with/hide behind low quality teaching for too long. Isn’t this where it all begins?


The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 8

It’s the last Dogme day of the Teach-Off.

I walked into class with a huge stack of coloured cards that I had cut up.

On each card is a word, phrase or sentence that contains the lexico-grammar the class had covered over the past two weeks.

After a brief greeting, I put split the class into groups of 2-3 and gave them 15 minutes to work together on a massive recall session, going through what we had covered with the help of their notebooks. I reminded them of the practice they could get by testing each other through describing the phrases to each other, and left them to their own devices.

This was followed by a 2-hour long revision session.

The students were split into 2 groups, and were told to give their groups names.

In the first revision activity, students from the groups then took turns coming up to the front, and were each given the stack of coloured cards and 2 minutes to describe as many of the phrases on the card to their group members as possible. Each correct answer was worth a point, each card that was passed was made available to the opposing team for a guess after the group’s turn was over. Passed cards that were not described or not guessed correctly were put back into the stack.

In the second revision activity, students were asked to sit on the floor in a circle around a bottle of mineral water which I had put in the centre of the circle. I would describe the word or phrase or grammatical structure, and students who knew the answer had to grab the bottle. Only those with the bottle in hand were able to guess. If the guess is incorrect, the student would have to put the bottle back and allow for someone else to grab the bottle. This fast-paced activity often descends into chaos….and a lot of laughter.

Wrapping up the two weeks we had spent together, I explained to students that we had not used the coursebook this week and that I would like to know about how they felt about this teaching approach as compared to their previous learning experiences. I asked for their permission to place a Dictaphone in the centre of the room and conducted a 15-minute focus group session where students were given time to talk about their experiences as I stayed as quiet as possible. So as to give the shy and quiet students a chance to voice their opinions in private, I also gave students a questionnaire that asked for their comments on the Dogme lessons they had experienced.

In order to avoid skewing the results of the following two weeks, I’ll refrain from letting you into what was said/written today and withhold the results till the end of this ‘teach-off’.

Instead, l shall leave you with some photos taken by the lovely Shelly Terrell, who was one of the many observers that took advantage of the open door policy I had all week and came to watch the class.

Photo by Shelly Terrell
Photo by Shelly Terrell
Photo by Shelly Terrell

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 7

Before I summarise today’s lesson, here are the ‘answers’ to the loan words featured in yesterday’s post.

  • Rajicase (Japanese) is a shortened form of Rajio Casetto Pureya…or Radio Cassette Player.
  • Pasocon (Japanese) is also another shortened form. This time, it’s of Pasonaru Computa…or Personal Computer.
  • Salaryman (Japanese) refers to an office worker who draws a monthly salary.
  • Office Lady (Japanese), also known as O.L., refers to women who work in offices whose duties include making tea, photocopying and dealing with meaningless admin. Rather politically incorrect, I know… Oh, and did I mention that they have to wear a uniform too? Does ‘Girl Friday’ ring any bells?
  • Face Pass (Japanese), or KaoPasu, uses ‘pass’ like in ‘student pass’, refers to good-looking people who can get into clubs or bars for free.
  • Skinship (Korean/Japanese) is a physical intimacy shared through a display of affection, e.g. hugging, kissing, holding hands, etc.
  • Fighting! (Korean) is what you say to someone going for an exam or about to face a difficult challenge. The closest equivalent in English would be ‘Go for it!’ or ‘Come on! You can do it!
  • Show off (Persian/Farsi) has the exact same meaning in Farsi as it does in English. Interesting though that an English loan word is needed to describe such behaviour.
  • Site (Brazilian Portuguese) is short for website.

And here’s the boardwork for today. You know the drill.

Boardwork 1
Boardwork 2

Today’s lesson consisted mainly of a recall and revision of yesterday’s language, which in turn led to further questions and lexis, and the rest of the mini-presentations by the students, followed by some delayed correction of all the student presentations.

After giving students about 15 minutes to do a recall in pairs and to fill in the new student on what she missed yesterday, I gave each pair a mini-white board and described the lexis, while they discussed the answers in their pairs and kept score. The discussion of the word ‘tailor make’ used as a verb led to questions like ‘What’s the opposite of “tailor make”?’ (‘to buy something off the rack’) and this was further extended to me eliciting from the students if we could say, ‘I went to a tailor and I tailor made a shirt’.

The students and I agreed that it wasn’t I, but the tailor, who tailor made the shirt, and so I fed in the causative structure, ‘I had the shirt tailor made.’

After asking the concept questions, ‘Did I do it myself?’ (No)

‘Did I ask someone to do it?’ (Yes)

Did I pay someone to do it?’ (Yes)

I then elicited the form ‘to have + something + past participle’

The Japanese students got rather confused at this point, probably because in Japanese, the causative has its own tense (and by tense, I mean conjugated verb form). In addition, seeing the past participle threw quite a lot of the students off.

A few more concept questions later, I wrote:

I need to paint my walls.

I need to book a holiday.

I need to print these photos. 

I need to clean my house.

I then established that I was very rich and didn’t want to do these things myself.

I was going to pay someone to do it.

The students worked in pairs, changing the sentences into causative structures, and later in open class, I asked,

‘I need to paint my walls next week,’

eliciting the answer, ‘I’m going to have my walls painted’.

As I varied the time adverbials in each sentence, the students were made aware that the time element was signaled by the first verb ‘have’ and the past participle remained the same.

After some more controlled practice, we went back to our mini-whiteboards and revision. But when the phrase ‘loan words’ came up, a student asked about the noun ‘loan’. This led to me eliciting several words connected to banking and loans as the students bounced off the new language, sharing the words that they would use in their language, e.g. while we say ‘to be in the black’ and ‘to be in the red’, some languages used ‘blue’ and others ‘green’, instead of ‘black’!

Perhaps another noticeable point of today’s revision session was the fact that all the students were better prepared and had clearly been going through their notebooks and revising at home. The setback of yesterday’s Back-To-Board for a particular team had clearly jolted the students into putting in some work at home! Success!

After the break, our only Iranian student in the class gave a excellently-prepared presentation on her country and aroused quite a bit of interest during the post-presentation Q&A from the Japanese and Korean students. Following that, our two Japanese girls told us about Japanese Kabuki and Ukiyoe, and although I am quite confident about my knowledge of Japanese culture, they filled me with all kinds of interesting trivia that I had never known.

The delayed correction slot basically consisted of me writing sentences that I had heard over the last 2 days during the student presentations and having students discuss in pairs as to how they might reformulate the sentences.
I then went through them, sentence by sentence, having students write their reformulations on the mini-whiteboards, and then sharing it with the rest of the class. What I like about this is the fact that very often, there really isn’t one correct answer to these corrections. By getting all the students to write their versions on the mini-whiteboards, we can not only acknowledge the different ways of reformulating the sentences, but it also provides the students with a chance to have in-depth discussions with their partners as to how to change the given sentences, raising their awareness while consolidating their knowledge of how language works, on top of providing the teacher with an insight into how much the students are able to handle. (Have a look at the sentences in Boardwork 2. How would you reformulate them?)

Tomorrow is the last Dogme day of the Teach-Off.

Tomorrow is the day of the student questionnaire and focus group.

And then it’s on to my DOS and the coursebook, Global…

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 6

Today’s boardwork – You know the routine by now, don’t you?

Boardwork 1
Boardwork 2

As the weather forecast had predicted, it was cold and rainy this morning, and my student was quick to point that out to me as I walked into the class. I replied by saying that we were lucky to have a sunny afternoon yesterday when the rain cleared and asked if they got up to anything special.

One student said he went to the British Museum and that seemed to spark the interest of a couple of his classmates. They wanted to know what he thought of it and he said, ‘I like it.’

I gestured for him to put the sentence in the past tense, and he looked at me, puzzled, and said, ‘But I did. The past tense of “like” sounds like the present.’

So, I wrote,

I like it.


I liked it.


and highlighted how the initial vowel of the following word meant that the last letter got transferred phonologically, meaning that the /d/ was pronounced a lot more clearly.

After a bit of drilling, I asked him, ‘So how did you find the British Museum?

He hesitated, and then said, ‘I look at the map, and then…

So, I quickly jumped in and elicited that ‘How did you find ~?’ often means ‘What did you think of your experience with ~?

The conversation then moved on to students talking about the wildlife in the neighbourhood they lived in, the different museums and galleries they had been to in London, how it was best not to cover the whole of the British museum at one go or it may get overwhelming, and the fact that the Tate Modern used to be a power plant. I took this opportunity to feed in the phrase ‘~ is well worth + -ing’, knowing fully well that later, the students were going to do mini-presentations about their countries.

(How did I know that? Well, you obviously haven’t read yesterday’s post! Click here for a quick catch-up)

As we had covered quite a fair bit of lexis and structures in the last two days, I decided to put students in their pairs to do a recall of those two days for about 5-10 minutes, and conducted a 30-minute long Back-to-Board of those language items.

(I wanted to spare you TEFL teachers of an explanation of Back-to-Board, but for the benefit of those not in the know, here goes:

Students are put into groups, in this case, 2 groups. Each group sends out a representative who would sit on a chair with their back facing the board. The teacher, in this case, moi, writes a word, phrase, or sentence on the board. The rest of the group describes or explains what is on the board to their representative without saying the words on the board or spelling them out. The first representative to shout out the correct answer wins a point for their group.)

One team, who called themselves Team Asia (because they comprised of students from the Far East) started to struggle in the middle of the game as their group members were used to thinking carefully before speaking and not speaking for the sake of filling silences. Their opposing team was clearly coming up far in front and their confidence started to lag.

After the game, I thought the need to explain that the purpose of the activity was not only to help them revise the language items, but to give them practice in paraphrasing and describing what they mean because there would be plenty of times in real life where this would be a useful skill.

The students nodded readily, and I’m hoping this might mean that the next time we do a Back-to-Board, Team Asia would jump into the deep end a little more and be adventurous with their use of language, as much as it might initially go against their cultural instincts.

After the revision session, I had students form groups with classmates from their own countries, and share the research they had done as homework about their countries in preparation for the presentation they would give after the break. I offered my help with any emergent language and suggested that they should feel free to use the computer and the IWB if needed.

Although some students chatted away in the corner, the class was generally faced with a lull.

And this was something I was not used to.

I know the theory and all:

  • Students need silent moments too – preparation time, absorption time, and thinking time.
  • Students from certain cultures have different discourse strategies, and are more comfortable with preparing what they are going to say thoroughly, and less likely to blabber away.
  • A need to fill classroom time with chatter is sometimes a sign of a teacher’s need to control and an inability to let go.

Yet, it was something I was not used to, and had to remind myself to leave the students to their own devices and let them get on with the task in their own way, even if it meant a classroom that was not filled with talk.

After the break, we all settled in our seats and got ready for the first student to present. He had clearly done his homework and spoke to his Brazilian classmates about the Portuguese loan words used in Japanese (see Boardwork 1).

Seeing the level of interest in the classroom at this point and the potential for expansion, I wrote the words ‘karaoke’, ‘entrepreneur’, and ‘latte’ on the board after his presentation, and told the following stories.

Karaoke’ originated in Japan, and ‘kara’, as in ‘karate’, meant ‘empty’. ‘Oke’ was short for ‘orchestra’. Therefore, karaoke really means ‘empty orchestra’.

Entrepreneur’ originated in France and refers to a businessman, one that takes risks in the spirit of business. George Bush has been known for saying, ‘The French don’t know how to take risks. They clearly don’t have a word for “entrepreneur” in their dictionary.’

Latte’ originated in Italy and means milk in Italian. However, in English, its meaning has changed to refer to a type of coffee made with a lot of milk, and this definition is now found in English dictionaries.

I then asked students to think of 3 English loan words in their language and see if their meanings have changed from the original English word.

Here are some of the words that came up. See if you can figure out what they mean (some of them have retained their original meanings).

  • Rajicase    (Japanese)
  • Pasocon    (Japanese)
  • Salaryman    (Japanese)
  • Office Lady    (Japanese)
  • Face Pass    (Japanese)
  • Skinship    (Korean)
  • Fighting!    (Korean)
  • Show off    (Persian/Farsi)
  • Site    (Brazilian Portuguese)

(Answers in tomorrow’s blogpost)

Next up were two Korean students, the first of whom had carefully prepared a speech about the Korean writing system and the popular places to visit in Korea. The second student had prepared some wonderful pictures to demonstrate Korean pop culture and Korean food, and had the whole class salivating and looking forward to lunch.

The two Brazilians were on right after, and spoke about the importance of the coffee trade in their country. While I fed in some words about the economics of demand and supply, the rest of the class (including myself) were fascinated to see photos of the coffee plant and fresh coffee beans. I don’t think I had ever seen coffee beans that weren’t roasted!

The lesson that day ended with an energetic discussion about the rare and expensive coffee beans that had passed through the digestive tracts of a bird, and the Brazilian students reacted to their classmates enthusiasm by showing them a Youtube clip of said bird.

Lots of language and fluency practice resulted from the presentations (which needs to continued tomorrow) and the energy of the students rode high as they left the class…

I could only laugh at myself and my inability to let go.

I should have trusted the silence.

The Teach-Off – Dogme Day 5

Here’s today’s boardwork in two pictures.

Can you guess what happened in class?

Board before the break
Board after the break

It was raining this morning as I went to school and it was miserable.

I commented on the weather as I entered the classroom, and the students agreed in unison, expressing their dislike for the wet weather. One student started voicing his worries about the weather for the rest of the week, saying that he was booked to do a Jack the Ripper walk in a couple of days. I took out my iPhone and checked my London Met Office app while eliciting the lexis ‘weather forecast’, and to his disappointment, it stated that there would be heavy rain showers every day till Saturday, with a tiny reprieve of a light rain shower on Thursday (shouldn’t we all be thankful for that!).

At this point, I asked students to move their chairs in the usual horseshoe, joking that I felt like they were judges on Xfactor judging me if they all sat in a straight line. A student asked what that was, and I said it was a singing competition on TV. Another student asked it that was like ‘The Voice’, a new TV show I know very little about, and I threw the question to the rest of the class. Another student asked if it was like ‘American Idol’. In the meantime, the Japanese students seemed rather clueless about all these TV programmes, and so I got the Brazilians to explain the concept of audience participation to their fellow classmates. While I fed in lexis such as ‘the one with the least votes’, ‘to get kicked out of the show’ and ‘the ratings are high’, the students told each other about the talent shows that also existed in their countries.

A Korean student then said that they get the British programmes XFactor and Britain’s Got Talent in Korea, and a lot of young people download the programmes because everyone talks about them and the newspapers talk about them too. I fed in the phrasal verb ‘to hype something up’, and highlighted that ‘hype’ could also be used as a noun. Here’s the example scenario I gave to clarify:


When the film Titanic first came out, everyone was talking about it and the media kept covering it.

There was a lot of hype about the film.

Some people watched the film and felt disappointed.

They felt that the film was less than what everyone had said.

They felt that the film did not live up to the hype.


I then asked students for other films that the media really hyped up and did not live up to the hype.

We ended up with ‘Inception’ and ‘Sex and the City’ (both part 1 and 2, I’m afraid).

I then elicited other object nouns they felt would collocate with the phrasal verb ‘live up to’, and they cleverly volunteered ‘expectation’.

I then prompted them further with this example:

I went to this language school because everyone said it was really good.

It had a good name.

But when I was there, I was disappointed.

I did not think the school was as good as its name.

I think the school did not live up to its r_______________.

After some more prompting, a student shouted out ‘reputation’, giving us a total of three object nouns that collocate with ‘live up to’.

I then asked students whether they were more likely to use ‘live up to’ with in a negative or positive sentence and we agreed that we are more likely to comment on something if it did not live up to our expectations.

Someone mentioned the 3D version of Titanic at this point, and I said that I had heard it was really good and worth watching. A student looked at me puzzled and said that he had heard quite the opposite about the 3D release, saying that there was not much 3D effect in it, except the moment when the ship crashed into the iceberg and the ice comes shattering into the audience. Another student grimaced at the mentioned of Titanic and didn’t seem impressed.

I was reminded at this point of a bar I was in recently that was commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic sinking by having their guests all turn up in 1920s outfits, and students seemed amused by that. I tried to elicit ‘fancy dress party’ and got ‘costume party’ instead.

Funnily enough, when I proceeded to write ‘fancy dress party’ on the board, a student asked, ‘But “fancy” also means expensive, right?’ The rest nodded.

Rather than brushing it aside by saying ‘There are many meanings of “fancy” but we are only dealing with one now,’ I decided to address the students’ confusion.

I first clarified that ‘fancy dress party’ was a fixed expression and cautioned students not to try and dissect the meaning of ‘fancy’ in the above phrase.

I said, ‘If I go to a fancy restaurant, what kind of restaurant is it?

The students said, ‘Expensive?’, ‘Elegant?’

I said, ‘Yes. What’s a word we use for “upper class”?

A student contributed ‘posh’.

I elicited, ‘What part of speech is “fancy” here?

Students volunteered, ‘Adjective’.

I drew a mindmap on the white board with ‘fancy’ in the middle circle.

I then asked, ‘Can “fancy” be a verb?’ and the students looked at me, puzzled.

What if I said to you, “Do you fancy a pizza?” What am I asking you?

(I figured it was a common enough question and since the students didn’t know it, it was time they did.)

After hazarding a few wrong guesses, I decided to put them out of their misery.

Equating it to ‘Would you like a pizza?’, the students then said, ‘Oh, it’s the same as “Do you want a pizza?”

Pushing this mid-int class further, I said, ‘It’s the same as “Do you feel like a pizza?”’

The students laughed. I realized the double meaning embedded in that statement.

So I explained, ‘Do you think I am asking you if you have the same feelings as a pizza?’

The students continued laughing as they said, ‘no’.

I then said, ‘Is it the same as “Are you in the mood for a pizza?”’

The students agreed.

I asked, ‘Does this all mean “Do you want to have a pizza now?”

And the students got it.

A quick controlled practice was called for, so I asked, ‘How do you ask your friend if she wants to go out?’

The students replied, ‘Do you fancy going out?’ and ‘Do you feel like going out?

I said, ‘The weather is awful. You want to say no. How do you say it?

The students replied, ‘I don’t fancy going out,’ and ‘I don’t feel like going out.

I decided to leave more controlled practice for tomorrow and moved on to another meaning of ‘fancy’.

I included ‘I really fancy Angelina Jolie’ on the mindmap and asked students to deduce what it meant. After a few goes, they finally settled on ‘like’ and I added that  I not only ‘like’ her but would like to maybe kiss her or more… (I was appealing to overwhelming majority of men in the class here and was definitely not alluding to my sexuality in any way!)

We were now ready to go back to the topic that we had left to explore ‘fancy’ as students were clearly still interested in it.

I asked students, ‘What reality TV shows or talent shows are there in your country?’ and ‘What do you think of them?’

In groups of 3 or 4, students shared with each other, explaining the concepts of programmes like Big Brother, Survivor, and the Apprentice as they went along.

A Japanese student said that reality shows were not as popular in Japan, despite the one weird example of one where girls were put into a house and competed to see who could cry the most by collecting their tears in test tubes (I am not lying! Honestly!)

So I prompted her to talk about TV shows that were popular, or shows that colleagues would talk about at work. The conversation soon led on to popular soap operas and quiz shows. We talked about the origin of the expression ‘soap opera’ (They used to be day-time programmes targeting housewives and therefore featured many soap ads), before taking our 15-minute break.

When we came back, I told my two Korean students about the ad I had seen of a Korean cultural festival on the door near reception. I asked if they were going and the other students were curious as to what might be featured in such a festival. The two Koreans speculated that there might be some karaoke or some Korean food and drink, but I noticed that some of the students looking quite perplexed and so I asked, ‘Have you ever tried Korean food?’

Only the Japanese students replied in the positive.

I realized at this point that many of my students hardly knew much about their fellow classmate’s countries or cultures.

So I wrote on the board – Brazil, Japan, Korea, Iran, and said, ‘These are the four countries in our class. Apart from your own, write a sentence about something you know about each country. You have 3 minutes.’

As I monitored, my suspicions were confirmed. The students didn’t know much beyond the fact that Japan was famous for sushi and was where samurais originated, that Brazil had carnivals and Iran had oil.

After they had written their sentences, I put them in groups with students from countries other than their own, and they shared the sentences they had written.

Students were instantly keen to inform their classmates about their countries and tell them more than the superficial sentences that had been written.

As the levels of conversation and the decibels in that class increased, I heard the quietest student in that class passionately telling his fellow classmates about how sad he was about the missile that was launched by North Korea last week, and then explaining the reason for the North and South Korea divide. This student arrived in London not too long ago and was clearly having teething problems with dealing with a communicative approach to language learning for the past week. Like many students from the Far East, he tended to think carefully before forming a sentence, and preferred keep quiet unless he had something important to say. He now clearly did…

Using complex sentences and impressive lexical items like ‘Capitalism was led by the USA and Socialism was led by USSR’, he certainly surprised a few of his classmates with his level of English. I couldn’t stop smiling. This was the trigger I had been waiting for.

Open class feedback about the different countries brought the topic on to football, and we spoke about the rivalry between neighbouring countries. I told students about how the Scottish wore T-shirts that said ‘ABE’ (Anyone But England) in jest when England would play in the World Cup, and how the Irish would rather support Aliens if they played England. A student at this point asked, ‘Sorry, but the Irish people don’t speak English, right? They have their own language?’

This brought us on to a whole new discussion. I explained the attempts of the UK government to keep Welsh and Gaelic (Scottish and Irish) in the education system with varying degrees of success, and how many of the Highlanders, after the Highland clearances, no longer see Scottish Gaelic as their language, while although the Irish continue to see Irish Gaelic as their language, do not speak it as much as the Welsh speak Welsh. (see here for my post of Gaelic)

Seeing the interest the topic has generated, I asked the students to prepare something about their country as homework so as to share with the others the next day. Finally, a task. The task I have been waiting to set.

In the last 30 minutes of the lesson, I had students bring out the photos of adverts that they had previously taken on their mobile phones as homework, and had one in each pair describing it to their partners while their partners drew the advert on a mini-whiteboard.

Students then discussed the following questions:

What is the advertisement about?

Where did you see it?

Who is it targeting?

Why did you choose it?

In open class feedback, the partners showed the class their drawing and reported what they had been told about the ad while the mobile phones were passed around so that students could compare the original photos to the drawings and compliment fellow students on how well they have done.

With the huge amount of lexis to be revised, the task to be worked on, and only half the class having shared their photos of adverts, it certainly looks like tomorrow’s lesson has already been cut out for me.

Or has it?

With a Dogme class, you just never know…