Posted by: Alastair Grant | October 7, 2012

Dogme 2.0 – The Puppy Grows Up

Have you missed me?

After convincing myself that my new position as Director of Studies left me “too busy” to write a blog-post, this week’s just underlined for me that, a teacher’s gotta do what a teacher’s gotta do… so I’m back. With a confession-cum-mission statement.

I’ve always been sold on Dogme ELT, and I’ve always considered myself a Dogme teacher. But it’s time for the Dogme movement to, well, chill out a bit. Because I don’t think it really serves the students in its current form.

Why? Well, here’s what I was asking myself…  what is it about my coursebook-free class that STILL makes me kinda nervous when my students start turning up?

For nearly two years now, my institute has been running two Dogme-style courses, with, to be honest, varying amounts of success. In July, we had an inspection and both courses were observed – the upshot of which was that there was speculation that neither of them were really, truly, quite as Doggy-style as they could (should?) be. But I’ve decided that’s a good thing.

Honestly, it’s a toughie… how do I make sure that my class is:

  1. Materials light.
  2. Conversation-driven.
  3. Focussed on emergent language

…whilst still making sure that the students have enough variety of receptive and productive skill-tasks to focus on to, basically, keep them from going “oh no, not again!” when the day’s conversation gets underway. Sometimes… they don’t always want to talk.

Is this a failing of Dogme or a failing of mine? You decide, but what I’m sure about is that, while even the chattiest students don’t always want to talk, they DO always want to learn. That’s what they’re paying me for!

As evidence for my suggestion, here’s the latest Dogme class that I was really happy with. 

By the way, this is an advanced-level class, who are following a syllabus. I know, Scott, I’m sorry, but, really, which teacher doesn’t have a syllabus to follow?

Pre-class, I’d asked (told) one of the students (we’ll call her Fernanda – she’d like that) to email me with some options for what to look at next time. I told her it could be an article, song, video… whatever she wanted. Ok, not too Dogme so far. Bear with me…

  1. Fernanda sent me various options, including an article (see link) on how to deal with hangovers. If you’re not a student in my class, sorry to all 999,999,999,993 of you (via Facebook, anyway), this is a private joke about alcohol. The link has, as you can see, tips on avoiding hangovers and a short vid from the Oprah chat show.
  2. I looked over the article and watched the video pre-class and noticed many instances of verbs/nouns/adjectives collocating with specific prepositions (on their syllabus) and decided that’d be our language focus. Come on… which English student doesn’t hate prepositions with a passion?!
  3. All we did was talk about hangovers re. who’d ever had one, why, etc. Now, in my teaching context, as in many others, this raised questions about the moral-side of alcohol. Was I worried about this? No. Vetoing student-supplied lesson material seems utterly counterproductive.
  4. We then watched the video, before which I dictated three questions to focus my students:
  • · What should you do the night before the hangover?
  • · What should you eat the morning after?
  • · What medications should you take?
  1. We watched this twice and then went through the answers. Apparently my British accent isn’t as easy to follow as a US accent…
  2. I gave my students the article with the tips and gave them a tip each to read and then present to the class. The advantage of the tips was that they were short! This removed the “can’t we read it for homework?” loophole.
  3. We talked about all of the tips and discussed which ones we had used before ourselves and whether they actually work, discussing expressions such as hair of the dog and Argentine party/binge-related aphorisms such as “calavera no chilla”.
  4. I put up the following verb/noun/adjective preposition combinations, but without the … prepositions (all but one from the text):
  • women tend________ to have lower metabolic rates
  • pay attention ________ how different types
  • so stick _________ having only one or two
  • a hangover can make you feel down _________ life

The students then simply completed these, and their homework was to find other examples of the above in the text.

The idea of this was awareness-raising rather than anything else and I intend to follow up through the rest of our course by getting them to add to their “verb/noun/adjective preposition” list as we go.

Anyway… we all thoroughly enjoyed the class. Great. But… is it Dogme? Umm… back to the list…

  1. Materials light. More or less… a video and text – but all student-produced.
  2. Conversation-driven. There was certainly more talking than anything else. But not JUST conversation AGAIN… they are getting bored with that! The novelty has worn off!
  3. Emergent language. No… I decided what we were going to study. Should I have done? Well, I AM their teacher… kinda what they pay me for, isn’t it?

So here’s my “welcome back” challenge to you:

You cannot run Dogme-style classes, on a course-length basis, and follow the rules at the same time. You need to mix it up. The Dogme ’95 film movement couldn’t follow their own edicts either.

BUT… the above way of teaching is still Dogme for me. It’s teaching away from the hegemony of coursebooks, it’s totally student-centred, it’s engaging but it doesn’t rely on everyone being in the mood to chat.

This is “Dogme 2.0”. Dogme should be as “2.0” as the internet now is, i.e. the students have as much say in the proceedings as the teacher – even the “Dogme Light” 3-basic-rules-version doesn’t allow for mixing it up in class as much as you should for your students.

Why doesn’t it? Because language is about communication. And as there’s more than one way to communicate, there’s absolutely no need to deprive the students (or ourselves!) of the other three.

If we ignore the other skills, we ignore the following question: where are students going to encounter English apart from in the classroom? Um… outside of it! So why ghettoise the learning experience by insisting that the only English allowed in is that which is orally produced by the people in the room?

If language is a medium, not a subject, let the students bring in the English they find outside, just like Fernanda did. That’s what I call using the students as your best resource. That’s helping our students become more autonomous learners.

But is this still Teaching Unplugged? Well, it’s unplugged from any coursebook, it’s unplugged from any prescribed activity and it’s unplugged from any kind of dogmatic/exclusivist approach.

You see, the longer we Dogme-ticians stick to our puritanical guns, the more we isolate ourselves from the real world, and the less effectively we serve our students.

Yes, “Dogme 2.0” is still Dogme – but like all successful species, Dogme has to evolve.

Discuss. (that’s the 2.0 bit!)


  1. Interesting stuff…but if dogma doesn’t work, why not just throw it out? Otherwise it will become like clt, with various forms being taught and no one really sure what it means.

    • Hi there and thanks for the comment. In common with many teachers, probably including Scott and Luke themselves, I’ve never been 100% sure what Dogme IS – has anyone?

      But throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater doesn’t seem the way. Because I’d say that Dogme DOES work – but to be practical and realistic and engaging, it needs changing. People just get bored otherwise. Like everything in life.

  2. Be prepared for all the “just good teaching” comments. It seams that this has been a growing trend for a while as Scott even said a while a go that the original vows were tongue in cheek.
    I have felt that Dogme (and the three principles) created more of a mindset rather than a strict “do this, don’t do that” methodology (very apt for a post-modern methodolgy rather than a modernistic one) and as such Dogmatic following isn’t required.
    For example, In my last school I followed a coursebook syllabus and yet took as many opportunities to let the students supply the materials and dealt with emergent language as it came up (though I’m not sure I could claim they were conversation driven). were they a “Dogme lesson” per se? no. But I did consider the principles and how they should be applied in my context.

    Anyway just a few thoughts. Could well be wrong but thanks for the post and congratulations on your new position.

    • Ha ha! Chris, I’d already got a comment on Twitter about this “just good teaching” myth too!

      And really, dismissing anything as “just good teaching” means very little – what IS “good teaching”? People who say that tend to ignore decades of methodology, upon each of which there has been a new revolution time and again – so how can we cheapen all of that by saying that anything is “just good teaching”?! Ok, rant over,

      And I also agree with the mindset you mention. Do we have to follow strictly even the three principles? I don’t think so – and I certainly feel that a dogmatic sticking to any kind of rules is surely what Dogme ELT itself should be against.

      We’re stripping the teaching down to simply make it about the students, about their lives and experiences – not about telling them what they want to know about because it’s in a coursebook.

      This is about freedom for students to communicate and bring their lives into the class. We’re surely not shutting the door to that?

  3. Welcome back Alastair. I agree, not everything has to be produced by the students. Texts in the broad sense spark discussion and engagement. I always use a wide variety of lesson structures to change things up, especially drama. However, I feel that I still stick to the core tenets (not because I have to, but because I believe in the essence of the approach). I use pics, videos, and texts all the time, but most of the class is conversation driven. This keeps it materials light and the emergent language can come from the students or the text, as long as the students are the ones often pulling the language from the text.

    Whether a lesson always follows the core tenants or not isn’t that important in my opinion. I think varying things up is always necessary. Spontaneity is one of the things that makes dogme interesting and if it becomes all too routine, it’s lost that value.

    • Thank you Nick! It’s good to be back.

      I respect you so much and you have always been a guide for me with Dogme, and as you’ll recall, when it came to setting my course up, you were an enormous help.

      And here again, I can’t fault you – and in may class too the vast majority of it IS conversation-driven. In fact, we may well be talking about the same classroom practices.

      What you’ve said about always following the core tenants is very important – if they are stuck to as they stand, the students eventually get bored. I know, I do it.

      A question – do the students bring the material in or do you choose it for them?

  4. An interesting post. I think there are several problems with the conversation driven methodology as suggested by dogme. The first is that many conversations we might want to have don’t emerge naturally in the class. For example, yesterday I was teaching the word ‘lift’ (from a coursebook exercise) and using the door of the classroom as the lift I asked what questions you might ask – eliciting Are you waiting for the lift? / Have you pressed the button? / Are you going up / down? / Can you press ground / four? We then had a little practise. This morning Iwas thinking we might also have said things like ‘it’s taking ages’ / ‘Let’s just take the stairs’ / ‘I think it’s out of order’ / ‘I was stuck in the lift – the doors wouldn’t open.’ Without the teacher creating this situation, this language is unlikely to be taught. It’s often coursebooks that create these situations, but it’s for the teacher (with help of the students) to exploit. The second problem is that, as teachers, we are often not taught to exploit language in this way and nor does it come naturally. As a result we tend to fall back on those things which we have taught before, which – ironically for dogme teachers – is often the memory of coursebook teaching from their pre-dogme days! I think, like you, dogme has been very good in highlighting a state of mind that is more open to the many teaching opportunities. However, if we are going to be better at that we need to train ourselves to be better with language and be aware of how our training perhaps narrows our view of what to teach. To this end, I’ve recently set up a blog which focuses on language in this way, which you might be interested in. I’d certainly appreciate any comments.

    • “…we need to train ourselves to be better with language and be aware of how our training perhaps narrows our view of what to teach”

      Andrew, I think this is a great comment and I hope you don’t mind me highlighting the above phrase, because this seems quite critical to me.

      I’ve said before, much to others chagrin, that our teacher training doesn’t help with this. As you say, we could consider ourselves limited by the training we’ve had. As far as I’m aware (on CELTA for example), TT courses tend to be based around the coursebook – why? Because… that’s what most schools and institutes use.

      Coursebook have become the status quo and, taking a step back, it seems incredible that a TT course should take these as a starting point! Shouldn’t we start from the teachers’ own initiatives, rather than handing them a template?

      But the hegemony of the coursebook almost guarantees that this will happen on TT courses.

      There are some brave souls out there (Dale Coulter) who’ve taught in a more Teaching Unplugged style since CELTA, but they are few and far between – does CELTA make us simply assume, that this is the only way?

      I’m tempted to think that it does. Something has become the norm because of a monopoly, not because it promotes effective learning.

      • Glad you you liked the post, but you seem to have come to a slightly different conclusion to me! ;-). I have to admit at this point that I am a coursebook writer, so am bound to be a) in favour of coursebooks and b) think some are better than others (ahem…). But leaving that aside, I feel the narrowness of what to teach comes through language awareness on TT which still separates grammar from vocabulary and then almost entirely focuses on the former over the latter. I would say that good vocabulary teaching requires us to give good possible examples; then maybe highlight re-usable patterns in the example; asking about collocation or other questions around usage – such as the illustration with lift. It might include drawing attention to traditional grammar: on a better day or if I’d thought about it before, I might’ve asked why do we say ‘Are you waiting for the lift’, not “do you wait for the lift’. It is also responding to follow-up questions from students “is go up the same as rise?’ (Is the lift rising?) which may lead to other explanations and questions. While I think some coursebooks come closer to language as it’s really used than others and may take vocabulary more seriously (ahem …), I’ve come to the conclusion that actually all coursebooks are full of language to be exploited like this and that paradoxically, for beginner teachers we might be better abandoning all notion of adapting or supplementing materials with their own stuff and focus entirely on seeing the language that is there and exploiting it to it’s full. It’s difficult enough and I’d say would be a better use of planning time than looking for other beginnings of classes or youtube videos or whatever. From this, teachers might gradually start to see more (and more varied) language in non-coursebook settings (including language ’emerging’ from students) and use those sources effectively, but that for most teachers this is a stage of development well ahead of where they are at.

      • It’s ok to reveal yourself as a coursebook writer, no really… some of my best friends are coursebook writers.;)

        I think that one of the problems with TT like CELTA is that it’s a springboard to get the teacher into the classroom. As such, it is totally up to the teacher to decide on how much language awareness they want to study on the job. There are plenty of teachers who couldn’t care less about it, seeing teaching as a means to an end rather than anything else.

        I do think that Cambridge do very well out of the CELTA – it’s an attractive 4-week course that essentially guarantees travel and work opportunities – I know it did for me.


        But one of the things is doesn’t give you are ways to exploit language awareness. Michael Lewis’ “The English Verb” is the best language awareness course I’ve seen and having elements of something like that on CELTA would really help new teachers.

        So then coursebooks are seen as the easiest way in to teaching a course. I remember thinking on CELTA, “how or earth can I teach a course…? Oh yes, I just follow the coursebook… phew…” They are reliable, generally easy to follow and always have a rich variety of grammar and lexis.

        But, as Ceci Lemos quotes in her blog,

        “Providing space for the learner’s voice means accepting that learner’s beliefs, knowledge, experiences, concerns and desires are valid content in the language learning classroom.”

        Students don’t encounter language outside in the real world in coursebooks, they see it on TV, films, songs, blogs, Facebook… and it’s always seemed strange to me to have a coursebook being essentially a “window” onto that world, instead of exploiting that world itself.

        …and that doesn’t mean spending hours trawling YouTube – because apart from anything else, we really shouldn’t be doing that, our students should! Ok, spending time over lead-ins can be irksome, but not half as irksome for students who are merely told to page 96 and look at ex. 3(b)…

  5. Hi Alastair, very interesting points you bring up. I don’t think I have ever felt that I understood what Dogme was and whether or not I have been doing it, without calling it so. Like Nick mentioned above, variety is what keeps things interesting in the classroom and I think no matter what method you prescribe to, you cannot stick with it to a tee and refuse to let in other ideas. So regardless of if you’re doing Dogme or following a coursebook, you should still be open to new ideas and modification. Language changes with time, right? So we as teachers also have to be flexible, and incorporate the “real world” into our classrooms as we see fit.

    I’ve taken a project this year to do a YL class without a coursebook, and I really don’t know if I should call it Dogme, non-CB, unplugged or some other name. I do know that I am setting learning objectives, allowing for students to supply materials, and also tapping into the wealth of resources that are out there. So even if it doesn’t have a name, it’s an experiment that’s new to me and the students and I’m sure everyone will learn a lot along the way. In the end, the learning is all that matters, right?

    • Hi Noreen and thank you so much for such a considered comment. It’s really made me think about the nature of attaching labels to approaches – and I want to know more about how your course goes.

      And yes, I think people should always be open to new ideas and modifications etc. I think my problem with the basics of Dogme was the idea of closing off areas of life that bring so much of the language to students, but receptively and productively.

      Does it matter if it has a name? Ultimately, probably not. I’ve argued before thast giving a teaching approach a name gets it recognised. My Dogme course here was given the name “Advanced Free” by the school – not sure how much I like the name but there’s something in a name that students look to for confirmation that what they are doing is “right” – like a brand, almost.

      What do you think about this?

  6. Hi Alistair, it’s been a while. Your post has managed to bring me out of silence (apart from the one-off conference talk on Dogme). I’ve restrained from getting involved in the ‘Dogme debate’ lately which seemed to me to have become a bit of a pedagogical playground scuffle.

    Like you, I’m not sure if closing off other areas of language input to learners is in fact positive and following Dogme. My courses have always involved other elements like input of spoken and written texts and, yes, even coursebook material. Be it my meeting of student expectations or belief that learners are somewhat shortchanged by a lack of examples of where the next level lies in their interlanguage, which texts do provide.

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever taught a whole course pure Dogme. There have been those with a higher weighting and a lower weighting, depending on the class and the students. On one-month intensive courses it can be an eye-opener if it’s students’ first experience, on others, one can sense that we’re all reading from the same old script all over again.

    I always try and use a wide variety of lessons types and structures to keep things different and fresh. There’s no doubt really that any one structure repeated to infinity would lower motivation and make things a bit mechanical and repetitive, I think that encompasses all approaches and methods.

    Like you say, does it matter if it has a name or not? If names and labels are important, perhaps it does.


    • Dale! Couldn’t agree more about the “pedagogical playground scuffle” (which you really should copyright) and I must admit to haveing been a petulant kid in said scrap myself.

      And your word “shortchanged” got me thinking – this seems to be part of the issue with Dogme, i.e. that (a) the face validity of any course needs other media to prop it up and (b) that said media are all part of the English our students have and do and will always encounter.

      Us Dogme teachers can be an evangelical lot and, as you say, keeping things different and fresh involves being inclusive about other media in class. This is about student motivation and autonomy – how can we get that without mixing it up a bit?

      I almost feel like the challenge needs laying down – has anyone taught, following the three fundaments of Dogme ELT alone for an extended period? I want to be proven wrong, in a way…

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