Do you dogme, or does dogme do you?

It’s late so this is a necessarily short one. I do, however, hope it’s a pertinent one.

I’ve been reading the latest post over at Chia’s blog, where she and a colleague (her DOS!) have been running a dogme vs. coursebook experiment. The latest lesson featured said DOS, Varinder Unlu, teaching a pure dogme lesson. Previously, she had been teaching the group from Global, a coursebook written by Lindsay Clandfield.

It’s made me wonder. And what I’m wondering is this…

How easy is it to do a first dogme lesson? It’s patently not a walk in the park, is it?

Can you plan to do a first dogme lesson, or does it have to happen to you?

Because the second instance is what happened to me. Only two students showed up for an evening class, so I had to work out what to do with them for a couple of hours and didn’t want to use up (ha!) a lesson I had meticulously (oh alright, 75%) planned.

I’d love to know what happened in your first dogme lessons? Did you plan to do it or did it just happen?

I’ve asked a couple of fellow DELTees whether they’d like to blog their dogme practice, both for experimental assignments and just as a natural thing they’ve done. I’m working on convincing them to guest post something here.

But really, I’m ever so curious, what were Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings’ first ever ‘dogme’ lessons like?

Do you think they’d comment here? I very much hope they would.



    • Thanks for sharing, Mura.

      Will have a better look later on!

      Mike =)

  1. Dogme definitely happened to me. Here’s how I describe a lesson that just ‘happened’ – and which taught me a lot about what learners are capable of, if given the space. I first posted this description in the dogme discussion list in April 2000:, but the lesson took place in Egypt in the mid-seventies.

    This happened after I had been teaching I suppose 6 months. I was in Egypt and had a beginners class that I was enjoying a lot, because they were keen, highly motivated students, and were uncomplainingly allowing me to frogmarch them through an incredibly structural, drill-and-repeat, type programme.

    Somehow it must have occurred to me (I don’t know what prompted it) that they could probably do more than I was letting them, so one day I decided to abandon the book and let the brakes off a bit. I started the class but sticking on the board a picture – it happened to be a cover of TIME magazine (OK so I brought something into the classroom – but that was IT!) featuring the king of Saudi Arabia.

    I stuck it up without comment, and took a seat to the side of the class. They stared at me expectantly – I did nothing. Eventually one student said something like “Saudi Arabia” and looked at me. I made no response. A few more adventurous students followed with the odd word here and there – “desert”, “oil”, “hot” etc. The story that had prompted the magazine cover (US arms sales to Saudi) also started to emerge – mainly lexically. Soon they stopped appealing to me for support, and let words and phrases pop up almost like a free association exercise.

    After what must have been ten minutes or so, and when they seemed to have exhausted themselves, I gave the board pen to one of the students and said “OK, I’m going out for 5 minutes: write up a summary of what you said.” I popped my head in 5 m ins later and they all shouted . No, not yet. The board was already half full. Another 5 minutes later I came back in. They had filled the board. I went through it, word by word, sentence by sentence, reformulating and explaining. And that was the lesson.

    Without a doubt it was a “critical incident” in my development as a teacher. It took me years -decades actually – to map it on to some kind of principled base. I also know that it had a lot to do with my particular relationship with that class (I still remember the names and faces of some of those students – and this was 25 years ago!) as well as a certain devil-may-care attitude on my part, thanks to the freedom that I was able to enjoy in that particular school – and also, perhaps, because the whole language teaching thing was poised on a cusp – within a year or two the first waves of the communicative approach were breaking on the shore.

    Also – interestingly – we had bugger-all materials – you simply had to be inventive -it was that or First Things First!

    • Thank you so much for sharing that experience here, Scott.

      Upon reading your description, I had thought that, yes there would be posts of this nature on the dogme yahoo group. However, as a relative newcomer to the discussion list, it can be a little daunting to trawl through the many threads there!

      I wonder if it would be worthwhile for these first dogme or dogme-like (dogmish?) lessons to be collected on a blog somewhere. I know people like Cecilia Coelho have blogged on this before. Hmmmm.

      Mike =)

    • Thanks for sharing that Roya. Sounds quite dogme to me =)

  2. I think, for most of us, it happened before we realised later that oh, so this is what it’s called? It’s a valid form of teaching? Oh, that’s nice…I can do it again, then. It’s justifiable…
    Critics don’t realise how difficult it is to do a good dogme class. Not many can pull off what Chia does…

    • Validation is really important, I agree, Chiew.

      Personally I just remember the ages I spent trying to adapt the coursebooks I was using. So draining!

  3. Like a lot of others I think I had ‘Dogme chunks’ rather than full on classes to start. And then a lot of the time I was going for a material-light TBL approach which I don’t think necessarily differs much from Dogme. The success bred confidence and more success and now I fully encourage other teachers to give it a go, even if it for only the first or last 30 min of the class. Baby steps…

    • I think there is a lot that TBL and dogme have in common, especially in getting the students to do something with the language they’ve come up with.

      I think this is the key to a successful dogme moment/chunk/lesson.

  4. I really don’t know the answer of the question.I’ve started to be interested in dogme for two months and have realized that I have been doing it unconciously:)
    I have been teaching for eight years and got sick of terrible books which are written by some Turkish writers,But also because the books are given by the state to public schools and we have to follow them,unfortunately I have to use them in my lessons.
    Generally I fed up with those disgusting books and throw them to the garbage and in a moment I present an enjoyable and unplanned activity which comes instantly from my mind.And generally it works and my students starts to enjoy learning English more in those moments.But I don’t know again is it really a dogme moment?In every class the activity shapes itself according to students and I don’t remember where I get the idea or muse from.But the most important thing is I don’t plan them and the activity flows in its way.

    • That sounds like fantastic development, Dilek =)

  5. Hi Mike.

    I’m voting with the majority here – it happens to you.

    At IATEFL-Spain recently, Nick Robinson [@nmkrobinson] stated what in retrospect is obvious: if you’ ve taught one-to-one, you’ve already done Dogme. And I guess the same goes for teachers short of materials or teachers with chatty students.

    Like Chiew says above, I was glad that Scott and Luke gave legitimacy and label to what was cropping up in our lessons anyway.

    • I remember Candy van Oolst saying something similar at the dogme symposium at IATEFL Brighton.

  6. Gosh I suppose Dogme is doing me at the moment. I certainly do not think I am doing Dogme – I have so much still to learn. I think what Scott has written above about the relationship one has with one’s students is paramount. Also confidence – to have the confidence to leave the room when your students have paid loads of money for classes is difficult. I know it works, I can see why and I do it more and more but it’s hard. If I am relaxed and calm and no one is observing me then I think I have more and more good Dogme moments – longer and longer each time. For me right now it’s all about confidence and calmness. These are not my strong points and if you are not sure of yourself I think Dogme is more difficult than “coursebook” teaching. I suppose it goes without saying – there is nothing to fall back on. It’s really hard – I know Dogme feels right but I still haven’t had to courage to completely throw the baby out with the bath water. My first full Dogme lesson may have been today and you observed it and I thought it was pants!

  7. I went into class and asked my students how they felt about yesterdays “pants” lesson and they said they really enjoyed it, they spoke more and they preferred not to use books or materials. I then went on to have a really good Dogme lesson – different combination of students and I came up with some great tasks for them that they seemed to really enjoy. I am confused :) Is it just down to the right dynamic in the classroom then ?

  8. For me it just started happening when I had learned enough of the material from the textbooks. With confidence that I could tackle any language question at any time, I just started teaching without a plan or materials.

    I am starting to wonder if I am using Dogme, am too lazy to lesson plan, or a little of both. I know the classes are always great, so not worried about the lazy part.

    I think once a teacher doesn’t need textbooks, it just comes naturally. Trying to be student-centered is a push in the Dogme direction too.

    I am still trying to figure out if I have been using Dogme for the last few years without knowing it.

  9. Hello sir,

    Since the teacher has to base his teaching on learners’ emerging language in the classroom, I think that dogme is practical with learners who have already built up some knowledge of English. Certainly, they can not start with a vacuum.It would not be possible to practice with low level learners. Is it true?

  10. My first ever lesson was a bit of a Dogme lesson! Was I some kind of visionary talent? Absolutely not, it was born out of necessity. I’m sure it had little relation to the dogme lessons I give now, but for me it shows how teaching unplugged taps into something fundamental about language teaching, in that the priority has to be the relationship between the people in the room. Everything starts from there.

    I blogged about my first lesson here:

  11. I started reading about Dogme on other teachers’ blogs about a year or so ago, but never really felt confident enough in my teaching skills to give it a go. Here’s the post I wrote just after I’d taught what I think was my first Dogme/Unplugged lesson. It was a great feeling! And I know my students enjoyed themselves too. I have to say though, I’m now working in a new place, and I’m still feeling far too new to do anything “risky”… As soon as my life gets less manic, I’m planning to start teaching some private classes again, where I’ll be able to try out dogme to my heart’s content!



  1. Was I just Dogmed, did I just Do Nothing Teaching? « EFL Notes - [...] Mike Harrison articulates an interesting question regarding whether one does dogme or whether dogme does you! [...]
  2. My first Dogme moments | Elt Squared - [...] This was inspired by Mike Harrison asking about our first Dogme moments. [...]

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