EFL Experiment 2: The ultimate Dogme criticisms and responses

This year seems to have brought a fresh wave of critical Dogme posts and blogs. Many of these criticisms are fair but often not posed by people who have really got their hands dirty and given Dogme a proper go. It is easy to just read a blog post or Scott and Luke’s book or even watch a video clip of a Dogme lesson then start pulling it to bits. Yes, being a critic is easy. What is hard is investing in your teaching using Dogme ideas and seeing what really works, what does and then what you can do about it. This is where Dogme is most important in that every teacher, student and situation is different. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ teaching approach, everyone of us has to create his own perspective and ideas of what Dogme is and how he/she uses it. This, my dear friends, is what teaching is about in my book.

Anyhow, in this experiment I have been lucky to attract some of the best Dogme minds who have all contributed their own criticisms of Dogme and then added their own responses. The purpose of this project was to show how everyone is different and that there is no right or wrong answer. It is this middle ground where everyone can be themselves and create the optimal learning environment for their context. I cannot express how fascinating these comments are and how grateful I am to the teachers, I only hope that other people also find these thoughts and opinions as intriguing as I have.

Dogme criticisms + responses


Phil Wade: La Reunion
Chiew Pang: Canary Islands
Chia Suan Chong: England
Dale Coulter: Italy
Oli Beddall: Japan
Adam Beale: Spain

The criticisms

1) No external listenings are allowed but my students need to listen to different speakers/accents

2) Books are not allowed but all my students were told to buy one

3) Dogme uses incidental learning

4) Dogme is just chatting with a bit of error correction

5) I don’t know enough grammar to create grammar focus activities

6) There’s no structure

7) There’s not enough lexical input (Really? Is that really a criticism of Dogme???)

8) It’s Euro-centric

9) You need lots of experience to use it

10) Dogmeticians are dogmatic and evangelise Dogme like it’s a religion. Such exclusivity and strict adherence to the approach turns people off.

11) Coursebooks can have really good materials, e.g. reading and listening texts, activities, discussion topics, tasks etc. Not using them completely would be denying yourself a valuable resource.

12) Dogmeticians are hypocritical. First, they say there should be no external materials at all to be used in the classroom. Now they say it can be materials-light, e.g. the original vows of chastity states that no external listening texts should be used, but now they say their students can bring texts into the classroom. Some also support IWB and m-learning.

13) How can you tailor a lesson to suit the needs and interests of multiple students in the classroom. They all have different needs and interests and want to talk about different things.

14) It makes the teacher come across as unprepared and students feel cheated. Many think being given books and handouts is a sign of a good class and thus won’t take notes or will lose them in a Dogme class.

15) It won’t work with very large classes e.g. those with more than 20 students, 121’s and very low levels.

16) Dogme classes can become very teacher-centred because the teacher is constantly directing the conversation and language focus tends to take place as a teacher-centred presentation not unlike PPP.

17) The more interesting and useful lessons that make use of Guided Discovery, running dictations, grass-skirts and board-grabs etc all need preparation.

18) Dogme can be very difficult in a mono-lingual class where students just start to chat in their native tongue.

19) Dogme is all about one-off random classes and so is not appropriate for a full course and is definitely not suitable for university or ESP courses that need lots of specific input.

20) It just won’t work with shy students.

The responses

1) No external listenings are allowed but my students need to listen to different speakers/accents.

Chiew: Who says external listenings aren’t allowed? Materials-light doesn’t mean materials-free. Ideally, students bring their own listening material – videos, songs – but there’s nothing stopping you, or me, at least, from bringing something in. I brought a video in yesterday – will reflect on that soon.

Dale: I happen to use a lot of listening in my class. It’s great when students bring in listenings and videos to class and it can be a really motivating and stimulating class when it happens. But, I find with the past-paced lifestyles of many of my students, or that they are lazy teenagers – sorry, correction: teenagers who study 7 hours per day with 3+ hours of homework coming to English class on a Wednesday afternoon – that sometimes using my own judgement on what to choose goes down well with learners; this may sound anti-dogme, but sometimes they appreciate having something chosen for them, after all, it’s what they paid for.

I base my decisions on the interests of my learners. For example, I teach a man who is going to Aus soon, so we listen to a lot of Australian accents, which motivates him a lot. With some classes, I adapt activities to help students segment (as the problem emerges in class). Not Dogme? Bah, who cares.

Chia: Most of the time, the listenings I do actually emerge from the conversations we have in the classroom. I am quite lucky in that the school I work for has an IWB, but I know of teachers who bring their iPads into the classroom and achieve the same effect. Just the other day, the conversation went into the downfalls of social networking and the internet, and I immediately showed my learners Tom Scott’s Ignite presentation on YouTube called ‘Flash Mob Gone Wrong’. I made up some listening tasks on the spot, looked at some language after. It worked a treat!

Chiew: Yes, I think critics have got it wrong as far as materials are concerned. In fact, even if you use stuff from the coursebook, it’s OK. It depends on what you do with it.
My reflection on that lesson where I used a video listening has been published. You can read about it here.

Oli: I think it’s clear that we all use listening in our teaching so it’d be good to hear from someone who doesn’t as to the effect on students. I am now starting to save all interesting videos I come across on Evernote, building up a library of interesting material, the idea being that I can find something really relevant to Ss as and when the need arises. As far as this relates to Dogme: I don’t feel it does really, for me. Only in as much as I am always prepared and ready to look for material and use it out of the blue should the need arise; a Dogme mindset helps me here because I have a lot of strong methods of responding to and working with the text in an improvised manner without a prepared lesson plan. Naturally, any experienced teacher could do this just as effectively without the need to call it Dogme.

2) Books are not allowed but all my students were told to buy one.

Phil: This isn’t a fixed rule. If your school has a book policy then you can create a class that uses bits of the book the students want but does not use the book as the whole course. Materials light implies less materials and if there’s a compulsory book then it can be used in some way but not to dictate an entire course.

Chiew: Yea, again, who says books aren’t allowed? Where do you guys get these commandments from?

Chia: Uh, Chiew, I think the original 10 vows of chastity that introduced Dogme for ELT to the world did have rules like no external listening or book to be allowed.
The danger of course with saying that books or materials are allowed as long as we don’t let it dominate the classroom is that people will then say, ‘Then what is the difference between Dogme and good teaching?’ – which is exactly the predominant criticism at the moment.

In my school, coursebooks are given to students as part of their course fees. Being a Dogmetician, I tend to find lots of areas of the coursebook inadequate, and the amount of adapting needed just points towards me doing my own thing at the end of the day. In addition, coursebooks tend to treat grammar points as ‘McNuggets’ and seem to adopt a ‘SLA is linear’ kind of belief, which we know just isn’t true. If my students want to feel like their coursebooks is bring put to good use, I use the content page at the start and end of the course to guide our ‘syllabus’ and I let the students use the rest of the coursebook for homework and extra grammar/lexis exercise.

Adam: Personally, I think the commandments are somewhat outdated and that Dogme is now operating in a more flexible and adaptable way. I think perhaps this answer relates to the above question about external listening too. Materials are extremely important in the class room and need to be carefully selected and more importantly, have relevance to both the lesson and the students. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the book, whether a student has brought it in or the teacher has chosen it.

Dale: My school has a book policy yes but it’s a loose policy; you’re not obliged to use the book. I think this statement very much depends on the institution and Dogme teachers should tread carefully and get the opinions of their students and directors before considering reducing the role of the book. Wait? Did I just imply that books were allowed? Maybe I did, damn… I’m not very good at sticking to these commandments, am I?

Oli: Ok. At the beginning of a course I tell students that I feel their lives are more interesting and relevant than the pages of the coursebook, so we will be basing our lessons around them. I tell them the book covers lots of grammar and lexis, but that they know a lot of it already (of course they do!), so we will only look at stuff I think they need. We will dip in and out of the coursebook, mostly for homework. I also tell them that they should look through the book and tell me if there’s anything they really want to do from it. So far, no-one ever found anything from the book that they consider more interesting/useful than what we cover in lessons, but of course I’m ready and willing in case they do.

3) Dogme uses incidental learning.

Dale: This is a valid argument: focusing on what ‘comes up’ can just lead to a syllabus of incidental language. Luckily, every Dogme teacher I’ve come across has two secret weapons to safeguard against this: needs analysis and a good knowledge of what’s involved in communicative competence in English. So we’re not going to spend two hours learning ‘collude’ collocations at intermediate, phhew.

Chia: I don’t understand. Is this a criticism? Incidental language = emergent language = what learners need to and want to and are ready to know. Why is this a bad thing? Didn’t we agree that SLA isn’t linear?

Oli: In my own language learning, the vast majority of intake has come from incidental learning arising from communicative situations. Dogme or not, I would seek to dedicate large amounts of class time to activities that would give rise to opportunities for incidental learning. However, I agree that there’s a risk of short-selling students without proper instruction too. This could be focus on form, structured task cycles, listening skills, whatever, depending on your beliefs. The difficulty with Dogme is that the teacher needs to be very very aware of all aspects of teaching and learning in order to do a good job. Dogme is no easy path and guided conversation alone is absolutely not enough.

Adam: I agree with Chia here. Surely, it’s a good thing? If it’s incidental, it’s relevant and has emerged through a need to talk about it. By ignoring it you’re ignoring your students.

4) Dogme is just chatting with a bit of error correction.

Phil: This is a common belief by people who haven’t developed their own Dogme teaching. Discussion,debate,interviewing,meetings,brainstorming and negotiations can all be used for conversation but with the teacher providing language support or helping perfect or improve language.

Dale: One thing I’ve really got to grips with in the 9 months or so is that process is so important. Yes, it may seem like just a conversation, but the teacher is doing one-to-one teaching, error correction, peer correction, peer-to-peer correction, vocabulary input, scaffolding, building and checking meaning of vocabulary. If this resembles ‘just a conversation’ for you, then I feel very sorry for your friends. Honestly, they probably hate you. On a serious note, Phil’s also right, and my next point picks up as well on what Luke has said: you can press pause at any time, to nudge the focus, to work on language, brainstorm, error correct, discuss and clarify a grammar point that has come up.

Chia: Sure, Dogme could be chatting with error correction. It could also be chatting, followed PPP stages dealing with a area of language that students clearly have issues with. It could also be chatting, followed by brainstorming, mindmapping, debating, tasks-based learning, presenting, with lots of language fed in. It could also be chatting, following by drilling, use of cuisenaire rods to clarify, some dictogloss and grammaring, some boardrushes and back-to-board for revisions and recycling, some drama to motivate, some roleplay to offer further practice, some discussion and awareness-raising, some class research, some reflection, some self-correction…
I could go on and go. Dogme is Improvised Principle Eclectism.

Chiew: I wish it were that easy! Ask Adam Beale! I don’t know about you guys, but I certainly do more preparation than if I were teaching from the coursebook. Talking of this always reminds me of a few teachers I know, and worked with, who hardly ever prepared any of their classes. They’d just walk in and ask, “So, where did we stop yesterday?”. Yes, you heard right. And, “Turn to Page 92 and do exercise 3 & 4. Oh, what? We did that already?”

Adam; Hear, hear Chiew. If Dogme were just chatting with error correction then anyone could come in off the street to teach that way. I would say that I think more deeply about my Dogme lessons than any of my other course book based classes. It requires the teacher to almost look into the future and try to think about all the possible directions the lesson could go and think about suitable activities to structure and assist them. Not just that, there’s the writing, listening and reading elements to think about. Just as important in Dogme as it is in a course-book based course.

Phil: “It requires the teacher to almost look into the future and try to think about all the possible directions the lesson could go and think about suitable activities to structure and assist them”
I think that says it all. I am always stoking the fire and pushing and prodding the discussion.

Oli: I always had some classes that were impossible to get talking. I wished that they would just chat rather than be glued to the book. Coming for a lesson once a week, if they don’t start talking they’ll never improve – output hypothesis 101. So there is a place for guided conversation, but it’s one tool in the box. With my really talkative classes I spend significantly less time in conversation. I’ll use it as the springboard to the lesson and establish a topic for the lesson but quite soon get stuck into tasks/correction/scaffolding/FOF, often followed by repetition of earlier tasks then reporting/writing consolidation.

5) I don’t know enough grammar to create grammar focus activities.

Dale: Is language learning all about grammar? What about pronunciation, lexis, skills? Lots of other language for learners to get their teeth into while you flick open the grammar book or app on your phone to have a quick brush up. Or, failing that, you can always open the grammar book before you teach, what with all that time we don’t use to plan?

Chiew: Haha, Dale, Right. With all that free time, eh? Seriously, though, don’t be afraid of saying, “OK, we’ll take a look at that in greater detail in the next lesson.” And the next lesson, you can bring material to support the explanation: music, video, exercises, games, whatever… You are dealing with emergent language even though it was from the previous lesson!

Chia: It’s the responsibility of the teacher to find out as much about language as they possibly can. After this is our area of expertise. Relying on a coursebook to do the job you are paid to do is an embarrassment! Ooh…am I being a bit too harsh here? I don’t think so. Teaching is a profession. Not a holiday-fund supplier. Go read Thornbury’s ‘About Language’, Parrott’s ‘Grammar for English Language Teachers’, Swan’s ‘Practical English Teacher’, and if you really have to, Murphy’s ‘Grammar in Use’. Be curious. Go find out.

Oli: I agree with this. If you don’t know enough about grammar (although grammar is only a tiny amount of what you need to know) – get studying. Read the books listed above and do a Delta/Diploma ASAP!

6) There’s no structure.

See DA Chia vs Dale. Thanks for the plug!


Phil: Jason Renshaw created a typical Dogme structure and Luke Meddings implies one too. Both seem to stress helping a subject emerge, an analysis of language, extension and practice of it and then more conversation.Jason says the last bit can be repeated as a cycle. However, the subject itself should also be allowed to move, develop and evolve.

Chia: First, get your learners to invest in a notebook and make sure they take lots of notes. Second, I find that reminding my learners of the grammar they have learnt and the lexis they have noted down really helps them to realise that there is structure that is emerging. Third, ensure lots of recall and recycling the next day to remind them of how much they have learnt.

Oli: If done badly, yes. It should be clear now that ‘no pre-determined structures’ is not the same as ‘no structure’. Structure is there just as in any good teaching. In Dogme you have to improvise it. This is not easy – your challenge as a Dogme teacher is to get comfortable doing this. This, ironically, takes a lot of planning and preparation.

Adam: I think it’s possible to have a clear structure within a Dogme class. There’s nothing wrong with using the CEF as a check-list to tick off as you go along. Or, for the students to create their own course structure as part of the needs analysis. To maintain the structure the teacher will occasionally need to steer the students in the right direction in order to cover a certain area, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

7) There’s not enough lexical input (Really? Is that really a criticism of Dogme???).

Yes – I’d say so. How does a teacher replace the vocab input a coursebook gives: listening texts, reading texts, all the incidental vocab they pick up, plus extra exercises. Dogme, two hours, once a week, correcting and reformulating, where’s the vocab? Oli recently tackled this one on his blog as well. Within certain time frames, lexis can be put to one side, although the same could be said under time restrictions with a coursebook.

Chiew: How much vocabulary do learners remember from their coursebook when they complete it, I wonder…
We’re talking about Dogme in ELT, right? Meaning…in teaching language to learners whose native language is something other than English, right? Meaning… they have vocabulary far richer than what they can express in English, right? Meaning… they struggle to express what the really want to express, right? Meaning… in dogme, that inability, that difficulty would be seized upon like an enemy trying to escape…

Chia: I cover much more lexis in one Dogme class than any material or coursebook-based class could ever cover. If a CELTA trainee tried to cover this much lexis in one class, we would accuse them of being impractical and of overwhelming students. But because the lexis emerged from the students themselves, they have the propensity of remembering much more of it. That, and lots of recycling. If you don’t believe me, I’ll be happy to show you photos of my daily lexis column of my board from any of my classes.

Oli: As Dale said, I’ve been thinking about this recently and it is certainly a concern. I wonder if Chia’s context, being multilingual (?), gives rise to more lexis than a monolingual class? My learners tend to share a similar lexical knowledge, meaning that there’s not much of an information gap between learners as there  might be in multilingual classes. In other words, the benefits of ‘conversation’ may not be as real in my context because learners ted to stay within their comfort zone. That means I’m responsible for new lexical input. In that case, is there any difference between new lexis provided by me via scaffolding or that given in a text?

8) It’s Euro-centric.

Dale: Yes, it is. So is a lot of ELT material. I think this problem is more far-reaching than just Dogme. But of course local culture must be taken into account. Catalans may love it but sensitivity and careful implementation are needed in tougher contexts. Immediate results might not be attainable.

Chia: Some argue that the entire communicative approach is Euro-centric. Huge debate, this one…watch the DA space…

Oli:I don’t see how learner-centred learning can possibly be euro-centric. ‘Western’, perhaps, in as much as it encourages learners to express their opinions freely, as opposed to many ‘Eastern’ contexts where one might not. But I’ve heard many reports of this being liberating for learners who can’t generally express themselves in their daily lives. Sensitivity to local context is the key here, as ever.

Adam: Totally disagree with this. Okay, I teach in Spain but Oli seems to be doing a really good job in Japan. If the teacher is good enough and really knows their students they will find a way for Dogme to work. I agree with the point above about Dogme being liberating for learners. Remember this doesn’t have to be through talking and expressing your feelings out loud. It can be through writing and sharing texts.

9) You need lots of experience to use it.

No, see, erm, me, or my blog. Or Adam Beale’s blog, which is probably better.

Adam: Cheers. Although, I would advise caution. Doing Dogme every so often and when the need arises can be fine and easily achievable for a new or inexperienced teacher. But, for Dogme to be taught long term and for an entire course, experience is essential and necessary to allow the teacher to go that next step further and uncover the more advanced nuances of the English language, that a new teacher simply won’t know.

Phil: When I started teaching I think I was trying to do Dogme as it just seemed like the right thing to do then I was brainwashed into all these methods and procedures and materials. Now, I am back to where I was but I know how and what works. I’m not a linguist and never have been so I find it tough to suddenly whip up a grammar rule of expand language points out of thin air. I’m getting better but I think at the start I was just teaching basic stuff. BUT if I’d been trained on how to do Dogme then I may have been better and sidestepped all the stuff in the middle.

Chia: Perhaps it’s an issue with the way we are training new teachers on courses like the CELTA. Perhaps it isn’t about just getting trainees to learn lesson shapes and jump through hoops by demonstrating procedural knowledge. Perhaps it should be more about teaching trainees to deal with emergent language, while teaching them about language and the way it is acquired… Anthony Gaughan would be a great person to talk to about this. Or see his blog teachingtrainingunplugged.wordpress.com

Oli:I don’t think you necessarily need a lot of experience to use Dogme, but it’s difficult to be aware of issues you aren’t addressing without more experience. If a new teacher used Dogme too much, there might be a danger of slow development of teaching knowledge; a lot of my knowledge of teaching and language early in my career was learnt via the pages of those very coursebooks I used to dislike using.

10) Dogmeticians are dogmatic and evangelise Dogme like it’s a religion. Such exclusivity and strict adherence to the approach turns people off.

Dale: Who said Dogmeticians should try and turn them on in the first place? Everyone uses a set of approaches, picks from methodologies etc to help them express their beliefs about language learning. But, if Dogme is to not always be the rallying point for criticism, evangelism is not the way to go. Just a curiosity, I’d be interested to see quotes from the evangelists, just to see what they say. Hope I’m not one.

Chiew: Ditto. Who are the evangelists, I wonder…

Chia: There will always be extremists and evangelists in anything new. Then things calm down and balances itself out, and we learn to take the best from things and use it judiciously. Isn’t that with anything though?

Phil: I remember one post on the Yahoo Group that claimed it was like a secret society. As of yet I haven’t seen any secret handshakes but I think there is a very welcoming and supporting feeling in the Dogme crowd. I also feel that the Yahoo group is an amazing place where anyone can swap ideas and get advice from a wide range of normal and super famous teachers.

Oli: I get this impression sometimes too. We should reflect on criticisms and confrontation much more carefully before leapIng to the defence of Dogme just for the sake of it. We should also be careful of calling something ‘Dogme teaching’ when in actual fact it’s just ‘good teaching’ that no-one should claim ownership of.

11) Coursebooks can have really good materials, e.g. reading and listening texts, activities, discussion topics, tasks etc. Not using them completely would be denying yourself a valuable resource.

Phil: Use them if they are useful and can fit into the lesson. External topics and exercises can disrupt the flow of a class so why not take the ideas and recreate them in your class but adapted for YOUR students?

Chiew: It’s how you use them.

Oli: Absolutely. It’d be foolish to claim that there is nothing of value in a coursebook into which has gone so much thought and preparation.

Adam: Course books are great at times and at others can be completely irrelevant. As mentioned earlier, it’s all about careful selection of materials and their relevance within the class.

12) Dogmeticians are hypocritical. First, they say there should be no external materials at all to be used in the classroom. Now they say it can be materials-light, e.g. the original vows of chastity states that no external listening texts should be used, but now they say their students can bring texts into the classroom. Some also support IWB and m-learning.

Chiew: How many Christians do you know who obey all ten commandments? In any case, if language is alive, so does the tool, method, approach, whatchamightcallit have to be too. Honestly, perhaps I’m not a dogmetician. Who cares? I don’t care much for labels. What matters is that my classes are conversation-driven and learner-centred. If I have to resort to external material to achieve that, then, so be it, and sod-all to the commandments (I don’t even know them!)

Chia: The original vows of chastity was very much written tongue-in-cheek (correct me if I’m wrong, Scott and Luke) to emulate the vows of chastity in Dogme 95 in Danish film-making. When I first tried Dogme (I used to be quite prescriptive about using the coursebook and about planning perfect little boil-in-the-bag lessons), it was really liberating to try those vows out in the classroom and see what could happen if we simply let the students be the resource and not worry about lesson plans and lesson materials. It wasn’t not about without treating those vows in a Dogmatic set-in-stone way, but about seeing where this could lead our teaching and as a result feeling empowered by it all.

Phil: My own perspective and beliefs about teaching incorporate the 3 Dogme pillars because they epitomise what I’ve always believed but a class/course should never be constrained by them. With regards the ant-materials issue I thought it was ‘materials-light’ which means  only what’s needed. I think in Dogme there is space for everyone and every student. You do what works and if that means bending a rule fine.

Oli: As above!

13) How can you tailor a lesson to suit the needs and interests of multiple students in the classroom. They all have different needs and interests and want to talk about different things.

Chiew: Oh, isn’t variety the very spice of life?

Chia:Have you ever watched Question Time and seen how skilfully David Dimbleby moderates the panel and the audience, shifting from one person to another, one topic to another in a balanced and engaging way that ensures pace while exploiting a topic and a person’s opinion sufficiently before he moves it on to the next, all the while keeping a low profile? I think we should be training teachers on CELTAs to be David Dimblebys…

Phil: Find out what they want and alternate topics but get students to justify why they want to do X,Y,Z.

Adam: The above point makes perfect sense. Spread the topics out and give everyone the chance to speak. Why should everything be done in one lesson? Also, if a topic is clearly not engaging for certain people in the class, get them to tackle it from a different angle that suits them. Again, this goes back to the teacher knowing their students. Unplug the class room but plug into your students, get to know them so everyone can join in.

Oli: Doesn’t every teacher face this problem? Choosing a topic because it happens to be in the coursebook is hardly a satisfactory solution.

14) It makes the teacher come across as unprepared and students feel cheated. Many think being given books and handouts is a sign of a good class and thus won’t take notes or will lose them in a Dogme class.

Chiew: Unprepared? See previous comments. Books and handouts with the Internet having more information you can digest in seven lifetimes? You must be living in the past, man. Notes? I’m a paperless man. See Paperless Dogme.

Chia: It is important that the teacher explains what they are doing or will be doing at the beginning of a course and not let the approach be too much of a mystery to the students. Ensure there is lots of useful language focus and make students take notes (give them time to) and make sure you recycle and review the language often. Test them (albeit informally) if you must.

Oli: Yes, as above. Always tell them clearly what you’re doing. Many learners see the teacher as an authority figure and have certain expectations of their role. You must address this or you’ll end up at odds.

15) It won’t work with very large classes e.g. those with more than 20 students, 121’s and very low levels.

Phil: You can have conversation activities with any size. In fact, the more people the more conversation and emergent language. In big classes students can be encouraged to take notes and then lead their own language discussions. 121’s require you to engage the students with authentic conversation. My first Dogme 121 started with just conversation and questions and a structure evolved and the course changed depending on the student’s needs and requirements. It started off as a writing course and ended up with listening. Conversation was the tool that allowed us to improve the class every week.

Chiew: 121’s was what started my interest in dogme. Dogme gave me the structure I needed for conversation classes.

Chia: This was also a criticism of the Communicative Approach. And how did they get past this? By showing students that pairwork and groupwork could allow for the communicative and task-based element to help language acquisition.

Oli It’s harder with larger groups, but do-able if you build your teaching repertoire. I’m not there yet myself.

16) Dogme classes can become very teacher-centred because the teacher is constantly directing the conversation and language focus tends to take place as a teacher-centred presentation not unlike PPP.

Phil: It’s hard not to do too much TTT but you should make an effort not to by setting simple group discussion tasks and selecting students to speak. In a discussion class you can just be a co-ordinator of opinions. Whilst for the language section it can and should be student led. You can write up interesting language on the board, on cards, on PPT and ask students to work on it/analyse it or even better get students to be ‘language spotters’ and train them to analyse and develop it like degrammaring texts. Getting them into this habit lets them study and investigate language outside class and then lead experimental language sessions.

Chiew:Mmm…teacher-centred…am I? I ask them to explain past lessons to students who’d missed previous lessons, I ask them to summarise the day’s lessons, I ask them for feedback on every lesson… Oh, they do pair and group work, too. I don’t know. Read my dogme blog and tell me if my classes are teacher-centred.

Chia: A method/approach is only as good as the teacher who implements it. Any method, even TBL, could become teacher-centred if the teacher wants to be in the centre of it.
And hey, let’s not knock teacher-centred teaching. I wouldn’t throw that baby out with the bathwater. We now talk about being teacher-centred, like the way we talk about PPP…as if it’s something kind of dirty taboo in ELT. Quality teacher-centred moments can be very useful too. So can judiciously done PPP.

Oli: Teacher-centred learning, as with TTT, has returned to favour as evidenced in papers in recent years. This will be a debate whatever methodology you use. Horses for courses.

Adam: If your Dogme classes, or any class for that matter, is teacher centered then your not doing it right. There are many ways to create a student-centred lesson.

17) The more interesting and useful lessons that make use of Guided Discovery, running dictations, grass-skirts and board-grabs etc all need preparation.

Chia: Can’t you use some of these in Dogme lessons? Make students prepare texts/dictations for the opposing team, make up board grabs with the cards in class as you go along, implement Guided Discovery simply by giving students lots of examples and encouraging them to notice the patterns for themselves… Who says they all need lots of preparation? The only preparation is the knowledge in the teacher’s head as to how and when to use them?

18) Dogme can be very difficult in a mono-lingual class where students just start to chat in their native tongue.

Phil: Not really. If you set an ‘English only rule’ and sit in a discussion circle and support them and praise them then why do they need the L1?

Chiew: See my comment to Q7.

Chia: Use of L1 in the classroom has been demonised for way too long. Translation and code-switching skills are some of those needed by L2 learners, especially those working in ELF scenarios…and these are skills many NS teachers are unable to teach or help their learners with. Perhaps we need to consider the judicious use of L1 in the classroom and work with how it can help learners acquire the L2, instead of banning it altogether. (Read Vivian Cook’s ‘Portraits of the L2 User’ for more on this).

Phil: This is fine for monolingual classes where the T has L1 proficiency and wants to look cool but I’ve seen this done and the classes end up being half L1 then all L1 and students are reliant on T for translations and never evolve an L2 personality. Then you get translation sections in tests, translating in class and students end up planning essays in L1 and translating it. In England my students paid a lot of money to have classes in English whilst my ones abroad pay a lot for a native speaker. Of course using L1 and matching L2 to L1 schema branches works but many things aren’t exactly the same and after pre-int students have enough English to communicate in class. If they want to translate stuff fine but the language of the class should be English, yes it may be tough with a class of Italian nuns (I used to teach) but once they realise they can cope then it works. Look at all the immersion studies.

Oli: I’ve never had this problem so can’t comment. Sounds like crowd control to me.

19) Dogme is all about one-off random classes and so is not appropriate for a full course and is definitely not suitable for university or ESP courses that need lots of specific input.

Phil: A lot of the examples of Dogme are 1 off GE lessons but the same principles can be used to create a flexible and developmental course structure for any subject. Academic subjects, texts, videos etc can be chosen by students+teachers  and then conversation-based lessons can be created based on this input or used as homework before or after. Instead of dictating a course to students a Dogme course would give them choice and usually cover more and in a more interesting way. Tests can still be done and a final exam but students will probably remember information better because they were involved in creating it.

Chia: Shameless plug but please may I refer you to my blogpost on Dogme and Exam Preparation.

Adam: Definitely possible with a course – see my recent blog posts for how. The key is to provide retrospective records of learning and link it to relevant parts of the coursebook to ‘prove’ what’s been learnt. As for exams… Possible in moderation I think (again see recent blog post on exam classes) but I can’t comment properly on this. As for ESP – I have real concerns about Dogme here, It seems to me that the teacher would need to be supremely confident, well-informed and prepared!

Phil: I’ll second that one, for exam classes too. He/she’d need exactly what is needed to pass the course/exam and make sure things god covered but from a student-centred direction.

20) It just won’t work with shy students.

Phil: The idea of being student-centred means developing a course around the students and their personalities. If they are shy then it’s not a problem and the teacher should adapt the course to suit them. He/she should not force them to speak but help nurture conversation when it is appropriate.

Chiew: Oh, and other methods work better?

Phil: Well, the ‘lecture’ or ‘book’ method often just focuses on input and structured practice so you’ll never know if someone is shy because they won’t get to talk much.

Chia: The communicative approach can be accused of the same thing too. Acquiring a language has to involve practice through communicating and interacting. Learners who are not willing to do so will simply have a harder time learning than others. That’s just a fact of SLA. In any case, Dogme lessons are able to cater to these so-called shy students better by letting them take control of the lesson and letting them talk about what they want to talk about. After all, shy students have interests too.
How many times have you gone in with a book, asked a discussion question from the book and had students stare back at you with a mere ‘I don’t know’ for an answer? I don’t know about you, but I used to get that quite a lot…till I started doing Dogme…

Here is the original Doc if you would like to comment:



19 thoughts on “EFL Experiment 2: The ultimate Dogme criticisms and responses

  1. Just like to say how honoured I was to have been asked to contribute my two-cents’. Honestly, I feel like the Pretender invited to the Ball, but grateful nonetheless!

  2. Phil,
    Firstly, massive well done for organising and heavily contributing to this – a huge effort.

    Being an ego-maniac, I went to the point most relevant to my own recent teaching: 15) It won’t work with very large classes e.g. those with more than 20 students, 121’s and very low levels.
    My issue being “very low-levels”. In the responses to 15) nobody touched on this low-level point.

    For the last 2 years, one of my teaching jobs was in the VHS system in Germany. Big classes of A1 with not only false-starters, but some genuine real-starters. Plus 98% of the students were retired.

    As you know, I do ‘unplugged lessons’ regularly (and always have done since I started teaching) with more advanced students e.g. A2 upwards. I don’t know how I could have gone unplugged/dogme with these A1 classes, when there was virtually nothing to work with in terms of lexical and grammatical knowledge.

    These learners definitely needed the old-school reassurance of “we’ve got a textbook and that’s what makes us learn stuff” kind of vibe. This is one issue…there are many more to list that I won’t bore you with. However, I should mention that the life experience of these elderly people was somewhat limited: none, or limited travel outside of Germany, one job their entire working life doing the exact same role in the same company, eating (virtuallly) the same food every night, not particularly interested in music, art, film etc…it goes on and on. Don’t get me wrong, they were lovely people and we had big laughs every lesson, but perhaps the dogme approach was just not a good fit for these A1, “not much in their lives” learners (to brand them harshly).

    I think an attempt (or repeated attempts) to go unplugged would have been counter-productive in terms of motivation for these German pensioners, who tbh needed to be treated with extreme empathy and kid gloves at all times.

    Has there been a blog or post that has looked at this question of Dogme for real/false starters that you know of from the #dogme family? ….No mafia pun intended :)))))

    Given my situation, would you have still attempted to do dogme classes?

    BTW, I’ve just finished at the VHS & I’m off to Spain! 🙂


    P.s. I don’t mind the little dig at me in the 1st paragraph 🙂

    • Hi Bren,

      Thanks for the paragraph.

      Little dig? Sorry, I hadn’t noticed and it wasn’t intentional. These questions were collated by all of us from the countless ones from the net, our colleagues and ourselves. I wanted to show that these teachers are critical and don’t just accept Dogme as perfect BUT they work with it and do their own thing.

      I took on a false beginner last year and spent lots of time building up small talk. I just let the ‘how are you?’ develop to ‘are you busy?’ to ‘what’s that? etc. This reactivated a lot of her knowledge and provided lots of ‘language/grammar needs’ for me to fill in. I constantly wrote things down in my notebook/miniboard. She’s now a weak int after 40 hours.

      Have a look for Jason Renshaw’s videoed Dogme lesson.

    • Nice one Bren.

      I’ve been watching that for a year. Until recently it was the only Dogme video around so was the source of much discussion about what and how. Luke M’s very recent BC video is quite different. I love the way Jason creates activities but I also really enjoy Luke’s way with his students. Thus, both are essential viewing as both are very Dogme but should not be copied step by step. I mean you shouldn’t try to recreate their lessons and ask why Jason says…. We can never know what the atmosphere was like, what the relationships were, what had happened before and so on. All these are very important in a Dogme lesson and influence the class. Yes, in any class but I think they’re ramped up to 200% in a Dogme one.

  3. Phil first of all, thanks for putting this all together. I remember the conception of this idea many months ago and It’s been great to see it grow and finally read the finished product. The way I see things, this collection is less a response to critics of Dogme and more a go-to-guy, like a FAQ for dogmeticians. Of course, there are questions left unanswered or questions we just didn’t think to include, which will hopefully be thrown up in the comments.

    It’s been a pleasure to read and even more of a pleasure to take part in. Thanks.


    • That’s a common comment from people. I wouldn’t go into the whole ‘good teaching issue’ but I think focussing on your learners has always been the core of teaching but other things got in the way.

      Speaking of that, I picked up a new ESP book the other and was impressed. I’m not going to teach with it but will definitely borrow some of the language and ideas. I like viewing textbooks more as resources of ideas. I also think many of the popular blogs today use this idea.

      Cheers Bren.

  4. Thanks for organising this and putting it all together, Phil! It’s quite the document! And a great one to keep as reference to the whole Dogme debate! Fantastic idea! And great execution! You are a star, Phil! Thanks for letting me take part in it!

    • Cheers. But all I did was provide a platform and beg people and nudge them a bit. Chiew had a great idea though to keep it going. If you click on the GDOC you can add comments so now any Dogme person, or other, can add their opinions.

  5. Pingback: Let’s Hear it for Phil Wade! « chiasuanchong

  6. Hi Phil,

    Thanks to you and all the participants for putting this together. I’ve been reading through the posts for about two days now (not that I’m that slow of a reader, but been doing it in bits–on my smartphone during tram rides and bus commutes).

    This is a great post and addresses many of the major criticisms that come with Dogme, especially about how to Dogme large groups and ESP classes. I personally might feel a bit anxious about doing this with a big group. That being said, I did do a one-off Dogme lesson last semester with a group of 35 students and asked them for written feedback afterwards–a majority of the comments were positive. I did get a few who said they didn’t see the point of the lesson, but that’s valid as it was just a one-off “test” lesson. Plus, it made me realize how important continuity is in these kinds of lessons.

    After reading through the post, I think we can say that Dogme is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes it just feels right, other times it can be tempered with other approaches, even PPP or textbook material. The key here is teacher judgment. A good teacher will know when and how much they can rely on students as resources and when to try another approach, depending on students’ reactions and development.

    Just to give one personal example where I find a hard time justifying a Dogme approach: a class of 20 or so students about half A1-low A2 the other half closer to B2 with not much in between; about half of the students spend their time stealing each others school supplies, ripping up each others’ papers, and doing any other childish activity that amuses them. When you try to talk to them in English, they just look at you and say “Je comprends pas. Vous pouvez pas parler en français?” (Don’t understand. Can’t you just speak French?)

    I like to think Dogme would be the approach that would make them like English, but whenever I try to inject Dogme moments in the lesson, I lose them completely because I’m not telling them what to do, in how much time, and that I’ll be collecting the work at the end of the lesson (which has to be the approach I hate the most, but I’m not sure how to get them to focus otherwise).

    Perhaps this could be another criticism to be argued–I’d much appreciate input on this!: Dogme doesn’t work with groups of students who simply don’t want to invest effort in noticing language, trying to work out the rules, and discussing in L2 when the whole group speaks the same L1.

    • Hi Christina.

      Thanks for taking time to read the post/doc.

      35? I used to teach that size as standard so now 15 seems very small. I don’t think it’s a size question just logistics. In a 1à st class you could sit in a circle in a 100 one you can choose deputy teachers to be you and report back.

      Ah, cocky arrogant French kids. Sounds like my old prepa classes. I have some experience of teaching teens and would say that you need to connect to them, same with any age group though. I did a class the other day, it started with a short listening about Wikileaks but the sociocultural distance was just too much but when I started probing about what they knew or wanted to know about their president, things got interesting. Then we moved to local politicians, scandals and how they believed that all politicians were corrupt so voting was a waste of time. Now , if you know your students well you could just jump straight in at the bottom level and get them into it.

      Differentiation is interesting too. I did one class about the Facebook IPO which was immediately appealing to everyone but then others where I had to find a very basic bridge to the students. A basic example is crime and punishment. I started with internet piracy and establishment who/how broke laws (online films, cracked programmes) and then brought in punishment.

      I bet if you showed a coldplay video they’d be interested. Then you could look at the lyrics, discuss them compared to other songs and write reviews. Different groups could also watch different videos on laptops/phones or just listen on CD. Movies would probably work too. Teens love techie stuff and fashionable things. Find their buttons and press them.

      Noticing? Fine, mine neither. Ramp up correction/support and create situations where they need the language. Praise, praise and more praise. Try internet sites too for homework.

      Also break the cycle that’s made them so negative. Make circles of chairs, get them to bring in stuff, select topics, try games and really show interest.

      Hope this helps.

  7. Pingback: Almost halfway there and where will we go next? « iLoveTEFL by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

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