Elementary Dogme-influenced class: reflecting on course reflections

Ploughing through old blog post drafts to see what is worth working on, and came across this old (May 2016) but worth re-visiting reflection from back when I was teaching general English in the evening at a language school. Good times. It’s interesting to see which of the things touched on in this reflection remain influential in my EAP teaching now. These being:

  • Taking photos of the board at the end of class, for my own reflections and to keep track of emergent language and nice boardwork.
  • Trying to turn learner output into future classroom input, because texts that the students have made themselves have something special about them when re-used in future lessons as language input (perhaps with some teacher modifications).

However, there are also techniques in these reflections that I don’t use anymore, or rarely use anymore:

  • Writing things down that students say, unless I am watching them do mock presentations or group discussions that will be part of their assessment.
  • Class blogs and Facebook groups. There is so much other work to do outside of class in EAP that an unassessed blog would just quietly die in the shadows.

And there is one tool that I did not speak well of in these reflections that I now am much better at using, and in fact massively rely on in every lesson.

  • Powerpoint / Google Slides. There is a lot of information, instructions, details about deadlines, and a requirement to use class time efficiently in EAP, so slides do help. They clash with an unplugged approach.

Personally interesting to reflect on reflections, especially when it was an unexpected event to find the original.

Here is the original, with a predictable abrupt ending for a post sitting in the draft folder


The end of course, a time for reflection. Plenty to think about with this one.

I decided – or the decision just happened – to make this an absolutely conversation driven, materials light affair. Topics dictated the language of conversation and I drew on, among other techniques, those picked up while blogging (Hi, Anthony Gaughn and Hugh Dellar) and while watching Luke Medding’s new video playlist about teaching unplugged.

As the course progressed I found myself concentrating on a few particular aspects of teaching in the planning stages:

  • How to recylce language effectively, interestingly and purposefully for students.
  • Recording the emergent language, to in effect record the linguistic syllabus
  • How to capture and work with learner output.
  • Boardwork
  • Engaging learners in English outside the class with a blog and Facebook group
  • Text-based teaching

I wasn’t aware of this things prior to the course and this is one of the things I enjoy about teaching at the moment – the students’ syllabus emerges AND my own areas of focus emerge and develop throughout the course.


Many continuing students and few new ones joined. A charming balance of uni students and older professionals and a full time mum. They are a joy to teach really – chatty, funny and a bit naughty. Keen to learn and appreciate the balance between conversation for communication and language study afterwards.


Like I said, I completely shunned the coursebook (Unit 9 = past simple of to be – Yeah!). I usually had an idea for a topic – some classes, like on April Fools Day and for a male / female roles lesson I had some reading or listening material and a plan.

It’s funny how often I took some material, an idea, a topic, an activity sequence but then never used it. Something else came up in the initial stages of the lesson and we went in that direction. In fact, I still have about 60 pages of untouched material hidden on my desk that I’m waiting for a quiet moment ot slyly slip into the scrap paper pile. I’ve thought it before and many times since: the comfort of having  some material is a good way to deal with the nerves and potential panic of Dogme teaching. 

Maybe i’m biased or maybe I’m just not good with slide shows but whenever I did a planned lesson with slides and questions and order and pre-prepared structure I just didn’t feel as comfortable or confident with what was happening in class. It’s a lack of confidence in the materials. I’m very aware of certain students losing interest or not understanding but feel less able to deal with that. With a Dogme approach you can always adjust to students, it always seems worth the trouble to explain again or set up something slightly different for weaker students or allow much more time for different pairs to do different things. The flexibilty and freedom is stifled with a slide show and fixed goal.

I think I need to design my slides better, really limit what’s on there to just a picture or a word and see what emerges from that stimulus, much like I’ve started to notice in webinar presentations.

Methods of recylcing

  • writing language lists from memory about last the lesson’s content
  • vocabulary mingles (guess my word, vocab bingo mingle, 20 questions)
  • Kahoot.it *
  • discussion questions with recycled language gapped and to be filled
  • sorting, ranking and venn diagram activities
  • board gap fills *

Recording the emergent language, to in effect record the linguistic syllabus

  • Take photos of the board
  • Take copious notes in class
  • Type it into a Google doc and share with students
  • Vioala, you have a language syllabus of sorts.

How else might you organise the doc to make it more user-friendly?

A good revision activity would be to get the students to organise the language into a syllabus, like sorting but sorting the whole syllabus rather than just a lexical set.

How to capture and work with learner output

  • Write it down, write it down, write it down!
  • Set a small writing task in pairs, get one pair to the board to write their reponse and use this as the text to work with.
  • Working with = correction, upgrade and precision, expansion.

Students wrote holiday stories on the class blog which I took into class and used as reading texts.

This is worth elaborating. Viet wrote a tender, heartfelt story about a long lost love which was so good I had to use it.

I prepared the lesson with the same thinking as a dictation – getting the students to notice the differences between their text and my version will lead to them restructuring their own language.

To do this, I re-wrote the text in my own words. I didn’t change the content, just upgraded and corrected the language.

Students read Viet’s version and we decided on a title, settling on ‘

Then there was time for the class to ask Viet questions about his story.

These two reading activities were some of the most engaging and interesting I’ve ever seen. Students were genuinely interested in asking Viet questions about the story – these questions proved their comprehension. It was amazing – essentially checking understanding of a text turned into a spontaneous, language rich Q and A session all centred around student memories, feelings, desires. I was buzzing just watching this unfold.

Once this stage had settled down, I gave students my version of the text and asked them to read and find the differences. I have a feeling this task needed more focus – there were so many things to find that it may have helped to narrow the search to just spelling, then verbs, then punctuation, etc.

While students were doing this, I wrote on the board phrases and words that I wanted them to take away from the lesson and later invited them to retell the story just using the language on the board.

Herein lies one of my problems with dogme teaching. It is unruly and I find things get out of control pretty quickly, linguistically speaking. Before you know it there are 15 phrases on the board and nothing gets studied in much detail. That issue of the value of doing one thing well and remembering it, rather than spreading your attention over a range and not really mastering anything. It requires self-control from the teacher, something I need to work on.

After these noticing and re-telling activities, students then wrote a similar romantic story using the phrases on the board. We ran out of time for this and certainly the concept of this lesson was better than the execution. Definitely one to try again though.





2 thoughts on “Elementary Dogme-influenced class: reflecting on course reflections

  1. Congrats on experimenting with Dogme. I don’t think I’ll ever be confident enough to try it due to the fact that I don’t know where it’s gonna go, my students are A1/A2 learners, we have to follow a prescribed text geared towards the B1/B2 level. But from reading your blog, I see the benefits. Whenever I deviate from the coursebook, students seem more interested. Listening to stories about another student is just so much more interesting than following the syllabus and I like the way you exploited that to get students talking. Do you think recording student output using a digital voice recorder would also be good?

    1. Hi! Sorry for the late reply. But thanks for reading and commenting on a few posts. Attention to my blog really comes and goes and is currently in a lull after the Extensive Listening experiment.

      Yes trying Dogme classes is still nerve wracking. I’d recommend a few things:

      1) Keep finding out more about how other people do it. Chia Suan has a great set of blog posts about an experiment course with Dogme. You can find them here: https://chiasuanchong.com/category/dogme/. There are some good videos about Dogme online. Some links found in this Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/JamieC_elt/status/1019087838904659968.

      2) Read Teaching Unplugged. This is useful as it gives you the theoretical underpinning of Dogme, as well many simple activities that lend themselves to taking the things learners say and building on them / making them the focus of the class.

      3) Start small in class. Don’t try and do a whole lesson of teaching unplugged. I just started exploiting moments in class where a student said something unexpected or told a story, or asked a question. Take those moments and look to stretch them out by asking more questions, getting other students to ask more questions. Or stretch them out by writing down a sentence the student said on the board, and do some language upgrading. But start small. Just try to have one or two bits in a lesson where this happens. Don’t try and drag out these moments for too long; if the moment dies quickly, it’s fine, move on with the lesson.

      4) I still took a lesson plan and material into many lessons that in this Elementary course from the blog post. I knew that I was intending to try and just base the lesson around what the learners said, but having material and plan that I could fall back on was psychologically comforting. The topics were planned (but based on needs analysis) and I used some of the material sometimes, but usually I used little of it as I allowed the language we studied to come out of the students and then work with it on the board / at break time.

      5) Making materials from learner output is probably more work than adapting a coursebook. You have to constantly be writing stuff down in a note book in class and then doing something with that content at break time or after class in order to create materials.

      To reply to your question, yes I think using voice recorders is great. I do it a lot now teaching EAP. It’s an alternative to writing and allows for speaking to exist permanently, so students can come back to it later and improve it. I should put more thought into activities for making the most of voice recordings and would be interested to hear any ideas you have.

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