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Dogme Cookbook

January 31, 2012

Here is a collection of practical no-nonsense ways for setting up an Unplugged lesson and getting it going. Once you’re up and running and conversation is rife, you need some effective ways of working with emerging language.

This is what it’s all about – the fine line between aimless conversation and real teaching.

These are not lesson plans, they are a list of activities for working with language. Print it off, adapt it, add it to your own. You will note that it’s nothing new, they are not all wonder-activities in their own right, but they all serve the purpose of promoting real communication and struggle with language. After each one is a link to a description of a lesson in which I used the technique, in case you want some ideas for using it in context.

I hope to add to this page and create a one-stop resource for anyone wishing to increase their Unplugged repertoire. Please do leave a comment with suggested additions to this list!

This page is divided into three parts:
1. Tasks for generating conversation
2. Tasks for working with language
3. Ideas for follow-up lessons on language

Tasks for generating conversation

Ss write their own survey questions, then carry out survey and report back the findings. (create an information gap somehow. Eg. One group only interviews half the class, another interviews the other, they then report to each other). Teacher gives feedback at all stages, esp question writing stage.

Teacher anecdote 1
Tell the class a short personal anecdote on the topic (record it on your phone). Ss listen, discuss details of story in groups, then rewrite it in pairs (dictogloss). Board one version and scaffold language. Play recording back and analyse for difference. Discuss.

Teacher anecdote 2
Tell the class you’re going to tell them about something that happened to you. Give them the first line only. (eg. Last year I was in Japan at the time of the earthquake). Try to hook them with this. To find out what happened, Ss in pairs decide on questions for you, which they write on slips of paper and hand to you. Write the answer and return the papers as you go, sending back any badly formed questions. Ss end up with different parts of the story depending on the questions they asked, so regroup and swap information. Elicit story to board, scaffold and correct.
Here’s an example lesson

Student anecdote
If a S brings a story to the class, go with it (eg. I had an interesting weekend!). Ask questions, encourage others to do the same… Generally get stuck in. Elicit language to the board and scaffold. Once the conversation has run it’s course, elicit a summary to the board in the form of key words/prompts. Ss then retell the story, guides by the board, either in groups or individually it’s a small class. Why not extend it with a ‘disappearing reading’ task – gradually erase key words from the board until they can do it all from memory. Homework: write it up.
See this lesson here

Alternatively, if you already have a topic, do an impromptu interview with a student who seems interested/knowledgable about that topic. Ss in small groups write up the interview. Board, scaffold, discuss.

Paper conversation
Elicit a topic. Ss pass a slip of paper back and forth writing a line of dialogue each time to make a conversation (why not make it a variation for How was your weekend?) T gets involved, correcting and scaffolding. Board and discuss an interesting one.
Similar example here

If you find yourself with a list of something – situations, rules, places – ask Ss to rank them according to some criteria. For example, rank office rules in order of importance. Ss do this individually, then in pairs, then in groups, negotiating the list at each stage. In doing this, Ss establish their own preferences and then have to argue their viewpoint and negotiate with others. This involves a whole host of speaking skills, functional and incidental language.
See a lesson

Get each student to write an ‘untruth’ on a slip of paper. These should be of the harmless and funny variety. (Eg. I got married last weekend. I was arrested on Friday night. I’m meeting the queen for breakfast.) Alternatively, write them yourself. Collect papers and redistribute randomly. Ss will mill and find out what each other have been up to, injecting their new stories into the conversation. Tell them to ask plenty of questions to get to the bottom of why their friend was arrested etc. Give them a few minutes quiet time to get their stories straight and then start. Follow with reporting of interested stories.

Fiona’s task
“Here is part of a lesson from several weeks ago that might be something to try when things are slow. I brought several items (a glass canning jar, a water bottle with water, a collapsible basin, a picture post card) to my beginners class. I set the items out one by one, passed them around and asked what they were. This part was much more productive than I expected, because one student connected the jar to wonderful strawberry jam she had tasted, another connected the collapsible basin to metal collapsible chairs a neighbor has…

Next, I asked for predictions about what I will do with these things. (In the past I had noticed problems with talking about future plans.) Basically everyone predicted that I would pack them up and take them home with me. I filled the glass with water, covered it with the postcard, flipped it over and let go. As long as the postcard is dry, air pressure will hold the card up. (The basin was there just in case.)

The students were all impressed, and laughingly said that I could do magic. I told them that they could do magic at home for their families and that I would not tell anyone that air pressure was actually holding the postcard up.”

Show and tell
Have students bring in something and ask them to prepare to talk about it in class. If using a coursebook, this task can often be used to tie into the language focus of the unit (eg. Describing people/present continuous/past tenses/relative clauses – Ss bring in photos. Technology – Ss bring in their mobile phones and describe what they use them form.) If only to generate conversation, make sure whatever they bring in has meaning for them. Follow up with any generic task type: questions from other Ss, paper questions, brainstorm lexis related to object, Ss retell the story behind someone’s item in pairs, survey on topic (eg. Student brings in a pebble from a beach in Brazil, survey on most exciting travel destinations)

For those times that you have a great class discussion, exploit. Let it run its course. Then, Ss summarise in groups, regroup and check they have everything. T takes notes in the meantime and then work on language that’s come up. Ss email you a summary of what was said for homework. Error correction in next lesson.

Got a topic? Students in pairs or small groups write an imaginary dialogue/conversation. Your job is to scaffold their writing and make it as natural as possible. When I do this, I let them act it out, video it on my iPad for them to watch back, type it all up for them and use the dialogue for analysis in a follow up lesson.

If your lessons are driven by real conversation, there are limitless opportunities to exploit the opinions of Ss in the class. After any task, especially a reading, ask the Ss to respond in some way – ask them how they feel about it, or get them to rank the information in the text in order of usefulness. There’s no special formula here – be creative and resist the temptation to fall back to your plan… there’s always more mileage to be had!
Here’s one example of this

Exploiting the coursebook
Most of us have to use a coursebook in one way or another. Find a nice discussion task in the unit you’re on – why not start with the discussion questions at the end of the unit? Get Ss talking and join in yourself. Keep noting down language and looking for learning opportunities… they’re never very far! Once you’ve identified something interesting (or the Ss have found something themselves) work with the emerging language using the following ideas…
See an example from an advanced class here here

Working with language – focus on form

These activities you can use whenever you think you’ve found some language students should work on. I am constantly writing down what learners say in class, looking back over it for consistent errors/opportunities for learning. It may be new vocab, ‘vb-ing’ patterns, future perfect, language for expressing opinions, whatever you have noticed from your notes/observation.

After an anecdote 1
Get Ss in pairs to retell the anecdote, trying to remember as many details as possible. Regroup or put two pairs together, they tell each other their version and compare. Elicit a full version to the board, or have Ss do this collaboratively. Correct their language as you go, or at the end. If you have a large board, or board plus IWB, split the board in two and put their version on one side and your corrected version on the other (makes it cleaner to analyse and compare). See an example here. Follow it with…

Take sentences or a short dialogue. Translate it into l1 in groups. Compare translations and discuss nuances. Cover up original. Ss translate back into English. Compare with original.
Example here

Delayed error correction
This could come right after a task or at the end of a lesson, depending on your preference. Get samples of learners’ language up on the board. Ask them to suggest improvements themselves, before correcting and scaffolding it. Not just any language, choose sentences with similar errors. Consider repeating the earlier tasks to give them an opportunity to practise what they’ve just learnt.

Personalise it
Any time an interesting lexical item comes up, get the Ss to relate it to themselves. For example, you’re discussing ‘irritated’ – Ss pair up and tell each other about the last time they felt irritated. Report to the group and exchange anecdotes.
Example of this here

Collocation matching
After looking at a text, dialogue, even some error correction, pick out the useful collocations (verb-noun, adjective-noun etc.) and write the individual words up randomised in a circle on the board – see a sample Ss work together to match the correct collocations by joining them with a line.
See this in a lesson

Improvised gap fill
Have a dialogue on the board? While Ss are working on something else, erase key language and have Ss fill them back in. Vary it: take out the prepositions only (on, in), or referencing words (they, it), or cohesive devices (however, then), or lexical sets (home, house, roof)

What did he say?
If you student is telling you an anecdote about something involving people, ask what the characters original words were. This works especially well in business contexts. Eg. “The Indonesian client wanted a refund, he was so angry.” Ask: what were his words? “I demand a refund.” This is a great way of extending vocabulary range in a meaningful way.
See this in a lesson

Scaffolding and patterning
Take a phrase or expression that comes that you think will be really useful for learners. Write it up on the board and extensively explore possible patterns within the structure. Elicit ideas and talk about what’s possible and what’s not.
Lesson and sample here

Ownership of lexis
Some difficult new lexis from a text or coursebook (eg. Phrasal verbs)? Ss do the following in small groups:

1. Write (double) gap fill exercises for other groups containing the difficult language.

2. Write discussion questions containing the language. Discuss.

3. Write each lexical item on a piece of card. One set for each group. Groups order the cards to make up a story. Regroup and tell it to others.
See the lesson

Some difficult new words or phrases? Ss translate a selection into L1 and discuss nuances. Ss test each other on the language. One person reads the L1 sentence and the other has to produce it in English. Ss correct each other and you drill language as necessary. This is great fun, but difficult with multilingual classes.
See this in a lesson

Take an utterance or piece of dialogue and give Ss different emotional charges to write it out in. For example, how do you say this angrily, how do you say this sadly. You could get Ss to pick an emotion in secret and others have to guess how they are feeling.

Ideas for follow-up lessons focusing on language

If you have a great Unplugged lesson, you’ll likely have far too much language to focus on in the space of one class. You then face the dilemma of moving on to something new in the next lesson, or continuing with work from the last class. There are also some great activities you can use to build on conversation-driven lessons, but they need some prep so you can’t pull them out on the spot.

Grass skirts
A brilliant motivating way to review language scaffolded in the last class. Select some relevant errors you recorded in the last class and type them out in single lines with plenty of space between each line. Slice/cut the paper almost all the way so that each sentence is almost falling off (it should look like a comb). In class, stick up the sheet around the class (one full set for each group). Students race to pull off one error at a time, correct it and give it to you for approval. If they’ve successfully corrected it, they can move on to the next error, pulling it off the sheet and continuing the process. Winner is the first to complete all errors leaving an empty stub on the wall.

Exploiting a dialogue
(Type it up for the class)
1) Pairs swap dialogues and act out each others’.
2) Delete one person’s lines from the dialogue and get Ss to guess what was said
3) …Or else write a related dialogue yourself. Give one person’s lines to different pairs, get them to imagine the missing lines. Ss then act out their interpretations of what was actually said.
4) Ask Ss to take the same dialogue but re-situate it. Eg. it’s not casual anymore, but a business meeting. Ss rewrite it all using formal language.

Text analysis
Written a text or dialogue in the last lesson? Type it up for them and use it for text analysis in the next lesson. Eg: ask them to go through and find the collocations and lexical phrases, find the linking words and the weak forms, whatever you think is most important for your particular group. It’s all been scaffolded from their own writing so it’s extremely meaningful.

Running dictation
An old classic, but use it to review a text that Ss wrote in the last class, or maybe an improved version that you’ve written for them.


From → Resource Page

  1. listennow01 permalink

    Great article with some fantastic teaching ideas, but I firmly believe that Dogme doesn’t have all the answers.

    In my current classes I have a student who has to read a 40 page segment from the Annual Report of the World Bank for her MBA programme. I have another student who has just returned from a week-long training course – the course was in English. I have students who, every day, need to read and respond to emails, take telephone calls, deal with technical manuals and so on.

    When I speak to these students about Dogme, they tell me that there is no way that simply dealing with emergent language is going to help them. They tell me that they need to hone their reading and listening skills by checking comprehension in class. They tell me that they need more linking words so that they can make their emails, reports and presentations more accurate and varied. They tell me that they need to understand exactly how to use formal and polite registers. If my classes are to be truly student-led, I have a responsibility to help them with the skills they need.

    At the same time, there is no doubt that students want to speak a lot in class and be corrected. I agree with having as much speaking as possible in the classroom, but MY students give pure Dogme the thumbs down.

    What worries me about Dogme is that it’s a new set of rules. Some teachers seem more intent on applying Dogme according to the ‘ten commandments,’ or the 20 steps to Dogme presented by Luke Meddings than meeting the needs of their students. What I’m trying to say with Pragme is: coursebooks, handouts, articles, listenings, worksheets; use them wisely and thoughtfully: All things in moderation.

    • Hi Gary,

      Thanks for your comment. You make a lot of points here, all of which I agree with. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that the activities described here represent a ‘how to teach’ gospel, nor that I or anyone else would insist on teaching in any particular way, oblivious of learner needs. In fact, most of my teaching is probably what you’d call more mainstream.

      The purpose of this site is to describe my experiments with Dogme, and what these lessons look like, so that anyone who wants to give it a try, can. I wholeheartedly agree that everything in moderation is good, so I think we’re on the same page!



      (Just as an aside, there is no problem with using texts or even coursebooks in a Dogme lesson, although there seems to be a popular misconception to the contrary.)

  2. listennow01 permalink

    Hi Oli – Your site achieves your aim, and is very useful – I’ll certainly be showing it to my fellow teachers at my school. My criticisms weren’t aimed at you personally, but at the main proponents of Dogme. I’m sorry if my comments appeared as an attack on your blog, which wasn’t my intention – I think your activity suggestions are superb.

    The misconception that texts can’t be used in class may have been created by Luke Meddings himself in his Dogme presentation, with his ‘No to Photocopies’ slide, and his assertion: ‘only take texts into the classroom which are short enough to be dictated’. That is my sole objection to Dogme.

    At the end of the day, it’s common sense and , as you say, we’re on the same page.


    • Hi. No, I didn’t take it that way at all 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to engage in the discussion!

  3. Hi Oli,
    This is a really helpful idea for those thinking of getting into Dogme. I hope you don;t mind me sharing the link at a talk I’m giving on Thursday here in Buenos Aires?

  4. This is a fantastic resource, Oli! I’ll definitely print ut out and keep it in my dogme class notebook. It would make a great handout for your dogme workshop too, or you could give the participants the link to this list. I’m sure they’d appreciate it. I know I do!

  5. Wonderful – shared on Twitter and with my local teachers association

  6. zbrntt permalink

    This is a great resource. I’m sad you’ve stopped posting to this blog: your experiences are really inspiring.

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