Friday, 29 April 2011

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#ELTchat Summary: Revisiting Dogme – Thoughts After IATEFL & the DOGME Symposium

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#ELTchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Wednesday on Twitter at 12pm GMT and 9pm GMT. Over 400 ELT educators participate in this discussion by just adding #eltchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out this video, Using Tweetdeck for Hashtag Discussions!

Unfamiliar with the terms Dogme or teaching unplugged? Try this article.

Photo by me
Ever since the term was first appropriated by Scott Thornbury back in 2000, the subject of Dogme teaching never fails to provoke strong and healthy debate in the ELT community. The ELTchat on Wednesday 27th of April was no exception, especially since we were lucky enough to be joined by Luke Meddings, co-author of Teaching Unplugged. Also participating was Jeremy Harmer, who I think it’s fair to say is perhaps more sceptical about the Dogme approach, as well as an interesting mix of unplugged acolytes, Dogme doubters and those who just wanted to know what the fuss is all about.

The subject had been previously discussed in ELTchat, but it was felt that after the recent symposium at IATEFL Brighton, the subject was ripe for discussion again. In truth, there was a not a great deal of reflection on that event, but that did not detract from what was a lively and fruitful debate. The main topics of conversation were:

- Dogme is impossible without a significant amount of experience: should we train teachers to ‘unplug’ from the beginning of their careers, and is it even possible?
- Is Dogme a method, an approach, or just a rehash of old ideas such as Richards and Rodgers approach scheme or Communicative Language Teaching?
- The difficulties in persuading an institution to ‘allow’ Dogme teaching.
- Do we need to ‘unplug’ all the time in the classroom, or does Dogme allows us to combine methods and approaches?
- Is it possible to have a dogme coursebook?
- Does dogme work in a an EAP setting? What about ESP, ESL or with lower level learners?

Memorable tweets:

@Marisa_C: .... no evidence that teaching to plan is better if inexperienced.
@Shaunwilden: I dont disagree with dogme but i think too much is made of it. That confuses teachers and clouds what it is.
@JoshSRound: Many institutions only use course books, so new teachers will always have to fit into the 'way things are done' - they can't challenge the set-up
@Theteacherjames: I think people need to abandon the idea that Dogme is an all or nothing method. To me, it's an approach that puts students at the centre.
@LukeMeddings: Dogme isn't a method - it's a framework approach - and thus can't be all or nothing - it must be situated, adapted
@danhummsoriano: My problem with materials is that teachers seem to rely on them rather than springboard off them. Hence the birth of Dogme.
@LukeMeddings: I've seen studentss who didn't want to be there (or were there without much spark) come alive through being participants in learning at last.
@sandymillin: It’s not just teachers who are uncomfortable with change. Many students aren’t. Lesson needs structure or they wonder what point is
@Harmerj: Dogme is 'conversation driven, materials light, deals with emergent language' (Teaching Unplugged p21) That's prescriptive methodology!!
@chucksandy: My grandmother was a Dogme teacher in a 1 room school house in the 1920s. She didn't know the word, but knew good teaching.
@gknightbkk: When I started teaching, not thinking on my feet got me fired
@englishraven: Unplugged CATERS to bringing in interesting information and prototypical texts (just not always OURS) :-)
@willycard: #DOGME is like this #ELTchat: 1 idea + good questions = 1 hour of engaged people negotiating meaning. Next: get all the language and work on it!
@Marisa_C: I think that in terms of materials design Dogme materials will be possible only in fully digitalised format
@LukeMeddings: We overestimate the value of branded materials and underestimate the potential of ordinary people
@Harmerj: I think good teachers have ALWAYS been unplugged at times. I can't think why they wouldn't.
@teacherdude: The beauty of cheap, new technology and the internet means that Dogme approaches can be used in myriad of innovative ways
@Harmerj: Getting students to engage with text (or any kind) isn't dogme! It's critical thinking, normal!

… and perhaps most memorably.

@chucksandy: Also, pre-dogme / unplugged, we used to call it going in naked but ready.

I’ll never think of dogme in the same way again!

The idea of teaching unplugged greatly appeals to me because I love its focus on the learner. To teach like this, the teacher has to free themselves from their ego and allow their students to take their rightful place at the centre of the syllabus. As a self confessed Dogme fan, it was great to get the opportunity to discuss this with my peers. Nobody can argue that it is an idea that hasn’t been thoroughly picked apart and mulled over, and yet its ideas and influence remain, and show no sign of abating.

Useful Links:

Scott Thornbury was kind enough to respond to some of the issues raised in our ELTchat. You can hear his fascinating views below:

What do you think? Leave a comment!

So, how can you join in #ELTchat???

First of all, you don’t need a Twitter account to follow #ELTchat. Simply go to and search for #ELTchat on Wednesdays at 12pm and 9pm London time respectively. Want to know when this is in your part of the world? The times for the next two #ELTchats around the world are here and here.

But you don’t want to just follow, do you?

Go to, sign up for an account (if you haven’t already got one). Then, on Wednesday join in the discussion by adding the hashtag #ELTchat to your tweets. For more information about ELTchats, including opportunities to propose your own questions and vote in polls to decide what will be discussed go to Full transcripts of discussions (and much more!) can also be found on the #ELTchat wiki.

What’s a hashtag? How do I follow them? Listen to Shelly Terrell’s informative video:

Thanks to Mike Harrison for 'lending' me the last part of this summary.


  1. Very welcome for use of the last part, James.

    Dogme does stir up feelings, doesn't it? I remember a particularly heated exchange relatively recently. I think this most often happens when it is (wrongly) placed in a tech/non-tech dichotomy. My argument against too much technology would be as to whether it is worth investing so much time and resource into this, as tech is out of date as soon as you buy it. I should clarify, I am not against good, principled use of tech!

    I guess the key thing to consider would be the point Luke makes that dogme is not an all or nothing thing, and doesn't preclude materials or tech. Come to think of it, if you are all or nothing in teaching in any way you are sure to be missing something out.


  2. Cheers Mike.

    I completely agree with you when it comes to technology. It can embellish classes in a way that can take them to another level. This however, depends on the technology being implemented correctly and effectively. Dogme, far from being anti-tech, actually encourages teachers to embrace the tools at their disposal as and when they are required. In other words, it puts the horse before the cart.



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