My Dogmecstasy

I first heard the name of Scott Thornbury in the autumn of 2012 on Prague underground from a colleague. Or rather I didn’t. I heard “Scott Th” and a bunch of vowels. I was with a colleague whose lesson I’d just observed because I’d been looking for inspiration. The lesson had begun with a proverb written on the board and evolved around it with various activities and groups talking, peer feedback and teacher feedback. The students were high-positioned administrators and clerks at an important Czech institution. The level was C1 or above.

There was no coursebook or worksheets.

I had just seen my first ever unplugged lesson.

It took some effort but I successfully googled the name of Scott Thornbury at home and a whole new world opened up for me. At that time all my “social networks” were face to face, email or phone. I didn’t have Facebook and Twitter. I found some blogs, discussions and videos. Quickly, I became very enthusiastic about Dogme. I spent much time studying the principles and soon, I started trying them out in my classes. I bought Teaching Unplugged, read it and treasured it ever since.

That school year I was doing my course in teaching Czech to Foreigners and we were supposed to write a final thesis. I remember being largely uninspired by the suggested topics such as “The Analysis of Selected Coursebooks at A1 Level” or “The Methodology of Using Pictures in the Teaching of Adult Learners” or even “A Description of a Selected Grammatical Phenomenon in Selected Coursebooks for the Learners of Czech as a Foreign Language.”

Instead, I proposed “Dogme or the Return to Simplicity in Language Classes”. I found an enthusiastic tutor who supported me. Later in June, my thesis got a pass even though the opponent hadn’t had a clue and kept asking me what I’d meant by the dogma. (I still have the text somewhere – in Czech – if you’re interested).

In the meantime, I was inundating my poor students with Dogme-like classes. I was training myself not to use the coursebooks and I was deliberately not planning my lessons throwing myself into the deep waters of improvisation. Although I do feel utterly sorry for some of my students, many of whom would have been better off learning a more conservative and systematic way, it was a great school. I learnt to improvise. I learnt to plan backwards. I learnt not to panic if I didn’t have a plan, book, CD, worksheet, you name it. At the end of the school year, I could stand in front of a class and do it.

I loved Dogme with everything that came with it – the zero photocopying, independence on publishers, being with the learners and teaching them what they needed, the improvisation. Mr Thornbury and Meddings were my heroes. I became an ardent proponent of Dogme. I could not imagine teaching any other way. I remember a school I worked for at that time insisted we start making quarterly syllabi for our courses. Fiercely did I fight! I told them it was impossible to make realistic plans if they didn’t include an element of the unexpected (I actually still think that) but it was in vain.

Slowly though, the glamour started to fade away. What went wrong? First I noticed that my students and I were running out of topics. We’d had a conversation pretty much about anything. They’d told me about their habits, lives, work, and hobbies. That was the better scenario. The worse one was if my students were learning as part of their work benefits and didn’t care much for English at all. Their lives were pretty much unchanging. What was there to talk about? Hence, revelation one: the teacher is there to inspire. (I secretly believe this is where the appeal of native-English speaking teachers comes from, because their lives in wherever they are from are much more interesting than ours, normal people who get to leave the country once a year for the summer vacation).

Consequently, the non-planning bit became too stressful. If the students didn’t care or just didn’t know, what was there to teach? (Some serious misunderstanding on my part, I know.) Revelation two: plan, but be ready to ditch your plan or adapt it.

Revelation three: work with what the students need (Ask them. Apply violence if needed. Don’t let them get away with “speak better English”) or at least what you think they need. Make plans based on these needs. Ask students to agree with the plans. Adapt as needed. Sometimes throw in what inspires you (see Revelation One) – an article to read that you liked, a few idioms, a video, an idea to discuss.

Revelation four: it’s ok to use materials. I feel much happier with a bit of text to come to class with. I am the happiest with a home-made worksheet. I don’t really use entire coursebooks but I might use a listening bit here and there or some lexis item. I love the dialogues of the ESL Library and they do make my life so much easier (I’m not getting paid for this I swear). It needn’t be a long piece of text, just something (that can even be dictated) to make me feel more confident.

Where am I now? I don’t really know. There aren’t any observations. My colleagues teach differently from what I hear. My “method” is by no means scientific or research-based but rather heart-based (this is probably going to put off a whole bunch of people but I’m leaving it here anyway). I get a lot of clients and people keep coming back. In my view, it is a mixture of experience, organisation and working hard. I guess the most important is that I’m constantly self-assessing the way I teach and hopefully evolving, but I might just be totally wrong.

There is one thing to say – if it weren’t for my Dogme period in life, I would not be where I am now and for this I am grateful.

I’d like to thank here some ladies for being great: Andrea, Jiřina, Klára, Eva, Jane, Zora, Caralyn – you know what I mean.

I’d like to thank Maruška for putting up with me with those syllabi.

And I owe huge thanks to my Twitter friends from and thanks to whom I’d learnt what I learnt. You know who you are. Online mentorship rocks!


35 thoughts on “My Dogmecstasy

  1. Hi Kamila,

    This is great. It is the best pros and cons of Dogme article I have seen. Also, I have a sneaky feeling that many of us who teach in a way that is informed by research follow our instincts based on what the people in the room are doing.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Hi Marc, thanks! I’m so glad you like it. I really did spend a lot of time studying it and trying it. As for research, if I had the access and time, maybe, but a lot of it is laziness, I admit. What do you think is the place for Dogme nowadays?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I wonder about the place for Dogme. I still think it has one but nobody is going to promote it because there’s nothing to sell. I see it as an isotope of TBLT, but a bit more aimed toward general English, although I have had great success with it in ESP.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. geoffjordan

    Hi Kamila,

    I enjoyed this very much; thanks. Good to have this real evidence of an enthusiastic attempt to implement Dogme and really well-observed reflections on the problems that are likely to arise.

    Needs analysis, however informal, planning and good materials are, I think essential, but you convey well the pleasure and satisfaction to be got from bucking the trend, ditching the coursebook, concentrating on creating opportunities for genuine communication and the motivation to learn.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hi Geoff,

      Thank you for the nice and positive comment. I appreciate it and I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post. The line between professionalism and “ok” is very thin so it’s important that teachers watch where they are at any moment. Dogme is often mistaken for (unprofessional) free conversation (which it isn’t because of the post-planning phase) but is, and I think you will agree with me, the adherence to mainstream teaching materials enough to keep teachers above the line?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Kamila for a truly insightful post. There is one thing I want to comment on – the apparent limits of dogme-style classes due to the lack of new subjects to talk about. This is something that caught my attention, as a real problem, which – due to my inborn immunity to it (never yet encountered) – I haven’t thought about.

    Everytime I find myself lacking fresh questions to ask, I remind myself that the weatth of the world, the complexity of life (reflected by the thickness of our dictionaries) is so immense that all the questions and subjects I have touched so far have been mere scratching of the surface. And what usualyy happens next I come up with another great question.

    Yes, I mine them mostly in disctionaries, but also in the book and press I read. I think the teacher should be the mover – especially of the intelects learning as part of their work benefits (therefore lacking an impulse). I am of the opinion that being interesting and inspiring does not derive from being a foreigner or travelling abroad frequently, and if it does then it’s a marginal thing.

    Being interesting is first and foremost a feature of the intelect. We – foreign language teachers – have a new responsibility to inspire people and “humanize” them. I worte this piece a long time ago but I still believe in every word of it:

    Thank you once again for this article!

    PS. I will be talking about this new form of teaching and showing the new teachers’ responsibility in practice this year in Barcelona on iELT 2018.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hello, Dear Jedrek,

      thanks so much for your fantastic comment. You know you are miles ahead of me when it comes to creativity, and questions especially. Probably a talent you were born with and developed over years. I agree wholeheartedly that the teacher’s a mover – but sometimes I get stuck and run out of ideas – do you not?
      It’s great you are presenting your concepts in Barcelona. They are certainly more than worthy of spreading. Wish I could go! Best of luck.



  4. This is great, Kamila, and has inspired me to write about how I got into the Silent Way. Dogme and Silent Way have a lot in common. My reactions were frequently similar to what you describe. For the uninitiated there’s not much easily visible difference – especially at higher levels.

    I’d say that to keep the conversation going the teacher needs to respond not to what the student says but how they say it. If the teacher takes part in the content of the discussion students tend to assume that what they (the teacher) has to say is more interesting, better informed, etc. than what they (the student) has to say. So they stop talking and listen to the teacher. It’s maybe easier for native-speaker teachers to fall into this trap.

    When I meet up with friends and colleagues we don’t usually decide on a topic beforehand or come with a text to discuss. We start with talking about trivia and the “big” subjects just creep in. I often had adult students who would say “I can understand conference talks and give my own. I can even ask and answer questions on my subject. What I find difficult is chatting over coffee or lunch.”

    I tried to give them low risk experience in class with taking responsibility for chatting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dear Glenys,

      Thanks so much for the lovely comment and especially for clarifying about Silent Way. I will pay more attention to stepping back as a teacher from now – although I think I do ok. But sometimes people stop talking and the class becomes too silent for my taste:-)


      1. I don’t feel I stepped back as a teacher – I moved (physically and morally) to a place where I could constantly observe my students and respond to their needs microsecond by microsecond. It’s not easy to find how to help students to find their own solutions to their problems and I often failed miserably. As long as students could see I was trying they were usually amazingly tolerant of my inadequacies.

        In Western culture we are afraid of silence – it makes us feel uncomfortable. As teachers we can learn to come to terms with that and, because we know students will feel the same way, we can rely on them to fill silences. I’d just stand in front of my class, perfectly relaxed and look expectantly at each student in turn until one of them returned my look and spoke. If I knew the class well, I sometimes winked at a student or made a funny face.

        I must say it could be much more difficult with teenagers. Then I often had to use a trigger of some kind: a picture, moving some object in the room, positioning a student to look out the window, etc. Usually a non-linguistic trigger, not a text, video or audio recording.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for this explanation. It’s really interesting. I’ll try your expectant look and winking! I know one thing, whenever I bring a toy to an adults class, the students suddenly start speaking more. Also manual work (cutting up paper, walking) loosens tongues.


  5. Marc,
    What do you mean by seeing Dogme “as an isotope of TBLT”? I don’t really know what “isotope” means – an internet search led me to a lot of info about chemistry I didn’t really understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Glenys,

      Carbon has, I think, two isotopes, Carbon-12 and Carbon-13. They have the same basic properties except one is radioactive. Dogme and TBLT are basically the same except one is unplugged by the other might be more likely to be plugged in.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Thanks, Marc, that’s very clear.

    I would never have thought of TBLT as similar to Dogme. As I understand them, in TBLT the tasks are usually set by the teacher while in Dogme but the subjects and the tasks are chosen by the students. I’ve always thought of TBLT as a development of Communicative LL. I’ve found only a few videos of actual classes and I’ve never tried out any of these approaches so I could easily have got it wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TBLT’s needs analysis means students get input on the syllabus and the applied linguist/teacher chooses tasks that may not have been suggested. But it’s very negotiated. Don’t let the august image fool you; it’s very humanistic – it just happens to be research based as well (and Dogme picked a lot of good bits from TBLT).

      Liked by 3 people

  7. A really thought-provoking post, Kamila. It had never really occured to me that I did quite a bit of dogme-style teaching when I was teaching in-company in Prague back in the mid-90s. It was at a point in my career when I was getting confident with language analysis, so, I think it did go beyond, as you say, just free conversation.
    For me though, my choice of approach very much came down to the students. I had a couple of fairly senior one-to-ones who really didn’t want a conventional coursebook approach and who were happy to riff on different topics and see what came out of it. They also happened to be interesting, confident and highly-motivated individuals. I had other students though with whom it was like getting blood out of a stone – whether that was due to lack of motivation, lack of world knowledge, lack of crossover between their interests and mine, or just their expectations of the teacher-student relationship. For these students, a bit of structure, usually based at least loosely around a coursebook or other materials was essential to avoid long, awkward silences!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thank you very much indeed for taking a moment to comment. I really appreciate it. It’s really exciting that we both taught at the same place at the same time. The problem with free conversation is that all the language gets lost and people have no sense of progression. Reverse planning makes sense – so that you “catch” the emergent language and get a chance to review it later. Marc had a good post of FreeCon:
      That’s why I read books with my Dogme students. A book gives the class a nice thread and a very good sense of achievement.
      As for the other type of students, I couldn’t agree more. Some people are ok with books and maybe it’s best for them.

      Take care


      1. Sorry, I probably wasn’t quite clear – I don’t think what I was doing was just free conversation. With my own developing language awareness at the time (much of this was in the middle of an MA in Applied Linguistics), I was very much picking up on emergent language, following it up and building on it week by week. I guess it was dogme … just before it was called that.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Kamila,
    I agree with Jędrek’s comment – incidentally, I hope I got the diacritic right! – I don’t feel that being inspiring or even interesting is primarily a result of coming from another country or living a life unlike that of your students. But that’s a minor point. I really enjoyed the post even though I’ve never given Dogme a try. I’d never felt the urge to because in the private sector we weren’t really tied to a syllabus. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted ideas of Dogme taking root in my school at the time anyway – giving teachers too much freedom scared me and I worried someone might take advantage of it, do nothing but chat with the students and we’d end up losing the client. But I’d like to think that, if a teacher had come to me back then with your enthusiasm and said they wanted to try Dogme, I would’ve had the courage to trust them and would’ve let them experiment at least with some of their classes.
    I’m very glad you’ve blogged again!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Vedrana,

      Thanks for commenting and offering the point of view of a school manager. I understant how risky it may seem to the academic management to see experimental practices performed at the school. I’m more obedient these days and only experiment with my private classes so hopefully am not causing much trouble to anyone:-) And Jędrek should definitely confirm how he spells/pronounces his hame. I definitely spelt it wrong the first time.
      Thanks for reading and take care!


      Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for reminding me about Dogme, Kamila. I used to follow the discussion group, and I still use various elements of that approach, so you inspired me to write a Goodreads review of Teaching Unplugged, which I have also put up in my blog here:

    You’ll notice that I appreciate a lot of the ideas in the book, but I have mixed feelings about some of the underlying philosophy. Advanced students are usually glad to dispense with the glossy coursebooks, but they normally embrace the opportunities that have opened up online to take the classroom out into the world and their everyday lives, so I would not stand in the way of that kind of progress, just so long as we are disciplined enough to keep the focus on their individual needs and requirements, and not those of social media owners, advertisers and trolls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Melvyn,

      Please excuse the delay in responding to your comment, and thank you very much for taking the time to comment on the post as well as to write the review. It takes a lot of encouragement on my part to convince my students to go online, engage in online chats, respond to comments (a writing skill I recently started to practice in class), etc. So it is nice to hear that your experience is different. Caution online is very important as well as checking the quality of the language.
      You mention the use of corpora in the review. In the Twitter circles I follow, using corpora is advisable and recommended and ideas for lessons are often presented. I can recommend Mura Nava’s book to learn more and also his blog:

      Liked by 1 person

  10. *old lady voice, pointer finger raised* moderation in all things! 🙂
    Seriously though, this is how I’ve done thing too. Go full throttle in one method and then find students who just don’t respond well to it at all, then on to the next one. The last year I’ve been settling down in the middle lane I think. I love “tea and conversation” lessons but I’m simply not everyone’s friend. Some people’s lives are fairly monotonous and they don’t want to rehash what they had for lunch over and over again. So a text or an audio can at least get them thinking about something new.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. Yes, it is exactly like you say. A teacher’s there to move things forward – if they aren’t moving forward maybe because the students are too tired, exhausted from work or just passive. My other problem with “tea and conversation” is there is no measurable progress. So if nothing else, I give my students a book to read and we can chat about it:-)


  11. Hi Kamila – Thanks for the insightful post that apparently maps out a trajectory a number of us have had. While I do think the artic blast of Dogme blowing superfluity (piles of photocopies and coursebook tasks) and materials-mediated interaction out of class was and is a good thing, I think the ideas were and are always more inspiring (and effective) than the reality. I think internalizing routines and practices and activities are essential to good teaching, but I also think it’s essential to bring in the outside world through written, audio and video texts — though I try to do it as much as possible through pre/post-class homework so that time in class can be devoted to face to face exchange. I wonder if some ELT teachers will look back on their Dogme days as my parents did the 60s — brief, romantic, but something you had to go through and grow out of?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kyle,

      Thanks so much for your comment. It’s a nice surprise now the post has been buried under other, more important posts of other ELT writers. Indeed – however fluid it may sound, my own classes seem to be a mixture of my input as well as that of the students. My students love it when I bring in a text or a video. I am just very happy that now, with the internet, we rid ourselves of the canonical texts of the old Headways and Opening Strategies etc. I still remember bits of some of them by heart. As for the 60s metaphor, I believe many teachers here in the Czech Republic haven’t yet heard of Dogme. I may be wrong though, which would in fact please me very much. Cheers and looking forward to reading your next posts!


  12. Ivana Hokesova

    HI Kamila, I am excited to discover your blog! I kinda bumped into it through a twitter link on Scott Thornbury’s page – aaaah, Kamila from Prague: I need to read that one! 🙂 I had no idea there were teaching blogs by Czech English teachers…. Silly me! Also, is this a coincidence, or are you a relative of H.L.who works in Akcent IH?
    I want to comment on two things: First, my experience with Dogme is very similar to yours. First, I was really anthusiastic, but little by little, my enthusiasm began to wane as we ran out of topics to talk about. Also my students’ expectations were set against Dogme, or me, doing Dogme. They wanted me to be in control of the lesson. They though it was lazy teaching, I suspect. So, I gradually gave up. Saying that, I still frequently allow for Dogme moments in all my lessons. Also, I started to use the Outcomes serious textbooks, which are great. Andto be honest it was quite a relief to have some teaching materials I could rely on. Secondly, I did my Delta last year and saw that there are so many things to consider when teaching and I didn’t trust myself to be resourcefull enough to make the right choices and come up with the right explanations and examples right there, in real teaching time, on the spot. So, all in all, I do see the point of teaching Dogme-style, I appreaciate the freedom it can give to students and teachers, but I also see the benefits my students get from a carefully planned lesson. So, at the moment, it is a bit of everything for me, I guess…This is too long. But you struck a cord with me… Happy teaching! Ivana

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Ivana, thank you so much for getting in touch. The story of how you found this blog is quite amazing. As far as I know there is Hana Tichá’s blog and mine that are in English. I’d love to stay in touch – are you on Twitter or Facebook? I really recommend joining the Czechlist and Jazykoví volnonožci groups. Regarding your questions, no, I’m not related to a H.L. – must be jsut coincidence, But I did the CELTA at IH Akcent:-) As for Dogme, many learners in my classes love a more teacher-centrered approach. I generally don’t use texbooks in my lessons but I’ve heard a lot of good things about Outcomes. In my view, there is too much that needs to be adapted when using a textbook. Instead, I try to pinpoint what the students need and base the lessons around that.
      Thanks again for commenting and have a great summer!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s