4 Awesome Dogme Lesson Plans
Following on from my recent review of Dogme ELT, I’d like to present four Dogme lesson plans which require few to no materials.
In reality, I share a collection of practical no-nonsense means for arranging an unplugged lesson and getting it going.
The main point of these Dogme lesson plans is to home in on the fine line between futile conversation and real teaching. In order to achieve this equilibrium, it’s essential to focus on emergent language.
Essentially, emergent language is unplanned language that comes up spontaneously during genuine interactions in the language classroom (Norrington-Davies, 2020). This emergent language includes errors or communicative breakdowns that students produce. Moreover, emergent language is that which teachers or learners deem to be new, interesting or worthwhile to share. Finally, this type of language might also require some modification.
Overall, the Dogme lesson plans I present below are activities which I believe generate riveting conversation, ample opportunities to work with emergent language and ideas for follow-up classes on the language that comes up.
Where necessary, I credit the author/s of the activities and make it clear whether I’ve adapted any of the stages of the activities. The second activity is rather the result of my own humble imagination.
With no further ado, let’s check out some Dogme lesson plans.
Dogme lesson plans and activities
Activity 1 - Been there, done that
In a training session delivered at British Council Armenia (Yerevan) in 2016, writer and teacher educator Scott Thornbury spoke about Dogme and demonstrated some practical “teaching unplugged” activities that teachers can organise in the classroom. Here’s one activity that involves speaking, reading, listening and writing.
For groups of students to gather information about a trip their teacher has been on and write a composition based on the answers.
Stage 1 - Setting up and gathering information:
- Put the students into groups of three or four
- Tell students about a place you’ve visited recently. For example: “I went to Warsaw last month”. It’s worth noting that Thornbury had actually mentioned to the audience at the start of the talk that he’d been to Malta the previous month. Therefore, he was able to make a natural return to that visit and ask the audience “Where did I go last month?”
- Inform students that they will write a narrative summary about your trip
- Using this visit to Warsaw as an example, the first sentence students should write in their groups should be along the lines of: “Last month, Steve went to Warsaw … ”. Of course, they don’t have to use “last month”. It could be any past time reference
- Inform students that they need to ask you questions in order to get all the additional information they need to write their summaries
- Hand out some little pieces of paper to each group for students to write questions about your trip. Between 7-10 pieces should suffice
- Sit at the front of the class waiting for a student from each group to deliver the questions
- For every piece of paper you receive, write the answer. For example, for the question: “Why did you go to Warsaw?”. Write: “to visit some museums”.
- After writing each answer, hand the paper back to the appropriate group
- If a question is written incorrectly, send it back. Or, if you think it’s too difficult for students to correct, change it yourself
Stage 2 - Writing and sharing stage:
- Now that the groups have the answers to their questions, they can write their summaries
- Get groups to share the texts by putting them on the wall. The students can move around the classroom and read the texts
- Tell them that they have to find out information that they didn’t find out themselves with their own questions. The students don’t have to write anything down.
- It’d be good for you to have some coloured paper. If each group has a different colour, it’d be easier to know where to return the questions to
- Don’t shy away from using idiomatic language when you write your answers. Keep things as natural as possible
Possible follow-up tasks
Thornbury left it there with the students circling around the class and reading the compositions that the other groups had written.
As an extension to the writing and reading phases, the teacher could set up a kind of speaking and memory competition. This could look something like this:
- Collect all the compositions in
- Put students back in the same groups
- The groups now have to recall as many facts as they can about the teacher’s trip
- One person from each group should note down the facts in chronological order or something representing a chronological order of events. Five minutes for this task. Insist that they write notes / incomplete sentences. For example:
- stayed - three days
- stayed - hotel near main square
- second day - WW2 museum
- Using these notes, one person from each group should give a spoken account of the trip. Encourage the speakers to use linking devices and time references - all day, after that, the next day, however etc.
- Make notes on any language points that arise. If there’s time, go through these points
- Collect the compositions back in for a follow-up class
Ideas for a follow-up class
- If there wasn’t time to handle the emergent language from the speaking exercise, go through it at the start of a follow-up class
- Between classes, find some time to assess the written compositions and explain what the students could have done better
- To shake things up a bit, put students in different groups and this time focus on a trip you’re planning to go on in the future. If you haven’t got any trips planned, consider any other future plan you might have
Activity 2 - It brings back memories of … !
In my last post, I described an activity which involves sharing stories about a humble object found outdoors or a treasured possession which brings back memories. I made the point that something as quirky as a horse chestnut fruit (conker) can serve as a conversation starter. Indeed, when I was a child, I went to a park with my father to throw sticks up into horse chestnut trees for the chestnut fruits to fall to the ground.
Anyway, let me return to this activity again and tweak the concept in order to create a fresh approach to the activity.
Stage 1 - Setting the scene:
- Write ‘bring back memories’ on the board. Explain that ‘bring back’ is a phrasal verb meaning to ‘think about something again’
- Show the students an object or photograph which brings back memories of your childhood/teenage years
- Inform the students that they’ll listen to a story about why the object you’ve chosen brings back memories
- Assign half the group to listen carefully. Each student should jot down at least two follow-up questions
- Assign the other half of the group to note down any interesting words or chunks of language that you say
Stage 2 - Working with language:
- Allow students to ask you questions. Use the board to reformulate their questions if they have trouble putting questions together correctly
- Answer the questions
- Allow students from the other half of the group to come to the board and write any new/interesting words or phrases that you said on the board
- Elicit the meaning of these words and phrases from the other students. Help where necessary
- Nominate three or four students to create true sentences about themselves using the new words and phrases
Stage 3 - Conversation in pairs:
- Working in pairs, get students to talk about an object or possession that brings back memories of their childhood
- Monitor and note down any errors or interesting words or phrases they use
Stage 4 - Group feedback:
- Use the board to write down any errors or interesting words or phrases the students said in stage 3
- Elicit corrections and definitions from the students
- Nominate two or three students to speak about their chosen objects and possessions to the whole group
Activity 3 - Headlines - Recounting Recent Events in Our Lives
The next of our Dogme lesson plans appears in Luke Medding’s and Scott Thornbury’s 2009 book Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching.
The reason I’ve included this activity is because it wonderfully illustrates how much Dogme classes should revolve around typical events in students’ daily lives. Students have to transform these events into ‘headline’ news.
Get it ready:
On a large piece of paper, write a ‘headline’ that summarises - and exaggerates - a recent event in your life. For example: Shopping disaster, Weekend traffic jam nightmare, Chess tournament controversy.
Set it up:
Display the headline, and invite the class to ask you questions to get the gist of your story.
Tell the class that you want them to think of a story from their lives, and to write a headline for it. They should come and show you their headline before you start the activity. Assist with language as required.
Let it run:
- The students write their own headline in large, legible script on a piece of paper
- Half the class stand in a large circle around the room, holding their headlines so that these are clearly visible. The other half (the ‘interviewers’) form a second circle, inside the first one. Everyone positions themselves opposite one of the people who is holding a headline. They then ask them questions about it. The teacher should listen, and help with language when needed
- After a minute or so, you call out Change!, and the interviewers move clockwise so as to face the next headline, and begin asking questions again. This process is repeated until all the interviewers have interacted with all the headlines
- Make any general comments that will help people as they continue the activity: these might relate to question forms, for example, or to vocabulary that is causing problems
- The roles are then reversed: those who were doing the interviewing now stand with their own headlines and are themselves interviewed
Round it off
Get three or four students to report some of the most interesting stories back to the whole class.
People write the story behind their own headline for homework.
Activity 4 - Good news, bad news: Reacting to other people’s experiences
The final activity I’d like to share with you is also in the book Teaching Unplugged.
The reason I’ve included this activity is because it helps to establish rapport between students through using ‘reaction’ phrases and sympathising with others.
Get it ready:
Make a note of two things that have happened to you recently: one good, one bad. It’s better to choose relatively trivial events as you will be asking the class to make similar examples. After all, you don’t want them to feel obliged to contribute something extremely exciting, or to share any terrible news with the class.
Meanwhile, you can ask an available colleague to do the same, as you will need them at the end of the lesson!
Set it up:
- Tell the class your piece of good news. For example:
I finally found an old friend online.
- Then tell them your piece of bad news. For example:
I submitted an essay for my supervisor to read but I later realised that I forgot to include some very important arguments.
- By using the spontaneous reactions of the class, eliciting further phrases and adding examples of your own as necessary, generate a set of ‘conversation reaction’ phrases for good and bad news
- Write these phrases on the board and practise the pronunciation, experimenting with different emphasis. Emphasise that the sound and intonation of these phrases is as important as the words themselves. For example, really? typically goes with a rising intonation
Let it run:
- People write down their good and bad news
- Move around the class and check the students’ pieces of news or get them to show them to you. Adjust the language as appropriate
- Everyone reads out their examples. Encourage the whole class to react at the same time. You highlight and model intonation and features of non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and body language - people are often less expressive when speaking another language. Concentrate on these with the class, and encourage an exaggerated response.
Round it off:
Invite your colleague in, to tell the class their items of news: it should be fun to see their face when the whole class reacts - with as much (even exaggerated) expression as possible!
You can use examples from the lives of well-known people.
Dogme lesson plans - Imagination is Key
There are potentially thousands of Dogme lesson plans either available on the Internet or in your own minds - if you just use your imagination and draw on your own experience. Hence, I’ve only really skimmed the surface with the four Dogme lesson plans outlined above.
I must admit that the unpredictability of Teaching Unplugged lessons can make for some very satisfying and interesting teaching.
All the best.
Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S. 2009. Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching, Delta Publishing Company: UK
Norrington-Davies, D. 2020. Emergent language: working with spontaneous language, English Teaching Professional, (128), May