If You Were a Dogme, Would You Regret Barking?

I have finally managed to find a minute to scrawl another post about an Unplugged lesson I was recently part of here in Costa Rica. I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable classes I can recall and one in which there was so much language floating around, it was tricky to know what to focus on. Here’s what happened, complete with tortuous html bullet points…

Class of 27th September

This was originally a class of 12 adults just starting B2, which was then split into two groups of 6 and then became more or less a group of 3 for me as 2 never showed up and there’s usually one of the remaining 4 off. This lesson had the 3 who usually attend and who are fast becoming one of my favourite ever classes.

Crack your bones and the ice

Some conversation to start a class? Whatever next…?

  • “Hello!”, at which point I was informed I am a Scottish cowboy. I never really got to the bottom of why, but it might have something to do with Scottish Highland Coos

    The Teacher
  • Discussion moved on to what we’d done earlier in the day. Played yes/no questions guessing game – to provide some impetus to the conversation – until they managed to guess I’d been to the chiropractor, which led to an interesting discussion about alternative medicine, malpractice, sleeping positions, yoga and so on. Here’s some sample lexis which came up

    • Mattress (n)

    • Spring (n) (as in the thing in your mattress)

    • Stretch (v/n)

  • We then heard about a robbery in the city of Limon, which I can’t remember how we got on to, but I think it had something to do with a related story about Tai Chi. This led to a discussion about common daily problems here in San José de Costa Rica. Some related lexis that appeared out of thin air

    • Put up with sth (v) / tolerate sth (v)

    • Mug sb (v)

    • Break in  (v)

Dog Day Afternoon… and morning… and night….

From here, it was all dogs dogs dogs. It has become a class joke the amount of moaning I do about the amount of barking the dogs in my barrio of San José, Sabanilla, do.

  • Taking the dogs as our basis, I asked individuals to come up with 5 solutions to my dog/noise problem.

  • Then, as a three, they had to discuss the merits of each problem, justifying their opinions, and selecting a group top 5.

    • This was lively 20-minute discussion in which there was loads of language flying around. In the end, I noticed that they could improve their range and accuracy of sentences such as “if he *do that, then he would to be happy” and so went for 2nd conditionals as a point of emergent language to focus on. This was cheating slightly, given that I have to follow a coursebook and that this language point comes up in unit 3 but, well, you’re only young once…

    • While this part of the lesson was a structured conversation, it shares a great deal with a TBL task cycle. The first part here was brainstorming, the second a negotiated ranking task.

  • The group then reported their top 5 solutions to me, which I wrote on the board and discussed with them as they were read out.

‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’

The board near the end

At this point, we got to the focus on form. We were 70minutes into the lesson and it had been pure conversation with lexis fed in where appropriate (sometimes the learners are surprised by how long and how much they speak in the class). This is where the ‘fight’ began. I am a firm believer that a focus on form is absolutely essential in the language classroom. Not in every class, but in many. This group had been enjoying the discussion so much that it was difficult to keep them focused on the focus. This isn’t to say that they didn’t enjoy it; as in, the problem was that they kept joking and laughing and making me laugh.

  • Using the solutions the group had agreed on, we re-wrote them as 2nd conditional sentences, highlighting the use of past simple and continuous tenses as well as the modals would, could, might + infinitive. We discussed the contractions and drilled them, as well as going over ways to start conditionals that aren’t if, such as providing that/as long as (though I have to confess some help here as Rob, who teaches next door, just walked in and sat down. The students then asked him if he’d kill a noisy dog, to which he replied out of the blue “providing that it died… etc. Bingo!), suppose/supposing/imagine, assuming that and even if. We also looked at changing the order of the clauses and removing the comma.

Imagine you were a dog, would you feel sad if you couldn’t bark?

Having taken a quick break, it was time for some practice. Speaking to people, I often find this is the area most teachers have the most trouble with in Dogme. How can we practise something without materials? Here’s an idea or two.

  • I then asked the group to take their original 5 solutions and re-write them using the language we had just discussed, with me buzzing around and helping out where they

    Jose Maria helping Laura at the board

    needed it.

  • Next, as a 3, they had to analyse these re-written sentences and decide if they were correct, as well as deciding on a favourite of each person. This led to a highly amusing feedback session that largely took care of itself as they debated the merits of each sentence. Who would have thought that 2nd conditionals could make students laugh so much?

  • They then wrote these favourite sentences on the board and we discussed each one in turn, highlighting excellent use of language such as collocations, as well as correct grammar. We also went through what parts of the sentences could be changed while keeping the same meaning i.e. replacing if with suppose in questions and writing up these options too.

    • Some collocations that came up included “sleep deeply”, “beat sth/sb to death” (I didn’t suggest it; Claudia wanted to write it…), “stop + Ving”.

  • The group then copied down these sentences with the highlighted language

  • The final practice involved me asking the group to close their eyes. I then rubbed off some select language. First of all, all the past tenses and modals. The group then opened their eyes and re-created the sentences together.

  • We then repeated this, until almost all the language had been removed. In feedback to each reconstruction, we highlighted the alternatives for if and the meanings of using different modals.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Classroom

By this stage, we had regrettably run out of time. This was a real shame as I wanted to complete the task cycle with another related task which, in the end, had to wait until the next class (not that there’s any harm in that). To finish in the last 8 minutes, I asked the group to select the lexis they wanted to keep for the vocab envelope and write these words down on the cards. Everyone went home happy, except that I gave them 2 exercises from the coursebook for homework (they have bought it after all and at $40, that’s no snip in Costa Rica).

As I hinted at in the introduction, I really enjoyed this class. You simply do not see the humour and creativity in people when you force them to work with language from a coursebook. I believe that doing things this way makes the language more memorable and the study of it more enjoyable. This lesson is now part of the class ‘folklore’ and the themes recur in almost every class and while I have no proof of it, it certainly “confirm[s] [my] own intuitions that  Dogme, if not more effective, is more engaging, more memorable, more motivating  – more fun!” (Scott Thornbury here)

So, what would you have done differently? What did(n’t) you like and why?

16 thoughts on “If You Were a Dogme, Would You Regret Barking?

  1. Alice M

    I love it and love that you remembered it so well, as to be able to type it up like this. I find sometimes when I have classes like this I can’t remember exactly what we did and where the class went! 🙂

    1. Chris Ożóg

      Hey Alice, how you doing? Long time no speak. I’m delighted that you have classes like this, regardless of whether you can remember them or not! It would’ve made for some great staffroom chat if you hadn’t shipped off to the other side of the world…

  2. Great account of a what was clearly a great lesson (from the stduents’ point of view, as well as your own). I’m intrigued that you should draw the connections with task-based learning and, specifically, the ‘task cycle’. How conscious are you that this is an (in-flight) planning strategy? Where does this come from? Curious of Barcelona.

    1. Chris Ożóg

      Hi Scott and thanks for the positive comments.

      It’s an interesting question you pose and one I hadn’t given much thought to before. During the class described above, I was pretty aware of how I wanted to structure it once I’d decided on the language to be focused on. The fact that this should be mapped on to a task-cycle doesn’t surprise me as I like TBL and have seen some excellent results with it. In this class, it was simply my way of scaffolding the conversation to lead into the focus on form and then have a practice of it, in this case by completing the task cycle with a similar task.

      Now I think about it, I do this a lot. The links between Dogme and TBL are pretty clear to me as it seems to be a task-based approach with the tasks being used as the scaffold. My colleague – he gets upset if I say “boss” – Ben, observed once that Dogme is like TBL but without the T – meaning that you don’t bring in pre-prepared tasks to the class, but can use learner output as your basis for employing a TBL-structure. This chimes nicely with my own thoughts: I had always found TBL to work really well when done using learner output as the basis for the class and so moving that into the Dogme classroom was a natural thing to do and keeps everything materials-light and conversation-driven (incidentally, I saw an absolutely brilliant CELTA lesson on our last course similar to this from a very talented candidate – it’s not just those with years and years of experience who can have a go).

      I think that the task-cycle is a good structure for this as I think the repetition of the task is vital (I think you mentioned this on a comment on Dale’s blog recently) and the results palpable. It does now seem that this is indeed an “in-flight” planning strategy. Perhaps this is because I got into TBL before I knew what Unplugged Teaching was and developed my own habits of doing TBL lessons with no materials. I’d be interested to know what you (and everyone else!) think of this. Is this something that you employ in your classes? Or, do you have other strategies for ‘planning’ on the spot? I’ll certainly be looking out for this in future classes and assessing what I’m doing a bit more closely.

  3. Hi Chris, two things really struck me about your class that create the perfect atmosphere for a Dogme lesson.

    1. The rapport – more than just rapport though, you enjoy spending time with them and they do with you. What a great classroom environment for authentic conversation to emerge in. I’ve been lucky enough to have classrooms like this and have ripped my hair out trying to create classroom conditions like this. Do you think sometimes it just happens and sometimes it doesn’t? How long did it take you to come to this point? At the moment I’m starting a lot of new classes and wondering when and if I’ll get to this point.

    2. Your warmer activities get students curious about your life and their life. With that you have, everyone feels free to contribute and genuinely interested in asking each other about their daily lives. They are meaningful and learners see that, which is confirmed by the authenticity of their responses, which they know are valued.

    It’s given me some good food for thought, tonight I want to think about some warm up activities that lead to conversations like those taking place in your classroom. Being in a new country, teaching environment and with new students and classrooms, it’s easy to let things like these slip with all the other things on my mind in the classroom.


    1. Chris Ożóg

      Hi Dale. Thanks for the comment.

      The rapport factor is certainly an interesting point to think about. I’ve been teaching this group for about 6 weeks now and the lesson described above was about 4 weeks in. We meet twice a week for 3 hours between 6 and 9pm. As you can imagine, after a long day for them and me (I’m usually in the office from about 11 or 12), we’re all a bit tired. Et voilà, Dogme. Why do I say that? Not because I’m part of the misguided camp that is the Dogme-is-just-winging-it school of ‘thought’, but because I think that Dogme really has something to offer here. By asking the learners to talk about themselves, their lives, and by partaking in this myself, the atmosphere is relaxed, authentic in the sense of a social situation in which real communication happens, and far more motivating. I’m not sure how I create this atmosphere, but seem to have developed a knack for it. There are one or two things I always do:

      a) I am always very open with my class and tell them all about me if they want to know, which encourages them to do the same. This part is difficult for some teachers who are just naturally more reserved and like to have more distance. In this sense, it’s probably very much down to personality whether this aspect of creating rapport can be employed. That said, there are other ways.

      b) I have everyone sitting in groups where possible, like you were in a coffee shop (easy here, with a max of 4 students)

      c) I listen and respond to what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it. The latter part comes later on.

      d) I wind them up constantly. There’s a lot of jokes floating around the room all the time and I joke about them and myself a lot. And they do the same: I’m apparently less evolved, for example, as I have 4 wisdom teeth and one of them that I recently had out had 3 roots – this kind of fun and gentle banter is central in my classes.

      e) Almost all of the practices that we do of language comes from the learners’ own output. I think this is pretty much essential as it’s far more motivating to see an immediate improvement in what you’re doing and to work within the same topic that the conversation was about. It may seem odd, but I think contributes a lot to the rapport as it’s basically keeping the conversation going, but in a different way.

      Of course, this doesn’t work with every class, but does with the majority of them. I have abandoned Dogme lessons before when the class just isn’t going for it and returned to the book. Next time this happens, I’ll blog about it as it’d be quite interesting to explore.

      As a counter-example, I taught a straight-forward functions lesson for 90mins from the book recently with the same group. I did this for 2 reasons: 1) to practise a more PPP approach for when I tutor on CELTA, 2) they have bought the book and it’s not cheap. The difference was quite noticeable. Even though I tried to get them into with the personalised questions at the start of the section and creating a context, etc, they just weren’t up for it like in less book-centred classes. This isn’t to say it wasn’t useful to them – the exponents are common and we actually did some valuable listening for individual words in connected speech work in the end (ok, I deviated from the book a bit; I can’t help it) – but they weren’t as engaged in the topic and it wasn’t as enjoyable.

      Good luck with your new classes! And Teaching Unplugged is a great source of activities you can try out.

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  5. Hi Chris, Ben et al,

    Thanks a lot for the post, Chris, I love reading accounts of classes and find it really helpful to compare with my own classes and use this as a way of reflecting on them. Reading your post brought back fond memories of observing you during my visit and as I read the main thought that kept recurring (and then you mention yourself in response to Dale) is the personality factor.

    Having enjoyed seeing you teach I know you have a lot of qualities that I see essential in a teacher if they are to use Dogme successfully – ability to think on your feet, ability to steer a conversation, extend it and take it where you want to go, an openness with the students etc. etc. – that enhances my impression that to teach in a Dogme manner successfully you need to be a ‘natural’.

    However, reading about your class also makes me wonder if you need to have a certain type of student in order to create a successful Dogme learning environment, or if there are things you can do and ways to develop the class dynamic in order to create a successful atmosphere for using Dogme techniques with all and any types, level or number of students? Would love to hear what you think…

    1. Chris Ożóg

      Hi Neil (I’m sure Ben et al say hello too…) and thanks for the comment.

      You make a good point about the personality factor. I have observed some teachers who are very effective, good at what they do and liked by their students, but who are always in complete control of the class and so, for them, I’d say it would be much more difficult to move towards Dogme. But then, why would they want to if what they’re doing works for them? They would need to take small steps, such as not having a warmer, as such, and seeing where they class went for the 1st 20mins or so, before then moving on to their planned lesson.

      I don’t have a copy of Teaching Unplugged in front of me just now, but the first section of activities is all about creating the conditions for the Dogme classroom (well, I think it is…). It’s very difficult, especially with learners used to more teacher-fronted approaches, to simply go Unplugged from the get-go. You have to work it in, explain as you go, take small steps. That said, I do think it just won’t work well with some groups. I had such a group in the Czech Republic and, if it wasn’t written in a book in front of them, they wouldn’t even believe me if I said something (a notorious incident involving “the team is/are” still haunts me…). In that sense, yes, the personality of the learners will come in too. I decided not to fight this group, and so went with what they wanted – isn’t that good teaching, responding to what your students want/need and not forcing your way upon them if they don’t like it?

      As to level, I think it can work well with all levels. Having said that, I have never had a C2 class since I started really going for Dogme. I’m not sure how some of the real nitty-gritty, technical grammar that appears in CPE might be translated into the Unplugged classroom as it’s just not really likely to come up in conversation so often. I’d be very keen to find out, though.

      Number, again, is something I feel I can’t really comment on. The largest class I’ve had that I’ve adopted a Dogme approach to was about 15. It went well, and involved lots of group work. Perhaps with larger classes, TBL might be more germane to keeping them as completely learner-centred as possible, but again I’d have to experiment to find out.

      Overall, I just think you have to be as responsive as possible and try things out. I think Scott summed it up nicely in this post, http://t.co/8Wkd2WRo, on the Dogme forum.

      In other news, we just moved building over the weekend and I get to see my new office (with natural light and everything..) today for the first time. It’s been a long time coming, but we’re in!

      1. Hi Chris,
        Many thanks for the reply, all helpful stuff and your experiences certain couple with my instincts. Completely agree with what you say about a good teacher responding to the students wants/needs, even though a little tension as you gradually try to convince them there are different ways of doing things can be a good thing.

        Thanks for the link to Scott’s post too, more interesting reading and I particularly enjoyed how he purports Dogme to be the ‘State of Grace’ in one paragraph and then feels the need to state he’s not retracting his Dogme beliefs in the next. I certainly don’t agree Dogme is any such state of grace (nor that Palestine should be considered little), but the argument for coursebook need is well-stated.

        And congrats for the move, I’m sure you’ll feel it was worth the wait as you bask in the natural light and I hope the students soon start flooding in to your Dogme-style and coursebook-led classes alike. Take care!

  6. Pingback: Comment on @ChrisOzog blog post ‘If You Were a Dogme, Would You Regret Barking?’ « A Muse Amuses

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  8. Richard

    Hi Chris,

    Glad to see that things seem to be going well in Costa Rica! I consider my approach regarding rapport and classroom management more or less the same as yours, based on your blog and your replies on this post. I find myself turning to Dogme increasingly (with one class in particular), and I was wondering what potential you see in it for lower levels (i.e. below intermediate)? Do you think there’s some mileage in it, or would you leave it well alone?

    It struck me that your class is beginning the B2 stage and therefore capable of maintaining communication in English for three hours (although this is still quite an achievement of concentration at the end of working day), but with A2? Or even A1? This brings me to another point – do you think some groundwork needs to be done before you attempt Dogme with a class, and, if so, what? I think building rapport and making sure that the students know a little bit about each other is essential, and (as you hinted earlier), Dogme may not suit all students / classes.

    Take care,

    Richard (still in Prague, following the DELTA trail, hoping it leads somewhere, but still not sure where…)

  9. Chris Ożóg

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for stopping by and sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I think Dogme has a lot of mileage with lower levels. I had a lesson on A2 learners to so long since that I approached Unplugged-ly and it was very successful. It was about health advice and we expanded on exponents of giving said advice (all they initially came up with were imperatives). In fact, I go as far as to say that I think that level is possibly the most germane to Dogme as there is so much to work with. With a group as low as A1, I’d cheat and use translation when I needed to. Given I speak Spanish, I can do that here, but I’d have to change that approach if I moved back to Prague or to Vietnam. When you get to C1, C2, I think it can be quite tricky to find things to work on as a lot of the areas that might seem like they need work are in fact just slips or individual collocations, verb-preps, etc. That said, I’ve never had the opportunity to try Unplugged classes at C2 (as I said above), so don’t really know.

    Groundwork is necessary most of the time. The first section of Teaching Unplugged is all about setting the conditions. I think in the Czech Rep, without wanting to generalise, with certain groups of adults you’d absolutely have to work at it first and explain it (I will never forget that FCE class which I mentioned above…). I had a couple of successful Dogme classes there with the intensives, teens and one adult group; others, I just couldn’t seem to establish enough of a connection and then gave up, deciding that it didn’t suit the group and so there was no point in pushing it. Oddly, I’ve never really had that problem here.

    Good luck with the DELTA too, Richard. I’m sure it’ll take you places, though not necessarily ones you’d like to go to… Costa Rica’ll be looking for someone in August, I’m sure. I’ll keep you posted…

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