Teaching unplugged revisited: A Scott Thornbury webinar

On LinkedIn last week I spotted a series of webinars by Delta Publishing called “Speaking Globally”. The webinars included speakers such as David Crystal, Nicky Hockly and Scott Thornbury so I decided to sign up for what I could fit into my teaching schedule and Tuesday early evening found me sitting comfortably on my sofa with my laptop.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

I have seen Scott Thornbury speak several times on the topic of Dogme teaching but if it’s new to you, here are the basic principles:

  • Dogme ELT, based on methods used in the film industry in Scandinavia in the 90’s, is about reducing the teacher’s overreliance on materials.
  • By reducing the materials brought into the classroom, teachers create space within the classroom and the students become the resource.
  • This means students talk about their own experiences rather than a random coursebook characters’ thus following the principles of the communicative approach.

Scott had a book, “Teaching Unplugged” published in 2009 which further investigated these ideas and established 3 main principles. Teaching that follows the Dogme method is:

  • conversation-driven (this could be written or spoken conversation)
  • materials light ie the conversation comes naturally
  • focussing on emergent language (the teacher hones in on language that arises) (Meddings & Thornbury 2009)

So what would a typical dogme lesson look like?

The example Scott gave was this:

  1. Learners talk to their partner about something that has been in the news since the last lesson.
  2. The teacher monitors and listens out for a story that would interest everyone.
  3. The student retells their story (repetition leads to better fluency) and the teacher scaffolds by asking leading questions.
  4. All the students retell the story (possibly by writing it at this stage)
  5. The teacher extracts problematic language and focuses on it.

This, clearly, is going to offer some challenges to the teacher:

  • The teacher has no idea in which direction the lesson will go
  • The teacher cannot prepare the language that will be covered
  • The teacher cannot really predict lesson aims other than fluency practice

But surely the pros outweigh the cons:

  • The students are going to be talking about something that interests them
  • The students build a better rapport with each other and with the teacher by finding out more about each other
  • Task repetition (also a principle of task-based learning) improves fluency
  • The learners take more responsibility over their learning
  • The teacher has less photocopying and cutting up to do!

Other possible ideas for Dogme lessons:

  • The teacher tells a brief personal story and students ask questions (written or spoken) to establish more detail. The students then write the story
  • The teacher shows a picture of their family and tells the students about them, the students then talk about their families
  • Students have a written conversation with each other either using phones or paper
  • Students describe their living room and their partner draws it
  • Students create a survey on a particular topic, interview each other and then write a report on the results
  • Show & tell: Students talk about a recent photo on their phones
  • Students watch a designated TED talk or YouTube video before class and then class time is spent discussing it and focussing on the language within the video.

One final point on what is important to remember when thinking about teaching “unplugged” is that it is NOT just sitting down and having a chat! There is a clear language focus, often in a feedback session, and students go away feeling they have gained something without this being prescribed by the teacher.

If you want to read more about teaching “dogme style” the following articles might be of interest:

unplugged activities

D is for Dogme

A dogme for EFL

The webinar will soon be available on Delta publishing‘s website. ( I have no association with Delta Publishing.)

Thanks to Scott Thornbury for another insightful workshop. Are you going to try a dogme lesson now? I’d love to hear how it goes!

Author: Amanda Momeni

A CELTA tutor, English language tutor and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

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