Students do not like grammar lessons! Although not always true, this is a fairly accurate assessment of most students’ feelings when learning a language. Much the way parents will disguise healthy broccoli from their kids by hiding it beneath a layer of melted cheese, teachers will do everything to try to disguise grammar beneath a layer of „melted” fun or distraction…or something.
Dogme ELT Lessons
In comes the Dogme lesson. In the TEFL industry, Dogme lessons are those which require no printed materials whatsoever and are based on a highly communicative approach to language learning and rely totally on language generated by the students themselves. The methodology originates from an article by Scott Thornbury and its name derives from the tongue-in-cheek film movement founded by Lars Von Trier that looks to take the film back to its minimalistic, story-driven roots free from computer-generated images and over-the-top special effects. In a Dogme lesson, all activities are off-the-page although certain realia and authentic materials can be utilised.
The methodology is based on the presupposition that discourse is the most important tool for improving a person’s skill in speaking and that speaking is the most important skill. It adheres to the ethos that “one’s English is really only as good as one’s ability to speak’ and therefore attention needs only be placed on this skill.
The methodology has a materials-light approach as textbooks and online materials can be too grammar-focused and rigid in terms of their learner outcomes. The approach believes that when a lesson becomes more learner-focused, needs can be address as they arise. Like the adage- ‘When the student is ready the master will appear ‘ so it goes– when the mistake arises, it will be addressed. Materials-light typically means that authentic materials, scraps of paper, Post-it Notes and writing implements are acceptable.
Dogme lessons can easily be compared to Task-Based Learning with which it shares many similarities. It only really differs from TBL in terms of its execution as opposed to actual ethos. Whereas TBL directs students through the completion of an activity using the target language, Dogme is more conversation/dialogue focused.
This particular methodological approach can be criticized for its disregard of technology while technological-based approaches to L2 learning are becoming increasingly more and more ubiquitous in the 21st century. Also, it can obviously be seen as ineffective for those who are preparing for exams such as IELTS or CAE as it is not easy to incorporate analysis of strategic approaches to exams or writing /listening skills.
Here are a few lesson ideas that would qualify as Dogme lessons.
Empty Your Pockets
Students take 2 things out of their pockets to show their partner. It can be a smartphone, keys, a wallet, a paperclip or anything else and hopefully nothing incriminating or embarrassing in nature. They have to tell a story about how they got the object. It can be a true story or one that is made up and it is the job of their partner to tell whether or not the story is true or false.
This activity can have several variants such as having all of the objects put into one box in order to see if the other students can guess which object belongs to whom and talk about why they believe that.
The teacher can also focus on the language itself by having the students discuss, for example, how long they have had the object. (i.e., Present Perfect Simple etc.)
Students are given a Post-it note and assigned a letter of the alphabet. They then have to write down as many adjectives they can think of that begin with their particular letter. Students then switch papers with their partners and answer questions from a flipchart such as
- The last time I felt ________________ was…
- A person might typically feel ______________ when…..
- If I feel ____________, I usually ________________
The teacher has the freedom to focus the language on any particular grammar point they would like.
Students are put into small groups to decide what makes the best weekend or what the characteristics of a great weekend are. Then the group of three needs to discuss the weekend that has just passed and determine who has had the best weekend based on their own criteria.
As with any communicative task, teacher feedback is crucial and can be provided in any number of ways bearing in mind how important it is to be non-intrusive to the student and helpful in so far as we try to ‘ choose our battles.’
What about your experiences? Do you think a Dogme lesson would work? Could you imagine a lesson of that type possibly working? Have you ever been to a lesson of that sort? Let us know in the comment section below.