Published 1st June 2018

Teaching Unplugged

If you are familiar with Dogme then you should be familiar with Teaching Unplugged. This is a fairly new movement in the EFL field which supports teaching without materials. Paperless lessons, so to speak. If you can imagine a lesson without coursebooks or photocopies, then you’ve got the right idea.

What is Teaching Unplugged?

Teaching Unplugged basically means teaching without preparation in the traditional sense of the word. Instead of spending time preparing before your lesson, you’ll need to think on your feet during the lesson. If, like most teachers, you have focused a lot of your training on lesson preparation, this can be difficult to get your head around.

All you need to take with you into a Teaching Unplugged classroom is yourself, a whiteboard marker and an open mind. You don’t even decide on the topic. Rather, you let your students decide where the lesson takes you. This is usually topic-based because students can come up with topics to discuss relatively easily. However, it’s also possible to let them decide on a language point they would like to work on.

How do I incorporate Teaching Unplugged into my lessons?

It’s all well and good saying you don’t need to prepare anything, but you do need to prepare something – yourself! Before each lesson, consider the class and their strengths and weaknesses. Think about their level and what language points may come up no matter what the topic. Also take into account what has recently been done in your lessons and so what might work as revision.

Then, walk into the classroom and start talking. It can be on anything and if the students change the topic and talk about something completely unrelated, run with it. In these lessons the topic does not matter. There does not need to be a link between all parts of your lesson, though invariably you will find there is.

To incorporate language, you will need to be able to assess what they are saying and input better ways of saying it. In other words, as they speak you will need to process their language. At the same time, you need to draw attention to their mistakes and give them ideas on improvements. This is where your whiteboard comes in. Use your board to take notes on and write explanations for language items.

So you can see that these lessons are not just conversations. Having said that, just because you don’t have paper doesn’t mean you have to talk the entire lesson. Come up with activities which can be done without resources in order to practise any language that comes up. Buzz group discussions, debates and vocabulary games all work well with these lessons.

Paperless lessons can be tricky to implement in the classroom until you (and your students) get the hang of it. It’s a really nice way to vary the pace and structure of your lessons and move away from the coursebook. But because these lessons will be tailored specifically to your class, you should find they work exceptionally well.