Dogme

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As a TEFL teacher, you may find yourself drowning in coursebooks. Directors want you to use them, students expect to use them and you will probably find yourself basing your lessons on units rather than language structures or topics. While this is not always a bad thing – coursebooks are great for giving your lessons structure and providing you with content – there is also something to be said for abandoning the coursebook altogether.

Many teachers would find this idea truly frightening. Coursebooks have become an integral part of our lesson planning and without them many teachers would feel lost. Being coursebook-free, though, can be as thrilling as it is challenging. Scott Thornbury was one of the first to promote this idea when he started the Dogme movement and this idea has become one of the most talked about developments in EFL in recent history.

Basically, Dogme is an approach to teaching which doesn’t use any materials. Instead, lessons are based on the content and language the students themselves produce. In other words, there is no need for coursebooks or photocopies. Students are given the opportunity to speak on whatever they want and the focus of the lesson is decided by what is produced. The teacher effectively helps the students engage with each other and a topic and in this way brings the language out of the students.

The teacher then steps in when they are able to identify a problematic area and draws the students’ attention to it. A discussion can then be had on whatever language point is involved – be it grammar, vocabulary or usage – and then the discussion can continue. Clearly, the teacher is in charge of the language aspect of the lesson, while the students dictate the content and the direction the lesson will take.

What this does is that as the teacher you are able to teach the students rather than the coursebooks. You are ensured that what you are teaching is necessary for your students at that particular time and that you are not teaching them a structure with which they are already familiar and comfortable or which is well beyond their reach.

Don’t be fooled, though. While this may seem like a lesson plan which could work when you haven’t had time to do any planning, it’s not easy and still requires some thought. You need to think about how you will present the lesson and how you will get the students talking. Then you need to be confident enough that you will be able to extract the linguistic information that you will need. This is not the same as letting the students chat the whole lesson; there needs to be more involved for it be an effective lesson rather than a conversation. So while we definitely recommend using Dogme strategies or incorporating them into your lessons, make sure you are comfortable with the technique before diving headfirst into a Dogme-style lesson.

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