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Two days ago, I was lucky enough to attend a DELTA input session about using dogme in the language classroom. Luke Meddings was the invited speaker at UCL, and for one and a half hours on a Thursday evening we discussed teaching unplugged in the context of our teacher training course.

One of the doubts that came up was how a teacher might be able to keep a dogme language lesson going for two, three, even four hours. Looking back on my own experience of such lessons, I now realise that my first mostly dogme lesson was actually about 1 and a half hours long, and since then I have had lessons of 2 and 3 hours where the bulk was conversation-driven, materials-light and focused on the language that emerged from the students.

A useful idea/analogy that Luke left us with was a quote or suggestion from Anthony Gaughan, a teacher and trainer based in Germany: mine a resource for all that it’s worth. I do think that this is a really good mindset to have, and can be applied either to the emergent language that comes up, or any minimal resource (e.g. short text, dictation, video, audio) that you bring in as a teacher. I think this is getting close to how I feel about dogme or teaching unplugged in practice. It’s about allowing the space for things (language, topics, whatever) to develop, and then being able to gently guide that towards what the students or the situation needs. With this in mind, what follows are a few things that I’ve started doing to help my students keep going and working on and with their language. This is as much for myself to look back on as it is for sharing with anyone else, but as ever, any comments you might have would be greatly appreciated.

building dialogues

This is a really useful activity to have in your back pocket, since it really can be applied to almost any situation or theme that comes up in a lesson. Basically, the technique is eliciting the lines of a dialogue (or this could even be a conversation with 3 or more participants) from the students, discussing the language and vocab, drilling them and then practising. Come the end, you will have given your students practice in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Additionally, the language should be relatively real compared to a removed coursebook dialogue. But, I hear you ask, how can we make this challenging enough? Won’t the students end up producing mostly simple forms? How can I think of a language exponent for this lesson?? Alright, says I. The language in the text of the dialogue may be simplistic, but think of how you might use this for a number of different things: focus on the sentence stress in the lines of the dialogue, practise intonation and connected speech; look at the text as a whole for cohesive devices and what makes it coherent, is this obvious or it outside knowledge inferred (for example, when in a hotel, it is usually assumed when you say ‘I’d like a room’ that you mean for the night and not just to stand in or something); why not take the final dialogue and ask students to rewrite it so as to practise reported speech. This could honestly take hours.

For more see here Scott Thornbury on building dialogues

debates

Maybe during a conversation activity, something has come up like ‘I always keep my money under the bed, I don’t trust the banks’ or ‘bananas are obviously the best fruit in the world’. Isn’t this kind of this ripe (forgive the pun) for exploiting in a language classroom. Set up a couple of groups, for and against, and ask them to argue the case. Pre-debate or follow up could include any or all of these: language for expressing and reporting fact and opinion; asking for clarification or verification; turn-taking in more formal discourse environments; modal verbs for expressing possibility, conditional clauses; reported speech again (when one side challenges the other), …

dictogloss

May not be unfamiliar to a lot of you. Basically, this is dictation without the focus on being exactly right (meaning getting exactly what was dictated). Find a short text (minisagas, which are stories of exactly 50 words are brilliant for this) and read it at a slightly slower than normal pace. Instead of asking students to write as you speak, ask them to just listen. Then, read again, with slight pauses between sentences, and ask students to note the content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) but not grammar words. The idea after is that students pool their collected notes and the fill in the grammar. The text you do this with could be something you’ve brought in to class or could be derived from whatever language has emerged in the lesson.

Those are just three, fairly minimal I think, activities that could help anyone wishing to plough a furrow toward teaching unplugged. If you have any comments, or other activities to share, I’d love to hear from you.