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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Unplugged Moments #1

After all the recent discussions about Dogme in ELT, but not being brave enough to be an outright dogmeist, I have however become more relaxed over what goes on in my lessons and therefore have had a few "dogme moments" recently. My reasons for not being overly supportive of the whole unplugged approach (if that is the same as dogme, something I'm not entirely sure about), are many and I'm not going to go into those reasons here, at least not for the time being. Nonetheless, I would like to outline a some of these moments which have, in my opinion, made the lessons in question "better", or at least more student-centred.

The first of these moments is a case of emergent language. Not exactly language emerging from the students themselves but from the situation. I walked into the classroom last night after my coffee break, and noticed that one of the students had had a haircut. So after the usual "How are you today? Fine/Very well, thanks" (I must get round to providing them with some alternatives to this exchange!), I asked Rafa if he had had his hair cut, miming the action of hair cutting. As I had already imagined, the phrase was a new one for everybody, and I wrote "I have my hair cut" on the board, along with the words hairdresser and barber. I also wrote it in the past simple, with the sentence "Rafa had his hair cut at the weekend". One of the students asked what the difference was between "have my hair cut" and "cut my hair", to whom I gave a pair of scissors and said "Cut your hair!". Luckily he didn't actually do as I said, but explained that he used clippers to cut his own hair. We compared the different meanings of the two sentences before going on to think of some more examples where we would use the structure HAVE SOMETHING DONE such as "have your car repaired" or "have your house painted".

So we ended up looking at a grammatical structure that I hadn't planned on teaching. It just kind of emerged from the conversation. I pointed out to the students that this wasn't part of the lesson I had planned, but that it can be very useful to look at parts of language as they come up. I think that explaining this helps them accept a more relaxed approach, since many students in my teaching context are generally quite inflexible, and expect everything to be a certain way. Hopefully, they will be open to lots more dogme moments, as I believe that presenting students with new language that they actually need to talk about something at that moment, for a genuine reason, is more likely to be remembered and then used than language that appears in an artificial situation in a course book.


  1. What a great example of seizing a teaching opportunity Michelle! Definitely emergent learning, and you had the chance to go over a commonly overlooked grammar structure in a genuine way, initiated by the students. Fantastic!

  2. Hi Michelle
    Alan (him again) says Dogme allows teachers to realise it IS OK to talk about what's important or current to the students' lives. In fact, not just OK, but a prereqisite. (Yes, you're right - Teaching Unplugged is the name of the book they wrote recently. I think they're trying to get away from the name Dogme, as no-one outside the inner circle knows how to pronounce it). I'm relatively new to the term myself, although not the approach. I think I've always preferred talking about a student's new hair style than Exercise 3. With your example, also consider "get", e.g. "get your hair cut/dyed/shaved off".
    Here is a poem I made up once for "get". An idea to use in class: say the poem, get them to work it out and write it down in pairs. Draw a picture or two for some of the words.

    Get on the bus
    Get off the train
    Get completely soaked
    Get caught in the rain.

    Get caught
    Get arrested
    Get your hair cut
    Get your eyes tested.


  3. Hi Michelle...

    These are super moments and that's basically how it flows, really, and probably why it makes zero sense to teach L2 grammar in sequential steps: we simply don't speak like that... we speak out of context and situation! Oh, and your next opp for teaching other responses to how are the next time you ask :-).

    Loved your post and dogme moment!

    I don't know that anyone is really trying to get away from the term "dogme"... t'would seem that everyone says potato a different way and language evolves and words change in meaning and all seems incredibly silly that some people all of a sudden are getting hung up on a name.. but I reckon that'd be the EnglishRaven who's just having a laugh as the um, "inner circle" as I know them is made up of probably several hundred members who've been saying the word dogme for a good number of years, some for at least ten, with barely a sniff.



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