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Friday, May 27, 2011

Dogme McNuggets?

McNuggets by Calgary Reviews  on Flickr

I have a new student. She's twenty-eight and is in the armed forces. I decided to try and take a dogme approach with her lessons, as she's having individual classes. During our first two lessons this has worked well because we've been doing quite a bit of talking about familiar topics such as family and our typical day, and lots of language has come up, but nothing unusual - in fact, the language that emerged was actually the typical grammar and vocabulary you would find in a coursebook lesson on those topics. This makes me feel that I haven't been doing dogme at all! Is it that after so many years of traditional course book lessons, I have it all so strongly etched into my brain that I automatically encourage certain language items to come up? If so, that can hardly be called dogme! But am I really directing the language so much? Or is it that when you talk about your daily life you automatically use certain Mcnuggets? Hmm, I'm getting a bit confused.

In any case, this student has a grammar and vocabulary exam next month, so our short term goal is actually to brush up on all those Mcnuggets. This is student-centred learning - the student's priority is to try to pass her exam, rather than be able to communicate in English. That will come later.  Sometimes, I think we forget about our students' priorities because we were trained in the Communicative era and have some kind of need to help our students communicate. However, as I mentioned in a recent post on jigsaw puzzles, this is not necessarily whar our students want or need.

So, assuming that I have to help my student remember (and in some cases learn) the grammar and vocabulary she needs to pass her exam, can I possibly take a dogme approach? If I do, we will certainly miss out some important Mcnuggets. Again, I'm slightly perplexed.

These are just some thoughts that have been running through my mind, anyway. Sorry for rambling. Take no notice!


  1. Oh,I hear you loud and clear!
    I'm grappling with the same questions myself. I would also add the one about recycling the vocabulary and the grammar that we HAVE succeeded in bringing into the lesson enough so that the students will be ready for the test.
    I'm looking forward to the summer vacation to read up on the topic!!!
    Enjoyed your post!

  2. Heya Michelle,

    I'm by no means an expert here, but I'm fairly confident in saying that there is no one way to 'do' dogme in the classroom. Some tech, some don't, some have external pressures (exams), some don't... I'd say you're pretty much dogme-ing it as it sounds, but as you say, the key will be helping the student retain the knowledge she does have and learn that which she doesn't yet (in the way of mcnuggets...)

    My advice re covering what you need to cover - take a look at a past example of the exam she is sitting, from that work out a list of the areas that need to be learnt/practised for the exam. After a lesson, whenever you a certain thing has come up, tick it on your list. At the end of a week's lessons, look at the list - what's got a lot of ticks? what hasn't got so many? what hasn't got ANY? use this info to inform the direction of the next sessions - think of ways to prompt that language from the student, and fill in blanks as and when necessary.

    Have a bone to pick though (and not meant to put anyone/anything down or anything) but this might be a student-centred course in terms that the aim (passing the exam), but isn't the teaching/learning therefore exam-centred rather than student-centred?

    Best of luck with it!!

  3. Should read '...that the aim (...) has come from the student...'

  4. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough comment :)
    You are right, of course, the classes are exam-centred in the sense that we need to cover the grammar and vocabulary specifically stated in the information we have about this exam (it's the first exam of its kind so we only have the List to go by)and that we will be looking at the kind of texts (topics)that may come up in the exam, rather than those that the student herself may be interested in. I would much rather we didn't have so many restrictions as I think so much could come out of a student-centred/dogme "course" in a one-to-one situation. However, we have an exam to prepare for right now.

    On a positive note, after the summer the student will be coming back to try to progress on to B1 level and we will have more time to think more about her interests and needs.

    Thanks for all your good advice :)

  5. Hi Naomi - sorry it's taken me so long to reply!
    I too am not very sure about how to recycle vocabulary if we are being completely dogme and only talking about what the students want to - how many times have you heard students complaining that they have "already done this"?
    There is also the danger of avoiding topics that the students aren't interested in but may be important - after all, there are plenty of areas of life we don't enjoy talking about!
    I agree with the principles of dogme, but I'm not sure how appropriate it is in my particular context of Spanish (traditional education, structured,linear) exam classes, and young learners.

    As you say, something to look into and think about over the summer.

    Thanks for commenting :)

  6. Re Recycling, have you checked out Chia's post on the topic? Not sure it's geared for 1-2-1 classes, but maybe you can adapt some of the ideas?

  7. Thanks for that link, Mike. I wasn't aware of Chia's blog - it's now added to my Google Reader though!

  8. You're adopting an entirely appropriate approach to the situation.

    This is where dogme falls down, I fear. If we could eliminate all exam systems then it would have a chance to take over the world. Until that happens, it probably a good idea to also be aware of what your students goals are. If the goal şis to pass an exam, facilitate that as best you can. This is not the time or place to question the value of teaching to an exam.

  9. Interesting! I've been too busy to read many blogs recently, so I've only just come across this. Here's my tuppence worth.

    Although the aim of the unplugged approach is to allow language to emerge, it's worth remembering the three 'big' rules:

    1) Materials light
    2) Conversation driven
    3) Working with emergent language

    Personally, I don't see any reason why the emergent language can't be prompted. In the teaching unplugged book I'm sure there are suggested activities that are 'angled' at certain language areas. You can do that without materials, encourage conversation to drive the language use and focus on the language that emerges from the student. Ideally, it would allow you to identify gaps in her knowledge and focus on those. Training in the tasks of the exam can also be included, that's part of what the student needs.

    Perhaps it worth thinking of it as facilitating the emergence of areas of need?!

    I think that one of the major issues with dogme is that many people seem to see it as an all or nothing approach. I like to use the approach a bit and I believe in the general philosophy of the ideas, but I think there should be a place for other techniques and approaches as well.

    Good luck!


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