Dogme language teaching

Dogme language teaching

If you have been teaching English for some period of time, you might have heard about “dogme”, Scott Thornbury, teaching unplugged, or you might have not. These names always provoke a lot of thoughts, arguments and hot discussions. As there are as many supporters as the opponents of the idea. It’s high time to find out more about it.

What is “dogme”?

It is a teaching philosophy, an approach, a movement, a methodology. Scott Thornbury, a famous language education author, is its main “inventor”. The term “dogme” emerged in 2000, following an article by S.Thornbury in which he reveals and criticizes a kind of obsession, addiction and overdependence on lesson plans, textbooks, tapes, flashcards, all sorts of visual aids, etc. Thornbury claims the necessity of learner-focused approach as opposed to materials-focussed one when real classroom communication is overloaded with them. Dogme puts the learner back into learning and encourages teachers to use learning opportunities that occur spontaneously in class more than coursebooks.

Key principles of “dogme”  

  1. Teaching is conversational driven. Education is communication and dialogue. It’s not a pure transference of knowledge from a teacher to the students.
  2. Teaching is material light. A Dogme classroom is a textbook free zone. 
  3. Teaching focuses on emergent language. Lexis and grammar emerge from the learning process. 

Dogme language teaching is about interactivity between teachers and learners, between learners themselves; it’s about engagement, about the scaffolded talk, the relevance of the materials for the learners, about mutual empowerment, recognition of learners’ beliefs and knowledge.

A Dogme approach favour conversation not as the end of learning, but as a means of it. A class is viewed as a “meeting-place” where knowledge is sought, not transmitted, as students know better what their needs are and can look for and bring a relevant source of materials.

Thornbury confesses that ‘there is nothing very original in Dogme’. It combines ideas from the communicative approach, humanistic and critical pedagogy.

Pros and cons of “dogme”

  • it cuts down on a teacher’s preparation time
  • students are more engaged, feel control of their own learning and as a result, are significantly more motivated
  • it gives more freedom for teachers and learners to implement the most appropriate material
  • conversations boost learners’ abilities to analyze and practice the language.
  • students can follow their own pace of learning 
  • there are no limitations created by textbooks
  • it can be really challenging for teachers (especially non-native ones)
  • it’s not quite appropriate for students who are preparing for examinations
  • it might turn out to be daunting to work without a textbook which is considered to be a safe and tested tool
  • teachers and learners can feel uneasy and insecure at first


Dogme language teaching goes beyond the standard pedagogical methods. You should be self-confident and well-prepared to teach like that as such lessons always involve a hidden structure which allows everybody in the class to become autonomous, though they’re often perceived as lessons “without previous planning”. 

This book will give you even more details on the topic.

You might also join the Yahoo Dogme discussion forum and take part in lively Dogme related debates as well as exchange ideas on it.

If you have never tried to use Dogme approach, give it a try! You don’t have to throw all your textbooks away. You can have such kinds of lessons from time to time to escape routine and boost learners’ motivation!

Татьяна Балан

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