Planting the seeds of dogme - unplugged lessons with YLs

Several weeks ago, I pondered the question Could dogme work with young learners? here on the blog reaching the conclusion that while it could be done in theory, practical considerations such as a set syllabus, school policy and government regulations would make it difficult to implement. I’ve never really done a full-on ‘unplugged’ lesson with kids, however, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to give it a go. As schools were closed here in Turkey last week for a holiday, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to go into class with no definite plan beyond asking the students about their week off. And it just so happened that this week, Karenne posted Dogme Blog Challenge No. 8, a call to explode the myth that dogme wouldn’t work with certain classes, such as young learners…

I decided to try this out in my ‘split’ classes (where I take half of the class to another room for speaking/writing practice) meaning I actually did this ten times over! Obviously, I won’t describe every single lesson but I will reflect on a lesson when it went well and another when it went not so well…

When it went well…

With my first split class of the week on Monday, I started off by asking if they were happy to be back at school. The answer to this is invariably ‘yes!’ as the kids come from all over the city and usually don’t get to see their friends during holidays. I told them that while I was also happy to be back, part of me wished the holiday could have been a little bit longer (that seemed to surprise them but they appreciated my honesty and some of them then said the same!). I asked them about their holidays and, shock! horror!, they understood the question Did you go anywhere during the holiday? despite having never learned past simple! As they answered, I asked further questions about the places they had been to and prompted them with a few phrases like I went to…, I saw…., I visited…

The conversation then turned to families as everyone, whether they had been outside the city or not, had visited relatives and a few of the students started to tell me about things they had got up to with their brother and sisters. I helped them out with words to describe their siblings (older, younger, baby, twin, etc.), which in turn led to my first ever attempt at a language plant on the board:


I was then asked about my holiday, during which my dad had come over from the UK. They asked me about him and I told them he was retired but used to be a soldier. I then got them to tell me about their parents’ jobs, helping them out when they didn’t know the exact word in English. After a few minutes, we had built up quite an extensive list of work-related vocabulary as well as a few phrases like: (s)he works in a bank/for a large company, (s)he runs a hotel, (s)he has got a fashion shop (as this is a private college, most of them are from well-to-do families), all of which was relevant to them, much more so than the usual coursebook fare of postman, baker and greengrocer!

To utilise all the vocabulary that had emerged during the lesson, I asked them to write a paragraph about their own family. Unlike most of the other writing activities they do, there was no model to refer to, no prompts and no instructions. I just asked them to write about their brothers, sisters and parents. They came out with some really well-detailed pieces of writing, incorporating everything we had discussed. When they finished, I got them to swap notebooks and read each other’s work before finishing the lesson with a quick error correction session based on some common mistakes in their writing.

Naturally, each lesson was a little bit different. With another group, the conversation moved more towards grandparents as most of the kids had spent part of the holidays with granny and grandpa. In another class, lots of the kids had younger brothers or sisters and had a great time imitating their baby talk. In nearly every class, we had a good discussion and they had produced a piece of writing by the end by the end of it.

When it didn’t go so well…

Remember the class I mentioned in Outdone by the Pink Elephant? Well, they are an ill-disciplined bunch and it’s difficult to hold their attention for more than a few minutes at the best of times. They also seem to think that the split lessons, coupled with the fact that we go off to a different room, are a good excuse to play around (true for both split groups unfortunately). Unlike most of the other classes, they were just not interested in hearing about each other’s holidays or families that much. Whenever one kid was telling me something, others would start talking, knocking each other’s books on the floor, knocking each other on the floor… Without a specific task to do, they paid no attention to what was going on in the class (and this is true for pretty much all of my lessons with them, alas). I therefore had to move quickly onto a set writing task and go round giving individual help where needed. I did manage to have a couple of interesting one-to-one chats while they wrote but they class dynamic meant we couldn’t go with the flow, hear everybody’s voice or share thoughts as much as had happened in the other classes.

So, could dogme work with young learners?

Again, I come back to the same answer: yes and no. It worked really well with some classes and they definitely enjoyed the chance to talk more about themselves and learn to say the things they wanted to say. As for the difficult class, to be honest, I think they would be difficult whatever the lesson, whatever the approach!

One difficulty in my situation is that I only see each class for a few lessons a week, usually for one 40 minute period at a time. In a few classes, I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the conversation at the start of the lesson so there wasn’t time left to do the writing or give any feedback. They are also not used to doing things this way. A few students were hesitant to start writing without explicit instructions of what was expected and some were even disappointed because they had thought at the start of the lesson that they were finally going to learn past simple!

A telling sign of how the kids viewed the lesson came at the end of one class when I asked “what did you learn today?” A girl replied: “nothing, we just talked”! I guess it’s all a matter of giving them time to see that ‘just talking’ can actually be quite productive!


  1. I think you know what I'm going to say! Fantastic plant! I'd love to hear how it grew as part of your dogme lesson. The whole post is very informative and reflective, especially the part about the disruptive group and the final comment from the girl. How will you continue this conversation in future? It seems a real shame that she views talking as not learning, but I'd suggest it's probably not her fault. It's what she's come to expect from other classes. Anyway, for other readers, here are the ten combinations that the language plant contains:
    big brother
    older brother
    younger brother
    twin brother
    little brother
    big sister
    older sister
    younger sister
    twin sister
    little sister

    And look closely how Dave has shown how comparisons are made, by sharing the "er". Inspiring.

  2. I thought the plant would get your attention! I planted it on the board to consolidate after we had talked about siblings. I did something similar in some of the other classes and we had a couple of extra additions there like 'baby' and even 'annoying' in one class!

    I also had plants on the board in another class with different continuations of '(s)he works in...' as well as different kinds of engineer, but alas I didn't have my camera with me that day.

    As for the girl's comment, I guess it's a question of expectations. I pointed out that she had also written a very nice paragraph and used new vocabulary we had covered in the lesson. She wasn't complaining though - I think she enjoyed the 'lighter' approach as well as the personalised aspect.

  3. Thanks for the extra info about your gardening approach. Very interesting. More importantly, letting us know that the girl wasn't being critical of the lighter approach, but rather, it seems, surprised and pleased at what had happened. Great to hear.

  4. I'm back, finally! So sorry for taking so long - you write such excellent posts that I need to think about what I want to say!

    I found your plant really interesting and even though I've seen David's it never occured to me to make my own! I need to explore this further.

    One of my favourite sayings, I used to have this posted up on my website (which is currently down while I think about what to do with it) was:

    Give the students what they need, disguised as what they want!

    I also thought it was very telling that at such an early age your young student thought that talking wasn't learning! I suppose somewhere along the line, it became de riguer to associate "strife" with "work" -I'd have guessed this has a protestant cultural background so it was interesting that it is also deeply present in Turkey.

    I do have one question for you though, why did you split up your students into separate classroom groups? Was it because they were little or you wanted to focus in on them more individually?

    Just interested, no critic, will be back!


  5. Hi Karenne,

    Thanks for commenting - I appreciate it takes a while to keep track of the ball you set rolling! Thanks for the positive feedback too - always encouraging.

    The idea that talking/doing work/learning are different things comes from the way the majority of their lessons are set up - teacher-centred, lots of copying from the board, workbook exercises etc. It actually causes classroom mangement problems at times as kids go mental when their 'fun' English teacher comes in... but that's another story!

    The split classes are part of my programme. I share each class with another local (NNEST) English teacher (known as the 'grammar' teacher) and 2 hours a week, we each take half of the class at the same time. There is no designated book or any other materials for those two hours (for my half at least) so I get to do my own thing. When I take the full class, there's a jam-packed programme of exam prep and graded readers to cram in and so not much room for flexibility/effective learning*

    *delete as appropriate


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