The Five Stages of Dogme

Having been an active tweeter and blogger for a round a year now, I’ve noticed that discussions around the phenomenon that is Dogme ELT (also known as Teaching Unplugged) seem to come round in frequent cycles. The pattern is the same: some event such as a conference or a particularly fiery blog post comes around and the whole ‘what is dogme?’ debate kicks off, usually including several more blog posts, an ELTchat session, a PLN challenge and finally a video by Scott Thornbury to sort all the mess out.

With each cycle, people new to the concept of dogme get caught in the debate and try to add their own personal perspective, consider how it might apply to their own context or just try to figure out what on earth everyone is getting so hot and bothered about. I have noticed similar patterns that seem to emerge and stages that each newbie to the teaching unplugged concept seems to go through and that prompted me to do some research and develop ‘The Five Stages of Dogme’ framework.

Please note that this research is entirely based on casual observation, hearsay and general assumption. Furthermore, the findings are reported in a tongue-in-cheek manner and bear no consequence or relevance to the real world of ELT or dogme itself. To avoid confusion, I would like to state that ‘The Five Stages of Dogme’ (also known as the Dodgson-Dross Model) are completely distinct from and in no way influenced by ‘The Five Stages of Grief’ (or Kübler-Ross Model), which is a completely different made-up framework of no particular use.

It’s unplugged - but doesn’t that mean it’s all going down the drain?
Image by tonyhall

1. Denial
This is the first stage encountered by the teacher who is hearing about dogme for the first time. The most sceptical of all will dismiss the idea of a conversation driven, materials light mode of teaching focused on emergent language as ludicrous, comfortable as they are in their carefully constructed fool-proof grammar-based syllabus world. The more open minded may experience some shock at this point having never before considered the possibility of moving away from the coursebook and their denial may be expressed in the form of “but it’s just not possible” or “aren’t we supposed to work with the coursebook?”

For teachers at this stage, careful guidance is required to ensure that they become open to the idea and don’t just dismiss it out of hand. Even then, most teachers will need some time to figure out exactly what dogme is and it is those stages we will look at next.

2. Anger/Confusion
Once they have gotten over the initial shock of discovering the concept of dogme, our newbie teachers follow one of two paths. The sceptics will exhort anti-dogme rhetoric in quite harsh terms labelling it as ‘irresponsible’, ‘cruel’ or ‘evil’ especially for new teachers who are yet to brainwashed in the coursebook ways and dismissing the unplugged practitioners themselves as charlatans who are merely ‘winging it’ and going into class unprepared and unplanned. They also label the dogmeists as ‘anti-coursebook’, ‘anti-technology’ (even if the sceptics are anti-technology themselves) and so on.

But not everyone is so sceptical. Once realising that maybe there is something to be said for this dogme stuff after all, rather than anger they experience some confusion and may be heard to say things like “so, dogme is just teaching without a coursebook”, “it’s just a conversation class then” or that’s what I’ve been doing all along!” even when they clearly haven’t. These teachers need some time to explore the idea and dig beyond the surface.

3. Negotiating/Questioning
There then follows a period of ‘negotiation’ in which the teacher venturing into the unplugged world starts to ask questions about dogme in different contexts. “Could it work with beginners/young learners?” is usually a pretty common place to start often followed by “How could it work with exam classes?” or “What about business English?”

The sceptic, however, will not ask these questions with any desire to find the answers but more in the manner of “hah! Gotcha now - didn’t think of that one, did you?” When confronted by the eager answers of the dogmeists showing how teaching unplugged can meet a wide range of needs, they may revert to Stage 1 or Stage 2 in an attempt to regroup and think of some more specific or unique circumstances in which dogme is sure to not work. Once they have thought of asking whether or not dogme could possibly work with groups of 60+ kindergarten students forced to study for the TOEFL Junior exam (what would work in that situation?), they will come back.

The genuinely open-minded, on the other hand, will not just ask the question but seek the answers as well. They will analyse their context and look for ways an unplugged approach could work and whether or not it would improve the learning opportunities of their students. This makes them ready to move onto the next stage.

4. Depression/Experimentation
By this point, our sceptic may be thoroughly depressed as they realise those darned dogme doers just have an answer for everything. A period of self-doubt may follow in which they truly question the validity of the grammar-syllabus, the exam-based system and using celebrities to make texts more ‘fun’.

Our ever eager open-minded teacher is more likely to start dabbling with some actual dogme practice at this point, though it may take some time before they fully pull the plug. They may announce something along the lines of “I’m going to do a dogme lesson today!” as if declaring it aloud makes it so (in truth, they are most likely still doing a pre-prepared task and topic, just without the coursebook or hand-outs). There is the danger here that a muted response from their class may lead to some feelings of depression before the teacher bounces back for another attempt. Good feedback though leads to further experimentation and blogosphere discussion, which finally brings us to Stage 5….

5. Acceptance
After much soul searching, our sceptic may finally accept the inevitable and allow him/herself to be baptised in the waters of dogme with little resistance. There is always the possibility, of course, that the sceptic never reaches this stage and instead reverts to denial that such a thing could ever work. Our open-minded teacher will hopefully have indulged him/herself fully by this point and be ready to march on (with no excessive baggage weighing him/her down) and never look back!

It should be emphasised here that these 5 stages are very much rigid and will be passed through in this manner and order with no exceptions (except for those already noted). So, are you a dogme sceptic or ready to pull the plug on your coursebook dominated days? What stage of the model are you at? Please share your  thoughts and comments below…

Please refer to this study as: Dodgson, D (2011). The Five Stages of Dogme: Findings from a pointless study'. ROFL Journal


  1. 6. Return to the coursebook

    You realize that you didn't really know enough about the emergent language from the lesson with those particle physics students who wanted you to explain how to discuss quantum mechanics theory in English. How were you supposed to know that that's what they'd want to talk about? Still, I don't think they realized you were winging it and you've got a while to go and read up from that ESP coursebook before they come back for the next class.

    Insert winking smiley face here.

  2. Yes, I'm definitely at your 2nd stage - "but that's what I've been doing all along" and I think it's silly to invent names (dogme/unplugged) for this practice. Talk about reinventing the wheel! As teachers in schools that have a curriulum they are required to follow and standardised test(s) they have to prepare the students for - isn't looking at the objectives/units in a coursebook/"can do" statements in the curriculum (take your pick) and then devising a method/plan for getting the students involved and active in learning it what we ALL do? If we think parts of the book/chapter or whatever is going to be useful and engaging then we use it. If we don't we think of some other way. Sometimes that other way happens by accident. Sometimes we (or the kids themselves) just get a brilliant idea - and we run with it. Why call this "dogme" or "unplugged"? Why not just call it teaching?
    :-) Karin

  3. Hi Adam,

    I refer you back to the last paragraph:

    "It should be emphasised here that these 5 stages are very much rigid and will be passed through in this manner and order with no exceptions (except for those already noted)."

    As they say in The Matrix 'There is no Stage 6'. I think your comment clearly defines you as someone at Stage 3. ;)

  4. Very entertaining reading! :) I think I'm around stage 4.

    But another trend I've noticed while watching the peaks and troughs of the Dogme wave from afar (ish) is the neverending diatribe of Dogme-doers against all other teachers, mainly (and often a bit smugly) in the form of a passive aggressive rant against using a 'grammar-based syllabus', like this is the only possible alternative to Dogme. Why is this binary argument always bandied around? Why the assumption that anyone who's not 'doing Dogme' is necessarily force-feeding students dull grammar and nothing but? And why is studying grammar always assumed to be dull? Isn't it conceivable that some people like this? (And those people needn't be labelled as anoraks or luddites if they do?) The Dogme argument sometimes seems to be getting a bit cliquey, as though anyone who isn't labelling themselves a Dogme teacher is missing a trick or somehow a bit backwards.

    Hang on, I think I've gone back a stage or two... :P

  5. Hi Karin,

    Thanks for accurately applying this model to yourself. ;)

    But is what you describe actually dogme? Wouldn't dogme follow a fluid emergent plan rather than devise a set one? We all have our curriculae to follow and exams to prep for but there always a way to subvert the system. :)

  6. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for your comment and for reminding me of a point I omitted - the idea that dogme is 'anti-grammar'. If you look at some of the activities suggested in Teaching Unplugged or some of the other publicaitons written by Mr. Thornbury, you'll see dogme is anything but anti-grammar. Rather, the view is taken that the grammar is covered after the language has emerged naturally in class instead of some distant coursebook author or head of department setting the syallabus making that decisions pre-emptively. ;)

  7. Point taken, and it makes sense. I think I just get riled when the negative connotations of the word "mcnugget" get transferred to the new context of grammar - much as the negative connotations of the phrase "winging it" have been transferred to the 'emergent' nature of Dogme!

  8. Nice one Dave very amusing! I've passed all stages and am starting back at the beginning again.

  9. I'm posting this on behalf of Kirsten Hawkins, @linglizya
    on Twitter, who is still having issues with commenting on blogspot from her browser.

    What's the stage called where you think it sounds alright, and I'm teetering and kind of thinking some coursebook and some conversation-y unplugged stuff is good, but I just think Dogme is a stupid word and I'd rather call it something else? Like teaching unplugged as some other blogger suggested we ought to call it. And I question it in terms of exams, kids, etc, but think it might be cool if we didn't have to stress out at the photocopier as a way to fool colleagues into thinking we do some work.

  10. David is right, of course. Dogme isn't anti-grammar. In fact, in my opinion, the hardest thing about teaching unplugged is to capture emergent language, and be able to analyse it, present and explain it, give examples & practise it, all on the fly, so to speak.
    So, rather than dogmetists being anti-grammar, they have to be so damn good at it to be able to pull a dogme lesson off.

  11. Hi Dave, I liked this post a lot. It articulates the feelings surrounding Dogme very well. Can I quote this at people?

    "look, I understand why you think that way, it's normal that you should, you're in stage 2"

    Come to think of it, that might be a bit patronising, mightn't it?


  12. I prefer to deal with the stages of Dogme as they emerge, rather than prescribe myself to being in one or the other. =)

  13. How very unplugged of Tyson! ;-) LOL... What a fantastic post Dave! Despite the humourous under(?!?!)tone, it rings very true to what happens.

    Still not sure at which stage I am...

  14. Honestly, if questioning ends and acceptance then follows, I'm not sure I want to be a part of this experiment. Now, what was the first P of P-P-P?

  15. Leahn - but if you acknowledge you are at Stage 1, the you are no longer in denial. Move onto Stage 2 once again please. ;)

    Kirsten - I suppose you are around Stage 3, still searching for possibilities and adapting it to your context. And what's in a name? We rarely get to choose the names we are given. ;)

    Dale - Patronising? It's merely a scientific application of an ad-hoc piece of research cobbled together in a free period on a sunny afternoon. We are what we are. ;)

    Tyson - You Stage 1 cynic!

    Cecilia - As above. :p

    Adam - We are all a part of the experiment, like it or not. And that first P of P-P-P? I think it stands for 'Prattle', doesn't it? ;)

  16. Thanks for the comment Chiew and for adding a serious explanation to all this foolery.

    I guess that puts you at Stage 5 ;)

  17. Brilliant post Dave, and I've really enjoyed the comments too!
    I think I'm at different stages depending on the day of the week! I've always found the idea interesting but never manage to find the energy to really go for dogme... it just seems to make my job harder! (stepping out of my comfort zone)I'm probably just old-fashioned :P Not sure I've ever got to stage five or ever will!

  18. Stage 5, eh, Dave? Don't think my command of grammar is good enough to ever get me to this stage ;-)

  19. Such a clever way to present the issue!

    I guess the fact that I was 'slow" in reading your post (even though it was waiting in my inbox!)because I was working on my own "dogme & I" post proves that I'm clearly in stage 4. I need to analyze, write (blog!), explore & experiment with many aspects in order to feel confident.
    Not the least bit depressed though!

  20. My name is Adam and I practice dogme. Am I now in the first stage of recovery?

  21. Stage 1?????? Cynic?!?!?! I resent that Dave :-P

  22. Michelle & Chiew - you two are more appropriately placed on 'The 5 Stages of CLIL' but that's another post for another time. ;)

    Naomi - thanks for the comments. I looking forward to your 'Stage 4' blog post. ;)

    Adam - You need 'Dogmeholics Anonymous' just down tha hall. ;)

    Ceci - Thanks for proving me right with your classic display of denial. :p

  23. First there were ten vows, then ten key principles, then three precepts, and now five stages.

    More importantly perhaps, there have been ten years. At the risk of sounding a bit Stage 2, I’m tempted to ask: What will dogme be like in another ten years?

  24. Exactly 4.5, if I may be bold enough to assume half points on your 5 stage study.

  25. If this was the post that you were hesitating on posting... i can't figure out why.


    ... which comes from french, "briller", to shine. Your post shines, dude.

    I like the comments that have arisen as well. NICE !!!

  26. Stage 4. Teetering on the brink of a trimester long experiment.
    Great blog.

  27. I am definitely both a skeptic and dogme enthusiast. Skepticism being the most important ingredient. I think it is the true skeptic that moves towards dogme or towards any "truth." Even when one embraces dogme, they should still be at the nirvana of being a skeptic. There isn't an inverse relationship. A proud skeptic!

  28. Another comment from Kirsten Hawkins, aka @linglizya:

    I thought I ought to add that I love grammar as a learner and hate it as a teacher. I like the idea of giving the grammar rules when learners ask for them. This is when they are most receptive.

    I have to teach to a coursebook and set exams on the grammar and language points covered. This means that leaving too much coursebook content is problematic come exam time. Last week a new student came into my class and we were covering 2nd conditional. the poor guy really wasn't ready for it, and still needed some help with the more basic verbs. Come to think of it, the whole class would really benefit from more basic grammar points than 2nd conditional. They are not at the stage where expressing whimsical thoughts is what they are after. They would prefer to talk about their real life, or ask for directions or something. But I have to teach the grammar in the coursebook. I am not against grammar, but giving the students the grammar they want is surely far more engaging and practical than teaching the grammar in the book? They will ask me about things they want to know about, but teaching the book is confusing them. This is where an unplugged approach is far more learner-centred. Also, I'm still not a brilliant teacher at clarifying meaning, so I teach them the 2nd conditional, ask them CCQs, confuse them, give them an exercise and they still don't know "if" means... Wouldn't it be great if they already knew the concept they wanted to express, and I just gave them the form they needed?

    However, I'm still learning grammar from the coursebooks, so I'm a slave to it. Like Adam said, I simply don't know enough not to use the book.


  29. Matt - who knows? Hopefully, at least some of the basic principles behind it will have become established in mainstream classroom education by then.

    Mike - nearly there! Keep it up :)

    Brad - not so much hesitating, just waiting for the right moment (thought it best to leave a gap between this and the more 'serious' posts ;)).

    bealer81 - thanks for the comments. You'll get there soon enough ;)

    Frank - 'a proud skeptic' is always better than a loud one :p

    Kirsten - that's th whole problem with a syllabus built around the coursebook: students often aren't 'ready' to learn something, often because they don't need it at that point. Alas, as you say, addressing what they actually need and what the exam demands of them is difficult.


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