Dogme revisited

This morning, sat down and had some “my time”.  Went through a number of my hundreds of notebooks full of philosophy, essays, poems that I’ve been collecting over 4 decades.  A lot of stuff buried in these books but was surprised to pull open about 50 pages on film. Don’t even remember writing this but it was fascinating. One part was on Dogme, when it was a new approach to film making in the 90s.

It got me thinking about Dogme ELT something I think is often misinterpreted by many teachers. It also is sort of misnamed – if Dogme ELT were to follow the original Dogme manifesto, it wouldn’t ever take place in a class but only use original settings for practicing language. For example, if you were learning about ordering food, you’d do so in a restaurant. The classroom would be anthema for anything but learning metalanguage (language we use to talk about language).

To me, Dogme ELT is about two crucial things:  

1.  focusing class activities around the language of the learner and the resulting emergent language (it is highly personal)

2. little or no use of materials (textbooks, worksheets, cards, tapes, computers etc…)

Too often I hear teachers talk about Dogme ELT like it is just going into a classroom and chatting up, running with  anything that happens. I don’t think this is what it is about and that approach would be Hangout ELT.   In Dogme, the teacher needs to be very experienced in language teaching and interpreting the language of the learners – so they may guide them towards better use and form of that language .

So find below two things.

1.  My rewrite of Dogme ELT imagining if it followed the original Dogme 95 manifesto

2. My notebook entry from the 90s about Dogme, rewritten to apply to Dogme teaching.

Might spark some thought about new possibilities with our lessons and in our classrooms.

Dogme ELT Manifesto: (see original HERE)

  1. All teaching and practice of language must be done “in situ”, in the real location. No fake props or sets but only using real language in a real location.
  2. Teaching is holistic.  There must be no separation of function and form and language is treated not in discrete parts, nor dissected but rather as it is used.
  3. Technology must be simple and hand driven. Chalk, pencils, pens etc…. No use of electronic devices; computers, screens, CD players and so on. The speaker, the human being, is the focus.
  4. Teaching must be real. It can’t be a play, a scripted event. The plan is that there is no plan other than the main objective to start things off.  No fakery, no lying on the part of the teacher.
  5. Extrinsic motivators are forbidden.  The class must not be tainted by point systems, rewards and competition.
  6. There should not be any role playing in the classroom (this is artificial). All language takes place and arises from a real need and impulse.
  7. No use of video to show learners language used in a different time and place. It all happens in the here and now.
  8. The teacher can’t be an actor or use different teaching styles. Nor are there any different types of English to be taught (business, global studies, finance, hospitality and tourism etc…). The only English used is that of necessity that comes from the learner, there is no imposed structure given from the instructor.
  9. The class must be 10 or less students to facilitate real use of the language and proper instructor intervention.
  10. The teacher is part of the class and a learner.  Credit goes to the whole class for any success, not just the teacher.
Dogme Teaching – A revisiting (rewriting for education/teaching of what I originally wrote about Dogme film, substituting “teaching” for references about cinema)

Dogme?!  Everyone is talking about this manifesto, a new and amazing approach to teaching. What a crock!  There is nothing new there, it is all fluff and puff. It is only “style”, how a woman might choose a scarf for her walk. Dressing up. The form of teaching shouldn’t be an absolute, a funnel but open and expansive, a way to more things. Dogme teaching is a way for some but we shouldn’t think that anything about teaching language is a MUST. Nothing is sacred and there are many ways to touch that special place where learning happens.

But even if we accept this new form, this new approach as being new, it certainly isn’t revolutionary or transformative. It hasn’t any developmental gravity, it takes teaching nowhere. It only leaves so much on the cutting floor. It simplifies but at a cost.  We don’t realize it but we all bring so much cultural baggage into the classroom – there must be desks, a chalkboard, students as an audience, 40 minutes …….  Dogme teaching is just another system and jailing – as all ideological, school and teacher led learning must be.


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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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2 Responses

  1. Barbi Bujtas says:

    Hi David, 
    Funny, I’ve just been been back from a Dogme course :D:D
    I kind of feel obliged to defend Dogme (or “unplugged” as the new branding goes, as you like it) but there is nothing to defend it from.
    I think this is just the basic, most natural of teaching a foreign language in a classroom. There is nothing new about it, just as there is nothing new about organic food. Once we ate only organic food as it grew out of  the unfertilized soil, then we went fast food, now it’s been revisited, organic again. Or storytelling: once we listened to each others’ stories and shared our own stories, then TV took over, spoon-feeding us manipulative stories designed for the masses, now we have web 2.0 and social media, we can go back to small, we can enjoy real people’s real stories again.
    Probably the same has happened in EFL. We used to teach based on learners needs, we have been given more and more tools to do it and we realized that those tools are not sufficient any more, they have become a bit too uniform, the personal touch is lost. Maybe the story of Seamus MacSporran ( is not so exciting although a perfect serving of grammar McNuggets. I have learned looooaaaads from coursebooks during my career as an EFL teacher (R.I.P. John Soars) but too often I find that teachers overrate coursebooks and certain procedures over students’ needs.
    I wouldn’t think that Dogme is being celebrated so loud, neither do I have the impression that it is claimed to be a brand new approach. It just focuses on relevance. Sometimes a video from English Central is relevant (I have many examples :)), sometimes a the coffee grounds at the bottom of a coffee cup. 
    I wouldn’t say its compulsory or a ‘jail’ either, just an approach in the post-method times, it’s like little green shoots growing on the ruins of the industrial era. (oh… :))

  2. ddeubel says:


    Great comments and more informed than my own.

    Didn’t mean Dogme alone was a “jail” but rather that all teaching by necessity and Dogme no exception – is a grand inquisitor and has the learner turn over their independence and sovereignty.

    I fully understand your philosophy and approach and something that took me a long time to arrive at – Do What Works. There is no one silver bullet. When a younger teacher, I used to search for the magic wand, that method that would just crank out successful language learners. Found out, through a lot of crash and burn, it is best to respect the transactional, ever moving nature that is teaching and to do what you have to do to get the job done. That’s success. Dogme fits in there too, if it does the job. But let’s not hold it out as a magic bullet (and you do a bit don’t you? You paint it as a breath of fresh air so be careful, in many cases it might just fall on its face ….. and those shoots you see could very well appear as daggers to some students (I’m ever being the critic!)

    Thanks for chiming in.


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