Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Unplugged Teaching Practice: Formal Observations

Earlier this month, I was getting towards the end of my Teaching Practice (as part of my MA in ELT at the University of Sussex) and decided to experiment as part of my final lesson.  I decided very early on during my Advanced Practical Teaching course to attempt an unplugged lesson.  The Advanced Practical Teaching is regarded as a DELTA equivalent qualification and is recognised by the British Council.  I have to create a portfolio for my course and reflect back on teaching.  Nevertheless, I have never attempted a ‘Dogme’ style lesson per se and I thought it would be a good chance to get some feedback on an unplugged approach from my tutor.  Obviously, I consulted more on “Teaching Unplugged” by Meddings & Thornbury (2009) and read verious articles and blog posts on the Teaching English website.

Prior to the lesson plan, I sat down and watched Thornbury explain the pros and cons of an unplugged approach for formal observations or as part of in-house training.  This was invaluable prior to writing and assisted with concentrating more on the rationale when writing a formal lesson plan.  The video that I watched is illustrated below:

Should I do a “dogme” lesson as part of my DELTA course experimental practice?

I decided to attempt the “Space Travellers” lesson recipe which is suggested within the “Teaching Unplugged” textbook.  As I had used technology quite effectively in previous lessons, I decided to turn the projector and PC off and have a ‘materials light’ lesson.  My lesson plan is shared below (for those that are interested) and I would be keen to hear from other ELT professionals that have attempted a Dogme lesson.

Dogme Lesson Plan
Dogme Lesson – Sussex University(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

I found the experience of a formal observation with my Dogme lesson challenging but incredibly rewarding.  The feedback that I received from my tutor as well as the support from my colleague was satisfying and I was pleased that it was positively received by the students.  The students were a strong group of Upper Intermediate level, a range of nationalities and of all ages.  Within the lesson plan, I attempted to lay the foundation for the lesson and worked out (as best as possible) all potential scenarios.  As the lesson focused primarily for students suggesting and communicating their opinion, I tried to look at possible language for providing an opinion, disagreeing, etc.  I had to consult with other material and provided the possible target language.  Once I completed the teaching practice, I had to write a self-evaluation and reflect on the Dogme lesson.  Again, this was a great chance to reflect on what went well and what could be improved in the future.  My self-evaluation is available to view below.

Dogme Self-Evaluation & Reflection
Dogme Lesson Reflection – Sussex University(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

As with a Dogme related lesson, there are a number of possible scenarios that could form during the teaching practice but there was one ‘critical incident’ that I was not expecting.  A lower level student walked into class a little late and I found out early on that she was not in the correct class.  She attempted the lesson but she was incredibly shy and my colleague directed her to the correct classroom.

Nonetheless, would I recommend other trainee teachers, or those completing the DELTA or equivalent course, to attempt a Dogme lesson?  Naturally, I would say yes but I would warn that an unplugged lesson can either work incredibly well or it could fall apart but for those that are experienced, or have prepared well in advance, this would present itself as a positive challenge.  This type of lesson combined with a formal observation (as well as being filmed – which I was in this case) is incredibly nerve-wrecking but highly rewarding.  I do believe that Teacher Trainers regard and reward teachers that wish to experiment as part of CPD with a DELTA or a related course.  Have you done a Dogme lesson as part of your training?  What was your experience?  Would you recommend others to attempt an unplugged approach to teaching during a teaching practice course?

I have decided to focus on an unplugged approach to my classes with my local language school in Eastbourne.  Today, I worked on the similar lesson as part of my teaching practice with my teenagers and my Upper Intermediate students were incredibly receptive.  The language that emerged during the lesson was incredibly (‘lactose intolerant’, ‘GM crops’, etc).  I hope with future practice and development that I am able to incorporate and include more of a Dogme approach to my lessons.  As Meddings & Thornbury (2009) suggest, it is best to include a little of Dogme often until students become more receptive to this approach.

Finally, there is an organised TeachingEnglish Seminar for 5 April 2011 (that I hope to attend) which features Luke Meddings that is arranged in London soon.  More information is detailed below:

Luke Meddings – 5 April Seminar – Spring Gardens(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();


  1. Hi Martin,
    thank you for the post!
    will try to attempt Dogme when doing DELTA this summer:-)
    All the best,

  2. I'm interested to hear about the APT course, as I've been writing quite a lot about Dips and MAs but hadn't heard of this. Is it only available through Sussex University? Are there details of British Council recognition available online? How does it differ from just a practical component of other MAs? I wonder why they didn't just decide to have a combined DELTA/ MA

    Sorry for so many questions!

  3. Alex

    Thank you for your comment. The only information I have available from Sussex University's website includes the following (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/study/pg/2011/taught/1587/23649#tabs-2):

    Programme structure

    Autumn term: Language Description and Analysis ▪ Second Language Acquisition and Research.

    Spring term: Principles and Practice in English Language Teaching. You also choose from a number of options (subject to student demand), which may include Advanced Practical Teaching Methodology* ▪ Discourse and Communication Analysis ▪ ELT Management ▪ Practical Teaching Techniques and Observation ▪ Teaching Young Learners ▪ Using Technology in ELT ▪ World Englishes.

    *Students with appropriate previous teaching qualifications who successfully complete this course will be deemed TEFL-qualified at UK Diploma level, as defined by the British Council Accreditation Scheme.

    I am unsure if this is available from other UK Institutions but is partly the reason why I decided to undertake this course.

    The British Council Accreditation is available to view on their website (http://www.britishcouncil.org/accreditation-az-list.htm#U) and if you scroll down to “U”, you will notice the University of Sussex is listed.

    As the APT course is recognised by the British Council as a Diploma level qualification, I will receive an additional certificate detailing the course components and the marking for each Teaching Practice. Essentially, the course offers students the opportunity to undertake a Diploma related practical course to reaffirm study previously in the Autumn and Spring term. I found it incredibly motivating and invaluable to apply theoretical and academic knowledge in my teaching practice.

    I suppose it would be a good idea for the University to offer a combined DELTA/MA course. It would make sense for the University to offer a modular DELTA course with the MA. Nonetheless, I feel more confident with the teaching practice and class observations with the APT and feel that I don't really need to do the DELTA in the future as it is regarded a diploma level qualification.

  4. This is the 3rd time I'm back – Firefox crashed on me last night!

    Exhausting but really pleased to come back. I enjoyed your post very much – partly because it's really interesting to find out how “not natural” dogme can be.

    I was (financially) forced into teaching TEFL about 16 years ago but in HK and had no materials so started off that way…it is kind of interesting how we become ourselves, as teachers, made up of the products of our experience, if that makes even the slightest bit of sense.

    I'm not sure what sort of feedback you got already for your lesson but if you don't mind me adding to it – “let go” – now I know that's going to make me sound like Diarmuid – but there's a method in this madness.

    I know the material you've supplied above was a requirement for your course (it's very good reading by the way) but too much for practical-dogme.

    I have an analogy for you…

    Teaching is like cooking.

    There are cooks who need to use a cookbook to make a delicious meal. They follow the ingredients to the letter, they add each spoonful as described and stray not. And in the end, the cake they baked, is dark, moist and yet airy, chocolately. In short, deliciously perfect.

    There are cooks who need to use a cookbook but what comes out of the oven is a disaster. The cake has sunk in the middle and is crusty on the edges.

    There are cooks who never use a cookbook and thus, as can be expected, what comes out of the oven is a disaster. The cake has sunk in the middle, crusty, bitter and well, yuk.

    There are cooks who never use a cookbook. They go into the kitchen to make a chocolate cake like their peers but sniff the air.

    They feel the sun's rays and realize that with Spring coming, chocolate might not be the flavour for today.

    They open the cupboard shelves and spy vanilla.

    They look into the fridge and see cottage cheese, eggs, milk. A bowl is placed on the table but what will go in, is not yet clear.

    Then out of nowhere, a man walks in with strawberries.

    A hand is placed on a wooden spoon.

    And then, withough expecting it, the eggs are beaten, the sugar stirred and finally… the lightest, creamiest, incandescently and most delicately touched by mexican magical orchids – a strawberry cheesecake is born.


  5. Hi Martin,

    As you know, Scott Thornbury very kindly created this video in response to one my DELTA candidates' question – more specifically, should there be a lesson plan for a DOGME lesson.

    Jonathan listened to Scott's comment and we discussed his options about possible paths – in the end, he created an absolutely marvelous diagram which I am going to put up on my blog soon, with Jonathan's permission of course. He himself, did not feel that his lesson was a successful one, but that is a valuable lesson anyway, whether it works or not.

    I hope you don't mind if I share this with my trainees – I think it's great to see different types of plans and experiences.


  6. Marisa

    You are welcome to share my blog among your trainees.

    It would be nice to read about Jonathan's lesson and experiences.


  7. Dear Martin

    Great lesson…We party apply Dogme style at our school, too.

    Thank you for sharing this useful material:)


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