The Dogme Approach to Language Teaching

Teaching unplugged (Dogme Approach to Language Teaching)

Dogme is a communicative approach to language teaching that was initiated by Scott Thornbury in his article, “A Dogma for EFL”. Dogme advocates a kind of teaching that doesn’t rely on published textbooks but relies on conversational communication that occurs in the classroom between teachers and students. The name of the approach comes from an analogy to the Danish Dogme 95 film movement which intended to “cleans cinema of an obsessive concern for technique and rehabilitate cinema which foregrounded the story and the inner life of characters.” According to Scott Thornbury,

teaching should be done using only the resources that the teachers and students bring to the classroom – i.e themselves and whatever happens to be in the classroom.

Key features of dogme

As an approach dogme has well grounded principles in language learning and learning theories as explained by Scott Thornbury in this post blog. He explains that dogme considers

  • learning as experiential and holistic,
  • and language learning as an emergent jointly-constructed and socially-constituted process motivated both by communal and communicative imperatives.

Key features of dogme include the following:

  • Dogme has its roots in communicative language teaching
  • Conversation is seen as central to language learning.
  • Dogme also places more emphasis on a discourse-level (rather than sentence-level) approach to language.
  • Dogme considers that the learning of a skill is co-constructed within the interaction between the learner and the teacher.
  • The Dogme approach considers that student-produced material is preferable to published materials and textbooks, to the extent of inviting teachers to take a ‘vow of chastity’ and not use textbooks
  • Like task-based approach, dogme considers language learning to be a process where language emerges rather than one where it is acquired.
  • Scaffolded learning where learning is assisted by the teacher through conversations makes it possible for effective learning to take place.
  • The teacher’s role is to optimize language learning affordances, the environment where learners can potentially learn and direct their attention to emergent language.
  • The learners voice, beliefs and knowledge are accepted.


  • Dogme can be a real challenge for teachers in low resource contexts
  • Many teachers question the appropriateness of dogme in situations where students are preparing for examinations that have specific syllabi.
  • Dogme creates problems for non-native and novice teachers who find in textbooks a safe guide.
  • The initial call for a “vow of chastity” not to use textbooks is seen as unnecessarily purist and hinders the adoption of a weaker version of dogme.


  • Dogme is compatible with reflective teaching.
  • More freedom for teachers and students to conceptualize and implement more appropriate material.
  • Students are most engaged by content they have created themselves
  • Dogme has the merit of creating a low-affective filter environment in the classroom.
  • learners follow their own pace of learning assisted by the teacher through scaffolding.
  • Learning is humanized through a radical pedagogy of dialogue.
  • Learners are freed from the ideological load inherent in  textbooks generally published in the west and commercialized all over the world.
  • Dogme recognizes the legitimacy of learners needs and expectations.
  • Dogme gives teachers and learners the possibility to free themselves from the models of teaching and learning imposed by textbook writers.
  • Conversations provide the opportunity for learners to analyze, internalize, and practice language.
  • Communication is central in the dogme approach.

References and links:

Meddings, Luke; Thornbury, Scott (2009). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Peaslake UK: Delta.

6 thoughts on “The Dogme Approach to Language Teaching”

  1. Interesting article. But I got the feeling that the teacher adopting this approach will have to have high creativity, much practical training and experience in teaching.

    Udin (Indonesia)

  2. I think this approach is very effective in enhancing the creativity of not only the students but of the teacher himself. This will also create a better communication between the participants. Great article!

  3. Hi,
    Thanks for your enormous effort. I am an English teacher and I want to ask a question: Does anyone have any idea about CELTA??
    Thanks another time,

  4. Pingback: DOGME Method – Practical, Straightforward ESL Teaching

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