Dogme in TEFL

Dogme language teaching is a methodology (and also sometimes thought of as a movement) for teaching English which encourages teaching through conversation and without textbooks in a naturalistic fashion.

It aims to take language teaching back to its roots and was initiated by Scott G. Thornbury‏‎ in an article for IATEFL some 10 years ago (see here). The idea was that teaching had become too reliant on textbooks and props and needed to be taken back to basics.

Dogme is derived from the communicative approach‎ to language learning; it also relies strongly on student centered learning.


  • Dogme is essentially “materials light” in that in its purest form there are no materials as such: no course books‏‎, reference materials and so on. However, some strands of dogme do use texts and course books to a greater or lesser extent. Some proponents of dogme refuse to use any form of text material taking a “vow of chastity”, however others are less strict. The main issue with textbooks is a belief in dogme that they are too concerned with teaching grammar and form rather than conversation and communication.
  • Dogme tries to utilize the students’ inbuilt language learning mechanisms. It doesn’t impose language from the outside but nurtures the students’ needs to use language. In this way it is very student-focused.
  • Conversation is key. This means dogme promotes interaction through conversation and communication of ideas. The interaction between students is a key (almost overriding) element of every dogme classroom.


Dogme has come under attack for being too anti-materials and also its anti-technology approach. There is also criticism in using the dogme approach where students do require specific, grammatical knowledge such as when they are preparing for exams and will need to know certain grammatical forms and approaches.

Dogme is also criticized for being too reliant on a Western approach to language learning (i.e. one which is freer and less structured). In some countries students are familiar with a more structured approach to learning and prefer to see this than a more open approach. Some students want tables and rules to help them learn the language.


The name “Dogme” is derived from the film movement, Dogme 95, initiated by Danish film directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. It was a very back to basics approach to film making which concentrated on the storyline and the acting and eschewed special effects, exotic lighting, props and superfluous action. In other words, Dogme 95 brought filmmaking back to basics as Dogme ELT brings teaching back to basics.

Dogme is Danish for dogma.

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Posted in How To Teach English.

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