Personalised Question Cards or Dogme for False Beginners Part Three

Progress is slow when it comes to my Dogme for False Beginners course. I was away in the UK for a week and Jane Doe has had the flu. This week I haven’t even heard from her, sometimes gets like that with 1to1 classes doesn’t it?

However, I neglected to write up a summary of my notes on our latest class (which was three weeks ago!)

I took along some pre-prepared question cards that I had put together using the notes from our previous lessons. I felt that Jane needed a session in which she could revisit, recycle and pull together all the vocabulary etc. that we had covered so far during our course.

This time the lesson was held in her home. As it was the first time I had visited her place, the lesson started with a conversation based on her artwork which adorned the living room walls. This was rather good for going over some of the language that emerged during our visit to the art gallery in central Hamburg.

We then moved on to playing with the cards. The game is simple*:

-Pick a card.

-Answer the question/do the task on the card.

-Get it right, keep the card.

-Get it wrong, put it on the bottom of the pile (and do it again later!).

Plus points:

  • Jane was very motivated to explain her environment to me. She was happy when she saw that I understood what she was trying to express. I had an opportunity to scaffold her language when she got stuck and to note some emerging language to work on later.
  • The concept of chunking in English came up on one of the cards, which asked for the missing preposition in this sentence: “To begin _______ Picasso studied the classical masters”. We spoke about how important it is to learn chunks like this in one go (as often they do not make a lot of sense when you try to break them down, why on earth do we use ‘with’ here?!) This was a great success and she used the phrase a couple of times during the remainder of the lesson.
  • Jane really appreciated the cards. She said they were a good idea. I think they are great as they exploit language that the learner has previously used. Personalisation is an excellent way to get learners to remember language points. As well as the repetition that the game employs. Repetition is the mother of retention, as they say!

Minus points:

  • I still feel that the lesson lacks something, maybe a more substantial language point needs to be in there somewhere. She was trying to use much/many at one point during the lesson, but making mistakes, perhaps these are pre-systemic errors (because she hasn’t learnt the system yet and needs to be filled in). Should I have launched into that immediately? I noted it for a future session.
  • Following on from the previous point, how does the dogme attitude work with deeper grammar points that the teacher might need some preparation time for?
  • The trouble with not having a fixed time and place for our lesson means that other things (life!) tends to get in the way and we do not have a very regular pace.

What’s next?

I am going to email Jane and ask her when we can meet next. I will try to arrange a few lessons in advance so we do not have big gaps in the course. I will do some reading and think about how to get some meatier language into a lesson, especially one of the language points that have come up recently in class.

*I must credit this game to Karen Greany, a teacher in Geneva, Switzerland. It was how she used to follow up on the ‘monitor sheet’ which was what she called the form she used to make notes during each lesson. At the end of the lesson the monitor sheet was copied and discussed with the class. Everyone took their copy home and every few weeks Karen would prepare the question cards to play with.

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Wandering free or Dogme for False Beginners Part Two.

Personalised question cards for language recycling

Personalised question cards for language recycling

Last time I blogged I mentioned a new student who knows exactly what she wants from her course. Full of ideas each week she makes a proposition and so far I’ve been happy to follow her lead. It’s been a bit of a dogme experiment for me, to see whether and how the dogme attitude fits with me and of course, more importantly, my learner.

So where has this taken us?

Lesson 2 – At a shopping centre.

We actually went to the shopping centre! In fact we met there (handy for covering and practising language for making arrangements). We met outside a clothes shop and there Jane Doe (name has obviously been changed, although I do have her permission to write about our course) said that she would like to spend half our lesson looking at things in shops and the other half trying to remember what we looked at and therefore reviewing the vocabulary. Good plan! So off we went.

Plus points:

  • Jane told me she is a visual learner. So learning vocab in an environment where she is surrounded with the actual items is great! It’s like reverse realia*, you take the learners to the things, not the things to the classroom.
  • Our talk is natural, we point things out, express what we think about the clothes and use adjectives to describe them. I like this a lot. It’s not like the constructed reality in the classroom where teachers tend to be the commanders and learners the foot soldiers who must carry out orders: ‘Now match the words to the pictures of clothes’ When would we ever say anything like that to anyone in real life?!

*I just made that up!

Minus points:

  • I think we spent a bit too long in the shops! Oh and I bought something (oh dear!).
  • A lot of talking and not much taking notes. I had a small notebook with me, but found it a challenge to write and walk and look at clothes and teach all at the same time! Gave up pretty quickly. Maybe I need a clipboard?
  • We sat on a bench and tried to do a round up, but many things that we had covered while walking about didn’t make it into Jane’s notebook.

Lesson 3 – At an art gallery.

At the end of the lesson 2, Jane explained that there was an exhibition that she would like to see. Art is one of her passions and she said that she would like to be able to talk about it in English. So, we made arrangements to meet at the gallery in the centre of Hamburg for our next lesson.

When there, she took the opportunity to buy her ticket in English (I suggested she try knowing from experience that the cashier was bilingual). This time, I was much more diligent about making notes as we walked around and conversed. Lots of scaffolding was required, as was providing and noting emerging language. It was a real pleasure though as the exhibition was clearly something Jane cared about and she was very motivated to express her thoughts. I sincerely enjoyed myself and believe she did too.

We spent about an hour in the exhibition and then went off for tea and cake. I’m not sure if I’d count that bit as part of the ‘lesson’ but we did continue to use English and made small talk.

Plus points:

  • Similar to last week in that we had a environment which gradually teased out language in a natural way. Lovely example of intrinsic motivation, the pleasure of doing a task for its own sake (Thornbury 2006:137).
  • I took a lot of notes this time (didn’t get a clip board yet…still not sure about that!). In a gallery you tend to stand in one place for a while so I found it easier to write.

Minus points:

  • No real opportunity to recycle language from last week in the shopping centre.
  • Could do with working on some structures like comparatives and superlatives, not really possible in this set up.

What’s next?

We are going to meet for a more ‘desk bound’ lesson next time, my suggestion. I feel that there is some consolidation to be done. We have covered a lot on our wanderings and there are things that definitely need revisiting.

What’s the plan? I have made up some personalized question cards, based on my notes from the last 2 lessons (you can see them in the picture above!). I hope that she will find it fun going through the cards… Then for the rest of the lesson I believe I will continue as I have started: I will follow Jane’s lead.

Have you ever had lessons like these? Do you have any tips or suggestions?


Thornbury, S. An A-Z of ELT 2006 Macmillan

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Dogme for False Beginners.

Maybe I should have put a question mark at the end of this post’s title. Does Dogme work at low levels?

I only heard about Dogme for the first time last summer during my Delta course. Since then I have noticed it everywhere in the teaching world. During the Delta I focused on The Silent Way for my Experimental Practice Assignment, but of course I got the basics of the Dogme Method (Attitude). Since then I have gleaned a bit more through speaking to colleagues and through the great ELT blogs I have discovered in the last months.

Still I feel I need to know more. Currently I tend to utilise an eclectic mix of methods. Although I have always felt free to mix it up with coursebooks (adapt/skip/jump around) I admit that I find them a comforting crutch to lean on.

So I want to do the Dogme thing. But enough about me, what about the learner?

I started a new 1.2.1 class this week with a Russian woman, she is older than me, with grown up children in their early 20’s. I understood that she was a beginner and so in the Dogme spirit I tried to anticipate what could come up in lesson 1:


-verb: to be

-contents of our handbags/the office where we met

When I met her I soon found that she is a false beginner. In fact, she is definitely a comfortable A1 and should be working on A2 stuff. I think it’s fair to say it’s a matter of confidence.

I mentioned her age because perhaps that is why she so easily took the lead from the beginning of the lesson. She knew what she wanted to talk about: who we were. Also she had a proposition for our course. She asked if we could go out and about and use the time to speak in English, learning vocabulary related to the environment around us as we go. She is a visual learner and appreciates the memory association the happens when you learn a word while standing in front of the actual item.

I was happy to follow her through the hour we had together, noting emerging language and working on it with her on a piece of A4 paper.

Now I look back and wonder if my Dogme prayer has been answered. What is more Dogme than leaving the clinical and unnatural classroom and learning naturally while roaming free?

But then the more sensible part of me asks the following questions:

-Won’t it just become several chatting sessions with a friend? Is it really still teaching and learning?

-What can I do to avoid that scenario? Walk around with a clip board and scribble stuff to work on in a 10 minute end of ‘lesson’ recap? Or what?

Also I need to do some Dogme reading.

-Unplugged by Thornbury comes to mind. Can you recommend anything?

Next week I’m meeting my new student in the local shopping centre… What fun!

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Inspiration and the Issue of RP.

Welcome to my new blog. I’ve been thinking about starting an ELT blog for some months now. Last year I fell into blogworld while indulging my love of craft. I discovered you can learn so much and be so inspired by seeing what other people are creating.

It was a brief conversation with Jemma of Unplugged Reflections in November that opened my eyes to so many fellow teachers who are blogging, tweeting, sharing and making sense of their everyday teaching.

As I have recently finished the Delta my mind is full of teacher journals, peer observations, reflective teaching and general ongoing personal development plans. How did I miss the rich resource that you ELT bloggers are creating? Inspiration indeed.

But where to start?

So far I’ve been lurking passively, adding a comment here or there, building up to the day when I would be ready to sit down and start participating, contributing and perhaps, giving something back.

So here we are in a big virtual staffroom. Please bear with me while I find my voice.

Can I contribute anything today?

Well maybe I will start small and just send you over to a very nice post on a craft blog that I read this morning. Huh? Just go and see, sometimes inspiration for teaching hits you in very unexpected places.

Let me know what you think about the video you find there.

Is that a sample of the seemingly elusive RP, also known as Queen’s English or BBC English? (See Thornbury 2006:192).

Growing up in West London I believed that I spoke with RP, but was told otherwise by my tutor during Delta Mod 2!

So I wonder:

  • Does RP exist anymore (and does it even matter)?
  • Is it something elitist that belongs firmly in the past?
  •  Or is it still a useful standard in teaching, material design etc?

I’m going to have a little think about it, maybe you would like to join me? I would love to see your comments on the matter!

Oh, and one more thing, where do you go to get inspired?

Ref: Thornbury, S. 2006. An A-Z of ELT, Macmillan.

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