Delta Publishing Catalogue

Teaching Unplugged

Dogme in English Language Teaching

British Council 2010 ELTons Award for Innovation

Authors: Scott Thornbury, Luke Meddings

ISBN: 9783125013568

Series:Delta Teacher Development Series

Teaching Unplugged is the first book to deal comprehensively with the approach in English Language Teaching known as Dogme ELT. It challenges not only the way we view teaching, but also the way we view being a teacher.

Dogme ELT advocates teaching ‘unplugged’: a materials-light, conversation-driven philosophy of teaching that, above all, focuses on the learner and on emergent language.

Teaching Unplugged contains three distinctive parts A, B and C which focus in turn on theory, practice and development:


  • A background to the ideas behind teaching unplugged.
  • A detailed explanation of the core principles behind Dogme ELT.
  • An invitation to reflect on the best way to learn a language and, consequently, to teach it.


  • A bank of activities that teachers can use right away and which help them ‘unplug their teaching’ from the start.
  • Activities that involve little or no preparation, often requiring no more than pen, paper and the people in the room.
  • Tips, techniques and key terms to facilitate a new approach to teaching.


  • A reflection on questions relating to how Dogme ELT can be applied in different teaching contexts.
  • An in-depth examination of the issues and implications of adopting this new style of teaching.

Teaching Unplugged is available as both paperback and Kindle e-book.

# Name Type Size
# Name ISBN
# Name Type Size
2Introduction B.pdf149.39
3Introduction C.pdf77.17

Scott Thornbury

When I was 20 I joined my family in Australia, who had moved there three years earlier.

I studied arts (English and Drama) at Flinders University, South Australia; in 1991 I completed an MA in TEFL at the University of Reading in the UK. 

I was always interested in an alternative, more humanistic education, especially since reading Earl Stevick’s A Way and Ways in around 1980. I was also influenced by reading Teacher, by the visionary New Zealand educator, Sylvia Ashton-Warner. A political dimension was added by reading Paulo Freire, critical theorists such as Girault, and “subversives” such as the late Neil Postman (his book, with Charles Weingartner, called Teaching as a Subversive Activity, I read around 1986 and it was very influential).

This grew out of a frustration with the way the so-called communicative approach seemed to have been betrayed and hi-jacked by globalised ELT publishing initiatives, such as the extraordinarily successful Headway series (1986). I had “grown up” as a language teacher in the mid to late seventies and experienced the transition from a very form-focused, regimented kind of teaching (the tail end of the audiolingual method) to the (at the time) totally liberating communicative revolution, with its emphasis on authenticity, meaning, interaction, and so on. As the director of studies in a large school in Cairo, in the late 1970s, I tried to implement these principles. This, combined with my reading of Stevick, and the influence of Krashen (particularly the notion of “comprehensible input”) impelled me in the direction of a view of teaching that sought to provide optimal conditions for “acquisition”, that is a language-rich, meaning-driven, learning environment – not one driven purely by a grammar syllabus and a “focus on forms”. So when, as a teacher trainer on the Diploma programme that I helped set up at International House, Barcelona, in 1986, I saw how NON-communicative the “Headway classroom” had become, I – and my colleague Neil Forrest – set about trying to “de-toxify” language teaching, and to restore the “big C” communicative approach. One of the blocks to effective communicative teaching seemed to be an over-dependence on materials and aids, and so we tried to encourage our trainees to “make more out of less” and to cultivate a learning context that foregrounded what the learners bring to the classroom. (This also reflected my own experience teaching in Egypt, where materials were extremely limited, at least initially, and where I learned to be very resourceful). The analogy I drew between the “Dogme 1995” film collective, and our own teaching training agenda, was accidental, but somehow it captured a feeling that was simmering at the time.

I had read an article by Adrian Underhill several years earlier, in which he talked about how liberating it was to abandon the coursebook – from time to time. (Curiously, Adrian has forgotten where this article first appeared). Postman and Weingartner (op cit) had also lashed out against text books. I had also written an article, the year before (also published in IATEFL Issues), about the way grammar equated with power in language teaching, and this paved the way for the Dogme article.

As I say, it was an idea whose time had come, it seemed. But if it hadn’t been for Luke Meddings (in the UK) and David French (in Poland) – both of whom got in touch with me almost immediately, nothing might have come of it – it was David’s idea to start the on-line discussion group, and it was Luke’s idea to host the first “dogme” workshop in his school in London. The rest, as they say, is history!

Luke Meddings

I studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University. But it wasn’t modern English Language – it was Anglo-Saxon. I didn’t learn about English grammar until I trained to be a teacher – I somehow missed the ‘grammar’ year at school. I did learn a little about how English has always been a rather untidy sort of language derived from both Germanic and Latin sources, which is why we usually have several different words for the same thing. Linguists have been trying to ‘tidy it up’ for centuries, without much success. After university I did a CELTA course at International House in London, and then I did a DELTA ten years later. Like lots of native speaker teachers, I learned my grammar in the classroom – as a teacher!

It was probably after seeing a talk by Jimmie Hill on the Lexical Approach in the early 90’s. I remember him saying, what learners want is words. Coursebooks were very grammar-heavy in those days – it was the high tide of Headway – but I had a feeling that this focus on rules wasn’t helping the learners. The Lexical Approach promised to explore the living language from a learner point of view. Like me, some colleagues were very excited, but some people thought it was a crazy idea – it was quite controversial. I found that the way to give learners more words was to talk with them, becoming an active participant in conversation about their lives, and then to record and analyse the language that arose from our conversation. That’s really the basis for dogme, though I didn’t know it at the time.

By reading Scott’s article in IATEFL Issues. Like lots of people, I’d been experimenting in the classroom but I wasn’t always able to explain clearly to other people – such as Directors of Studies – what I was doing. That’s why it was such a relief when Scott came up with this analogy for our classroom experiments. And a kind of ‘dogme vocabulary’ has developed from there, that’s one of the things that this book does – it gathers that vocabulary together and summarises the basics of a dogme approach: one that is conversation-rich, materials-light and focused on emergent language.

There’s nothing like being with a class that is fully engaged, with laughter and learning in equal part. But working on the EL Gazette gave me a kind of crash course in the development of modern ELT. I was able to meet and interview many of the seminal figures from the 60’s onwards – people like Louis Alexander, John Trim and Randolph Quirk – through to people like Jeremy Harmer and the Soars, whose books I had grown up with as a teacher. And I broadened my horizons by covering the work of authors like Stephen Pinker and especially David Graddol, whose books should be required reading for all English language teachers! Managing a school was a real challenge – I realized that the strengths you have as a teacher aren’t always helpful in management. But again, it gave me a different perspective.

As well as teaching and writing about ELT, I work in qualitative media research. The fields aren’t entirely dissimilar and I use lots of classroom techniques when I’m managing group discussions. But it has also given me plenty of new ideas, some of which I have fed back into Teaching Unplugged. I think it’s good to get experience of more than one field, especially when there are aspects that overlap. Apart from that, I write music. I don’t know what the overlap is there!