M is for Manifesto

25 06 2017

Blanchett as teacherIf you get a chance to see Julian Rosefeldt’s movie Manifesto, starring Cate Blanchett, do – if for no other reason than to see Blanchett at the top of her form, playing 13 different roles and as many accents, to often hilarious effect. (You can see the trailer here).

Originally conceived as an art gallery video installation, it has now been spliced together as an art-house movie. Each of its thirteen segments has Blanchett reciting and/or enacting a manifesto, or a cluster of related manifestos, that launched various 20th century art movements: Dadaism, Futurism, the Situationists, Surrealism, etc. The Pop Art manifesto, for example takes the form of Blanchett, with a broad Southern accent, saying grace in advance of a turkey dinner, while her long-suffering family roll their eyes at each successively outrageous pronouncement, taken verbatim from Claes Oldenberg’s 1961 text ‘I am for an art…’: “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum….I am for the art of punching and skinned knees and sat-on bananas. I am for the art of kids’ smells. I am for the art of mama-babble…’ and so on. And on.

But my favorite sequence has to be the one near the end, about film, in which Blanchett plays a primary school teacher with a pitch-perfect ‘teacherly’ voice, talking her class through the Dogme 1995 manifesto. Hovering over the kids as they complete an assignment, she gently corrects one of them: “Shooting must be done on location.” And another: “The camera must be handheld.”

dogme95The Dogme 1995 film manifesto, apparently drafted over a bottle of red wine by Lars Von Trier and a handful of his Scandinavian film-making buddies, was, of course, the stimulus for the Dogme ELT manifesto.  The scene in Manifesto prompted me to revisit both. Here, for the record, are four of the 10 ‘vows’ that adherents to the Dogme film movement were expected to comply with:

1.Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).

2.The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot). […]

7.Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.) […]

10. The director must not be credited.

Motivated by a similar desire to ‘rescue’ teaching from the clutches of the grammar syllabus, as enshrined in coursebooks, and all the associated pedagogical paraphernalia that goes with it, I drafted an (intentionally provocative) Dogme ELT manifesto which clearly echoes both the style and spirit of the van Trier one, and takes the form of ten ‘vows’ (Thornbury 2001):

  1. Teaching should be done using only the resources that teachers and students bring to the classroom – i.e. themselves – and whatever happens to be in the classroom. If a particular piece of material is necessary for the lesson, a location must be chosen where that material is to be found (e.g. library, resource centre, bar, students’ club?)

  2. No recorded listening material should be introduced into the classroom: the source of all “listening” activities should be the students and teacher themselves. The only recorded material that is used should be that made in the classroom itself, e.g. recording students in pair or group work for later re-play and analysis.

  3. The teacher must sit down at all times that the students are seated, except when monitoring group or pair work (and even then it may be best to pull up a chair). In small classes, teaching should take place around a single table.

  4. All the teacher’s questions must be “real” questions (such as “Do you like oysters?” Or “What did you do on Saturday?”), not “display” questions (such as “What’s the past of the verb to go?” or “Is there a clock on the wall?”)

  5. Slavish adherence to a method (such as audiolingualism, Silent Way, TPR, task-based learning, suggestopedia) is unacceptable.

  6. A pre-planned syllabus of pre-selected and graded grammar items is forbidden. Any grammar that is the focus of instruction should emerge from the lesson content, not dictate it.

  7. Topics that are generated by the students themselves must be given priority over any other input.

  8. Grading of students into different levels is disallowed: students should be free to join the class that they feel most comfortable in, whether for social reasons, or for reasons of mutual intelligibility, or both. As in other forms of human social interaction, diversity should be accommodated, even welcomed, but not proscribed.

  9. The criteria and administration of any testing procedures must be negotiated with the learners.

  10. Teachers themselves will be evaluated according to only one criterion: that they are not boring.

Re-reading it now, I realise how it was influenced (a) by the specific training context in which I was working, where elicitation sequences and the playing of barely audible cassette recordings were the order of the day, and (b) by my reading of Postman and Weingartner’s radical treatise, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1967) which similarly called for a moratorium on mandated curricula and formal testing. I still hold by that, but the final vow (about not being boring) is just plain silly.dogme_circle

The key vow is, of course, the first one, and its proscription on ‘imported’ materials. While the idea of taking students to the bar or library is clearly impractical, technology now allows us to bring the bar or library into the classroom, thereby realising Peter Strevens’ (1956) injunction that:

“Language is not a sterile subject to be confined to the classroom. One of two things must be done: either life must be brought to the classroom or the class must be taken to life.”

Does anything else in the Dogme ELT manifesto strike you as worth retaining?


Postman, N. & Weingartner, C. (1967) Teaching as a subversive activity. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Strevens, P. (1956) Spoken language: an introduction for teachers and students in Africa. London: Longmans, Green and Co.

Thornbury, S. (2001) ‘Teaching Unplugged (Or That’s Dogme with an E)’. IT’s for Teachers, Issue 1 (February), 10-14.





30 responses

25 06 2017

4 and 7 definitely

25 06 2017

Hi, Scott,

I’m interested in how far you feel Dogme would be limited by a needs analysis, particularly where the analysis (as it should) leads to negotiation, with the learners, of the syllabus?

By its nature of rejecting all outside materials and synthetic (language) resources, I’m not sure if a lite or reduced Dogme makes any sense – it either is Dogme or it isn’t – but many learners I know of expect focus on certain skills and language points that cannot easily be accessed without prior arrangement.

26 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Robert. In the sense that a dogme approach is driven by the learner rather than by the coursebook, then (as Luke Meddings and I point out in ‘Teaching Unplugged’) ‘the notion of needs analysis – fundamental to any process of customising teaching – is also a basic Dogme principle.’

Nor is the notion of ‘prior arrangement’ antithetical to dogme, which argues for a negotiated syllabus – not just of linguistic items, but of tasks, texts and procedures. A ‘dogme lesson’ is not a lesson that is based on the premise of ‘let’s not prepare and just see what happens’, but one in which a key principle is that the teacher should ‘be prepared for what happens’.

25 06 2017
Jason Clifton

I enjoyed reading the ELT dogme rules. On another but related topic, Scott, I worked through your About Language last year. But it’s easy to get rusty on grammar (still sometimes mistake complements for adverbs, for instance) thefirst time. Are there any websites where a teacher could test their grammar regularly?

26 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Jason. That’s an interesting question, but I can’t answer it. There are tons of ‘test your grammar’ sites for learners (most of them pretty dodgy) but I don’t know any for teachers. (Perhaps I should start one!)

28 06 2017

That would be great 🙂

28 06 2017

Hi Jason,
I test my English using C2 level tests that come with the answer key. I also use the workbook of some advanced grammar texts: A university grammar of English, A communicative grammar of English. I have also found useful a workbook called Destination C1&C2. And Grammar Scan that accompanies Practical English Usage by Swan. Nothing online though. Let’s wait for
Scott. 😉

25 06 2017
Niall O'Donnell

4, 5, and 7, definitely. And 1 to a lesser extent. I’m preparing a training plan for our summer-school teachers at the moment, and I want them to integrate some Dogme into their lessons, as most of the students are used to prescriptive lessons throughout the Academic year. So no display questions, critically analysing the textbook (have to have one!) to foster real communication from it, and lots of guided discover and student in/output.

25 06 2017
Heidi A. Karow

5 because I disdain slavish adherence to anything… including this manifesto.

26 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Agreed, Heidi – and one of the crosses that ‘dogme ELT’ had to bear was its very name – which is Danish for ‘dogma’ and which clearly has negative connotations – such as ‘slavish adherence’ to a set of beliefs. In trying to distance dogme from (a) associations of dogmatism and (b) the popular perception that it was being promoted as a ‘method’, we tried to substitute ‘dogme’ with ‘teaching unplugged’, while maintaining that it was more an attitude or stance than a prescribed set of practices.

29 06 2017
Steve Beale

Hi Scott,

I’ve tried to use many of these principles and I like the concept of ‘teaching unplugged’ – stripped back and essential!

Now that I teach EAP, and following BALEAP’s particular ‘dogmas’, it is hard to apply many of the points above but I do try!


1 07 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Steve – as we said in ‘Teaching Unplugged’, perhaps the most direct application of dogme to EAP is having the learners bring their own text selection to the class and sharing with their classmates.

1 07 2017

Hi, again, Scott,

Have you had much opportunity to monitor the effects of EAP ss using their own texts in class? I’m exploring EAP writing as part of my dissertation and have been giving considerable thought to the notion of ss using their own source texts.

1 07 2017
Scott Thornbury

Hi Robert, I can’t speak from my own experience but I can refer you to the ‘Talkbase’ project in Thailand. This is how it is described in ‘Teaching Unplugged’:

…Put simply, the learners provide the texts. As David R. Hall writes, in describing the rationale underlying an academic English programme he co-ordinated in Thailand: “The potential for learners to participate in generating materials has long been neglected. I would suggest that students themselves are in a unique position to look for relevant resource materials. They know what their own needs and interests are.” Accordingly, Hall and his colleagues developed a course model based on a repeated cycle of student presentations, feedback, and re-presentations. Each repetition of the cycle involves the learners exploring, in successively greater depth, both the content and the textual structure of their presentation. “As the course develops, and students begin to analyse published and unpublished academic discourse produced by others, both form of presentation and organisation improve markedly, and communication within the classroom, as well as outside it, becomes committed and almost totally student-dominated”. Significantly, “except at very few places. … texts …are found and brought to class by the students themselves, so that the course content is generated by students, not by teachers”.

Hall, D. R. (2001) Materials production: theory and practice. In Hall, D.R., and Hewings, A. (eds.) Innovation in English Language Teaching: A Reader. London: Routledge.

25 06 2017
Andrea Vitali

I think that 5 and 7 are definitely worth retaining. Number 5 because everyone should realise that a method for all seasons doesn’t exist. Number 7 because I believe that personalisation should be the backbone of any good language teaching approach. In my experience as a teacher, when the learning tasks are personalised, the level of engagement and enjoyment is always very high. It seems that the class really comes alive. Furthermore, in my experience as a former learner of English, personalisation can really help vocabulary retention. I’ve always wondered why this crucial aspect is often underestimated and underresearched.

On the other hand, I think that number 2 could be modified. In fact, although I personally dislike doing listening activities in my classes, my students seem to appreciate them. There are good ways of introducing learner-selected or, even better, learner-generated audio (or video) texts in the class.

26 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Andrea. I agree that ‘personalization’ is fundamental to a dogme approach. I was very much influenced by the ‘post-humanists’ in ELT, such as Mario Rinvolucri who, however whacky some of his ideas were, was committed to the belief that the learner should BE the content of the lesson.

26 06 2017
Rod Hinn

9 should be kept. And the word testing should be changed to assessment.

I personally feel like if you are not negotiating assessment criteria and procedures with your learners, it almost always is the case that you are teaching to the test, instead of teaching the learners.

Also being able to reflect on what is being learned and assessing it on their own terms builds an awareness of their goals, motivations, progress, etc., which helps them further decide where they want to take their learning, in terms of topics to bring up to class, language they need to focus on, etc. Doesn’t that make your job easier?

26 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Rod. On negotiation, see my comment to Robert above.
On feedback, here is a suggestion (from ‘Teaching Unplugged’):

• Set up a simple feedback loop. You can do this by preparing a feedback form template which can be copied from the board: it might have four headings, such as: ‘What I enjoyed this week’, ‘What I didn’t enjoy so much this week’, ‘What was useful to me’, ‘What was less useful to me.’ People can fill out their forms and share their feedback with a partner before handing them in to you. After collecting in the sheets, you can read them through and give feedback to the whole class; you can also arrange one-to-one feedback sessions during a class when everyone is engaged in activity that allows individuals to leave and return.

26 06 2017
Will Greenwood

While it is perhaps the least substantial of the ten, I think no.3 is a good rule of thumb. I once worked at a school in which it was written into the contract that the teacher stand up at all times- something I discovered after an observation by the management. This filled me with an entirely disproportionate sense of contempt and rage, and came to symbolize everything that is wrong with a certain attitude and approach to teaching. Deliberately refusing to sit down as a way of -presumably- marking one’s higher status and reinforcing the irreconcilable divide between learner and teacher seemed, and still seems, somehow corrupt to me. And I don’t think you need to go all the way down the Freire road of ‘teaching-as-class-struggle’ to appreciate the point: it should just a matter of respect for the people you are interacting with.
Which is all a long winded way of saying that if there is no sensible or practical reason for teachers to stand up, then they shouldn’t. (Sorry for the rant!)

28 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Will. If you are a teacher who, like me, was initially trained to stand in front of the (seated) class, the effect of coming ‘down’ to their level is quite liberating – like the effect of asking only ‘real’ questions. As a professional development exercise, both #3 and #4 can be extremely effective.

26 06 2017

Hmm. Have been mulling this over – and good to revisit these 10 ‘conditions’. It’s been a time!
You wouldn’t expect me to agree with 1 & 2 so i won’t! But actually number 3 – about sitting if the students are sitting – is quite a profound aspiration about power relationships in a classroom (and also about the kind of atmosphere we wish to create). It’s not an absolute rule, it seems to me; demonstration etc etc demands, perhaps, some standing up. But it makes a great point.
Number 4 is troubling. Aspirationally it makes sense (we learn best, perhaps, when real communication is the purpose), but there are moments where directed questioning may help students to understand stuff.
Number 5? 100% still (always) on the mark.
Number 6? How i wish! Like many other materials writers (see comments about 1 & 2 above!) I am trapped in the maw of the grammar syllabus monster. Despite everything you have been saying about this – and you are not the only one! – grammar syllabuses show no sign of going away yet. One day?
Number 7? Worth considering, but actually topics generated by teachers also have importance – and deserve to have. They are our classrooms too.
8 & 9? Dream on.
10? Yes and/but…oh you’re already bored by this long comment. I’ll stop!

27 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Jeremy…
I like your point about #4 particularly – that directed questioning can help scaffold learning – but, of course, like anything, long sequences of display questions can distort the interaction and threaten authenticity. Hence, the attempt by dogme proponents to include more ‘real’ questions. I’ve blogged about this under E for Eliciting.

26 06 2017

I got very excited by your article in Voices when it first came out and I was an avid follower and contributor of the Dogme discussion group for a number of years. I’ve also used lots of Dogme inspired ideas in my teaching and in my teacher training, and have recommended the ‘Teaching Unplugged’ book to so many people in many different contexts. Despite all this, when I look at the list now I can see reasons for breaking all of the rules. I can think of contexts where standing up, using pre-recorded listening material, display questions, topics generated by the teacher or the syllabus etc all make perfect sense. In fact it’s questionable whether teachers should ever be rigidly adhering to any kind of manifesto, isn’t it? Politicians? That’s another matter…So I actually don’t think there’s any part of the manifesto which should be kept but I’m still mightily glad it was put forward.

27 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Nick – and thanks for being a fellow traveller since the get go!
I ought to just clarify something – for the record, and for those who weren’t there at the time:

The original dogme article (the shot across the bows of the coursebook-driven curriculum) was called ‘A Dogma for ELT’ and published in the IATEFL journal, then called IATEFL Issues, in 2000. The ten ‘vows’ were written nearly a year later, in an attempt to turn that article into a program, and to add some extra momentum to the discussion, given the interest that the first article had aroused – hence their deliberately provocative tone.

And you are quite right, Nick – rules are made to be broken: any prescriptions about teaching have to be taken with massive doses of salt. Part of the fun of those first few years of the dogme discussion group was the way that that the spirit of the ‘vows’, if not their letter, was applied and adapted to different contexts. It was out of that discussion that the book ‘Teaching Unplugged’ (co-written by me and Luke) eventually emerged – the aim of which was partly to counter the idea that dogme ELT was all about prohibitions and proscriptions, when it was really all about possibilities and affordances.

27 06 2017
Justin Willoughby

I definitiely agree that life must be brought to the classroom and with the internet and highspeed WIFI it’s very easy to do that now. For example, a student mentions a new television series they watched on the weekend. We watch the trailer together in seconds and students discuss their opinions, or someone hears about something strange in the news. We can find it and listen and then discuss the story with a few clicks. ˋListening exercises provide teachers with a means for drawing learners’ attention to new forms (vocabulary, grammar, interaction patterns) in the language.ˋRost, M. Introducing Listening. Chapter 10. Numbers 4 and 7 are quite important too in bringing life to the classroom as students are more motivated and the language more memorable if the topic is something that that are interested in and you as a teacher then show interest in it. It can be tiring at times being enthusiastic about everything(I mean, not everyone is into category theory), but I guess it’s part of the job.

28 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Justin. Yes, good point about being able to link the real world to learners’ expressed interests via the internet. It does require a certain discipline on the part of the teacher, though, lest the lesson turn into prolonged and fairly aimless websurfing.

28 06 2017

Hi Scott,
I’d retain:
3 I teach adult students so we’re on the same level for a number of reasons. In particular in ESP classes they are the experts in their respective fields, I only help them with their English. Over the years I’ve learnt so much about a number of different jobs.
5 my lessons have become more and more organic in that I negotiate everything with the students and adapt to what happens in the classroom still managing not to get side tracked and following a plan. I still use a number of ideas from Teaching Unplugged. I’m working on developing the principled part of principled eclecticism.
7 Directly related to number 5. My students know what they need and I encourage them to ask for it.
10 I love my job and try to keep my energy level high. My grandfather was a high school biology teacher and I remember him telling how being a teacher is also being part an actor and an entertainer. I tend to agree with him.

29 06 2017
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Silvia – the fact that your lessons have ‘become more organic’, as you put it, seems to be a characteristic of more experienced teachers, judging by the research into teachers’ professional development. That is to say, it’s not something they are ever told to do (by a manifesto!) – they just find it a more effective way of managing the complexity and unpredictability of the classroom ecology. Once you have the requisite classroom management skills and a good grounding in language analysis, it’s actually easier to ‘go with the flow’ rather than follow the constraints of a coursebook or syllabus.

29 06 2017

Thank you very much for your reply Scott.
It was nice to get the ‘theory’ or ‘research’ behind what I’m naturally doing confirmed. 🙂

9 09 2017
Jeff Buck

Thank you for this post and all of your work, Scott. Learning about Dogme ELT has helped me get back to the basics of teaching English. I got sucked into the PowerPoint vortex here in Korea, where that kind of teaching is expected. I now only use PPTs minimally. And I use the books even less. I give my students a couple pages to do for homework, put the answers on our e-Class, check to see if they’ve done it, ask if they have any questions, and then move on. The atmosphere is more relaxed and less rushed as I don’t have to worry about covering everything. And the students tell me the activities are fun.

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