Daily Archives: November 23, 2009

The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (4)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Almost ten years ago, Scott Thornbury (2000) pointed out that “learning [..] takes place in the here-and-now. What is learned is what matters. Teaching – like talk – should centre on the local and relevant concerns of the people in the room, not on the remote world of coursebook characters, nor the contrived world of grammatical structures. […] A Dogme school of teaching would take a dim view of imported methods, whether the Silent Way, the Natural Approach, the Direct Method, or hard line CLT. No methodological structures should interfere with, nor inhibit, the free flow of participant-driven input, output and feedback.” (click here to read more).

In the late 1980s, Adrian Underhill had already taken a similar stance. He observed that “[…] materials, especially coursebooks, can come between me and my students, preventing me from directly experiencing and responding to the moment by moment energy and vitality of their own learning experience. If I’m not careful I reduce myself to a ‘materials operator’, separated from my learners by a screen of ‘things to do’.” (click here for further details).

My personal interest in the Dogme movement, in ‘teaching unplugged’ (i.e. teaching without a coursebook and without most of the usual supplementary materials) was sparked by Engelbert Thaler who published a very interesting and in many ways thought-provoking paper in the German journal ENGLISCH five years ago (2004: 56-63). Dogme and improvisation seem to go together quite naturally (see the TEFLSPEAK-G posts on this blog); in fact, I can’t really imagine ‘unplugged’ classroom discourse without any kind of spontaneous improvisation (improvised speaking) involved.

If you are interested in getting to know more about all this (i.e. dogme as a pedagogy of bare essentials), join the dogme ELT discussion group (please click here).

Thaler, Engelbert (2004). „Dogme – eine alte methodische Innovation?“ Englisch , 56 – 63.


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


In Defense of Grammar

posted by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

“All you need is communication? No, because all you get is fossilisation.” (see Butzkamm (2009: 83-91): “The Language Acquisition Mystique: Tried and Found Wanting.”)

In the best known methodology handbooks, foreign language teaching is viewed through the lens of a few closely related European languages. Their grammars are often transparent for each other. This explains to some extent the severe doubts cast upon grammar teaching in general, rather than only against its misuse.

But a focus on grammar is not only indispensable for remote languages. It can really help the learner by making “odd” constructions meaningful and transparent, for instance through idiomatic and literal translation (“mirroring”) combined. That is why grammar should not be dealt with in a cavalier fashion. However, at all times the teacher must discipline himself to be brief, to confine the focus on form – in whatever way it is done – to matters of immediate practical relevance, and above all, to be clear. That is no easy matter for any language. On the other hand, for many foreign languages taught in schools excellent grammars have been made available, which represent a great advance on the grammars of earlier centuries.