5 Reasons Why You Should Flip Your English Classroom

Take a few seconds to think about your daily routine at work. If you’re a teacher, you probably go to your school, get into the teachers’ room where you might keep the materials you’re going to use in class, get the books and worksheets you need, go to the classroom and start to teach. Now imagine a doctor’s routine. She goes to the hospital to treat patients in an office or the emergency room or even perform surgery in the operation room. A lawyer studies the case, goes to his client, then goes to court to face the trial.

What do these professionals have in common? They go to work to apply the knowledge they have acquired. They prepare themselves before, often at home or in an office, and get to work to use the information they already have to perform something. Planning a lesson, preparing for surgery or studying a case for court are done before the real action takes place.

That’s pretty much the same principle of a Flipped Classroom. Instead of learning concepts (new vocabulary or grammar structures for example) in the classroom, students are exposed to them at home and use the classroom time to apply their knowledge. Well, not just apply, but we’ll discuss this later. Let’s stick to some definitions first.

Based on conversations with peers, videos I’ve watched, and websites I’ve read, the simplest definition of the flipped classroom approach is well shown in the image below. Students do the classwork at home and the homework in class. They are exposed to the content before the lesson and practice it during the lesson in more active ways. They can also check understanding and do some extension after the lesson.

The big question is:

Is this approach better than the traditional one?

To answer that, here are 5 reasons why you should give it a try:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Personalization/Differentiation
  3. Self-efficacy
  4. Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)
  5. Problem/Project-based learning

Autonomy because students are given voice and choice outside the classroom when you set up the activities they are supposed to do before the lesson. I mean, sure they’ll have to choose from a predetermined list of things, but you can also encourage them to do their own research and find a video or blog with the content they need to start learning before the lesson.

Personalization/ differentiation because during the lesson you’ll have different activities for students to apply their knowledge. You can use games, arts, a text, a video, an experiment, the sky is the limit.

Self-efficacy because you’ll be helping your students become more responsible for their own learning and they’ll have to organize their time to study the materials before the lesson and accomplish the goals you help them set for themselves.

Higher order thinking skills because not only will students apply the knowledge the were exposed to at home, but also use that knowledge in more demanding ways such as evaluating, analyzing and creating with it (Bloom’s Taxonomy).

And finally, problem or project-based learning because students will be allowed to exchange information with their peers to accomplish something that is more related to real life and, thus, more relevant to them.

Ok, this may sound too abstract in your head and I should have started with a concrete example. So here you can find two.

Example 1. Past forms – Past Perfect vs Past Simple

Before the lesson, students are supposed to watch videos and/or read their books or a website on different past forms. The lesson objective is to introduce Past Perfect and contrast it with Past Simple. You have set up a Google Classroom group to communicate with your students and posted 3 videos and 2 links to reliable websites with this content. You’ve also posted a message encouraging students to find their own research sources.

When the students get to the classroom, you use the first 5-10min to help them activate the prior knowledge, that is, access what they were meant to study at home. You can do a quiz or get them to sit in groups and tell each other which resources they used to learn about Past Forms and compare what they know.

You’ve prepared the classroom with different activities for them to try out during the entire lesson. They can make posters about historical figures and what they had done before a certain date, or they can interview their peers on what they had done before going to school and record a video using their phones, or they can work on a short horror or fiction story together.

While all the students are working, you can go around the classroom and sit with them to ask questions about what they’re doing and elicit the target-language from them. That will allow you to give them more personalized attention and feedback. You can also encourage students to exchange groups to check what others are doing and have them present or share what they worked on at the end of the lesson.

Example 2. Connectors and Opinions

The out-of-class stage is the same as the previous example. During the lesson, you can start with activating their prior knowledge again and have them break into groups. In their groups, they can write an opinion blog post using a computer, or a news piece about a recent event or even a talk show with guests discussing some interesting issue. They’ll have to use connectors of contrast, sequence and addition, for instance, as well as expressions to give their opinion, agree and disagree.

Interesting approach, don’t you think? It allows students to spend most of the class time using the content rather than acquiring it and it gives them the opportunity to prepare as much as they want at home. They’ll do things their own way in their own pace. For this to work well, there are some things to consider, though:

  1. Students need to have access to the materials outside the classroom. A good idea is to use technology. Select the platform you like the most (Google Classroom, Edmodo, Moodle, Canvas, Facebook, WhatsApp, your ELT book online platform). If you don’t have access to the internet, you can use handouts, worksheets, the students’ own books, magazines, some sort of audio recorder. Just be creative!
  2. There needs to be accountability. You need to hold your students responsible for studying the materials beforehand. You can work with some sort of reward system, like positive reinforcement, and give them points for accessing the materials or using the beginning of the lesson to check if they really did it. Peer pressure and accountability may do the trick.
  3. But, to be fair, some students will still not study the materials and you need to allow them to do it at the beginning of the lesson. You can have a computer, tablet or phone (handout or worksheet) in a corner where students can go to and do whatever they can in 5 minutes or have other students help by explaining what they studied at home. If this behavior persists, you may think of ways to address this by talking to your students and making them realize that not engaging with the materials is not the way to go.

If you’re still not convinced you should give it a try, think of how education will change in the next couple of years. Authors from different areas seem to agree that there will be a major shift from teaching content exclusively to teaching competencies and one way we’ll be able to do that is by turning our classrooms into labs. Students will come and go to practice the content they started learning at home and will not only apply, analyze, evaluate, and create with it, but also practice collaboration, leadership, self-regulation, strategic planning, communicating clearly, setting and sticking to goals, empathy, tolerance and more.

I say give it a shot and, even if it fails the first time you do it, try again. It doesn’t have to be every lesson. Just step out of your comfort zone and see the magic happen. Then you can come here and leave a comment about your experience.

Have a great week!

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