Flipping the Lesson in ELT

This month’s blog post is by Anthony Ash – many thanks for his contribution.


Flipped Learning is a lesson framework whose goal, as its name suggests, is to flip or invert the traditional lesson procedure. It has been growing in popularity over the last decade not only in general education but also in English Language Teaching. What started out as an experiment in a US high school has now become the topic of research, publications and even conferences – 2016 sees the 9th Annual FlipCon, which will take place in Allen, Texas.

This article will provide an outline of what Flipped Learning is, its basic procedure, and share some resources to help ELT teachers flip their classrooms.

What is Flipped Learning?

Although Flipped Learning is a specific framework or approach, there are many ways to implement it in the learning process. However, in a nutshell, Flipped Learning is a reversal in the standard model of teaching by “delivering instruction to students at home through self-study materials and moving the ‘homework’ element to the classroom” (Harrison 2013: Online). This means the Lesson Input (the stage which involves an explanation, a lecture or reading/listening) is moved from inside the classroom to outside the classroom.

How did Flipped Learning come about?

The origins and history of Flipped Learning are a remarkably uncomplicated story. Two US high school teachers – Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams (FlippedClass.com: Online) – were irritated by the necessity to repeat lessons for students who had been absent. They came across some screen capturing software, so they started recording their lessons. They made their lessons available online for their learners to watch in their own time. What Bergmann and Sams soon discovered was that their learners were able to access their recorded lessons at a time which suited them, be it at home on their laptops or during free periods at school on their handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

What if the Learners don’t do the Work outside of Class?

Given that the key principle of Flipped Learning is that the learners do the input part of the lesson at home, it is therefore imperative that they actually do this. This means that there is an element of transferring responsibility to the learners. This could be an area of concern for a teacher, especially if the teacher feels some of their learners are not responsible or autonomous enough.

However, there is a solution to this problem. If a learner comes to class and they haven’t watched the video, done the reading or research, they can then do this in class. That way, their class time is not wasted, they aren’t a step behind – they still get the input – and soon they will see that by not doing the work outside of class, they are not keeping up with their peers.

Alternatively, you can put the learner with one who has done the preparation and get them to explain the language or what was in the reading text. While this is happening, you can ask all the learners in the class to check with their partners what they had done outside of class as a quick warmer or refresher, and that way everyone is on the same page.

At the end of the day, preparing for class is the learner’s responsibility. The teacher can only provide them with the tools and the opportunity; it is the learner who has to actually take the decision to prepare. If enough classes follow the flipped format, then it will soon become apparent to learners who aren’t preparing for class that they aren’t getting the most out of lessons, and they will start to do the work outside of class, too.

What is class time used for in Flipped Learning?

A basic principle of Flipped Learning is to take advantage of technology and let learners use their own time and technology for Lesson Input. This means class time can be used more effectively for encouraging and reinforcing learning. In a flipped classroom, class time is often used:

  • To do further exercises or controlled practice
  • To revise main ideas and key points
  • To work on a project in groups or as a whole class

This list is by no means exhaustive, and the main idea is that the learners are putting what they have learnt outside of class into practice inside class, with the teacher alongside to support.

Can Flipped Learning apply in ELT?

Even though Flipped Learning was born out of general education, it is still applicable to ELT. Whereas in mainstream education a teacher will lecture their learners on a given topic, an English language teacher will provide learners with target language presented in a clear context, such as a text. So, it is this text which can be taken outside of the classroom, to be read at home and prepared in advance of class. Alternatively, a teacher in ELT might want to go down the path of creating videos with language explanations and examples, just like what Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams originally did.

Either way, there is a question around where best to store these texts and videos and how best to make them accessible to learners. Some schools might have their own Learning Management System, such as BlackBoard, where they could be stored, but if this is not an option you could consider using one of the following:

  • YouTube
  • Google Drive
  • Dropbox

What would be an example of a Flipped Lesson?

Take a double page spread of a course book. You will probably find a reading or a listening text or a grammar point. Give this to the learners to do at home. If it is a text, ask them to read it and work through the vocabulary at home. If it is a grammar point, ask them to go through it and do some of the exercises at home.

Use class time to follow up and reinforce what they have done at home. If we consider the work done outside of class the Present stage of a PPP lesson framework, then class time is the Practice and Produce stages. When it comes to skills work, the more detailed stages, such as bottom-up processing when listening or editing and redrafting a text, could all be done during class time. The learners prepare and do the initial reading/listening/writing at home, but the heavier work or the meatier part is done in class. This might also help to avoid those skills lessons where you simply run out of time to finish the reading or the writing, as a significant proportion of the material would have been prepared in advance of class.

You could use the class time for those extended follow up activities that you usually never have enough time for, such as project work, writing a response to what has been read, or producing a news report. The time could also be dedicated to further practice as well as looking at related topics and any questions or issues they learners have.

To sum up

All in all, flipping your classroom should give you the opportunities to do more meaningful and creative activities inside the classroom, where you can give learners the opportunity to practise and develop their linguistic abilities, while leaving the more nitty-gritty part of language learning to be done at home, making use of modern day technology and encouraging autonomous learning.



FlippedClass.com (Online). http://flippedclass.com/about-m/

Harrison, L. (2013). Online: http://eltjam.com/the-flipped-classroom-in-elt/