Flipped Learning in the ELT Classroom

In this blog, National Geographic Learning’s Alex Warren, explores what exactly the flipped classroom is and what benefits it can bring to English language classroom.

Having looked at blended learning in my previous blog post, I thought that it would be worthwhile looking at a form of blended learning that has great worth in the English language classroom – the flipped classroom.

Let’s start with a quick history lesson. Unlike other teaching methodologies, approaches and theories the flipped classroom came about almost by accident. The idea was stumbled upon at Woodland Park High School in America by two teachers, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann. Looking to make their lives easier and reduce their workload, they began recording their lessons and posting them online so that absent students could catch up on what they had missed. As Bergmann unashamedly admits, “In all honesty, we recorded our lessons out of selfishness. We were spending inordinate amounts of time re-teaching lessons to students who missed class, and the recorded lectures became our first line of defense.”

They soon realized that this strategy offered great benefits to their classrooms as a regular method of instruction. And so, the flipped classroom was born.

flipped classroom

But what exactly is a flipped classroom approach? Well, as the name suggests, the flipped classroom turns the traditional teaching process on its head. Instead of spending whole classes set aside to ‘instruction’, the ‘instruction’ is set as homework by way of video input. Similarly, instead of students applying and practicing their new-found knowledge at home by themselves, that stage is instead done in the classroom, under the watchful eye of the teacher. As such, the flipped classroom is very much tied to the idea of blended learning. Indeed, by definition, the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning, the so-called ‘replacement model,’ where the core content is done at home through video, with the face-to-face time spent applying that content in a practical and communicative fashion.

Benefits of a flipped classroom approach

The key benefit of the approach is that it allows more time in class for what is actually important –the discussion, implementation, and practice of the content. Just ask yourselves this question: how often have you spent so long explaining and re-explaining a grammar point that you’ve not had time to let your students actually practice and use that grammar in a communicative fashion? My guess is if not very often, then quite often.

By its very nature, the flipped classroom means that never needs to happen again – when students arrive in class, having done the homework, they’re ready to go. For many teachers, the extra time that the flipped classroom allows for implementation is vital, because for many students the English language classroom is the ONLY chance they have to speak English. Therefore, the flipped classroom is the perfect enabler of a student-centered classroom.

This fundamentally changes the role of the teacher too – they are no longer a teacher, rather a facilitator and guide. But this is a good thing – we’re putting the focus on the students, increasing the amount of student talk time and in doing so giving them the opportunity to communicate with the language – after all this is why they’re learning English. In turn, lessons become more interactive, more motivating, more creative and ultimately more memorable. Equally, the flipped classroom allows for greater differentiation, with students getting to work at their own pace while digesting the input at home. Oh, and at the same time, it helps make them more autonomous too. What’s not to like?

Yes, there are new challenges when implementing a model flipped classroom – it takes time for teachers to prepare the input, it relies on all students having online/digital access outside of the school and of course it depends on all students being motivated and completing the ‘homework’. These are hurdles, but they can be overcome – and just think about the positives that can come from using this approach.

However, resources like Learn English with TED Talks can really help with this process. Not only does the app provide meaningful content, it also provides the support that students need to understand the TED Talk on their own – both in the topic being covered and the language being taught – so that when it comes to class time, they are prepared and ready to contribute to the communicative in-class experience.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” And this is exactly what the flipped classroom allows for more of.

For more information on a flipped classroom approach, you can watch the recording of Alex’s webinar Using Technology to Encourage Face to Face Conversation here

Author: Alex Warren

Alex Warren is a DELTA trained teacher trainer with over 14 years’ experience of working in ELT as a teacher, academic director and teacher trainer. Working for National Geographic Learning, Alex is driven by his passion for developing teachers on a global scale and helping them to reach their true potential. A firm believer in a communicative approach to language learning and student centred learning, Alex enjoys working with innovative, thought-provoking materials and presenting on a wide range of ELT-related topics.


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