Flipping ESL


Written by Alex Bale

If you’ve been following recent education trends you have probably come across the concept of flipping the classroom. This fashionable new technique has really started to take hold in high schools, colleges and universities due to it’s communicative style and focus on student-centred classes. However, it’s been slower to filter into the ELT world, possibly due to the fact that we already tend to teach in a more student-centred way using the communicative approach. Reports back from some of the pioneers of the technique, however, seem to suggest that there are benefits to English language teachers in this new style of classroom as well. So let’s take a brief look at flipping and see how it may benefit you as a teacher and of course most importantly, your students.

What is this ” flipping” of which you speak?

flipped classroom

Image shared by ransomtech under a creative commons license

At it’s basic level the concept of flipping your classroom is simple. The information that the teacher would normally present in a lecture or teacher-centred way is provided online, often in a video format, and students study this before the class. Class time is then spent reviewing, assessing and consolidating this knowledge in a student-centred way.

In an ELT context we can see that classic classroom approaches such as TTT (test-teach-test) or PPP (present-practice-produce), and even TBL (task based learning) all have periods where the teacher becomes the focus as they impart knowledge. The teacher will draw some timelines on the board, discuss form and function and hopefully ask some concept checking questions – the teacher has become the centre of the class and the students the passive recipients. In a flipped classroom this part of the class is essentially moved online, commonly as a video, and students watch this before the lesson starts. The class time can then be spent practicing and producing the target language, with the teacher acting more as facilitator and guide than imparter of knowledge.

Why the flip?


It is still early days for flipping and there is plenty of room for debate and experimentation. Proponents say it maximizes communicative production time for students and allows them to study at their own pace, while critics argue that some students don’t engage with the video content and that we shouldn’t be setting students more homework than they currently have. I believe that there are many benefits to flipping, and that the potential pitfalls can be mitigated or eliminated altogether. So here’s a look at some of the potential benefits of flipping an ESL classroom.

More Active Learning Time

active learningHowever much they learn intellectually and academically, the heart of almost everyone’s language learning is production. By flipping the classroom we free up extra time for practicing the target language that would previously have been spent passively listening to the teacher’s explanation. During this extended production phase the teacher and students have the opportunity to explore the target language in more depth and consolidate the understanding.

Fosters Independent Learning

independent learningHowever much we as teachers input, ultimately it is the students who must do the actual learning. If we can facilitate them becoming better lifelong learners we are helping them gain a truly valuable life skill as well as helping them acquire English. A well-flipped class encourages self-learning in the student by providing lots of opportunity for exploration of the topic through videos, presentations, links to websites and articles and so on, on their own terms and whenever they want. The class time will then act to consolidate and reinforce the learning and provide a solid framework for the student to learn within.

A Way to Improve Your Lessons

improveOnce you start using online resources you will be able to see what works for your students and what doesn’t. Rather than having to rely on an intuitive knowledge over years of experience (which you will of course still gain), you can adapt and improve your resources based on actual feedback and clear indicators of success. Rather than reinventing the wheel each time you come to teach a topic, or getting bored of the same stale old textbook presentation you can create and add to your own personal set of resources that will be forever useful. While there may be some initial time and energy investment, the benefits to you and the students will quickly accrue.

Hmmm, okay, tell me more

If you feel that it may be something you wish to explore further there are some great resources out there. Much of the debate and content is in the wider education field but more and more ESL professionals are sitting up and taking note. Here’s a rundown of some resources that can help you get going:


The Flipped Classroom Network  is a network of professionals from diverse fields who are exploring, discussing and sharing about flipping. It was started by Jerry Overmyer, a pioneer of flipped classrooms and is well worth joining if you want some questions answered.


A great introduction video to this concept is Salman Khan’s TED talk on the subject, entitled Let’s Use Video to reinvent Education.


Here’s a useful info graphic that summarizes the concept and highlights one example of how a flipped classroom panned out.

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media



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