Flipped classroom: approaches for ESL teachers

Chris Parker
A detailed guide covering the flipped classroom approach and its many benefits, as well as steps on how to set it up for the first time in an ESL setting

For an ESL teacher, classroom management means not only managing student behavior but other things as well, such as the amount of time spent explaining new concepts. The flipped classroom approach is one of the most useful ways I’ve found to free up classroom time, and it can be an absolute game-changer if you’re not already using it. For a clearer picture of its many benefits, here’s how this innovative approach works and how you can start using it in your teaching practices.

What is a flipped classroom?

The flipped classroom, which is also called an inverted classroom, is a teaching approach where the traditional classroom format is reversed. Its purpose is to allow students to study and learn new concepts at home, so time in class can be better utilized and spent on problem-solving activities or assessments.

The traditional vs. flipped classroom

Traditional classroom
In a traditional classroom, the teacher teaches concepts to students by going over content with them, and any work assigned to the students as homework is typically problem-solving work (e.g. worksheets based on content that was covered in class). An example of this would be if a teacher were to spend a significant amount of class time explaining a concept or reading a story with students, and then following this up by providing a written task to be completed at home.

With this approach, there’s less time in class for students to work on activities that may require a teacher’s support, whether it’s something that students might have a question about or might otherwise need additional assistance with.

Flipped classroom
In a flipped classroom, classroom time is dedicated to both problem-solving activities and assessments, as these may require a teacher to provide support to students, clarify questions, or observe student behaviors. Students are given content to learn on their own outside of class, and they’re then expected to carry out activities relating to this content in class.

For example, if students are already capable of reading on their own, a teacher might have them read a text at home instead of in class, which leaves more time for the students to practice or demonstrate what they’ve learned in class through activities, such as group discussions, presentations, or written tests.

What are the benefits of using a flipped classroom?

  • Greater autonomy – students learn to take control of their learning by carrying out activities on their own and without supervision.
  • Flexible schedules – students can study on their own time and at their own pace, creating a more relaxed environment for reading and studying.
  • Enhanced motivation – when students are given activities that require self-initiative, this can enhance their motivation to complete the activities.
  • More production time – students have more time to produce in class what they’ve learned at home, so there’s more time to practice what’s been learned in front of a teacher who can provide feedback.
  • Quicker acquisition – by dividing the workload by learning English at home and practicing it in class, students have more time in class to carry out activities that lead to English acquisition and fluency.

Practical steps for setting up a flipped classroom

1. Sell the concept

Before getting started on setting up your flipped classroom format, you’ll need to sell the idea of it to your stakeholders. These are the people who have a stake in a student’s learning, whether it’s a younger student’s parents, the school administrators, or, in the case of adult students, the students themselves.

Outline the benefits

Some stakeholders may assume that you’re wanting to take this approach because it means less work for you. You’ll therefore need to outline the benefits that this approach can provide to students and how it can help them learn English more quickly and effectively.

Detail your role

Stakeholders should also understand that you’ll be spending a fair amount of time setting up this format for the students, so this approach doesn’t just simply let you off the hook as far as your teaching responsibilities go. You should clearly explain to all stakeholders what you as a teacher will be doing when implementing this approach.

2. Curate resources

Once you have your stakeholders on board, you’ll next need to curate all the learning resources that you’ll want your students to access outside of the classroom. You’ll need to present content to them while they’re at home, and the resources you use to do this should be easily accessible at any time.

This can include physical or online materials, as well as digital documents that don’t require an internet connection to be accessed. This is not only a curation phase but also a creative one where you’ll be creating any content that you’ll need and thinking of the different resources you’ll use to present it to your students.

Examples of content resources:

  • Physical resources (e.g. books)
  • YouTube or other video sites
  • Google Slides/PPT presentations
  • Portals (e.g. Google Classroom)
  • PDFs/Microsoft Word documents

If you curate your content resources carefully and provide detailed instructions, then your students shouldn’t require any assistance when learning on their own. Careful thought should be put into each source of content you provide and how accessible it will be to students.

However, any experienced teacher knows that you should always be prepared for unpredictable scenarios, such as students struggling to access a resource, having technical issues, or forgetting how to do something.

You should therefore provide your students with assistive resources as well so students can get assistance from you or their peers when they need it. If your students are younger, ensure that their parents or guardians have access to these resources as well.

 Examples of assistive resources:

  • Your email address
  • A class chatroom
  • A private forum
  • A Facebook group
  • Technical guides

3. Inform your students

After you’ve curated your resources, you’ll need to inform your students of what they can expect as far as their workload with at-home assignments, and you should ensure that they understand what you expect from them and what they will be asked to do once they return to class.

While you may have already explained the overall approach to older students during the first step (the selling phase), you may not have informed younger students. Plus, this is a more detailed process, as you now know what resources you’ll be using and how your students should use them.

There should be no confusion as to what your students are expected to do once they’ve been provided with content and are outside of the class.

Set clear expectations, and if you identify an issue with something you’ve curated, such as students not understanding something or not having access at home to a particular resource, remain flexible and be willing to modify or adapt your resources to better accommodate your students based on their feedback during this step.

4. Provide technology training

If you’re simply using books or physical resources for your content, you can skip this step, as your students likely already know how to read a book or find specific pages within it.

If you’re using technology resources, such as YouTube, Google Classroom, or other sources for content, you’ll need to ensure that your students understand how to access these resources and what to do if they encounter problems.

Dedicate some class time to showing your students how to use the resources that you’ll provide to them, and make sure that every student will still be able to access these resources once they’re at home.

5. Assign at-home content

Your next step is to assign the actual content, just as you would with traditional homework or any other assignment. If you’re using reading materials, provide these to your students and explain what pages should be covered.

If the content will be delivered through technological resources, now is the time to provide YouTube links to your students or upload materials to whatever online platform you’ll be using. For example, if you have a PDF document you’d like your students to download, you can upload this to Google Classroom or any other site that provides a means for sharing documents.

6. Create and provide in-class activities

You’ll next need to think about what activities you’ll have your students carry out while in class. Once they learn concepts at home, you’ll then have them demonstrate what they’ve learned by engaging in problem-solving activities or participating in assessments while in class.

Some activities or tasks, such as worksheets, can either be performed at home or in class, and you’ll need to use your better judgment to decide which environment is more appropriate.

Examples of in-class activities:

  • Worksheets
  • Discussions
  • Group work
  • Tests/quizzes

Parting Advice: incorporate peer instruction

The point of using the flipped classroom approach is to utilize classroom time in the most efficient way possible. However, some students may still struggle to grasp certain concepts on their own. Peer instruction, which is where knowledgeable students help explain concepts to struggling ones, has been shown to be quite effective as part of a flipped classroom approach. When feasible, facilitating group activities in class or arranging for students to meet online or in person outside of class can work great for this.

Written by Chris Parker for EnglishClub.com
Chris has been studying linguistics academically for several years and has taught ESL in both primary and secondary schools.
© EnglishClub.com

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