Flippin’ for ESL

The generally accepted definition of reverse instruction (or flipped classroom) is to have the students watch a video lecture at home and then do the homework in class. The idea is that students will now have more class time to actively work, rather than passively sit and watch the teacher work. This infographic by Daniel Grafton outlines the pros and cons of the flipped classroom. While supporters make a compelling argument for the advantages of flipping (more one-to-one teacher/student time, self-paced learning, content and skill mastery, socio-economic equality, addressing absenteeism, student diagnostics, peer teaching, parent support), I wonder how well this method works in an international school’s Beginner ESL class for Year 6 primary students?

Published by Daniel Grafton

Jerry Overmeyer writes in his blog post, Vodcasting and the Flipped Classroom, “Thus far, teachers and students using the Flipped Class model have been very successful in mastering science, mathematics and foreign language.” Although there are some similarities in instruction between learning a foreign language and learning a second language, the learning goals and language targets are often different.

For example, at my school, English is the language of instruction, and although we have very few native English-speaking students, our students need grade-level English proficiency in order to fully succeed in the classroom. Yet when these students step out onto the street they are exposed to Chinese. Often the only exposure they have to English is at school.  So in this sense, many of the learning goals for my ESL students would be the same as learning a foreign language – lots of practice using English, especially oral in the beginning, and lots of exposure to authentic language. However with this, I have to balance the immediate needs of developing academic content language, learning strategies, and explicit cultural instruction in a multicultural context, all in the target language, not the students’ mother language.

So, given these needs, where do I even begin to start in figuring out how to flip my ESL

Some rights reserved by English106

class? Doing a Google search on “flipped classroom ESL” only returns a lot of blog posts and comments saying pretty much what I already know – “a flipped classroom is using video lectures at home ……blah, blah, blah, blah” – but not a lot of actual suggestions or strategies how to flip an ESL class. Larry Ferlazzo, who I follow on Twitter, and has been blogging and writing books about teaching ELL, ESL, and EFL for years, seems undecided on its merits and echos comments on his blog about students doing the least engaging form of learning, i.e.the lecture, at home and alone. Even Khan Academy, the greatest flipped classroom of all, with a library over 3000 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and hundreds of skills to practice (or so the website says), does not even have English Language Arts as a subject – let alone something specifically for second language learning!

I had better luck searching for strategies on flipping the elementary classroom. At least now I have some suggestions on what to do and not do. Some of the better advice is to flip a lesson, not a class; keep the videos under ten minutes (a good rule of thumb: 1-2 minutes per grade level); and make a video only for those lessons that students seem to struggle with or need a lot of repetition on.

Some rights reserved by most uncool

Another thing to consider is how my students will access these video lessons, especially in China where YouTube and Vimeo are blocked. To answer that, I came across a transcript of a March 6, 2010 web-chat on The Flipped Classroom for EFL. While participants did discuss whether or not flipping was better suited for science and math than language learning, they also gave some good suggestions on using technologies other than video, such as pod-casting and PowerPoint presentations that students could access prior to coming to class. They also discussed how doing introductions to culture, language use, grammar points, and project-based communication activities were all good areas for flipping that would allow more time for in-class participation and targeted language activities.

To be honest, the thought of having to flip my entire class was daunting.  But I now know I can focus on a lesson at a time and only when really needed. Plus I don’t have to think “in the box” that flipping is only available in video format. Heck, I don’t even have to think of it as homework. I can use these same strategies and technologies in my class if I keep the “flipped” part to under 10 minutes and then students can review the lessons again at home for reinforcement. Wow! I feel a lot better know and will give Flippin’ for ESL a try :-) :-)



8 thoughts on “Flippin’ for ESL

  1. hhhmmm…..I agree you have to start small with a lesson and see if it works for you and your kids.

    I wonder thought, if we forget about flip, and we just focus on the use of video. Where we can video a lesson and have students listen/watch it over and over again until they comprehend it. Or just watch the part they miss.

    I could see this being a very powerful practice for every teacher. It takes nothing to record your lesson these days and a couple clicks and you could have the video/podcast somewhere for kids to access. So those that need the extra practice or want to go back and watch the lesson could again.

    In the case of English learning…let’s say we’re studying Verbs (I’m just making this up) could we make a video talking about what verbs are and how to use them that students could access both in class and out and could watch again and again if they needed to? Would that help? Just a thought.

    • Hi Jeff – I agree, a video lesson of the class would be a powerful tool. However, most of the time, the issue for my students is not in understanding the concept (ex, what is a verb, what is an adjective) or recognizing it when used – it’s when they try to actually try to produce the language. So maybe making a video or other media around vocabulary words that they can see and listen to over and over again would be even more helpful :-):-)

  2. You’ve written a very thoughtful post that I’ll be adding to my “The Best…” list on the topic. Thanks.


  3. Thanks for finding that infographic. I’ll be using that.

    I see your concerns; flipping for P6 ESL is quite different to grade 12 HL IB chemistry. I would think though that is very useful to be using videos or even audio casts in conjunction with regular instruction in an ESL classroom. I have a 5- year old daughter who is bi-lingual French/English…..there are a bunch of great iPad apps out there that we’ve been using to help her with the alphabet and pronunciation etc. which are great fun. I wonder if that can be used successfully in a flipped class?

  4. Thanks for this! I am teaching combined 7th and 8th grade multilevel classes ( including many beginners) in the US. Fortunately, we have six computers in our class with internet so I use the computers every day to differentiate. One thing I do is post everything online ( I post screencasts on YouTube then link to it via Blackboard but I could also post the ljnks on a blog…). But posting it online the students can access it from school , home, or mobile device without signing on to a secure network. Most of my students will listen to the word study or vocabulary lessons via mobile phone. Our school has a BYOD policy.

    I started this year making simple Word Study screencast lessons via free Screencast-o-matic.com. You can make up to 15 min videos that record your movements, ppt slides, audio , etc. This is an easy to use web site. There is a good how to video on Youtube for screencast-o-matic.com but you said you don’t have access to YT… Good luck with your flipped class!

  5. I teach EAP in a community college–Writing 6 (the highest class before they go into their “regular” college courses). Grammar is a small component of my writing class, but by level 6, I feel that they should already know the grammar, so we just review and practice. I am toying with the idea of making videos of me explaining the grammar point–for example, adjective clauses with relative pronouns (who, whom, whose, which and that), and spending class time actually working on their essays where they can demonstrate they grasp on those adjective clauses. What do you think?

  6. I have been thinking about and researching flipping my EFL classroom. The idea forming in my head–which I am articulating for the first time here–is to choose those activities that are most passive and receptive as the ones to “flip” (or the ones to have students do on their own as homework) and not “lectures”. In any case, my students are motivated by grades so i would have to find a way to make them accountable for doing that homework in addition to getting feedback. One idea is listening comprehension practice online (which some like to do anyway and which also encourages autonomous learning). There are many tools online that can allow us to make listening exercises and get instant feedback on student understanding. At home and online, students go through the introduction, the pre-teaching, the listening and the comprehension exercises, and the teacher gets the feedback online and goes into class the next lesson ready to explain or extend vocabulary and grammar and students are ready to practice that vocabulary and grammar, and talk about/interact with the content/message. I would be interested to hear from anyone who does this or something similar.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *