5 Basics You Need to Achieve a Flipped Language Classroom
It’s time to flip the script on language education.
And it starts with “flipping” your own class.
What does that mean, exactly? Will you switch places with your students? Hand out worksheets upside down?
Don’t worry—it’s more straightforward than it sounds. A flipped classroom simply requires traditional lectures or lessons to take place at home, while class time is dedicated to target language practice.
In other words, lectures and homework are “flipped.”
The concept has been around for years, and many foreign language educators consider it an important tool for boosting students’ proficiency levels. Below, we’ll look at some of the most important basics you need to get started flipping your classroom, as well as the benefits of flipping.
What Is a Flipped Classroom?
In a flipped classroom, the traditional teaching environment is inverted (or “flipped”). Specifically, students learn fundamental concepts at home—often by watching recorded lectures—freeing up class time for interactive lessons and practice work that might otherwise have been assigned as homework.
Flipped classroom teaching arose out of pedagogical research from the late ’90s and early 2000s, and solidified as a methodology about a decade later. Seminal works in the flipped classroom philosophy include J. Wesley Baker’s “The ‘Classroom Flip,’” which emphasized using web technologies to bring instructional teaching home, allowing for teacher-guided, active learning in class.
Starting in 2007, high school chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams found success with the flipped classroom model for their own students, and went on to become gurus in the field.
“For teachers, what’s going to happen is they’re going to change their role,” Bergmann explains in this video. “They’re going to be more facilitators of learning.”
Why Does the Flipped Classroom Work for Foreign Language Education?
A lot of the flipped classroom resources and guidelines out there are aimed at STEM teachers, but I would argue that foreign language teachers can get the most mileage out of flipped classrooms.
We all know that there’s no better way to approach fluency than by practicing speaking and listening in the target language, and that’s exactly what the flipped classroom provides class time for. Students will learn fundamental concepts at their own pace at home, and come in prepared to put those concepts to use in class.
Plus, with teacher-guided practice, students are less likely to develop the bad pronunciation and grammar habits that can sometimes spring from homework mistakes.
Flipped classrooms are also helpful to foreign language educators from a differentiation standpoint. Rather than trying to tailor a lecture or lesson to all the different learning styles and abilities in your classroom, you can assign group and individual work, checking in with students and evaluating their progress throughout class.
5 Basics You Need for a Flipped Language Classroom
1. Student and Parent Prep
Though the philosophy has existed for decades, the flipped classroom is still unfamiliar to many students and school communities.
On one hand, this means that we as educators can capitalize on the novelty to grab students’ attention and interest. On the other hand, we’re at risk of confusing the learning environment if we don’t prepare students properly.
Before you actually flip your classroom, you’ll want to take at least one class period to explain what’s going to happen. You should cover:
- How at-home and in-class time will be spent. Let them know how long your at-home lessons will be and how much time you expect them to take to digest those lessons, and what kind of assignments/activities you’ll be using class time for.
- How you’ll be evaluating their progress (whether it’s worksheets handed in at the end of class, weekly quizzes to ensure they’ve been learning at home, etc.).
- What positive results you expect from flipping your classroom (increased target language communication, more time to guide their progress, etc.).
Once you’ve answered any questions and you believe they have a good grasp of the new system, don’t dive in headfirst. Start by flipping one class—maybe at the end of your week—then a couple more the next week, until students adapt their learning styles and schedules to the flipped classroom.
Another key to success is teaching students to take productive notes so that they’re equipped to get the most out of at-home learning.
Parents can also be skeptical of the flipped classroom and may have a knee-jerk opposition to the idea of their kids watching videos as homework. You’ll want to send an email/letter to parents or even record a video discussing the flipped classroom and why you’re choosing to use it, touching on all the points you explained to students.
2. A Vehicle for At-home Lessons
The classic way to flip a classroom is to record lessons on fundamental concepts—whether it’s a new irregular verb, the major themes of a novel in the target language, or the rules of using a particular accent—using video. But don’t assume that a video camera or laptop webcam is all you need for this. Other useful tools include:
- An online video channel where your students can access your videos. Here’s a teacher’s guide to setting up a YouTube channel for a classroom.
- A Dropbox or Google Drive account, so that you can store videos and educational materials online for your students to access at home.
- A clear, well-lit, distraction-free recording space. This will probably just entail setting up your camera in front of your board and possibly bringing in an extra lamp or two.
- Of course, you’ll also need to ensure that your at-home lessons are clear, effective and interesting to watch, which we’ll get to later in this article.
For those of you who don’t have the resources (or time) to record regular videos, or whose students wouldn’t have guaranteed access to watch them, there are other ways to bring lectures and lessons home. You may want to consider:
- Audio lectures: You can provide audio lectures as tapes, CDs or on thumb drives if your students have computer access. Because there isn’t a visual component to hold students’ attention, you can include printed visuals or bullet-point notes for them to follow along with.
If you have the time to prepare it, you may even want to include a transcript of the recording with timestamps so students can easily refer back to specific lessons or concepts. And if your students will be listening to your recordings on computers, you can use programs such as Screencast to record your voice as well as your computer screen in real time. This will allow you to, say, talk through a slideshow presentation.
- Printed presentations: If you don’t have audio or video recording capabilities, don’t forget you can always print out your lesson materials. Just be sure to include lots of visuals alongside your text, not only to keep students’ attention but also because they can boost students’ memories.
I like to make these printouts using PowerPoint, which helps me build my lessons around digestible chunks of information, and also allows me to integrate visuals/charts/verb conjugation tables seamlessly.
- Pre-existing videos: If your students are able to watch videos at home but it’s hard for you to record your own due to time constraints, lack of a reliable camera, or any other reason, you can always look to pre-existing videos to cover your lessons. Great resources include online open courseware programs; check out the popular ones at MIT, Stanford and the Open Education Consortium.
You can also search online for relevant YouTube videos or MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which provide educational material to the Internet public. You can hand out your own worksheets or notes for students to watch alongside these videos, in order to make these lessons more specific to your own curriculum.
3. In-class Practice Materials
An effective flipped classroom hinges not only on quality at-home lessons, but also efficient, intelligent use of the newly freed up class period. By coming prepared with dedicated target language practice materials, you will ensure that your students get the most out of every lesson.
The key is to create materials that will require active engagement with the concepts they learned at home. These can range from multiple-choice worksheets to small group presentation prompts to game shows. However, these flipped classroom materials can differ from the ones you’re used to preparing in a few ways:
- They can be longer/more time consuming.
- They should encourage collaboration and questions (in the target language!) because you’re there to guide, not lecture, in a flipped class.
- Depending on how frequently your class meets, you may want to include recaps/hints from your at-home lessons along with the in-class practice materials.
Here’s a helpful rundown from the University of Vermont that will help you adapt your traditional practice materials and worksheets to a flipped classroom, and here’s a list of materials geared specifically to language educators. Later in this post, we’ll also touch on some of the places you can find flipped classroom worksheets and templates from other educators in the field.
Rather than saving preparation of these materials until the end of your lesson planning, you’ll want to keep them in the forefront of your mind as you’re recording/organizing your at-home lessons. As you put together your lectures, think about whether you will best be able to mold the material into a straightforward worksheet, a group activity, etc.
Devoting thought to your practice materials from the get-go will save you considerable time and stress in your lesson planning.
4. In-class Discussion Prompts
One of the biggest benefits of a flipped classroom for language educators is that it opens up time for students to talk in the target language, when they otherwise would have sat quietly listening to a lesson. Your role as the teacher of a flipped class is to ensure that this time is put to its best use—so along with the practice materials covered above, you’ll also want to create dedicated space for target language class discussions.
You can keep your discussion prompts strictly to the topics that were covered in at-home lessons—for example, questions about an assigned novel or roll playing activities around office vocabulary. But if you feel that your in-class practice materials provided enough active engagement with the lesson concepts and you just want to get students talking in the target language, you can branch out to questions on current events, pop culture or anything else. It all depends on your curriculum, class time and your students’ proficiency level.
To get you started, here are some discussion ideas you might pose in your students’ target language:
- Ask students what they believe is the most important issue in their city/state/country that needs to be solved, and how they would solve it.
- Ask students to describe what school rule they could change, if they were in charge, and why.
- You can even use this time to improve your own flipped classroom teaching, by having students discuss what their own lecture videos might look like and anything they’re struggling with at home or in class.
You should have one major prompt designed to get conversation going, which should be in the form of an open answer question (not yes/no). But don’t stop there—you’ll want to have a subset of questions and debate prompts in your toolbox so that target language conversation doesn’t fizzle out.
During class, you’ll provide vocabulary when needed, correct persistent grammar mistakes and most importantly, ask questions to drive the conversation along.
5. Online Flipped Classroom Resources
Remember when I said that your recorded lectures need to be attention-grabbing? This can be the hardest part of achieving an effective flipped classroom for many educators, who aren’t necessarily as comfortable in front of a camera as in front of a class.
Fortunately, there are tons of resources available online to help you create compelling, effective recorded lessons. Some of my favorites are below:
- “How to flip your classroom,” Flipped Institute. This page provides PDF guides on creating the best videos for a flipped class, covering everything from using illustrations and guest expert videos, to whether you should use a script when you record.
- “The TED-ed Flip Tool in the Foreign Language Classroom,” Spanish 4 Teachers. An introduction to the video lesson-creation platform from the popular education series TED, and an example of one of those videos in a flipped foreign language classroom.
- “10 Teacher-tested Tools for Flipping Your Classroom,” Getting Smart. A list of computer and tablet apps–most of which are free–that are great tools for creating educational videos, recordings, presentations and slideshows.
- “Flipped Classroom: Beyond the Videos,” Catlin Tucker. Explores how teachers can take advantage of existing educational content and non-video media/materials to flip a classroom. Especially useful for camera-shy teachers.
- The Flipped Learning Community. An online community of flipped classroom educators, where you can get video and lesson ideas from others in the field. Includes discussion forums, topic-specific groups, and a library of flipped classroom videos.
- “100 Videos and Counting,” Edutopia. This article by a veteran flipped classroom educator discusses how to use digital data and analytics to improve video quality and track student engagement/progress.
With some dedicated preparation and a good grasp of the five basics covered above, you should be well on your way to a smart, effective flipped classroom.
Whether you choose to flip a few classes or a whole semester, this methodology can be a crucial new tool for you as an educator to guide your students towards fluency.