For a while now, the paradigm of ‘flipping’ the classroom and reversing the way teachers and lecturers traditionally approach developing students knowledge has been gaining quite a lot of credence in educational circles.

For a while now, the paradigm of ‘flipping’ the classroom and reversing the way teachers and lecturers traditionally approach developing students knowledge has been gaining quite a lot of credence in educational circles.

The flipped classroom has been made popular by Salman Khan and the Khan Academy and is based around the concept of students getting the input they would traditionally receive from the lecture or lesson in the form of videos or set texts that they study before class. Then in the classroom they do more practical work (similar to the kinds of tasks they would  usually do as homework) while the teacher monitors and acts as support.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach, especially in the traditional lecture based classroom, but for us as communicative language teachers I often wonder if this is really anything new. I’ve known teachers for years who have been setting grammar study as homework and then doing the more practical communicative tasks in the classroom.

More recently I’ve started to question this approach though, because it still has elements of the PPP type - ‘I’ll tell you what you need to produce and then you produce it’ about it.

Whether we have input in the classroom or through pre-reading or viewing we are still assuming that without the teacher priming students with information, they have no idea how to work things out for themselves.

Recently, whilst working on ELT and technology training courses for teachers, I have been trying to address this and push trainees to try to work things out for themselves and then reflect on what they have learned.

Instead of preparing my trainees with video input or lectures before the class, I’ve dropped them straight into more practical activities in class and pushed them to face some of the challenges of working with technology for language learning. This then has enabled me to follow up with plenary and input materials that are far more discursive and interactive and which encourage much more reflection on what the trainees have already experienced.

I’ve found that my trainees enjoy this approach and are much more engaged than they have been when I have started with input. They also seem to be able to develop much deeper insights into some of the problems students will face when working with technology, mainly because far more goes wrong in the classroom and they are able to work out strategies for coping with this.

I have had some initial complaints from trainees, especially inservice teachers who come to classes with the expectation that they will have an outline of what they will learn in each session and they often feel uncomfortable with being dropped into things that they have to deal with unprepared. I try to be sympathetic to these teachers whilst at the same time stressing that in order to develop as teachers we need to step or be pushed a little outside of our comfort zones, because that’s where we really start to learn.

I hope you can give this a try too.


You can find out more about the Khan Academy here:

You can find more articles about technology in education here:


What a thought provoking post!Doesn't it depend on what you use the "flipped work" for? You mentioned giving grammar as homework and then using these forms activily in class.But there are other elements we work on in class.For example, our program includes teaching authentic literature, which includes a great deal of figurative speech and unfamiliar vocabulary. I find it extremely helpful to have students "meet" some of this for the first time in specially designed homework taks, so that in class we can see how they function in the story.Just sharing my excitement over the ever expanding things I am discovering flipped classroom can do vocabulary wise!Naomi

It's been a pleasure reading your blog, Nik!The title itself activates processes of thinking at once:)Thank you for the links - I'm sure they are worth studying as well!And Naomi, I agree with you that using authentic literature is a real boost for our students' overall knowledge.

Hi, Nik. Interesting post - I imagine, as you say, that many trainees might find this paradigm quite interesting, especially those people who like solving problems and puzzles and starting fearlessly in at the deep end- while others might find it rather unsettling -especially those who expect a more 'conventional' approach, or who like to know where they're going and to know that they have the tools to get there.It seems to me that this way of working as you describe it as implemented in your Technology sessions, is more like the 'test-teach-???' paradigm - I'm bringing this up because of your own reference to PPP - or in the context of Teacher Education, it reminds me of Malderez and Wedell's model - 'Start from experience - Get out - Put In- End with experience' .The issue for me is fine-tuning and calibrating the 'point of discomfort' - yes, certainly, sometimes people need to step or be pushed a little outside of their comfort zones and to be challenged for significant learning to take place, but I find that when I push a bit too hard, or when an individual is not ready for even the gentlest of pushes (and they might have very valid reasons in their histories of education or in their own personal histories to resist or defend themselves against 'being pushed'), then the destabilisation may become an unsurmountable barrier to learning. So I personally prefer to start from where they are and to teach them the way they expect to be taught at the beginning in order to build trust and the facilitative environment that they need to learn. That gives me the time I need to get to know the individuals in my class, and make more informed judgements about how far to go, when to go 'deeper', and with whom - and then, when they know me and trust me, go a bit deeper. Best, Silvana 

 Hi Nik – great post!I think you’re right that the flipped classroom idea isn’t particularly revolutionary in ELT and that it’s in lecture based classes that it’s more radical. Possibly the big impact for us in ELT is the tech tools available now that make out-of-class learning more feasible. I’m thinking of things like online dictionaries and translation tools that can provide the support we might have had to provide in the past when students are watching and listening. They mean time previously allotted to language input can be shifted to ‘homework’.And I think the concept of dropping students into activities and letting them work things out for themselves makes a lot of sense, both for teacher trainees and students. My background is business English and my most successful courses have been those where the students provided the content themselves.   

So I learned a lot while taking this approach during the past year, and it has made me think real hard about whether I should use it again and with whom. I found that older students (17-20) were able to quickly understand the challenge and apply themselves towards finding their own solutions. Their motivation increased and the results in terms of assessment scores were amazing.

Younger students (13-15) typically struggled. Many of them lost interest quickly or found themselves distracted too often to really apply themselves in the activities. A large number of them not only performed poorly in assessments, but actually went backwards when they tested at the end of the year.

These are generalizations, of course. I would definitely say that the age was not as accurate a predictor of success with this model as maturity was, but maturity is a subjective evaluation that isn't easily quantified and reported on for validation purposes.

I would therefore be very game to try this again with a class of mature students, and much less game to try it with younger students. I have in fact been preparing all summer for a more directed flipped-classroom model.

I have also done this once recently, although it was by accident. It worked really well for my class of three 12 years old; they enjoyed it and were much more interested. I am pleased I could find here a kind of a reflection and explanation on my experience. Thank you so much for sharing it, NikPeachey!

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