Three Reasons to Flip Your Classroom

A promising instructional approach that has generated a great deal of interest in recent years is flipped learning. In this approach, students access course content on their own outside of class and then interact in class with their instructor and peers as they engage in activities directly related to what they have viewed. There are many ways to implement flipped learning, but all include this basic principle: Direct instruction takes place out of class while practice and application take place in class (Bergmann & Sams, 2012). The student population English language educators serve, for whom the language of instruction itself is a major challenge, may stand to benefit the most from this type of instruction. This article examines how flipped learning can be implemented with English learners (ELs) and the reasons it holds promise for their classroom success. Students quoted in this article are from college level classes; many K–12 teachers are also implementing flipped learning in ESOL and bilingual education programs.

The Flipped Learning Cycle for ELs

To implement effective flipped learning for ELs, instructors follow a learning cycle: (1) instructional videos; (2) in-class collaboration; and (3) observation-feedback-assessment. Each element needs to be undertaken with supports provided for ELs.

Figure 1. Flipped Learning Cycle

Instructional Videos
Flipped classroom adopters state that the approach is not about the videos, but about the best use of class time. However, for ELs, it is equally about the videos and the in-class portion because the videos provide comprehensible input that students might otherwise not be able to access. Comprehension is enhanced when the videos are created in such a way as to make the material accessible to them by including three components:

  1. Webcam – The students can see the teacher using nonverbal elements, such as facial expressions and gestures.
  2. Guiding Questions – These questions help the students follow the lesson as they highlight the points the teacher is addressing.
  3. Content Presentation – This is the central focus of the video, showing a slide presentation, screen sharing, embedded videos, or other visual representations of the material. This section can include captions, call-outs, key vocabulary, and other language supports in English and/or the native language (Marshall & DeCapua, 2013).

Referring to her teacher’s at-home videos, student Nattasiri states, “I like this flip classroom so far. I can spend my time study as much as I want and flip classroom makes my study livelier. Reading text book alone can be bored some time. As English learner, I have some difficulties catching something in class. Flip classroom helps me a lot.”

In-Class Collaboration
Because the lesson presentation has already taken place, students arrive ready to share and work collaboratively. ELs can participate actively because they have had the opportunity to master the material on their own terms outside of class. The classroom activities include exercises that would normally be assigned as homework. Such home assignments can be difficult for ELs, who may feel isolated and unable to complete them independently. In flipped learning, on the other hand, exercises are completed with peers and the instructor present, so that immediate feedback is possible and encouraged.

The instructor also develops projects that deepen learning and asks students to demonstrate their ability to apply and analyze the material. These are the types of activities instructors often do not have sufficient time to conduct. One example is a collaborative class chart, showing the contributions of each student and the patterns that emerge. In the video, the instructor presents a sample of cognates, and, in class, students list their names, native languages, and examples of cognates. Most important in designing such collaborative activities is the bridge the instructor creates between the videos and the classroom. As one student, Serena, noted, “in-class interaction gives us an opportunity to flesh out ideas and concepts we hear in the lecture and clarify misunderstandings.”

With lesson presentation taking place outside of class, time in class consists of the instructor observing students to ensure on-task attention and equal participation of all learners; assessing how well each student is doing based on contributions and questions; dealing with confusion or misconceptions about material in the videos, and encouraging higher level thinking. Some educators voice the concern that instructors aren’t really teaching anymore. However, flipped learning is the best use of one’s teaching ability because the instructor is constantly guiding students’ thinking by asking questions, making comments, and giving feedback, while assessing what is needed for subsequent instruction and planning for differentiation. As one student, Nan, pointed out, “although the instructor is not at the head of the classroom most of the time, she's what I'd call ‘leading from behind’—a role I wish more teachers would undertake. If they knew that leading from behind didn't mean a loss of their control or importance, I think more teachers would be willing to try the flipped classroom.”

Three Reasons to Flip Your Classroom for ELs

In analyzing any approach, it is useful to consider how it meshes with what we know about second language acquisition so as to see how its implementation might promote learning. In the case of the flipped learning approach, there are three potential benefits to ELs. The flipped classroom (1) increases comprehension of the material; (2) increases interaction with instructor and peers; and (3) increases critical thinking as a natural part of the learning process.

ELs often miss a great deal of what is going on in the classroom, especially as teachers explain material to them. Flipping a class enables students to learn at their own pace as they view lessons on demand via video, thereby increasing their comprehension. Moreover, in the videos, instructors provide scaffolding for the new content and language using think alouds to show students how to construct meaning for unfamiliar vocabulary, how to use graphic organizers, or how to make connections to prior knowledge (Marshall & DeCapua, 2013; Wade, 1990). In class, instructors observe interactions and provide meaningful feedback as they informally assess comprehension.

In the flipped classroom, students spend nearly all of their class time interacting with others. Because ELs benefit from multiple opportunities to use their new language for meaningful communication (Gass & Mackey, 2006), this increased interaction fosters second language acquisition. Teacher talk is lessened and teacher-fronted instructional delivery is virtually nonexistent. Class consists instead of student-centered, collaborative work during which the instructor can reach each student individually. This results in both clarification of content and the development of language proficiency, as in the cognate activity described earlier.

Critical Thinking
Flipped learning gives ELs the opportunity to participate at their cognitive level, so that they are more likely to reach their academic potential. In terms of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956; revised Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), this approach can be seen as an upside-down implementation of the levels of thinking. The lower levels of Bloom—the understanding and the remembering—move to outside of the class, with each student taking the time needed to master the concepts. Then, the class can focus on the upper levels of the taxonomy—applying, analyzing, and creating. Thus, ELs no longer have to focus their attention in class on comprehending but can engage the material at a higher level.

Moving Forward With Flipped Learning

The flipped classroom can be implemented in a variety of ways to support ELs. In a self-contained ESL or bilingual classroom, videos and differentiated classroom activities can be created in the native language or sheltered English. Language teachers can encourage mainstream teachers to flip their classes and can team up with them to collaborate on videos designed to enhance comprehension. More advanced learners can create videos for their fellow students in a peer instruction model. Keeping to the basic principle of moving content delivery out of the classroom and moving exploration and application of that content into the classroom, instructors can develop their own style for flipping their instruction. Flipped learning has considerable potential for our field and provides yet another tool for us to use in enhancing instruction for the benefit of our students. So, flip it!

To learn more about the flipped classroom and how to implement it in your program, the following links may be useful:



Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Bloom, B. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook I: The cognitive domain. New York: David McKay.

Gass, S. M., & Mackey, A. (2006). Input, interaction and output: An overview. AILA review, 19(1), 3–17.

Marshall, H. W., & DeCapua, A. (2013). Making the transition to classroom success: Culturally responsive teaching for struggling language learners. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Wade, S. (1990). Using think alouds to assess comprehension. Reading Teacher, 43, 442–451.


Helaine W. Marshall is director of Language Education Programs at Long Island University - Hudson and coauthor of Making the Transition to Classroom Success: Culturally Responsive Teaching for Struggling Second Language Learners (2013).


NOTE: This article first appeared in Bilingual Basics (August 2013). Used with permission.

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