Strategies for Flipping Your ESL Classroom: Robyn Brinks Lockwood’s CATESOL 2014 Session

“Be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.”

Have you ever flipped your classroom? I had never tried it myself, but I kept hearing about it and found myself growing more and more curious about this popular methodology. When I had the chance to attend the CATESOL 2014 conference in Santa Clara a few weeks ago, I decided I’d get to the bottom of flipping—I wanted to know how to do it and if it would work in all classroom settings. The very first presentation I went to was the incomparable Robyn Brinks Lockwood‘s session entitled “Strategies I Used to Start Flipping My ESL Classroom.” Robyn explained the whole concept very clearly, so I thought I’d pass on some of her tips in case any of you want to try flipping your own classes.

What is flipping?

Flipping a classroom basically means that the usual classroom content and homework assignments are reversed (flipped). Instead of listening to a lecture in class and answering comprehension questions at home, for example, students would listen to the lecture at home and discuss the questions during class time.

This means there is more time for student-student interaction because teachers aren’t lecturing to students during class time. Robyn mentioned that a famous quote for flipped classrooms is “not a sage on the stage, but a guide on the side,” which emphasizes the student-centered nature of the flipped classroom.

She then proceeded to answer the questions below while reminding us that flipping can happen gradually in your class—try flipping one or two activities, see how your students respond, and increase how much you flip over time if it’s working.

Can you flip but still use the textbook?

Absolutely. Robyn mentioned that the homework portion can include the textbook’s readings (and listening tasks or videos, if your text includes these things), which students can complete on their own at home. (See the end of this blog post for ways to use ESL Library‘s content to flip your class.)

She gave a good example from a writing class: Students can read up on writing strategies at home, then do the actual writing in class. In Robyn’s case, this led her students to experience less stress because she was there to answer questions as they wrote. Robyn found her students produced better writing once she flipped her writing class.

What other content can teachers use?

ESL classrooms don’t always have traditional lectures. Robyn’s suggestions for finding content that students can use on their own at home (besides their textbook) included the following:

  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • online articles
  • online videos (Robyn mentioned that 10 minutes is a good length to start with)
  • Powerpoint presentations
  • podcasts
  • publications or campus systems
  • your own audio/video recordings (share with your colleagues and use their recordings in return)

How do you get students to participate?

This was my biggest concern. What if you assign a huge reading for homework and some of the students don’t do it? Does that mean they can’t participate in any of the classroom activities the next day? Robyn had some great advice on this. First of all, she mentioned that you don’t even have to tell them you’re flipping. Students expect homework, so assign homework as usual. They’ll soon realize that they’ll be bored in class if they can’t participate with the rest of their classmates.

She also suggested making it high stakes. If students know their participation counts toward their grade, or that there will be a quiz on the homework reading/listening/watching task, they’ll be more likely to do it.

Finally, she advised making it fun. Doing the comprehension questions in a team game format will have students wanting to do the homework so that they can participate in the game. (Robyn said there are a lot of Jeopardy templates online, for example.) Additionally, students won’t want to let their teammates down—use peer pressure to your advantage!

What are the advantages of flipping?

Robyn has found numerous benefits to flipping her class, such as:

  • a more “humanized” classroom
  • more personalized attention from teachers to students
  • easier to incorporate authentic materials into the class
  • an increase in students’ quality of work
  • a decrease in student boredom
  • an increase in student motivation (especially when materials are connected to real life)
  • a reduction in absenteeism
  • an increase in students’ interest in English

My thoughts:

I really like how, when flipping, the solo work (reading/listening) is completed at home, which means that the related tasks and projects can become pair/group work that is completed in class. This gives students much more time to interact with each other and with the teacher. We teachers know that students want (or at least need) to speak as often as possible, and flipping creates more opportunities for interaction and participation. As Robyn succinctly put it, “You’re fostering a community.”

What do you or don’t you like about flipping? Let us know in the comments section below.

Using ESL Library’s materials to flip your class:

Ready to try flipping your classroom? The format of our materials makes it easy. Most of our lessons have a reading and a listening task. Have your students complete the reading or listening task at home, and do the comprehension questions and discussion activities in class the next day. Instead of assigning writing for homework, try that during class time, too!


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  1. Sylvain says:

    Nov 14, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    what I don’t understand is that a ES’ lesson is not a lecture ! Student do things : they listen, they speak, they write… They train and practise tasks. So what does flipping mean ? What if the foreign students don’t understand what they have to read or listen to at home ? Isn’t it the teacher’s role to guide the pupils through their listening or reading ? Letting the. Doing it alone at home is nonesense, I think


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 14, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      I think you speak to many ESL teachers’ concerns, Sylvain! The session was based on adult ESL learners in university, so I wonder how flipping for lower-level or younger students would work.

      I’d still give it a try by starting with a reading that students could do at home. They’d have time to read slowly and look up words in their dictionaries. Also, I think part of the point of flipping is that you’d have a lot more time the next day to discuss the reading and go over anything they didn’t understand. But I’d definitely monitor how they reacted and if they liked it/understood the content…it might not work for every type of class.


  2. lindsay Georgeson says:

    Nov 14, 2014 at 1:45 am

    I love the idea of flipping.Responses to concept questions could be so much more fun as more time can be dedicated to understanding.I also think this could allow time for pronunciation and for the class to be involved in talking about there answers.


    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 14, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Great points, Lindsay! I agree. I’d sometimes assign comp Qs for homework, then the first five minutes of class would be spent correcting (i.e., me reading out the answers). I like the idea of taking the time to do the comp Qs together in class instead, with lively discussion and follow-up projects. And time for pronunciation is always a bonus that students appreciate!


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