Skip to main content

Flipping the classroom

Some teachers have been taking advantage of technology to experiment with the "flipped classroom" as it has become called. If you are not so familiar with the concept yet, it involves getting students to start the learning process at home, then reinforcing the work in class afterwards. The theory is that students do some preparation and thinking at home first, at their own pace, then practise what they have learned in class. In some subjects this might mean, for example, that students learn some basic information at home, start thinking about it, then use valuable classroom time for more reflection, analysis and discussion.

The concept is not really revolutionary. Teachers have often set reading to be done at home so that class time can be used for discussion. Typically, an A-level class might read some pages from a novel, guided by a worksheet, then class time is used for communicating in French (which is less easily done at home). What is new is the emphasis on technology and, in particular, the use of video.

Certain advantages of the flipped classroom occur to me: pupils can work at their own pace without distraction, they can review explanations as many times as they wish, they can easily catch up with any missed work. In addition, if the material is well chosen, it may be quite motivating.

So I can see that flipping can have its place, but it seems to me that in general, in the context of language teaching, that place need not be huge. There are certain obvious practical difficulties: what if a student does not have access to a computer or tablet? What if the student does not do the work in preparation for the lesson? What is the student wants to ask questions at the exposition stage and cannot do so at home?

To an extent, these arguments apply to the non-flipped context - students do fail to do traditional homework and their printer runs out of ink surprisingly often. More significantly, it seems to me to be harder to check that work has been done in the flipped model unless you provide a worksheet or other format to demonstrate something has actually been achieved. I spent my whole career assuming that students would sometimes not do their homework or cheat by copying ( I hated that and came down like a ton of bricks on cheats). My suspicious nature and meticulous checking usually led to homework being done.

Most of all, however, my feeling is that you can enthuse a pupil enough in class to set follow-up work which they will willingly and successfully do as reinforcement. This model works fine if done well and should remain the norm. Furthermore, the flipped model works less well in MFL as we rely less on explanations and conceptual thought than other subjects. Much of our work is about exposure to target language and structured practice. We can already listen and talk a lot in class, then leave reading and writing for the home. That's fine. Homework can be checked and/or marked and we can maximise exposure to the language.

For those who have not tried flipping, there are language teachers out there who blog about it. Try these:
(Samantha Broom writes about her experiments with the flipped classroom) (Flipping My Spanish Classroom)

The ACTFL has published this guide:


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…