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Be flexible and creative with your flipped classroom lesson design

The methodology for flipped learning has been evolving since around the middle of the first decade of this century. One example is the relationship between the pre-class work and the in-class activities.

The diagram below shows the early conception of the sequence of the stages of work in a flipped classroom lesson design. Students study the new concepts to be learned before class, by viewing an instructional video, reading a textbook section, or completing other forms of preparation. Then later, during the lesson itself, students practise applying key concepts with feedback from the teacher or their classmates, or engage in higher-order learning activities. In other words, the learning of new concepts for a new lesson unit always takes places before the lesson proper.

To a certain extent, this framework presupposes that every classroom lesson is an independent, self-contained, lesson unit. While this model is easier to grasp, after a period of experimentation, educators started to realise that this framework might not always match with real-life teaching in terms of how we organize a learning unit. This is because a learning unit may not be a single lesson; it may comprise a sequence of lessons under a topic or theme, as illustrated in the 2 scenarios below:

Scenario A - Unit of Learning: Simple Present tense – Verb Form for Third-person singular subject

Lesson 1 of 1

Aim of lesson:

Students learn to add the suffix ‘-s’ to the main verb of a sentence if

(a) this main verb is in the Simple Present tense

(b) the subject is third-person singular.

Scenario B - Unit of Learning: Passive Voice

(Source: Miss Jenny Leung)

In Scenario A, the learning objective is relatively specific – when to add the suffix “-s” to the main verb if it is in the Simple Present tense. In this situation, the traditional framework of unit design may suffice:

Pre-class work: Students watch a video which explains the rule for adding the suffix “-s” to the main verb

In-class work: Students practise, at different levels of difficulty, adding (or not adding) the suffix “-s” to the main verb if it is in the Simple Present tense

In Scenario B, the broader unit topic is the Passive Voice. The mastery of the Passive Voice consists of several learning objectives, such as:

- the form of the main verb in Passive Voice under difference tenses;

- the structure of the whole sentence;

- whether or not to include the agent phrase ‘by ……’;

- when to, and when NOT to, use the Passive Voice;

- etc.

In this scenario, obviously there is continuing development from one lesson to the next, and the various lessons are linked to each other. To help students grasp this continuity, it may not always be advisable to treat each lesson within the whole unit as an independent lesson following the traditional flipped classroom framework.

For instance, after the unit has started, for some of the subsequent lessons, students can be invited to ponder a higher-order issue in class, before embarking on the next flipped lesson which addresses this issue. In Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners: Strategies and Lesson Plans (London: Routledge, 2014), Troy Cockrum calls it the Explore-Flip-Apply approach:

In conclusion, the flipped classroom procedural model has evolved significantly since the inception of flipped learning. Today, seasoned flipped learning educators understand that the design of a flipped lesson or learning unit should be flexible as well as creative. In my own practice, sometimes even if the upcoming class session focuses on a standalone topic, I would spend a couple of minutes towards the end of the current session preparing them for this upcoming flipped session by, for example, giving students a heads-up on what they will learn in the next session, so that they can see its significance when they are completing, at home, the pre-class flipped learning task for the upcoming class.


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