Teachit ELT Teacher Training Bulletin

teachit elt

In this edition: Blended learning and the flipped classroom

January 2014

Combining face to face and online learning

The terms 'blended learning' and 'the flipped classroom' are bandied about a lot these days and can easily fill us with trepidation:

What exactly do these terms mean? How much online content is the right amount? What sorts of sites and apps should we be using? How can we convincingly recommend new technologies to students who are more technologically savvy than we are? Do we need a radical rethink of the way we present information to learners?

The ELT experts in this issue offer advice and reassurance – advice on useful online tools and how to integrate them into our courses; reassurance that much of what we're already doing in ELT is in line with the trend towards more independent learning.

Lucy Palmer

Quick links

» Pete Sharma Success with blended learning

» Nik Peachey Can we flip the ELT classroom?

» Russell Stannard on Three key tools that can flip your classroom

» Find out about Interactive resources on Teachit ELT.

Success with blended learning

Pete Sharma

Pete Sharma is the training manager of Pete Sharma Associates, a training and consultancy company: www.psa.eu.com. He is a lecturer in EAP, an ELT author and a regular conference presenter. Pete has written extensively on blended learning and technology in language teaching.

Although the term ‘blended learning’ means different things to different people, the most widely accepted definition involves combining a traditional, classroom course (‘face-to-face’) with ‘online learning’. Ideally, the course combines the best elements of the classroom with the best elements of distance learning, such as being free to study anytime, anywhere.

What implications does this approach have for the language teacher?

Let me use the IELTS preparation course I’m involved in as an example. Firstly, my students have joined Edmodo, a free web-based platform to which I can post materials and useful links. The platform allows students to communicate with each other (and me) beyond the four walls of the classroom. Secondly, my students spend time using exam-practice software, which includes video tutorials. Thirdly, noticing that so many of my students have smartphones, I run regular learner training sessions on useful apps.

But will my students bother to go to their learning platform?

I don’t believe they will do so unless they perceive the course ‘as a whole’. I like to imagine that the classroom and online work are like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, snapping together nicely into a ‘blended’ model.

How might this work in practice?

Grammar: I clarify ‘fuzzy’ areas of grammar in class. The online, interactive exercises offer extra practice in ‘crisp’ areas of language.

Vocabulary: while I present and practise new words in class, I also suggest apps such as Quizlet for students to store and review their new words electronically.

Listening: although I continue to use recorded material in class, I add to this work on building effective listening strategies. At home, students can listen to podcasts, pausing replaying tricky sections. They can watch video podcasts, then rewatch sections with subtitles. It is clear that real improvement in listening can be made autonomously.

Reading: one new IELTS app helps students develop their skimming by taking the words in a text away, one by one. The student can choose how fast the words disappear – slowly, medium fast or quickly. This activity is remarkably motivating.

Phonology: all my students know and use the phonemic chart app to practise saying tricky phonemes.

Three essential ingredients for successful blended learning

For a blended learning course to be successful, I see three essential ingredients: appropriacy, integration and attitude.

Decide what is most appropriate for each part of the blend. In-class discussions help develop fluency, but for deeper, critical thinking, using the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) gives students time to draft and edit a reply before posting.

A blended course isn’t a face to face with a bit of ‘online’ tacked on; it needs to be a thought-through course with a pedagogical rationale, in which each part of the blend is truly well integrated.

Finally, attitude is a key factor in success. It is the teacher’s job to communicate to the students the validity of the blended approach in a positive way.

Useful reading

Barrett, B. and Sharma, P. (Macmillan: 2007). Blended Learning: Using Technology in and beyond the Language Classroom.

Sharma, P. (2010). Key concepts in ELT: Blended learning. ELT J. Vol 64 (4) 456–458.

Can we flip the ELT classroom?

Nik Peachey

Nik Peachey has been involved in ELT since 1992 and has worked all over the world as a language teacher, teacher trainer, technology trainer, writer and consultant.

In 2012 he won the British Council ELTon Award for Excellence in course innovation. He is well known for his free Learning Technology blog, and he is currently publishing a series of interactive e-books, Digital Classrooms.

You can follow him on Twitter (@NikPeachey), Facebook (Technology in English language teaching), LinkedIn and Google+.

I think it’s true to say these days that any teacher who uses the internet or online materials in some way to supplement the work they do in class with their students is practising a form of blended learning. Although they may not consciously think of it as such, any combination of face-to-face instruction combined with some form of computer-based learning can be described as blended learning.

Different models of blended learning

Of course more consciously structured models of blended learning have been formalised and the kind that I described above is most commonly referred to as the ‘supplemental’ or ‘face-to-face driver’ model. Other common models are the ‘emporium’ in which students study their core materials in a computer lab and break off for group tutorials in a classroom and the ‘replacement’ model in which the core of the syllabus is delivered through an online platform with the supplementary classes taking place at school.

The flipped learning model

One of the most common models to rise to popularity in mainstream education is the flipped learning model. This model is usually delivered as a combination of video lectures, which students watch online in their own time, followed by more practical group work with the teacher in the classroom. The term ‘flipped’ was applied because this is seen as reversing the conventional instructional model whereby students attend lectures in class and then do practical work for homework.

Can we flip the ELT classroom?

Although there has been much enthusiasm for flipped learning, particularly in North America, there has also been much criticism of the model. The main criticism has been that a lecture, even as an online video, is still a transmission medium of teaching and is no more, and perhaps even less engaging than the same lecture delivered face-to-face. This is a valid criticism and when we start to think about how this technique can be applied in English language teaching, where we already prioritise student talking and interaction time in class, it can be difficult to see how this can improve on what we already do. There is, however, a range of ways we can use flipped learning:
  • Using apps like Educreations we can record grammar explanations which include diagrams such as time lines and information about changing word order and features of pronunciation, etc.
  • We can also find video content on YouTube and build interactive quizzes around it using a range of different free web based tools like Educanon or ESL video. These sites also have a range of community made materials that we can use.
  • There are also free sites like Edpuzzle which allow us to crop online video and add voice-over explanations to the videos. This can be really effective for structuring video lesson materials such as dialogues or scenes from films.
  • We can also use sites like Vialogues which enable us to construct open ended questions around video content, which in turn get students interacting with each other and exchanging opinions about the video.

The shift to more independent learning

So despite the criticisms of flipped learning as a means of transmitting information, we can work with this model in ways that support more student engagement with content. It’s also easy to miss the really fundamental shift that flipped learning aims to bring about, and that is to push more responsibility for learning on to the students, so that they come to class prepared and already thinking about what they need to learn and thus develop as more independent and autonomous learners.

Three key tools that can flip your classroom

Russell Stannard

Russell Stannard is the founder of the award winning site TeacherTrainingVideos.com and is a NILE Associate Trainer. He was the winner of the British Council ELTons award for Innovation in 2010, and in 2008 he was awarded the Times Higher ‘Outstanding Initiative in ICT’ and ‘Excellence in teaching and learning’ by the University of Westminster. You can follow Russell on Twitter: @russell1955

There is so much talk about the flipped classroom these days. In reality it is nothing new and you could even trace its roots back as far as John Dewey [1] in the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries. What is clear, though, is that the idea is really taking a hold and there is a lot of focus on how the ‘learning content’ of a course can be delivered at home so that classroom time can be used for more tutorial-led learning and focus on group work and coursework.

For my website, www.teachertrainingvideos.com, I explore a wide range of teaching related technologies and there is no doubt that the following three tools stick out in terms of what they can do for the flipped class.


myBrainshark is a web based 2.0 tool that allows you to upload PowerPoint slides, Word documents, PDF files and even pictures or videos and then add your voice to them. It then compresses it all and make the output accessible on the web. It is an outstanding tool because it allows easy distribution of lectures etc. that are highly compressed and playable by just about anyone with an internet connection. What’s more it can be used by students too – something that I introduced into my own teaching. So as well as flipping the learning input and loading up lectures and content I want my students to listen to before class, I have also used it to get my students to reflect on their learning and provide feedback to me. In another example I asked students to upload a PowerPoint presentation and then add their voice to it as a way of practising their English [2].


In 2012 I came across Present.me. Present.me allows you to upload PowerPoint slides or PDFs and then add your voice and your webcam feed. So the students can hear and see you and again this is a great tool if you want to produce lectures that they can access at home. It doesn’t offer the same compression that myBrainshark does, but some teachers like to use their webcam in addition to the lecture slides and sound. This tool can also be used by the students and we can get them to do presentations alone or in groups. They can share and distribute their work via Present.me. A recent example included a student using it to provide feedback on a class he had done with me [3]. Present.me has a free version that even allows for recordings of up to an hour long. It is pretty impressive and the feedback from teachers has been excellent.


The one tool that sticks up above them all is Jing. It is free screencasting tool from TechSmith and I have made wide use of it to provide feedback to my students [4]. Jing is very easy to use and allows you to record the screen of your computer as if you had a camera pointing at it and it also records your voice. It opens up all sorts of possibilities for online instruction, guidance on assessment, oral and visual instructions, etc. It is such an easy tool to use and creates huge interest whenever I present it. Watch the help videos I have provided at the end of this article and you will be amazed just how easy Jing is to use.


[1] John Dewey (1859–1952) was an American educational reformer whose ideas are still relevant today:

[2] A student using myBrainshark to develop her speaking:

[3] A student using Present.me to provide reflection on a lesson:

[4] Using Jing to provide feedback to students:

The tools and how to use them

You can find step by step guides for all three tools here:

Interactive resources on Teachit ELT

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Where we spot an opportunity, we create interactive activities to accompany the paper-based resources and the teaching ideas that our contributors send in. Look out for the interactive icon as you browse the resource libraries: Interactive whizzy activity

As an individual subscriber or key contributor, you can use these online in class. As an institution subscriber, you can assign them to your learners for use wherever they wish.

The teaching notes in the Word/PDF usually suggest how you could integrate those activities into your lesson, ensuring that they are not just add-ons.

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Make your own interactive activities from scratch

Some of our interactives are so straightforward, it makes sense to make your own from scratch. As a subscriber or key contributor, you can enter your own word lists into Hangman, Matching and Snap, create interactive quizzes and comprehension questions using Yes No or get students reordering bits of text with Sequencing, Syntex and Choptalk.

Some, like Magnet, are so versatile, you'll probably come up with some possibilities we haven't even thought of yet. If you do, then please consider sharing them with us!

Make your own interactive activities

Our interactive Magnet tool

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