Flip for a Day! Flipping a Lesson in German

--Originally published at Flipped Learning in My Beginning German Courses

There are many resources available that explain what the phrase "flipping your classroom" means. The best is the Flipped Learning Network, which was initiated by the original flipped learning pioneers and that hosts a number of amazing resources. There are also the following L2-dedicated websites to consult:

  • Miscositas.com (provides a list of resources; no date or author)
  • The FLT Mag (gives general introduction, with some resources listed; by Edwige Simon and Courtney Fell; last updated 25 June 2013)
  • Voxy (gives general introduction, with some resources listed; no author; last updated 21 June 2012)
  • AASA (lists four rookie errors made by a French instructor; by April L. Burton; March 2013)
  • Mme Burton (a working site used for French instruction, complete with videos and hand-outs; by April L. Burton; last update 2 August 2013)
  • Spanish Flipped Class (a Spanish teacher's reflections in blog format, including  some resources; by an anonymous author; last updated 25 June 2016)
  • Spanish4Teachers.org (explains the TED-ed flip tool for foreign language classrooms; no author or date)
  • Miscositas.com (introductory PowerPoint presentation; no author or date)
  • SpeakingLatino.com (first steps toward flipping a Spanish classroom; by Analiza Torres; no date).
  • CalicoSpanish (chronicles a group chat about flipping Spanish classes; no author; 17 August 2012)
  • Elon University (report on a German professor who is flipping his language courses, with a broken link to a flipped homework video; by Sam Parker; 29 May 2013)

As you can see, most of these resources are dated and none provide concrete advice of flipping the instruction of German as a foreign language. In this blog entry, we will dig straight into a practical example for teaching a flipped German lesson. Also, packen wir's an!

A Hypothetical Lesson on German Word Order in the Standard Classroom

Most textbooks scatter word order rules throughout the chapters, perhaps stating in one chapter that the German verb in a declarative sentence must be in second position, graphing the position of questions with and without interrogative words in another chapter, and explaining the placement of "nicht" in yet another. So you may find yourself introducing and adding to the students' knowledge of word order rules several times during your Beginning German course sequence.

In a standard lesson, you might introduce your learners to some word order principles (perhaps the inversion of subject and verb with a front field: "Ich kaufe heute ein." turns into → "Heute kaufe ich ein"), and then do a gap-filling activity to let them practice these rules, perhaps in pairs to promote communication. There is, of course, nothing wrong with explaining and reviewing. BUT notice how much you have dominated the class communication so far. Even if your students worked together, they have produced utterances guided by you/or and circumscribed by the textbook. 

At the end of this standard class, your homework assignment might be to read the textbook segment that explains this particular rule of sentence construction. The follow-up assignment will likely consist of more grammar-heavy activities in which the students practice ordering the elements in a German sentence. During the next class session, you might call on your learners to hear the sentences they wrote at home and you may find that many of them were able to follow the examples given in the model sentences. It looks like they understand  but if you try to expand on the learned rule in an oral exercise, most of your students falter...

Instructors who do any of those things run a teacher-centered classroom. As "a sage on the stage," such teachers show or tell, and students follow their lead. As a result, L2 communication tends to be one way. Because of the focus on practicing word order, very little authentic language production occurs in this type of classroom or at home.

How Could You Flip This Same Lesson?
To turn this same lesson into a flipped learning experience, you would first identify all instances in which you, the instructor, provide information. That means: explaining grammar, providing cultural background information, comparing the German and English languages, or introducing vocabulary, to name a few. These moments can easily be moved outside of the classroom, for instance in the form of a PowerPoint presentation or a video. You may be able to find a suitable video on YouTube or another educational channel. Just be certain to review it for errors and suitability before adopting it.

The best option, however, is to create your own content. Here is a generic review PowerPoint presentation I made for my college students. I consider it generic because it's "grammar undiluted" and not contextually embedded in a chapter topic.

This video, ten seconds shy of 5 minutes, is assigned as homework watching. To ensure that all students have absorbed the content, a worksheet is also assigned. I use MS Word to create my worksheets, but lock them for editing so that students can only type into the form boxes provided. This keeps the worksheet's formatting the same and permits quicker viewing later in a busy classroom, when I look over my learners' shoulders as they are working in teams. Students are asked to fill out the Zuhause [at home] portion of their worksheets, save them on their devices, upload them to our LMS (Learning Management System; in our case, Blackboard), and print them for our next class session.

Class begins by us quickly checking the accuracy of the information entered on the worksheets. It is very important to ensure that all learners have done the prerequisite work. As long as students attempted to answer a question at home (hence the use of a fill-in form, which cannot be altered in class) and then correct it during our class discussion, if necessary, they don't lose any points. Here is the worksheet that accompanies this and one other review video (I use these videos only to review the older grammar items of word order and present perfect plus to reactivate weather vocabulary, and thus have only rudimentarily contextualized the in-class exercise).


The students then work in teams as they write their stories about the weather last year. They choose whether to compose a crazily unreal weather tale or to faithfully recycle the old vocabulary. As they work, I circulate as a "living dictionary" and instructional guide. Students are strongly encouraged to speak German with each other; this early in the semester, they will only lose 7% of their worksheet grade for speaking English. This gives them an incentive to stay within the target language, but doesn't penalize them too much if they cannot do so yet. It is hard for them, particularly if they placed into my course from a more lenient instructor, but they learn to appreciate the pressure to produce German utterances as it makes them much more fluent by the end of the term.

At the end of the class session, learners check the appropriate boxes on the self-assessment segment and I collect the worksheets, which I already checked during my in-class perambulation and which thus only need a cursory glance-over for grading (I see this type of grading as a formative assessment; it is accompanied by online quizzes that may be retaken until the student is satisfied wit the quiz score).

At the start of our next class session, my learners receive their graded worksheets back and can refer to them during our next in-class task. They have instant feedback on the previous work and a built-in reference text for the task at hand.

For more information on the actual flow of learning in my classes, see the blog entry "How my Beginning German Courses Evolved."

Some of the Many Benefits of This Approach

  • By shifting my grammar explanations out of the classroom, I have gained invaluable extra time for hands-on practice of the target language. 
  • Because the review material is presented in video format, students can slow it down, rewind, repeat, or speed it up. They are independent of the instructional pace set by the teacher.
  • Students become active learners who are held responsible for transforming pre-class information into usable knowledge. By preparing themselves for our class session, they are adopting the habits necessary for self-regulated, life-long learning (Some will not like this new obligation and will resist it. This challenge will be discussed in another blog post.). 
  • Although I have established a modest linguistic parameter (e.g., the weather topic, told in present perfect tense), my learners are free to express personal meaning and thus assume control and autonomy over the task at hand.
  • I am available to assist during the most complex phase of a lesson: the practical application of L2 content.
  • By teaming experienced learners with those who still struggle, I create multiple mini stations of L2 instruction in my classroom and promote leadership skills in the "deputy teachers". 
  • With completed worksheets in hand, students obtain tangible proof of their growing ability to communicate meaningfully in the target language.
  • The classroom has been turned into a student-centered space of collaboration and creativity.
  • Because the students are speaking German during class time, they practice their language skills more consistently than if I were to call on them individually to read a sentence here or provide an answer there. 
  • Offering content in tactile, kinesthetic, visual, and aural formats (through realia, dances, gestures, videos, Power Points, audio files, songs, and student-designed materials like posters, advertisements, and skits) caters to a greater group of learners than the standard textbook-assisted approach.
  • Students are encouraged to move through the classroom to ask peers or the instructor for assistance. For the summative assessments at the end of a chapter, they demonstrate mastery in group-designed skits, which rely on individualized action and expression rather than demonstrating their learning on paper tests.
  • All learning styles are welcome in the flipped classroom: students may produce language spontaneously during classwork or peruse the worksheets in advance at home to pre-construct their contributions, thus lessening foreign-language performance anxieties. 
  • The completed worksheets serve as snapshots of lower-level cognitive information ("cheat sheets") necessary to carry out in-class tasks, a strategy that frees up working memory to perform higher-level, critical thinking.  
  • The roles in each group project (the end-of-chapter skits) are self-chosen, thus letting some learners be leaders and others followers. This strategy highlights the writing skills of one peer and another's technical expertise; it allows activation or interpretation of background knowledge, depending on personal interest and ability.
  • Last, but certainly not least, the learners are assessed on the demonstrated, practical use of the target language, not the rote memorization of vocabulary and grammatical accuracy. This ensures better grades, more confidence, and overall greater success in L2 acquisition.
Worauf wartest du noch? Flippst du schon? 😅 


Leave a Comment