Flipped Learning – Part 5: Flip Your English Class!

By CUE Member and Guest Blogger Troy Cockrum

This Post Will Focus on Flipping Learning in the English Classroom- Post 5 in Our 6-Part Series

Flipped Learning in English Class

CC Dave Dugdale

I usually describe my flipped learning English classroom as sloppy.  I like to say it is the writing process in action.  I go in with somewhat of a plan, but my interaction with the students determines the direction and final outcome. My motto is the same as Captain Ron’s….“If anything is going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”

In my upcoming book “Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners”, I identify five different models of flipped learning in an English language arts classroom.  The two I used most often that truly embody what my class is about are Explore-Flip-Apply (EFA) and the Peer Instruction Flip.


Going back to Captain Ron, there is a scene in which the Harvey family and Captain Ron (Kurt Russell) are in a violent storm at sea while sailing.  Captain Ron assures the passengers they are near land.  When asked how he knows, he responds, “When we left, we had just enough fuel to make it to San Juan. And we are out of fuel.”  In the ensuing melee, they do discover land and it is at this point of the film where the narrator and viewer realizes Captain Ron really knows more than he is letting on.

That is an important element of the EFA Learning Cycle.  As Ramsey Musallam explains in my podcast, EFA is dependent on “the intentional withholding of knowledge.”  The students are guided in an activity that causes them to explore a topic or skill without being given the full information.  Having the students discover the information is what truly locks it in.

“This is just like our descriptive essays!”

My 8th graders knew descriptive essays were on the agenda for the week.  I knew they had some experience with descriptive writing, but I needed to determine their level of knowledge before I gave any instruction.


The activity I decided to do was an improv game called “Advertising Agency”. In this game, I give three students a fictitious product using a random noun, adjective, and adverb thrown out by the class.  Using this “product,” students must create an ad campaign off the top of their head.  The only rule is students cannot negate another’s idea.  Instead, they must respond to every idea with “Yes! And….” then add to the idea.

About half way through our 3rd round of playing the game, one of my students gets extremely excited because she’s had a revelation to which she shouts out, “This is just like our descriptive essays!” That is when I knew I had them!

I then let the students discuss their ideas about how this activity related to descriptive writing.  I interjected very little and just listened to the connections my students were making.

“Do you just sit at home thinking about how to tie these things together?”


Following the improv game and discussion, my students were assigned a short descriptive writing video to tie up some loose ends.


At this point, the students are set free to begin working on a descriptive writing assignment. As the students were leaving class abuzz from “playing games” all period, one student asks, “Do you just sit at home thinking about how to tie these things together? I would have never thought of descriptive essays until you pointed it out.” The funny part is that I wasn’t the one that pointed it out at all. That’s the beauty of EFA in the classroom, knowledge is constructed collaboratively and many times no one really knows who should receive credit.


At Flipcon13 this year, one of the most popular presentations was Julie Schell’s on Peer Instruction. This model was developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard University. The main idea behind this model is that students do a pre-class activity like a reading or a video and then they are presented with a problem in class. Once students have determined their own answer to the problem(s), they are paired with students having different answers and asked to explain and convince the other of the correct answer.

There is another scene in Captain Ron when Martin Harvey (Martin Short) ignores Captain Ron’s advice to watch out for guerillas. He insists there are no “gorillas” on the island.  Subsequently, he captured by guerrillas. When he is rescued by Captain Ron, his argument is, “He said GOrilla not GUERrilla. Huge difference!”  Much like Peer Instruction, Harvey is arguing he is right based on his knowledge and understanding.

“Now I have to read all of it tonight to find out the answer!”

I use the Peer Instruction model a lot for grammar and also with literature and reading comprehension.  Recently in the process of reading The Diary of Anne Frank,  I presented my students with a question to think about as they read: Did Anne intend for others to read her diary?

When we came to the first time Anne refers to herself in 3rd person and then a few pages later when Anne adds a PS to an entry addressing “the reader,” I asked the same question again and got divided responses.

After giving the students a few minutes to reflect on the question, I paired them off and let them discuss their thoughts with another classmate. As I listened to the many conversations, many students could point to examples in the book supporting both sides. After the conversations began to run their course, I opened it up to a group discussion and students shared the thoughts they had before and after the individual discussions.

Normally with Peer Instruction, you would give the students the answer, but in this case, I knew the definitive answer was coming up in the book.  So, I teased them with that saying only, “You will get the answer later in the book.”  Which prompted one student to scream out, “Now I have to read all of it tonight to find out the answer!”

This is why I call my flipped learning class sloppy.  The students are the ones that make learning happen, because I, like Captain Ron, know “If anything is going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”

Flipped Learning in English Class

Troy Cockrum

Troy Cockrum is a middle school language arts teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana. He does training and consulting across the country specializing in incorporating technology into the classroom, especially through Google Apps for Education and Flipped Learning. He became a Google Certified Teacher in 2011. In addition, he is a member of the Flipped Learning Network Cadre, a small network of educators endorsed by the Flipped Learning Network to train and present on Flipped Learning, and he also hosts the Flipped Learning Network Podcast.  Most recently, Troy won the 2013 Jacobs Educator Award from the School of Education at Indiana University. Prior to becoming an educator, Troy was a television writer/producer and earned a Regional Emmy Nomination in 2002.  In his spare time, he coaches soccer, performs improv comedy, and would like to someday be on the television show “Survivor.”

About author View all posts

Blog Editor

OnCUE Connect

Sign up and connect to CUE members, resources, and more at OnCUE -- delivered to your inbox each day!