Bridging the Gap between Pre-Work and In-Class Sessions in the Flipped Classroom

group work in college classroom

One of the challenges of the flipped classroom is building meaningful connections between the pre-work and the in-class sessions. Opponents of the flipped classroom argue that information overload can easily occur in flipped classrooms (Benitez, 2014). Furthermore, while many instructors prefer to use short videos or online modules for the delivery of the pre-work, active learning strategies in the classroom need not be tech heavy. The greatest benefit to using the flipped classroom is the implementation of active learning strategies within the repurposed class time (Michael, 2006; Jensen et al., 2015). The techniques provided here can all be completed in your class with whiteboards, markers, and/or chart paper. In this article, I will share four different strategies that can help your students connect with your classroom pre-work, and embrace a constructivist approach that will help them apply their new knowledge.

Class discussion points
Class discussion points are a simple and effective method to connect classroom pre-work with in-class sessions. Embedded in your course pre-work, present your students with a question that is beyond a simple yes/no and may have multiple correct answers. During the pre-work, instruct them to jot down a few thoughts about the question that they can contribute to a class discussion. During class time, begin this discussion as a think-pair-share. This is an important point as it permits students who may be more introverted to share their ideas with their peers in a smaller setting. After allowing the students to discuss the question for 3-5 minutes, open the question up to the entire class and encourage alternate points of view. This activity is particularly appropriate at the beginning of the term to introduce active learning activities and establish your expectations for class participation.

Case studies
Case studies are an effective and interesting tool to connect pre-work and in-class work for your students. By using real-life examples from your practice or work, case studies can help promote authentic learning, critical thinking, and group collaboration. If used in combination with an online learning module, they can also serve as a bridge to your lesson. For example, I often introduce the case study at the beginning of my online learning module. As the students complete the module, they are able to answer some aspects of the case study on their own. Then, during the in-class sessions, students are divided into small groups to compare answers or explore new questions and concepts. This is an effective strategy in two ways: one, it allows students to connect the classroom pre-work to real-life examples, and secondly, it allows them to compare their level of understanding with their peers and work together to formulate a solution.

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Students as teachers
I always say to my students “You know that you truly understand something if you can teach it to someone else.” Using this framework, why not allow your students to teach some of the more challenging concepts from the course pre-work? To begin this active learning exercise, have a group discussion about the main take-home points from the class pre-work. Once the key topics are identified, divide the class into small groups. Assign each group one of the topics to explain to their peers in a short 3-4 minute lesson. In my courses, students have developed compare/contrast charts, diagrams, even short skits to convey challenging scientific concepts. This activity not only helps to clarify pre-work concepts, but also promotes collaboration, creativity, and presentation skills.

Birds of a feather
This activity, (adapted from Silberman, 1996), can be used to help students perform a type of interactive and collaborative concept mapping activity. Prior to class, write a few related terms or concepts individually on index cards. During class time, provide each student with an index card and instruct them to find others in the class who have an index card that relates to their index card. Ideally, the index card groupings should form related concepts in groups of three or four. After the students form their groups, instruct them to develop another concept or term from the course pre-work that would also fit into their category. Finally, have the students present their group and their “concept map” to the rest of the class. This is also an opportunity for you to correct any misconceptions. I like this activity because it promotes student interaction, gets them up and moving about the classroom, and helps students make connections between various concepts in the course.

The flipped classroom offers a unique opportunity to test-drive many active learning strategies. By connecting pre-work with in-class activities, you can help students create new knowledge and integrate this knowledge into their current schemata.

Benitez, J. (2014). Where is the pedagogy in the flipped classroom? Retrieved from November 4, 2016.

Jensen J.L., Kummer, T.A., Godoy, P.D. (2015). Improvements from a flipped classroom may simply be the fruits of active learning. CBE Life Sciences Education 14: ar5.

Michael, J. (2006). Where is the evidence that active learning works? Advances in Physiology Education 30: 159–167.

Silberman, M. (1996). Active Learning 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

Dr. Sarah McLean is an educator and e-learning coordinator with the Basic Medical Sciences Undergraduate Education Program at Western University, London, Ontario, Canada. She is also a teaching fellow with Western’s Teaching Support Centre.