Home Pillar Corner THEMED ISSUE ON LANGUAGE EDUCATION: It all Started with Content: Flipping TOEFL...

THEMED ISSUE ON LANGUAGE EDUCATION: It all Started with Content: Flipping TOEFL Test Prep


When I think about why I started flipping three years ago, I realize now that content was my primary motivation. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the Flipped Learning Network, its four pillars, and what flipped learning really entailed. All I had heard about flipped learning was that students work on classwork at home and work on homework in class, and I was intrigued about the possibility that I could somehow move some or all of this test prep outside the classroom.

According to the Flipped Learning Network (2014), the Intentional Content pillar is described as the following:

Flipped Learning Educators continually think about how they can use the Flipped Learning model to help students develop conceptual understanding, as well as procedural fluency. They determine what they need to teach and what materials students should explore on their own. Educators use Intentional Content to maximize classroom time in order to adopt methods of student-centered, active learning strategies, depending on grade level and subject matter. (Flipped Learning Network, 2014)

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in a pathways program at Northeastern University, where, like teachers in other settings, I need to prepare our students for a standardized test. In my case, this is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which students need to pass in order to matriculate to our university. When I found myself standing at the front of the room going over answers to test questions, I knew I wasn’t creating an active learning environment. In addition, students had a wide range of abilities and needed help with different skills. For instance, some students excelled at verb tenses but had trouble reducing adjective and adverb clauses. If they did particularly well on the book exercises that week, I sensed that they were bored while we discussed each answer. If they needed more help understanding a test question or topic, they didn’t always get it because I felt rushed to move on to other activities. I knew I needed to find a way to help develop their conceptual understanding of the test in a more student-centered approach way.

Within the Intentional Content pillar, there are three indicators:

I1.  I prioritize concepts used in direct instruction for learners to access on their own.

I2.  I create and/or curate relevant content (typically videos) for my students.

I3.  I differentiate to make content accessible and relevant to all students.

As the first indicator states, teachers who flip should move content that learners can access on their own. When I started thinking about how I could flip TOEFL prep, I knew that I wanted students to access descriptions of test strategies and grammar points at home. I didn’t want to spend a lot of valuable face-to-face class time reviewing multiple-choice test questions, as this content involves low-level skills such as comprehension and remembering. This is what led me to create and curate my own content. In this article, I’ll discuss how I have created and curated content for my students.

When I began flipping TOEFL preparation materials, I created my own videos. My first ones were pretty text-heavy and way too long. I used Kaltura Media to narrate PowerPoint slides and uploaded videos to our course page in Blackboard. Students watched the videos at home, answered practice questions in their textbooks, and checked their answers using the book’s answer key. I would give them a brief (ungraded) quiz at the beginning of class to check their understanding of the material, hold them accountable to doing work outside of class, and assign extra practice if necessary. I then put students into small groups to help each other via peer tutoring and visit each group to answer questions. They brought specific questions to class about incorrect answers they got wrong or the content they didn’t understand.

I continue to use this approach to incorporate TOEFL prep in my reading and writing course, but I have made some improvements. First, I have recreated the videos to make them 10-12 minutes, include shorter sentences and descriptions of each main point, and include more supporting visuals such as tables and images. I have also experimented with different forms of assessment to see how well students understood the content they learned at home. I’d like to note that videos are not required for flipping content (Brinks Lockwood, 2018). They were simply my preferred method because I wanted to customize the material and align videos with the topics presented in students’ textbook.

I have learned so much by trial and error and by reading and writing about flipped learning. Below, I offer some tips for creating and/or curating content based on what has worked for me.

1. Start with what’s available

When I talk about flipped learning at conferences and workshops, a common concern of teachers is the issue of time. They often say that they simply don’t have the time to create materials. In response, I say that they don’t have to create a ton of materials from scratch. There is already so much video and audio material that they can make use of (Kostka & Marshall, 2017). For instance, I use YouTube videos quite often, finding videos through the same channels. One channel that I use frequently for ESL content is SmrtEnglish, a company based in Canada that offers short videos on a wide range of English language topics. Use what you can find, and as you develop your own materials, you’ll be building a library of materials that you can draw from later.

2. Use familiar technology

There are many tools available that teachers can use to create videos, and they don’t have to be tech experts in order to begin flipping (Kostka & Brinks Lockwood, 2015). I have experimented with a few different tools, but I find myself using Kaltura Media quite frequently. This software is available to us at my university, and I feel comfortable using it. The best feature is that I can easily upload videos to my course pages and keep metrics about student engagement with them, such as how often they watch each video, how many times it’s played, and how much of the video they get through. You can use what you know, and videos can be as simple as ones that you record with your computer camera or phone.

3. Work with others

In the March 2017 issue of this newsletter, Kristin Daniels discussed the fourth pillar (Professional Educator) and the importance of collaboration. When developing content, it’s also useful to work with your colleagues to share ideas for creating and curating content. For instance, I have created a Google folder that includes a list of links students watch at home in preparation for class work. I share this folder and other course materials with the other instructors who are teaching my course so they don’t have to look for videos. I have also uploaded my TOEFL prep videos in the Blackboard pages of each of the sections of my course so students can access them.

As I plan for the coming academic year, I anticipate that I’ll improve my videos in several ways. First, I aim to make them more interactive by using PlayPosit to embed questions into the video.  I also want to include more of myself in my videos to enhance the interpersonal relationship I have with students and help them feel that they are learning directly from me outside of class.  Finally, I plan to separate long videos into shorter ones that focus on one main topic. In general, I want students to engage more in these videos while they watch, maximize learning, and collect formative feedback about their comprehension.

I hope that this focused view of how I approach the Intentional Content pillar has inspired you start flipping your content or, if you already do, to revisit and refine your practice in creating and curating your material.


Brinks Lockwood, R. (2018).  Flipping the classroom: What every ESL teacher needs to know.

Flipped Learning Network. (2014). What is flipped learning?  The four pillars of F-L-I-P. Retrieved from http://www.flippedlearning.org/domain/46

Kostka, I., & Marshall, H. (2017).  Flipped learning in TESOL: Past, present, and future. In J. Perren, K. Kelch, J. Byun, S. Cervantes, & S. Safavi (Eds.), Applications of CALL theory in ESL and EFL environments (pp. 223-243). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Kostka, I., & Brinks Lockwood, R. (2015). What’s on the Internet for flipping English language instruction? The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language, 19(2), 1-12.


Ilka Kostka
Ilka Kostka received her PhD from New York University. She is currently an assistant teaching professor in the American Classroom and Global Pathways Programs at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) reading and writing courses to pre-matriculated undergraduate international students and contribute to curriculum development. Her presentation with Erik Voss was featured as one of eight “Best of Affiliates” sessions at the 2016 TESOL Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.


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