Flipped Lessons that are Inquiry-Based


When I first started flipping lessons in writing workshop, I worried about the amount of direct instruction I was creating. I was worried because that’s not my primary teaching style in the classroom. I like to have a balance of direct instruction and inquiry-based instruction in my writing workshop. I want my students to explore language and punctuation. I was worried that I might not be able to create inquiry-based flipped lessons. But I was wrong.

Two of my favorite inquiry-based professional development books for how to teach writing are Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray and The Power of Grammar by Mary Ehrenworth. Both authors encourage students to examine the work of writers in order to investigate and discuss their writing moves. Ray and Ehrenworth encourage students to come up with their own names for the moves that writers make such as “Fragments that Create Heart-Pounding Suspense” or “Endings that Circle Back to the Beginning.” This way, students can take ownership of the writing strategies and try them out in their own writing.

I was excited to discover that I can make flipped lessons that support this inquiry-based learning approach. I began creating lessons that did not use a direction-instruction method for teaching, and I found that students loved this type of flipped lesson.

For example, let’s say I wanted to create a writing workshop flipped lesson about writing leads in a fiction unit. I might take a sentence such as the first line of the book, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and use it in my flipped lesson:

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog. This is what happened:”

In my flipped lesson, I would use an inquiry-based teaching method like Ray and Ehrenworth recommend. I would encourage my students to examine this sentence and jot down the writing moves that they’re noticing DiCamillo made when writing this sentence. I would use an inquiry-based teaching prompt such as “What do you notice?” to help students get started. This would open the lesson up to students noticing many things about DiCamillo’s sentence.

After students had the chance to jot down what they notice, I would ask them to think about DiCamillo’s sentence only in terms of leads. I would encourage students to jot down this type of lead in their writing workshop notebook and name this type of story beginning. Some students might call it an “Introductory” lead or a “How did it all Begin?” lead.  Finally in my flipped lesson, I would ask my students to try to write a lead like DiCamillo’s. This way they can put their own spin on this type of beginning.

So here are my 5 steps to creating an inquiry-based flipped lesson:

  1. Choose or write something that you want your students to explore. Ray and Ehrenworth have great pieces of writing in their books that you can use. Sometimes I write my own sentences for my students explore. Other times, I pick a children’s book and find a bit of text that they can explore.
  2. When creating your flipped lesson, state your purpose: “Today writers, you will be exploring a bit of an author’s writing. I want you to read it with eyes wide open, looking for anything that might be interesting to you.”
  3. Reveal the text you have selected for students to examine. Encourage students to jot down what they notice. “What do you notice?” “What words or punctuation jump out at you?”
  4. Why did the author make this writing choice? Have students name what they are noticing.
  5. Have students try! They can mimic the author’s writing choice and see if they can create the same effect. Students should have all of this in their writing notebook, ready to share with you or their peers.


What I love about flipped learning is that the possibilities are endless. Students can have an inquiry-based learning experience at school, at home, anywhere. Technology helps make this happen.

Let me know if you have ideas about inquiry-based flipped learning with technology. I’m finding that it’s all about the questions you ask. With the right questions and encouragement, anything is possible.


Dana Johansen teaches fifth grade in Connecticut.  As her dear friend and colleague Melissa says, “For teachers, June is like Friday night, July is like Saturday, and August is like Sunday.” Dana is soaking up the July days with #bookaday reading and teaching writing to middle school students. Dana’s newest book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, co-authored with Sonja Cherry-Paul, was released in April, and Dana is looking forward to #ILA2016 where she is going to present on flipped learning. She believes in bringing literacy learning to life in any way that she can. Dana uses digital texts, flipped lessons, and all things Google to differentiate, be time efficient, and increase her students’ autonomy in the workshop. She has taught elementary and middle school for fifteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. 



Flipped Learning: Supporting Students in Writing Workshop

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When we work with educators who want to begin flipping lessons in their writing workshops, we regularly address major misconceptions about flipped learning. For example, we’ve been asked, “Isn’t flipped learning about students watching videos while teachers escape from doing any work?” We want teachers, administrators, parents, and students to know this is absolutely false!

Flipped learning isn’t about teaching less; it’s about students doing more!

Recently, Dana tweeted the following: “I don’t flip lessons so that I can teach less. I flip lessons so that my students can do more!” Flipped learning is not a replacement for the work that happens in the classroom during writing workshop. Teachers are irreplaceable. We play a critical role in helping students to develop as writers. Students need face-to-face interactions with teachers who listen to their struggles, celebrate their accomplishments, model new strategies, demonstrate powerful writing moves with mentor texts, and a plethora of other essential teaching that enables students to flourish as writers. Our students need us. We are their cheerleader, confidant, and counsel. Flipped lessons enhance the workshop by making it possible for students to move confidently through the writing process with support from their teacher at every turn.

Flipped learning isn’t about students watching videos; it’s about students accessing instruction.

Even though most of us could not function on a daily basis without assistance from technology, a negative association is at times made when we see students in front of computers, particularly in the classroom. The image of this can evoke fear. Fear that our students aren’t really learning; that they’re just passive viewers. Another misconception about flipped learning, because it involves students using technology, is that it results in watered-down instruction. Flipped learning isn’t about students watching videos; it’s about students accessing instruction. This instruction has been deliberately and carefully designed to help students excel academically. Delivering this instruction via technology acknowledges and honors the way many of our students enjoy learning. Technology is an indelible part of our students’ lives and therefore, should be part of the classroom. When students access flipped lessons they are not passive learners; they are working with a specific purpose in mind and are held accountable for the instruction provided in these lessons. Writer’s notebooks, exit/entrance tickets, and writing conferences are some of the ways students can demonstrate what they’ve learned and the steps they plan to take next.

ILA2016 is rapidly approaching! Dana and I are excited to learn from and alongside so many dedicated educators across the country and beyond. We are also excited to have the opportunity to discuss our thoughts about flipped learning and to converse with a global circle of educators who have ideas and questions about flipped learning, too.


Wow! The summer is starting, and I have 3 main goals for rejuvenating and relaxing:

1- Get outside and do some good walking with my yellow lab.

2- Try some new, healthy smoothie recipes.

3- Try to keep up with the #Bookaday challenge. So far, I’m on day 12 of the #Bookaday challenge and I hope to continue for 60 days.

I’m not going to lie- so far there have been some rough days, but I’m hanging in there and am feeling good! If you haven’t heard about the #Bookaday challenge, the goal is to read a book each day. You can start the challenge at anytime and end at anytime. Simply set a goal and read! You can read a picture book, chapter book, professional development book, anything! The purpose of the challenge is to simply set aside some time for reading. How glorious! Thank you, Donalyn Miller and The Nerdy Book Club, for inspiring the #Bookaday challenge!

What I love about this challenge is that with each day that I read, I am gaining book talks for Sept., mentor texts for minilessons, and professional development advice. I am growing stronger as a teacher (and reader!)

Today I read and posted a Good Reads review of Bounce, Megan Shull’s new release (out in Sept.) I’ve attached the review below:
BounceBounce by Megan Shull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three cheers for Megan Shull’s new book, Bounce!!! This book feels like a combination of Wendy Mass’s 11 Birthdays and Megan Shull’s The Swap, and it is the perfect blend for readers who love these books. I teach middle school and my students LOVE The Swap. That is why they are counting down the days till Bounce is released. Having just finished reading Bounce, I know they will LOVE it too!

Megan Shull’s distinct writing style and voice shines through in Bounce, and readers will immediately feel like they are back with the voice and style they loved so much in The Swap. Bounce has new characters but the same heartfelt messages and themes from The Swap. While reading Bounce, I laughed, I cried, and I rejoiced. Without giving anything away about the plot, I’ll say that one of my favorite parts of Bounce was meeting such a diverse group of characters. I know that my students will have many discussions about all the characters and how they affected the main character, Frannie.

I am so thankful that Megan Shull writes books that have strong messages, good feels, and diverse characters. As a teacher, I’m always looking for books that will connect with readers. Megan Shull’s books do that. They’re simply magic! If you don’t already have The Swap in your library, it’s a must-have. It will fly off the shelf. In September, get copies of Bounce, too, because they will also be flying off your shelves. I’ve already pre-ordered copies of Bounce– I can’t wait for them to be delivered in Sept. My students will be eagerly waiting for that box, and they’ll love reading Bounce!


Join the #Bookaday challenge! For more information about the #Bookaday challenge, read Donalyn Miller’s blog post here.

You can tweet about your #Bookaday reads with Sonja and me by using the #Bookaday hashatag and our Twitter handle @LitLearnAct. Or visit us on our Facebook Group to talk about about reading, #bookaday, flipped learning, digging deeper into texts, and close reading! We love it!  https://www.facebook.com/groups/770735289739767/

10 Summer Reading Tips

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I can’t believe that the summer is approaching! It’s time to help our students make reading plans for the summer months. We all know that if students do not read during the summer months they lose ground as readers. It is similar to practicing the piano or going to soccer practice. If they do not engage with books over the summer, they can fall behind.

Now is the time for us to begin planning how we will encourage our students to read over the summer. Here are 10 ways we can help our students get ready for summer reading.

10) Make a Class List of Recommendations: Create a list of students’ favorite books that you can send home with students for the summer. If each student writes 5 book recommendations, you’ll have a long list.

9) Wish lists: Have students jot down 10-20 titles (or authors) that they hope to read this summer. Students can hang this wish list on their refrigerator or in their rooms in order to remember which books they’d like to read. When they head to the library this summer, they can take their list with them. Model this work by sharing your own book wish list with students.

8) Library Programs: Advertise the summer reading library programs in your town or district. Many libraries or Boys and Girls Clubs have summer reading challenges for students. Encourage parents and students to join these programs. Some libraries also have digital book collections (like Kindle books) where students can borrow digital books that they can read on their cellphones or tablets. This is a great alternative for students who can’t visit the library frequently or who need the font size to be enlarged.

7) Book Clubs: Encourage students to create book clubs with their parents, family members, or friends. These clubs can be a lot of fun!

6) Shelfies: Have your students take Shelfies of themselves reading different titles during the summer. Encourage them to email you their Shelfies. Post these pictures on your class blog or website. Post your own Shelfies too!

5) List of Great Read Alouds for Parents: Create a list of 10-20 books that you know your students would love their parents to read aloud to them. Parents are always looking for suggestions. These summer read alouds will bring so much joy !

4) Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: Similar to library summer reading programs, the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is a great way for your students to track their reading. This program helps motivate students to read a lot.

3) Blog of Book Recommendations: Create a blog, Goodreads page, or Pinterest page that has book recommendations and synopses.

2) Set Goals: Encourage your students to make detailed plans for their summer reading and set goals. How many books are they hoping to read? Perhaps they create a reading calendar with plans? Which books will they bring to sleep-away camp? Model setting goals by setting goals for your own reading this summer.

1) Letters Between Teachers and Students: A favorite way to get students motivated to keep reading all summer is to send them off in June with a self-addressed stamped envelope so they can write you a letter about their reading during the summer. They will love sharing their reading with you over the summer.

It is so important that our students read, read, read over the summer. At the heart of summer reading is parent partnership and students who are motivated to read. Some teachers create a special reading folder with their students that includes: A list of book recommendations, students’ goals, a wish list, and a letter to parents with recommendations. These can help students and parents make plans for summer reading.

Flipped Learning and The Home/School Connection

Have you ever had one of those days in writing workshop where you practiced a strategy with students and then sent them home to continue writing for homework? In your mind, all students seemed settled and confident about what to do. But instead, you receive 5 emails from parents stating otherwise. “My child didn’t understand what s/he was supposed to do for homework.” And 5 more students return to school the next morning stating the same.

As teachers, we know how essential it is to establish a strong home/school connection with parents and guardians. Our partnerships with parents is critical to students’ progress as learners. Parents want to support the learning that happens in their child’s classroom. When this connection is fractured, parents can feel helpless and frustrated. In previous posts, we’ve discussed four compelling reasons to flip lessons in writing workshop: Individualization, Efficiency, Engagement, and Small Group Instruction. Another powerful reason is: The Home/School Connection.

Example #1: Recently, I had a student who was performing in a Broadway production and had to miss several weeks of school. My student and his parents desperately wanted to maintain a connection to our classroom and to the curriculum. Flipping lessons in writing workshop helped my student to access instruction during his absence and complete assignments on time. For students who have been absent from school or need additional guidance to complete homework, flipped lessons can save the day. Flipping lessons in writing workshop results in fewer emails from parents stating, “My child didn’t know what to do” or “My child was stuck” or “My child was absent.”

Example #2: Along with everything else we juggle on a daily basis, teachers are also responsible for students who are pulled out of classrooms for music lessons, support services, etc. Some of my students are English Language Learners. It can cause great anxiety for students when they miss instruction or when they don’t understand it the first time. They worry that they will fall behind. It is incredibly helpful when students can return to class and access a flipped lesson that covers the instruction they’ve missed. Flipping lessons helps my students when they need to be out of the classroom, or when they just need more time to process instruction.

Flipped learning isn’t just for homework. It is accessible, individualized learning that can happen in the classroom. Flipped learning can help to strengthen the home/school connection by making what’s happening in the classroom transparent to parents.

We hope we’ve piqued your interest in trying to flip a lesson or two in your writing workshop, and we look forward to hearing about how it’s going!


Flipped Learning and Small Group Work

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Are you like me? Do you sometimes struggle to form and manage small groups of writers in the writing workshop? I feel confident conferring one-on-one with my students and teaching the minilesson, however, when it comes to small group work, I can struggle. This is an area that I’ve worked on a lot in the past three years, and I’ve found that flipped learning has helped a lot.

Why do I continue to try to teach small groups during writing workshop when I find it challenging to manage? I believe that learning is a social process and that students learn best when they talk about a strategy together and bounce ideas off each other. Small group work can be less structured than the formal class minilesson, and 2 or 3 students can work together to talk through their writing plans. Above all, small group learning switches the focus from the teacher to the students. The teacher takes a coaching role during small group sessions and students work together to tackle writing challenges. Flipped learning is perfect for small group work because it empowers students to take what they’ve learned and try it out and ask questions. Catlin Tucker, author of Blended Learning in Grades 4-12, wrote a blog post of using flipped learning in small group work and work stations (http://catlintucker.com/2016/01/inclassflip/). She says:

“Then students can watch that video in a station where they can still pace their learning by pausing or rewinding the video. Once they’ve seen the video, they can engage in a collaborative task attempting to apply the information from the video as a group.This is a great way to take the benefits of the flipped classroom and embed them into the station rotation model.”

~Catlin Tucker

Here are 2 scenarios in the writing workshop that illustrate the benefits of using flipped learning in your small groups.

Example #1: I’ve just taught a minilesson about a new strategy for elaboration in a persuasive essay. My goals for the remainder of the workshop time are to confer with 3 students and run two small group lessons. The first small group of learners need to learn strategies for writing the opposing viewpoints and rebuttals. The second group of learners need to review a previously-taught lesson about paragraph structure. Prior to using flipped learning in the writing workshop, I might have mismanaged my time by trying to juggle these two small groups of learners, and I would not have had time to confer individually with students.

However, with two flipped lessons ready to go, I am able to form the two small groups and help them access flipped lessons about the topics. This way I can confer with one student while the small groups are accessing the flipped lessons. Then I can meet with the small groups to answer any questions they might have and see how they are applying what they learned. After meeting with both small groups, I still have plenty of time to meet with 2 or 3 more students one-on-one.

Example #2: I’ve learned from Kate Roberts, co-author of DIY Literacy and Falling in Love with Close Reading, that a great strategy for managing small groups of writers in upper elementary and middle school grades is to write 2 to 3 small group topics on the white board and encourage students to sign up for one of those topics. For instance, I might write “Making your thesis statement stronger and arguable,” “3 Strategies for Elaborating,” and “Transitional Sentence Starters” on the board. Students can choose which topic to sign up for during class that day, or they can choose not to participate in a small group.

Flipped learning helped me manage these small group sessions. In the past, I would have struggled to provide enough small group options for all of my learners. I know myself, and I know that trying to run 3 small group sessions is challenging in a writing workshop period. Instead of trying to teach all of the sessions, I write FL next to a session title or titles that have flipped lessons online. This way my students can access the flipped lessons on their own, at a time of their convenience, or with a small group of students in the workshop.