Planning Structured Activities for the Flipped Classroom

The effective flipped classroom applies and extends the work students do out of class. This can entail a wide range of problem-solving, discussion and creative activities. Feel free to be imaginative in planning these activities. Just as time for independent thought and practice is important for learning, research shows that peer-to-peer exchanges can enhance interest, lead to better retention and deepen understanding among students in classes of any size – if the activities are designed effectively. Here we offer a few very general guidelines for effectively structuring individual, paired or small group in-class activities:

  • In a clear manner, define the task for your students. What is the specific question or problem? What form will their work take? (e.g. a list, sentence, short letter, diagram, solution). An example of the outcome you expect will help to focus their attention on their work.
  • Define the process for the completing the task and describe the steps students should take in their work. Suggest a division of labor for group work if appropriate. Should they appoint a speaker, artist, or note-taker? Indicate the amount of time you are allowing for the activity so that students finish their work on time. 
  • Think inclusively about the composition of small groups so that students can learn from a heterogeneous set of perspectives. This will also develop a sense of familiarity among your students who all come from diverse social and academic backgrounds.
  • Plan in advance how you will debrief when the group or individual work is finished. Asking groups to reiterate their conversations may not be the most effective use of class time. To make this moment useful, plan specific questions for students to answer about their work and the process of collaborating. Or allow student groups to ask each other their focused questions about the outcomes of each other’s work. Think about how might these activities be continued online.

Finally, students may not immediately see the value of work in small groups. That may be because their previous experiences with in-class activities were not effectively designed to be meaningful. In other cases, students may assert that their professors are supposed to be teaching them, not their peers. When students are focused on their teachers and the course content, it is important to “flip your students” in order to cultivate their appreciation for their own engagement and deep learning.

As you design classroom activities for your flipped classroom, we refer you to the wider set of strategies in our Scholar As Teacher series. Even when the physical architecture of the large lecture hall resists, there are a variety of significant activities and classroom technologies that enable students to process course material, work through concepts, develop new questions and problems, and discuss questions and tasks with other students in class. See the McGraw BIG Class Project for additional resources and services to support faculty in designing or enhancing their classes. 

McGraw Center staff are available to consult individually with faculty on designing effective activities for their flipped classes as well as for creating interactive online course environments. Contact us at