Pre-class assignments

Truly flipping your classroom begins before the students ever enter the classroom. The main objective for pre-class assignments is to create a meaningful first encounter with material for students. This first encounter should help them accomplish the ‘easy’ learning associated with any topic so that more difficult learning can be performed with you, the professor, helping.

A good target for pre-class activities is to have students achieve at least the first level of Bloom’s taxonomy, Knowledge. The Knowledge level means students are able to recall basic facts, terms, concepts and answers. It is certainly within the possibility of a pre-class activity to also tackle some of the second level, Comprehension [Cite Bloom’s]. Together this motivates a common name for pre-class assignments, class preparation assignments or CPAs. These can be posed as simple comparison questions, or simple problems to solve using a book’s example as a guideline.

Examples of CPAs:

  • Students read material (text and/or journal articles) and take a short online quiz
  • Students view videos from other sources or made by professor
  • Student complete modules about specific topics. A module may include a 20-40 min. video, reading materials (text, articles), and completion of an online quiz. A 15-week course may consist of approximately 11 modules. In a graduate-level course, it is expected that students will spend 10 hours/week on pre-class work. (Critz & Knight, 2013)
  • Students complete writing assignments. For example, writing a summary of an article with designated word length, which could be anywhere from one sentence to 250 words. Similarly, students may write a summary of the assigned video lecture.
  • Another type of writing assignment is to have students explain a concept to a new learner. This requires students “tie the course concept into the knowledge base of the hypothetical reader.” (Bean, J.C., 2011)
  • Create a discussion board for questions about pre-class work so content can be clarified prior to class (Demski, 2013).

Take-Away Summary:


  • Have students learn ‘easy’ or knowledge/comprehension level material before class.
  • Provide incentives for student completion (the carrot and the stick)
  • Utilize existing resources and technology (such as Khan Academy), to reduce your work.


  • Reteach in-class the material you expected them to learn pre-class

In-class activities

In-class activities are the heart of a flipped classroom. You have carefully crafted a pre-class activity, motivated the students to do it, and they are there, in-front of you ready to dig deeper into the subject than you’ve ever been able to teach before. Now what?

The goal of in-class time is to focus on higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy: Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. While some time might be spent on particularly challenging aspects of a CPA, CPAs should be seen as priming the pump to whatever you will accomplish in class. There are a plethora of specific classroom pedagogies that can support a flipped class and just as wide a range of activity concepts. We will detail a few key activities below, but first we want to introduce three classroom flow concepts to fit activities into.

The first concept speaks directly to the goal of a flipped classroom, more engaged students. It is called the 80/20 rule which can be found many places besides our source [cite Horton/Findley]. The 80/20 rule says to spend 80% of your class time with students directly engaged with learning activities and 20% of your time talking or lecturing to the class. It may take a significant mental shift, but remember it’s a main reason to flip your class.

The second concept is ‘chunking’ described in [Doyle and Zakrajsek]. Basically, the brain can only absorb so much information together. If you group your concepts in approximately 10-15 minute chunks, with a significant change in delivery style and focus students’ brains will create more signposts and be able to absorb the information better. Even if the concepts flow one to another, creating logical groupings and changing example problems will help the brain.

The third concept provides a simple framework to implement the above two ideas. The suggestion is to frame each class in a ‘Content/Participation/Review’ order, or CPR [Pike 1994]. Designed to provide CPR to failing pedagogies, these three categories provide natural chunks, and by only introducing or wrapping up each part, you can keep your own talking

Finally, back to actually deciding on activities. Quite possibly the most challenging aspect of flipping a class, designing your actually in-class activities will invariably take the most time. There are many, many resources available to give samples and ideas of activities and we encourage you to go and find the most appropriate for your own field. We have however found one source to be incredibly useful no matter your discipline. In 2007 Van Amburgh, Devlin, Kirwin and Qualters [Van Amburgh et al.] produced a tool for evaluating active learning in a classroom setting. As part of it, they developed an inventory of learning activities and ranked them according to their complexity and engagement. We have included that inventory at the end of this chapter. This inventory is best used by scanning it for activities, and the level of complexity you’d like to incorporate then investigating the activity and developing your own. The inventory includes short descriptions to help decide what will work best in your own classroom.


  • Develop engaging classroom activities that focus on deeper learning
  • Aim for a 80/20 split of active engagement (80%) vs. talking (20%)
  • Deliver material/activities in 10-15min chunks (perhaps using CPR)
  • Experiment with different activities from the active learning inventory
  • Be sure activities address current level of content


  • Spend more than a few minutes reviewing CPAs
  • Just deliver additional knowledge/comprehension level material
  • Under estimate what your students are capable of

Examples of in-class activities:

  • Quick clicker quiz at beginning of class to identify content that may need to be clarified before doing in-class activity (Demski, 2013)
  • Begin with question and answer time wherein each student brings at least one question about the pre-class video, something they don’t know the answer to (Sams & Bergmann, 2013).
  • Case studies. May be unfolding case study that corresponds with current content.
  • Role-playing
  • Group problem-solving exercises such as ethical/legal issues, medication management
  • Students are given questions to solve and allowed to use google or any other sources to find answers. They work on this individually for 20-30 mins, then work in teams where they compare results of their searches. Team decides on the best answer together (Demski, 2013).
  • 10-minute student presentations on assigned topic
  • Begin class with student questions. Write questions on the board and address common questions and important topics. May ask, how did you arrive at that question?

Keeping students accountable for work to be done: Rewards and incentives

Assignments that aim to achieve Knowledge and Comprehension are nothing new, and many faculty members lament the challenge of getting students to do these before class. A key component to succeeding with CPAs is implementing some form of accountability. There is really only two ways, the carrot and the stick, to keep them accountable.

The most important way (the stick) to hold students accountable is to NOT RETEACH what they were supposed to learn before class. If every activity in a class period builds on their CPA and requires them to have completed it, students will quickly realize that they must either do the assignments or fail the class. This can be reinforced via peer-pressure if in-class activities are also group activities.

The second way to keep them accountable is to assign a point value or grade related element to each CPA (the carrot). How we assign grades in a class tells students immediately what we value and do not value. We have provided a sample grading scheme later in this section. The key idea though is that if you feel an assignment is important for student learning make it just as important for their grade as anything else important for their learning.

Assessing students’ understanding of content prior to class provides an incentive for completion of CPAs and also assists the professor in planning activities with knowledge of points that need remediation. Assessments can be informal or comprise a portion of the course grade as described above.

Examples of activities that provide incentives and assess student learning include:

  • Short quiz before class or at beginning of class. This may be done online prior to class, or using I-clickers or paper in class. Quizzes may be with or without points attached.
  • Discussion questions students must respond to on Blackboard prior to class. This allows the instructor to identify points that need clarification
  • Short student presentations on pre-class readings/work
  • Students bring, and possibly turn in, notes taken on pre-class lectures


  • If CPAs are important, make them important in your grading scheme
  • Force students to utilize CPA results in class/discussion


  • Spend significant time grading things that are obsolete by the end of class (use a pass/fail system for CPAs)
  • Invest time in commenting on CPAs that students won’t review
  • Make the CPA questions to hard or easy!

Promoting discussion

Discussion is often a component of the active learning classroom.  Discussion challenges students to articulate their thinking process, provides opportunity to consider other viewpoints, and fosters collaborative learning. Discussion may begin with posing thoughtful questions to get students’ attention and engage them in learning. It may begin by presenting a problem or controversy, showing a film clip, or posing a student question. Students are more likely to participate in discussion if they feel accepted and safe so taking time for students to get to know each other, perhaps using ice-breaker activities, may assist with this. Some important tips for effective discussions include:

  • Discussion should be goal oriented. This requires preparation to determine specific outcomes and develop questions
  • Keep the discussion on track with the purpose/goals in mind
  • Sequence questions logically, known as scaffolding
  • Clarify concepts but do not return to lecturing
  • Give students time to think and respond
  • Provide positive feedback for contributions. Paraphrase a student’s contribution and ask a follow-up question
  • Use the blackboard to record main points, draw diagrams, charts, or other visual aids

There are two basic ways of helping students articulate their thinking process. In the backward reaching approach, the foundation is reviewed first by the instructor, students, or via an activity, then students build on it. The instructor presents a problem and asks, “What do you already know to solve this?” “What do you need to know to solve this?”

In the forward reaching approach students describe what was learned and how it can be applied to a different situation. The instructor may ask, “What have you learned?” “Describe a different situation where it can be applied.” (Pucket, 2011)

Questions that help students deepen their thinking help them develop critically thinking skills. For example, before answering a student’s question the instructor may ask, “How did you arrive at that question?” or “Does what you already know that led to the question also help you find the answer?”

Stanford Teaching Commons provides examples of questions to generate various types of discussion:

  • To stimulate analysis and answer the question of “why,” the instructor may ask “How would you explain…” “what is the importance of….” “what is the meaning of….”
  • For compare/contrast discussion, the instructor may pose questions such as “Compare…” “contrast….” “what is the difference between….” “what connection is there between….”
  • To evaluate cause and effect, the instructor may ask “What are the causes/results of…” “What connection is there between….”
  • To promote clarification of concepts, the instructor may ask “What is meant by….” “Explain how….”
  • To stimulate thought about action, ask “What would you do in ….situation?”
  • To challenge students, “What evidence do you have to support that?” “How could you convince someone of that?”

Some questions do not promote discussion and should be avoided:

  • Questions that can be answered with yes or no. These do not promote discussion and encourage guessing.
  • Elliptical questions. These are vague questions in which it is unclear what is being asked. Ex., “what about the man’s family?”
  • Leading questions. These are questions in which the instructor conveys the expected answer. Ex., “Don’t you think….?”

There are six types of Socratic questions, which “are at the heart of critical thinking.”  The six types with examples can be found at


Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom (2nd Ed.). San Franciso, Ca: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Critz, C.M. and Knight, D. (2013). Using the flipped classroom in graduate nursing education. Nurse Educator, 8(5), 210-213.

Demski, J. (January, 2013). Six expert tips for flipping the classroom. Campus Technology, 32-37.

Doyle, T. and Zakrajsek, T. 2013. The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Horton, K. and Findley, M. 2001. Make the learning theirs. The Agricul. (2001), 13.

Krathwohl, D.R. 2002. A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice. 41, 4 (2002), 212–218.

Pucket, T. (2011). Creative Teaching Strategies for the Nurse Educator. PESI HealthCare.

Sams, A. & Bergmann, J. (March 2013). Flip your students’ learning. Educational Leadership, 16-20.

Stanford Teaching Commons. Asking effective questions.

Van Amburgh, J.A. et al. 2007. A tool for measuring active learning in the classroom. American journal of pharmaceutical education. 71, 5 (2007).