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  • Writer's picturelaurawippell

3 ways to explore the prescribed themes in English B

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

80% of teachers find human ingenuity the most difficult topic to cover for English B. Ok, I just made that up, but that has definitely been the case for me in previous years!

Here’s a topic I’m really interested in hearing your opinion on: how do we cover all of the English B themes? We have two years with our students, and during that time we must cover the five prescribed themes of:

  • identities

  • experiences

  • human ingenuity

  • social organisation

  • sharing the planet

While we must explore all of these themes, the topics we cover under them are completely up to us.

So how do you do it? Do you try to tackle one theme per unit? Do you plan lots of smaller units, i.e. a different unit for each text type, and use the themes interchangeably for each one? Do you do something else entirely?

Here are three ways on how to explore the prescribed themes using different components of English B.

#1 - Literary works

For me, the English B themes always started with the two literary works. Once I had chosen two literary works and had what prescribed theme/s we were going to explore with each one, it was easier to map out the rest of the course and how we would explore the other themes in depth.

One novel I chose with my colleagues was The Catcher in the Rye - a great book for exploring themes of identity and experiences with students. This text stretched the students - some of them found the stream of consciousness style difficult to follow, while others just loved it and felt they could really relate to Holden.

Other groups were history buffs, so we chose MAUS, another great book for exploring themes of identities and experiences, as one class really developed a relationship with the characters. Another group I had seemed to keep going back to other themes within MAUS, so with them we explored social organisation and the topic of human rights under sharing the planet.

I’m not sure why, but human ingenuity has been a theme that my students have taken a little longer to grasp. In order to really flesh it out, we chose Z for Zachariah as a literary text to study, discussing all of the innovation that was required just to survive. Since there is a film for this book you can also use as an overview for writing the ‘review’ text type - two birds, one stone!

#2 - Text Types

I’ve found the way that I cover text types with my students varies depending on their interests. Let’s look at a blog post as an example.

When I’ve had many multilingual students in one class, I’ve created some units on linguists and the role of language in society under the theme of social organisation, and students have written blog posts in response to this amazing TED Talk.

Other classes, to be honest, preferred to write about themselves, so using the topic of travel, as part of the experiences theme, I had them write a blog post based on their school trip to Easter Island.

Another class was very vocal about beauty standards and portrayal in the media, so they wrote a blog post as part of a unit on beauty beliefs under the identity theme.

What I’m trying to say is rather than exploring text types in the same way every time, you could think about the theme you need to explore, the students’ interests and then the most appropriate text type that could be used.

#3 - Authentic Texts

What issues, films and songs are your students passionate about? What are they talking about at the moment?

I had a class where many students were Kendrick Lamar fans, so the other teachers and I used that as inspiration for a unit on protest songs, as part of artistic expression under the human ingenuity theme. Students had to pick a protest song they liked, and prepare a group presentation where they analysed themes, tone and symbols etc in the lyrics. This was a fun way in Year 1 of the Diploma to gently introduce students to the Individual Oral. Here's another resource where students get to analyse the lyrics of their favourite song.

When it comes to authentic texts, get creative here! As the English B guide states, “an authentic text may be an audio, visual, audio-visual or written text.” (2019) If there’s a film, advertisement, song, poem or any other text you and your students are excited about, there will definitely be a prescribed theme that you could use to explore it.

How do you cover the English B themes? I’d love to read your comments below!


IBO (2019). Language B guide: First assessment 2020

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