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  • Writer's picturelaurawippell

How to begin the IB English B programme

Think back to the first time you began an English B course with your students. Were you terrified? I was! The guide seemed sooooo big, but the amount of time to cover it all seemed soooo little!


Where do I begin? What should I do in my first class? How can I explain what English B is really about?



When I walked through the door for my first English B class, I was new at the school and was met with a bunch of smirking teenagers who thought this would be the ‘easy’ English class, since the other option was English A and they “didn’t like reading.” Is there any other phrase that could be more depressing for a teacher?!


It turned out that they did actually like reading, and while most of that reading involved skimming posts on social media, by getting to know them properly the other English B teachers and I were able to choose literature that piqued their interest and challenged them. By the end of the two years, it might not have been the favourite class of some students, but they always walked in with a smile.


So how did I start? Well, I don’t think there’s any ‘right way’, but here are three things I’ve previously done for the first few classes when starting a new English B cycle.




#1 - First up, get to know your students.


You might think that you have so little time that it’s best to dive into the course content straight away, but remember that an important part of the programme is dedicated to Social-Emotional Learning. I’ve made the mistake in the past of diving right into the course without taking the time at the beginning to get to know my students, and their lack of engagement showed me what a mistake that was.


In the first class it can be tough to get everyone talking, so if the speaking icebreakers aren’t working, I’ve given them some writing prompts in order to tell them a bit about themselves. If I want to explore the prescribed theme of ‘identities’ for the first unit, I might start with a question like, “what makes up your identity?”. Otherwise, I’ll give them a variety of prompts to choose from, like a photo, a song, a text extract etc and ask them which one they relate to most, and why? For some ideas on writing prompts, check out the ‘productive skills’ section in this blog post.


The good thing about this writing activity is that you can use it as a diagnostic/formative assessment, to gauge where your students are at in terms of their writing skills.



#2 - Go over the guide


Hopefully you’re now feeling like you know your students a little bit better after reading their answers in the first class, but they could still have some anxiety about not knowing what on earth this class is all about! So in the second class, why not give a friendly overview of the guide?


Some teachers may not like to mention the internal and external assessment straight away, but I like to go over it so students know what we are working towards, and to also give them reassurance about timeframes: Paper 1 and 2 are done at the end of the course, and the Individual Oral is completed in the second year of the programme. First year of English B is still a lot of hard work, but the big scary exam cloud is still relatively far away on the horizon, so they know they still have time to prepare.


After going through the assessment I really like to delve deeply into the prescribed themes and getting the students to come up with ideas of how each theme could be explored. Obviously I already have my own planning done about how to go about this, but I have found that many of their ideas are quite interesting, and when ideas tend to be repeated it’s something that is worth exploring, because it’s important to them.


A nice follow up activity is to get students to scan through news articles and choose articles that best represent each prescribed theme. They usually comment that it’s difficult to choose just one theme for each article, which paves the way for the discussion about how all of the themes are linked. One of my favourite questions to ask is, What comes first? Does our identity affect the way we experience things, or do our experiences shape our identity? I usually ask a similar question at the end of the course, during the Individual Oral, and it’s lovely to see how their responses have changed after the two years.


#3 - Different types of texts


With those two activities done and dusted, I would leave how to start the course up to you. However, one way that I have begun is to get students thinking about different types of texts. Most of this should have been covered in their previous English classes, but I’ve learned the difficult way that it is always best to never assume prior knowledge, so I like to dedicate at least some of the third class to getting the students thinking about different types of text, in order to start preparing them for Paper 1 and all of the text types we have to cover during the programme.


I’ve found this worksheet extremely helpful as a general refresher about the different types of text, and have adapted it as necessary depending on my class’s level and needs. It’s a good starting point to then jump into the first text type you will explore with your class.


I hope this has given you some ideas or at least reassurance that you’re doing a great job of introducing the English B programme to your students. What other ways do you like to begin? I’d love to hear your comments below!



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4 Comments


Stephen Krisel
Stephen Krisel
Jun 08, 2023

Thank you so much for devoting your time to this blog and sharing your experiences with us. My first few days are very similar to yours, including discussing the exams. I've taken a few ideas from you so, thank you!!!

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laurawippell
laurawippell
Jun 08, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much for reading my blog, I appreciate it! Glad you could use a few ideas.


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Maria Esther LINARES VENEGAS
Maria Esther LINARES VENEGAS
Mar 02, 2023

Very engaging activities. In the school where I work, students have one hour every week to develop the Literay Texts in HL. What tips could you give me?

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laurawippell
laurawippell
Mar 02, 2023
Replying to

Thank you! Do the students have any other time to read and discuss the literary texts in class? I would put together some sort of guided plan, so the students are clear of how to use that time. During and after reading they could focus more on comprehension questions, and afterwards more on reflection questions about bigger ideas and links to English B themes to prepare for the Oral.

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