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  • Writer's picturelaurawippell

RIP it up! Developing Receptive, Interactive and Productive Skills

Being an IB English B teacher means you are facing so much pressure. How do you cover the programme? How do you integrate the core elements into your English B classroom? How can you ensure your students achieve good marks in internal and external assessment?

It’s a lot. But when feeling overwhelmed I prefer to boil it down to one thing: if your students can communicate fluently in English, then your job is done.

Communication requires three basic skills:

  1. Receptive skills, or comprehension skills, i.e. listening and reading.

  2. Productive skills, or the ability to produce language, i.e. writing and speaking.

  3. Interactive skills, or the ability to interact in a meaningful exchange with others, which means both receptive and productive skills are required.

Do you cover all three skills equally? In my experience, I’ve spent a lot of time covering the different text types and preparing for the Individual Oral, which means a lot goes into developing productive skills.

Receptive skills ARE covered when I’ve prepared students for the Individual Oral, but they take the back seat compared to productive skills in that area. I feel a more direct focus on receptive skills comes in the second half of the programme, when I’ve really started breaking down the reading and listening comprehension components of Paper 2.

And what about interactive skills? Well, these are looked at when we prepare for parts 2 and 3 of the Individual Oral, but now that English B has scrapped the Interactive Oral, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to give students group activities where they can have authentic conversations and develop interactive skills.

Take a moment now to reflect on how you’re covering all three skills. Is it an even spread? Are you like me, where one tends to take the front seat?

Now that you’ve taken a moment to reflect, let’s get to what you’ve really come here for - actionable tips. Here are some ideas on how you can RIP it up, and develop those Receptive, Interactive and Productive skills in your English B classroom.

Receptive Skills

First, it’s important to note that while receptive skills mean reading and listening, the 2020 English B Guide also states that when developing receptive skills, students “use a variety of strategies to deduce meaning.” (IBO) So developing receptive skills means developing analysis skills.

Here are some of my favourite analysis activities:

  • The New York Times What's Going On in This Picture? is a fantastic warm-up activity to have displayed when students walk into your classroom. Have them write down their ideas or moderate a class discussion as they analyse the quirky photo. This photo is my absolute favourite, the caption always causes a stir when I finally reveal it!

  • For formative, or sometimes summative activities, I also love Project Zero by Harvard Graduate School of Education. There’s a plethora of activities that you can recreate with your students in order to get them analysing text extracts from a novel. One of my favourites is the True For Who? activity, where students can choose a quote from the novel they are reading, and then analyse it from the perspective of other characters.

Next up for receptive skills is Listening comprehension.

Personally, I’m not such a fan of the scripted exam texts, so while I have always used exam past papers, I also like to show authentic texts and a variety of accents.

  • To listen to a text with some speakers whose first language is not English, try this resource. Although second language English speakers are usually not used in the exam, I still recommend this activity to build empathy and develop receptive listening skills.

Some of my other favourite sites for authentic audio texts are BBC News Hour and NPR Radio, which also has the fantastic TED Radio Hour. Aside from good listening comprehension practice, your students can share their opinion on current issues.

Lastly, for receptive skills: Reading comprehension.

For reading comprehension I prefer to stick to longer texts, bundled in groups of 3 to prepare students for the Paper 2 format. Since the IB is a conceptual curriculum, I really like to organise texts into certain themes or topics, so students are not only analysing the texts, but reflecting on how they are similar and/or what English B themes they can identify throughout all of them.

  • For reading comprehension on inflation, click here.

  • For reading comprehension on the war in Ukraine, click here.

  • For reading comprehension on constitutions, click here.

  • Don’t forget to have a look around the Project Zero site, for more ideas on analysing written texts. This activity, for example, is great if you’re wanting to talk about big ideas behind a text.

Interactive Skills

Let’s get the students involved in meaningful exchanges! Here are some of my favourite activities that build interactive skills:

  • The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is a wonderful way to get students analysing a prompt together, and discussing its ideas. This activity is also fantastic for developing analysis skills under receptive skills. Here’s a QFT activity that my English B students responded well to.

  • Just like a debate, you really can’t go past a Socratic Seminar in order to get students not only speaking and listening to each other, but also justifying their ideas. Here’s a Socratic Seminar where my students had A LOT to talk about!

  • Want to develop international mindedness and get your students interacting with people from other cultures? Try Generation Global, a wonderful program connecting classrooms around the world.

  • Another way to get your students speaking with people from outside their social circle is through Model United Nations, a fantastic activity for developing international mindedness which also helps productive skills in terms of speaking in formal register.

Productive Skills

Last, but definitely not least - Productive skills. Productive skills are often those that your students will be judged on the most during the next stage of their lives, as they prepare for university applications and job interviews.

Let’s start with writing.

As a children’s author and teacher, one of my favourite ways to get those writing juices flowing is through the use of prompts.

  • Give your students a video prompt in this activity, which is based on a TED TALK.

  • If you like music, I find this song to be a moving prompt to write about grief.

  • Want to mix it up? Use this random word generator to assign students with a word, and have them write a text type based on it. They can also justify the text type they chose.

And what about Speaking? Here are some ideas:

  • Apart from this, since we do quite a bit of writing in English B, I try to get the students to do as much speaking as possible in warm up and plenary activities. Here’s a list of classic ideas you probably have already tried, but try thinking about this - how could you turn these into speaking activities only?

There you have it. A few ideas to get you RIPping like a master in your classroom! Were these helpful? What did I forget? I’d love to read your comments below!


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

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