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  • Writer's picturelaurawippell

The first principle in designing a Language B Course

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

If I asked you what the three principles for designing an English B course are, would you be able to tell me? I couldn't, until I sat down to write this post and re-read the guide.

I’ve revised the guide countless times, but I always tend to focus on the technical requirements for the Individual Oral, or mark schemes etc. It really does wonders to fully read it again, which allows us to take a step back and look at the big picture, or what we are aiming for overall.

Get on with it Laura! “WHAT ARE THE THREE PRINCIPLES?” you are probably thinking. Well, I’m going to be annoying and only tell you one today. The other two principles will be topics for my last two blog posts of 2023. I'll be fleshing out the principles so you can find new meaning within them, ways of incorporating them into your teaching practice and ultimately, a path for focusing on the big picture when planning the program.

So, let’s go, number one.

The first principle for designing a Language B Course is VARIETY.

The guide highlights four aspects to focus on as a way of ensuring we are paying attention to this principle.

Aspect #1 - Skills through activities

The first aspect states that we need our students to “develop their receptive, productive and interactive skills in the target language through a wide range of individual, pair and group activities in class” (IBO, 2019).

Seems pretty obvious, right?

Let’s start with skills. While we might deny it, there tends to be one type of skill that we subconsciously favour or place more emphasis on. Some like to focus on the skills our students might need at university or during their careers: speaking and writing, which are productive skills. Others might argue that decoding written text and being active listeners are skills of vital importance in the 21st century. Those are receptive skills. Then there are interactive skills, which are a mix of both productive and receptive skills, or essentially our ability to interact with others. For now, take the time to consider the ratio of time you are dedicating to develop each one of these skills in your classroom, and if you want to explore these skills further, check out my blog post on ways to develop receptive, interactive and productive skills.

The second part of this aspect of ‘variety’ is the range of activities: individual, pair and group. Again, this seems pretty obvious - we have to plan a mix of those activities. But here I want to go back to the technical aspect that I mentioned at the beginning. In the previous Language B guide, there was not only an Individual Oral, but an Interactive Group Oral as well, which meant I dedicated a decent amount of class time to group activities such as debates, socratic seminars, role plays etc. Now that the new guide only has the Individual Oral, which is more literature focused than before, I have planned more individual or pair-work activities to prepare for that assessment. While I have used Socratic Seminars with the new guide, when I reflect on the number of group work activities that I planned compared to the old guide, it is a lot less. It’s a sad truth, but the types of activities I plan tend to depend on the assessment, or technical ‘end goal’ requirements. Would you say the same applies for you?

I don’t have a blog post with ideas on individual, pair work and group activities for English B, but perhaps I’ll write one in the future. I think it could be helpful. What are your thoughts - would you be interested in reading that?

In the meantime, take the time to reflect on the types of activities you are planning - are you planning a VARIETY of individual, pair and group activities?

Aspect #2 - Language through activities

The second aspect states that we need our students to “practise the target language through a wide range of individual, pair and group tasks.” (IBO, 2019).

This one is very similar to the first aspect, only that we are focusing on the target language, or aspects such as vocabulary, grammar, and the accurate use of the language. Once again I encourage you to think about what types of activities you are planning to develop the language skills. Is new vocabulary mainly explored through individual reading activities? Are there any group/pair-work activities you could use instead? After reading this second aspect, I’m thinking I definitely need to write a separate blog post on types of activities after all! In the meantime, I was exposed to a fantastic pair-work activity at university that has worked very well with my English B students. Read about it here.

Aspect #3 - Range of text types

The third aspect states that we need to ensure our students “are introduced to the full range of text types appropriate to the level of the course.” (IBO, 2019).

More food for thought - are you covering a VARIETY of text types? The guide categorises texts into personal e.g. a diary entry; professional e.g. a formal letter; and mass media e.g. a leaflet. Are you covering all three categories? While I have always covered diary entries and emails in the past as personal texts, I have tended to dedicate more of my class time to professional and mass media texts, as I’ve considered those to be more ‘difficult’ for my students. It’s a good reminder to think about how we can get more student input on what they find ‘difficult’, and to reflect on not only how we plan to cover text types, but also how we are covering the different categories.

In terms of ‘range of text types’, the IB is not just talking about written texts! Aside from written texts, are you exploring a range of audio, audio-visual and visual texts? It’s a lot to think about, but have a look at this blog post which breaks down each type of text and gives you activity ideas for each one.

Aspect #4 - Accents

The final aspect states that we need to ensure our students “are exposed to a range of regional and national accents.” (IBO, 2019).

This one is of personal importance as an Australian living in Chile. Can you believe that several people here have said to my face that they believe ‘Australians don’t have a proper English accent because we don't sound British or American’?! I swear I’m not making this up! Some people have been generally surprised that I:

a) Don’t sound like King Charles

b) Don’t sound like Brad Pitt

At the first school I worked at, someone even tried to tell me I needed to pronounce ‘water’ in a more ‘American’ way, by emphasising the ‘r’ more at the end. Sorry love, where I come from we pronounce it ‘wata’, and in my opinion it’s fantastic that the students get to listen to another type of accent to prepare them for our globalised world.

Sorry, rant over. The importance of exposing students to a range of accents is not just a personal opinion, but one the IB is actively reinforcing. So, are you exposing your students to a VARIETY of accents?

For an English B listening comprehension activity that includes Scottish, US and Australian accents (you’ll get to hear the lovely pronunciation of ‘WATA’!), check out this resource.

For other recommendations for listening activities with a variety of accents, have a look at the Listening Comprehension section of this blog post.

Phew, no wonder they define ‘variety’ as a principle of English B - there is so much to think about! I hope this blog post gave you some food for thought on how to add some spice or variety to your English B classroom!

I’d love to hear your comments and any other suggestions on topics you’d like me to explore below. See you next month for Principle #2!


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

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