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  • Writer's picturelaurawippell

What are authentic texts anyway?

An important part of the English B programme is exploring authentic texts with your students. So what are they anyway?

Read on to learn more about authentic texts and activities you can use to explore them in your classroom.

According to the 2019 IB English B guide, there are 4 different types or formats of authentic texts:

#1 - Audio texts

Audio texts are exactly what they sound like - something that you listen to. These types of texts are the ones that appear in the listening exam. So how can you explore these more in class? Well, obviously by listening to the audio from past papers, but one of my favourite ways to explore audio texts is through radio announcements. Some of my 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.

And what about songs? Listening to lyrics is a great way to discuss tone, mood and symbols with your class. Here’s a fun assessment activity where students get to analyse the lyrics of their favourite song, in order to practice for the Individual Oral.

#2 - Visual texts

This type, in my opinion, is one that is easily overlooked. Visual texts are static images or artwork, so analysing visual advertisements and artwork are part of this category. A lot of the time this is done in combination with written text, but how much class time do you dedicate to visual text alone? For example, we could say that emojis are visual text - have you ever had a discussion about symbols and how they affect meaning with your students?

One of my favourite ways to explore visual texts is with The New York Times What’s Going on in This Picture? Readers of my blog will have heard me talk about this before, but I think this resource is so underrated! Use this as a warm-up activity by displaying one of the photos when students walk into your class. Have them write down their ideas or moderate a class discussion as they analyse the quirky photo. Afterwards, show them the caption. Did it surprise them? This often leads to an interesting discussion on how adding a caption to a photo can really change its meaning and our perception of it. This photo is my absolute favourite - the caption always causes a stir when I finally reveal it!

Just like the audio texts, this activity gets students sharing their opinion on current issues and promotes international-mindedness as the photographs come from all over the world.

I’ve also had an interesting time analysing film posters with students in the past. Check out this resource, which analyses film posters and has connections to all 5 English B themes.

#3 - Audio-visual texts

This is one of my favourites! This encompasses any text that has visual and audio elements, so naturally videos make up this category. Films, TV shows, the news and video advertisements are all part of this type of authentic text.

I love using films as authentic audio-visual texts to develop listening comprehension skills, obviously without the subtitles. In films, conversation tends to come across as less scripted compared to traditional listening comprehension activities, and the actors usually use a variety of idioms which is good practice for students as well.

Check out this resource, which is based on a very moving audio-visual text - the documentary Alive Inside which explores music, memory and dementia - an important global issue we should be discussing with our students.

#4 - Written texts

This authentic text is probably the one that we cover the most in English B, as it covers literature and any written text type. Be creative here! When exploring a certain topic, get students to find news articles or poems on it. Another idea is to find two text types about one issue and compare and contrast their features with students. Have a look at this resource, which helps students compare and contrast different types of written text types, which are all about constitutions.

So those are the four different formats of authentic texts, according to the English B guide. Take a moment to reflect - are you explicitly exploring all four in your classes? Is there a format you tend to lean towards? For me, it’s definitely written and audio-visual texts.

It’s important to remember that you’ll most likely have students with varying levels of English in your class, so the English B guide also reminds us that we may use original, modified or created authentic texts.

Let’s explore these definitions further:

An original authentic text may be audio, visual, audio-visual or a written text in its original format, which means you have not modified the speed language or ambient noise that it may contain. These sorts of texts are more likely to be used with HL students, or students in the second year of English B, who do not require extra support.

A modified authentic text is any authentic text where you have provided your students with extra support, whether that may be captions in an audio-visual text, slowing down the speed in an audio text, or footnotes in a written text etc. All of these changes are all perfectly acceptable for your English B classroom, depending on how you are differentiating in your class. Just remember that when it comes to the final English B Papers 1 and 2, some of this support may not be provided, so as with any programme, scaffolding is recommended, where you may begin with modified texts and then gradually move towards original authentic texts.

A created authentic text is one that you have created from scratch for the specific use in your language acquisition classroom. For example, when beginning the English B programme with your students you may find that none of the audio texts are suitable for your students’ level, so you may record a conversation between yourself and another teacher to use for a listening comprehension assessment. The important thing to remember is that these texts need to be based on authentic scenarios, so the previous example of the recorded conversation should contain topics that one would naturally discuss every day, rather than a fantastical situation, like unicorns invading the school.

In case you’ve gotten to this point and still aren’t sure what an authentic text is - here’s my simplest summary for you - an authentic text is a text based on an authentic scenario, or something that we would find in real-life in the English-speaking world. It will either be original, modified or created and in terms of format it could be an audio, visual, audio-visual or written text.

I hope this has given you some answers about authentic texts and inspiration on how to explore them in your English B classroom. What other activities do you use to teach them to your students? I’d love to read your thoughts below!


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

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