There are a lot of factors to consider when putting a course together: assessment, holidays, timetables, course requirements and IB deadlines. Although this may seem overwhelming, you will find that if you ask yourself the right questions in the right order, many of the puzzle pieces will fall into place. The challenge lies in prioritizing and sequencing. Keep in mind that we want the most worthwhile learning experiences for the students. 

On this page you will find:

  • a list of questions to help you plan your course
  • guidance on curriculum design and external assessment
  • guidance on curriculum design and internal assessment
  • a sample weekly planner

Backward planning

Here are eight questions to ask yourself when designing a curriculum and planning a course. As you create a plan, it helps to have a large calendar and post-its or labels that can be easily moved around. 

  1. When are the holidays, test weeks, vacations and field trips?
  2. When are the IB deadlines? How do you want to set your deadlines (i.e. internal deadlines) in relation to these? Do you have to consider any deadlines or exams for national exams or in-school testing?
  3. How many weeks do you need to prepare for internal and external assessment? Will you have a round of mock exams for both internal and external exams? Mock exams are often used as a means of preparation. If your school has test weeks, where classes are cancelled for testing, you may have more time to run mock exams.

  4. How many written tasks, further oral activities, or practice exams will you want to have at SL and HL? How will all parts of the course be represented in the final written task portfolio? What kind of workload can your students handle? When are good deadlines for written tasks? 

  5. Will you take a part-by-part approach, a holistic approach or both? If you take a part-by-part approach, in which order will you tackle each part? If you take a holistic approach, make a list of several themes that you will use. Is there an equal representation of all parts in these themes?

  6. Which texts are you going to read for Parts 3 and 4? Which topics are you going to study from Parts 1 and 2? (See page on selecting texts for help.) Another possible approach to the course content: Is there a favorite text (literary or non-literary) that you have taught? Check the learning outcomes and topics for each part to see in which context you can continue to teach these texts?

  7. Are there theoretical concepts that you like to teach directly, such as literary devices, propaganda techniques or advertising techniques? Which texts do you use to teach these? Can you meet the learning outcomes by teaching these texts? Can you study a suggested topic while focusing on these terms?

  8. How many weeks will you need to deal with a topic (Parts 1 and 2) or literary text (Parts 3 and 4), before you feel that you have met one or more of the learning outcomes?

Sequence and external assessment

Working backwards, we can start at the end, with the exam in May or November. During the exam session, students have two papers to sit. 

Paper 1 - students use the analytical skills they have learned in Parts 1 and 2 to analyze one (Standard Level) or two (Higher Level) non-fiction texts. Because this exam tests skills, we need to be sure we are developing these skills continuously through the course. Skills are slow-growing plants, and need frequent watering and feeding, so we need to be sure that we scaffold our students' learning at the start of the two years so that they can perform independently by the end.

Paper 2 - students respond to one question and use their Part 3 texts to answer the question. It is therefore important for students to have studied their Part 3 texts last, right before the exam, as these texts will be fresh in their minds, and examples will hopefully be ready and present in their memories. 

Written task - The written tasks can be related to any part of the course. Standard Level students complete at least three tasks, while Higher Level students must complete at least four. Students need to be given ample opportunities to practice their skills in this area, and we suggest writing at least one written task for each part of the course. This way students have a choice in what they submit.

Sequence and internal assessment 

Individual oral commentary - students analyze an extract from a text for Part 4 of the course. Generally, students abilities improve as they mature, and it is best to carry this exercise out in the second year. Some schools set internal dates for the orals, as they require some coordination. The latest possible date will be just a week before the IBO deadline, but this is not a good idea. Students and teachers fall ill, life intervenes. However, it may be possible to do this oral earlier in the second year, so that students are not focusing solely on Part 3 and Part 4 for the last six months of the course.

Further oral activity - students present at least two orals based on Part 1 and Part 2. As teachers submit one mark to the IB for this, students should be doing many orals so that they improve their abilities in time, and teachers can select the strongest performance. These orals should be scheduled during the teaching of Parts 1 and 2. 

Possible sequence

Below is a possible sequence. There are several points worth noting: 

  • The sequence goes: Part 1, Part 4, Part 2, and Part 3, followed by several holistic units for review and revision. 
  • This sequence ensures a balance on non-literary and literary texts. 
  • All forms of assessment have been done at least once in the first year.
  • Note that in order to run all forms of assessment in the first year, students practice writing a Paper 2 on the short stories that comprise a Part 4 work. 
  • There is a written task 1 and 2 that correspond to each of the Parts of the syllabus. See the pages on written tasks to learn more.
  • There are 3 further oral activities. The best one counts.
  • Notice that while all Part 4 works are read in the first year, the final assessment of these (the individual oral commentary) is actually in the second year. Students must revisit them, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Year 1 - Term 1 - Part 1
Language and social relations - 'mystery text', ACLU ads, I Have a Dream, Letter from Artemus Ward, Racism and Disney films, etc.
Language and the individual - Poetry on bilingualism, various song lyrics
Gender - I Want a Wife, Liz Donnely cartoons, Specimen Paper 1, etc.

Written task 1
Written task 2 (HL only)
Further oral activity
Mock Paper 1

Year 1 - Term 2 - Part 4
Short stories by Nadine Gordimer Stories (PLA)
Training on essay writing Paper 2

Written task 1
Written task 2 (HL only)
Mock Paper 2 (on a Part 4 text)

Year 1 Term 3 - Part 4
Various poems by various poets 
The Fat Black Woman's Poems by Grace Nichols (PLA)
The Tempest by William Shakespeare (HL only) (PLA)

Written task 1
Test on poetic devices (HL only)
Mock individual oral commentary

Year 1 - Term 4 - Part 2
Persuasive language - famous speeches and focus on propaganda techniques and rhetorical devices
Persuasive language - various ads, exploring beauty
The role of editing - reality TV, ANTM

Written task 1
Written task 2 (HL only)
Further oral activity 

Year 2 - Term 1 - Part 3
Black Boy by Richard Wright (schools free choice)
Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand (HL only) (PLA)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (PLT - French)

Written task 1
Written task 2
Mock Paper 2
Year 2 - Term 2 - Parts 1/2
Holistic unit on women and war with propaganda posters, WWI poetry (by and about women), radio reports on Iraq
Journalism - Outfoxed and Control Room
Negative ads: Swiftboat campaign, Vote Different, etc.

Written task 1
Written task 2
Further oral activity (final one)
Written task final portfolio due (IB deadline)
Year 2 - Term 3 - Review and exams
Revisit all Part 4 works
Revisit all Part 3 works

Individual oral commentary (IB deadline for internal assessment)
IB exams: Paper 1 and Paper 2
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Comments 2

Nicola Prestano 26 January 2017 - 06:54

If possible, can you tell me some of the benefits of setting up a course in the order of Parts 1 & 3 (year one) and Parts 2 & 4 (year two)? In our one of our PD courses, it was stated that this is the ideal way to structure it. Myself and several colleagues are debating on how to revise the sequence of our program, as currently we run it Parts 2 & 3 (year one) and Parts 1 & 4 (year two). Your feedback is appreciated! Thanks so much.

David McIntyre 26 January 2017 - 09:49

Hi Nicola,

Please understand that I offer only my personal view of this. The IB do not prescribe a sequence

I would doubt that what you have been told constitutes an 'ideal'. You should be able to intersperse parts 1 and 2 over two years in any order (it matters not). You may, however, wish to finish parts 1 and 2 by about December of the second year (assuming you are teaching in the northern hemisphere), concluding any FOAs and WTs associated with these parts.

The crucial decision, to my mind, is the sequencing of parts 3 and 4. Teaching part 3 in the second year seems like a sound approach, preparing students for their paper 2 exam. Teaching it in the first year and revisiting it in the second year seems, I think, less good. Part 4 and the IOC can be done in the first year.

This is not 'the' way; it is one way, and one that I am confident works effectively.

In making any judgment about course design, it is important to take a holistic perspective on the IBDP. That is, there may be other ways of organising your course, effectively pushing more assessment further into the course, but if every teacher in every subject were to take a similar approach this would have a detrimental impact on your students.

Clearly, my suggestions are quite different to the two alternatives you mention in your question. In the final analysis, you must do what you consider best for your particular students in your local circumstance.

I hope this helps,


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