The Big 5

IB English A: Language & Literature: The Big 5

At the heart of the English Language and Literature course is textual analysis. In order to prepare for Paper 1 and the individual oral commentary, you will want to learn how to analyze various texts. This lesson introduces you to a method of analysis that we call the "Big 5". It presents five lenses through which you can look at texts. Since not all texts are the same in nature, you will find some lenses more useful...

To access the entire contents of this site, you need to log in or subscribe to it..

Click the free stuff button on the home page to access free pages or check the blog (which is also free).

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.

Comments 6

Jane Hazle 15 September 2016 - 02:48

Will students need to identify the Big 5 by name and know the specific questions linked to the Big 5? I am new to IB but have used other analysis templates such as SOAPStone and then added stylistic noteworthy features based in diction and syntax to the analysis framework--covering what is addressed in the Big 5 (and more). Is this acceptable in IB or should I be teaching so that students know the Big 5 specifically as outlined in this "key concepts" page?

David McIntyre 15 September 2016 - 03:52

Hi Jane,

You are welcome to apply different approaches - the trick is for the students to 'hit' the grading criteria, and that is not always easy depending on the question.

As I look at the 'Big 5' - a page that I didn't author - I can't find much to disagree with. However, there is no mention of contexts (that I can see), and that's essential to include in a Paper 1 response. Elsewhere, I encourage my students to use terms such as 'reader' rather than 'audience' (simply because it is a more commonplace term in linguistics). And, I discourage students from using the word 'message'; the whole point of the course - or part of it anyway - is to develop an appreciation of how meaning in texts is constructed and negotiated (rather than transmitted).

It's not a bad page for all that - there is much to recommend - but do take your own approach (whilst trying to ensure teachers in your department take similar approaches and share nomenclature).

Best regards,


John Richardson 15 September 2016 - 15:36

How do you define "contexts"? (I may change the Big Five into the Big Six!)

John Richardson 15 September 2016 - 15:38

Maybe the Big Five should be the changed to the Super Six ...

David McIntyre 16 September 2016 - 02:00

Possibly it should have been the 'Fabulous Five', in the first instance, John.

Contexts are a little tricky to define in a pithy, straightforward way. In essence, however, contexts are those things that inform, and I suggest enrich, the practice of reading. The significance the lang/lit course gives to contexts derives from what might broadly be referred to as the poststructuralist school. In this view, texts don't contain meaning that readers derive. In other words, meaning is not transmitted from text to reader, because the meaning is not in the text. Rather, meaning emerges (and is negotiated by readers) in a complex mix involving the text, the writer, the reader, and other contexts. I think I'm right in saying - I am no expert - that primacy tends to be given to the role of the reader in this model.

So, as an example: our young 21st century generation of students may read a text from the 1950s in class. Let's say that the text is advertising shirts for men. It has as its ideal reader a white, middle-class American male, and it 'others' black African American men through crass stereotyping. At the time the advert was constructed - a context of production - the stereotyping may be regarded by many, if not all, as a shared and acceptable idea or mental model. For your students reading the text today (in their own particular context of reception), the text is simply racist and discriminatory. There may be a suggestion, then, that meaning is relativistic (is a 'racist' text just that, or does it depend on other contexts?). The good news - as politically motivated postmodernists will tell you - is that since meaning in texts is not fixed, dominant, hegemonic readings - the racist, the sexist, you name it - can be challenged and contested.

For me, as a teacher, I am very keen to help my students understand how language works. It is one thing to say 'that's racist, and I don't like it'; it's more powerful to say 'that's racist, I don't like it, and I am going to explain why it is racist'. Here, we are giving students the capacity to understand the linguistic construction of discourse, understood within social contexts of construction and reception.

And, of course, John, we are back to our earlier discussions on critical discourse analysis.


Jane Hazle 27 September 2016 - 22:24

David, Thank you for the further explanations you have provided. They are helpful.

So, here's what I've landed on so far as I am teaching Part 1 and setting the foundation for the full course:

When encountering a text of any kind, students are encouraged to run through a quick SOAPS check (subject, occasion/context, audience (both targeted audience and those "left out/othered" which also contributes to context), purpose, speaker/persona), and a style-oriented SSTAC check (style, structure, assumptions, claims--these last two also somewhat address context), in order to prepare to respond with a "close reading" mindset.

From here, they can write/speak about what is most noteworthy in that particular text and feel somewhat confident that they understand the text and also understand the context in which that text is situated.

To post comments you need to log in. If it is your first time you will need to subscribe.