First Term

What to do from the word go ?

Beginning a course is always a tricky moment ... whether you know your students or not, a new course means a new aethos, new ground rules, new aims. It is a truism among experienced English B teachers that if you get the first term right (or even the first few weeks), the rest of the course is much easier to run. But getting the beginning right must mean that you have some idea of where you want to go - and given that, as has been discussed in Building a programme , the course is very open, you have decisions to make about your end results before you can decide effective starting points.

That said, there are likely to be common-sense elements to include in the First Term, and this page attempts to review what could be included.

In various workshops over the course of recent years, I have discussed with groups of teachers what might, or should, be included in an effective first term of an English B course. Clearly, there are limits to such discussions: schools are different, teachers are different, and - most importantly - groups of students are different, with different needs, potentials and interests. However, there has been general agreement that the components listed below are sensible elements which could be included in a good first term, depending on circumstances.


Each phrase or label is followed by a brief definition, suggesting what that element might include or involve. The list is deliberately presented in random order, to start with - because we will then move on to sorting these elements into patterns according to different purposes.

You will see that most of the items in the list have links to other parts of this site, which will provide a rich range of material to feed your planning and thinking.

Course information - (a) basics: aims of the course, assessment, and - very important - the marking Criteria; (b) a framework, or 'map', of what the English B course will contain - for this term? or for the five terms ahead?

Cultural Awareness - a required element of the course ... but what is needed? ... a basic introduction, or a structured plan of key elements, or areas for research? (Have a look at Cultural awareness ... and also the Option Topics Cultural diversity and Customs & traditions )

Oral skills - well, obviously, but which skills? in what way? What about: (a) basic confidence, (b) functions - e.g. agreeing/disagreeing, giving a presentation, (c) individual error analysis + remedial. (For some initial ideas about targets consult Orals and perhaps also Specific Oral skills )

Group skills - given that class discussion will be a very important element, which systems & procedures will make such discussions most efficient and effective? (See some ideas under Social skills )

Writing skills - transferable, fundamental skills such as preparation & research, organisation, drafting & revision (as distinct from 'Writing tasks', which involves putting these into practice). (Consult the whole section under Writing skills .)

Note skills - language & techniques of note-taking & note-making ... (See particularly  NET SIEVE SPINE  )

Listening skills - skills for listening methodically and with purpose, since audio/video sources will be much used (See Listening Tasks )

Key vocabulary - expanding vocabulary is clearly important, but which words? and how is vocabulary best learnt? (There are some relevant ideas in the page Vocabulary & concepts )

Study skills - a wide field, with overlap with the other subjects of the Diploma programme - but are there techniques specific to language learning? (Explore the area through the section on Approaches... , specifically Self management )

Reading skills - students should read much, obviously, both for practice and as stimulus for other activities - but which skills should be explicitly developed? Skimming and scanning ... critical assessment ...? (You will find very full coverage in the section Specific reading skills .)

Language awareness - attention to the nature of language, and how it functions - this will involve the 'Theory of Knowledge' element (see Language & TOK )... and also, what about comparisons with, and relation to, the students' first language/s? (Have a look at the section L1 interference )

Literature texts - exposure to, and practice in understanding, texts which are complex, high-quality and demanding. (Survey the ideas presented under the section  Literature , for example the various possible texts suggested in  Reading Good Reads )

Theme elements - choosing a subject area for research and discussion, as a vehicle for developing and practising the use of language in relation to real, important issues

Literary concepts - learning fundamental elements of literature such as narrative technique, tragedy, forms and conventions ...

Assessment - summative assessment, involving marking against IB Criteria, in order to give a measure of progress towards the final exam grade. (The comprehensive coverage under Assessment  should help here.)

Writing tasks - practice in putting 'Writing Skills' into action and develop ease in putting ideas down on paper ... but also in applying basic skills to the specific demands of specific tasks. (The section Writing purposes discusses, and provides models for, a range of fundamental writing tasks ... and you can find specific IB exam tasks for each of the text types listed under Text type conventions )

IB Text Types - the Text Types (or Communicative Purposes) specified in the Subject Guide need to be taught and practised - but which, and in which order ? (The page Text type conventions provides a full list, with notes and commentaries.)

Literary skills - the ability to analyse texts methodically, in an informed manner, and in some depth. (The page Literary study tasks should provide a useful starting point.)

Appraisal - as opposed to 'Assessment', formative assessment aimed to determine what stage the student has reached, and what is needed in order to develop further

Grammar expansion - students should only have been placed in the Language B course if they have at least an adequate basic grasp of the language - but this will necessarily be limited, so what should they be taught in order to acquire a more sophisticated and effective command of the language? (See Key Language Issues )

Grammar (remedial) - even students with a relatively sophisticated grasp of the language may have errors in basic, misunderstandings and misusage, or L1 interference patterns ... so how can these most usefully be corrected? (Using the  Diagnostic tests will help you to identify what problems exist, and then you can think about using  The qBank for students to work on their own.)

(An obvious omission here - what about Information Technology skills? This is how this web site is developing: my ideas about the use of IT have expanded considerably since I first wrote this page - and the charm of a website is that you can just go back and change things! Have a look at pages under  Research and consider how some of these procedures could be fitted in to a good first term.)

Selecting & imposing structure

These components can be combined in any order or structure - but clearly some orders or structures make more sense than others. The first basic exercise is to sort the random list above into sensible groups of related components - do the various components fit into categories of practical teaching purposes and processes?

You may find it an interesting and challenging exercise to sort these out for yourself. Indeed, this is an example of one of the thinking skills proposed under  Detecting patterns   - carrying out the exercise yourself may help to see why it is of significance for students to practice.

When you've sorted them out (or if you don't have the time!), look at my version in the graphic Term 1 Basic Grouping . I don't propose my version as the definitive one - there are no 'correct' answers to this kind of problem, but there are answers which are more 'convincing' or 'useful' than others.

The next step is for you to consider which of these components to select (for there is surely not time in the first term to cover all of them, even if they were all equally desirable) - and how to begin to structure them into a programme of work. Which blend suits you and your students? See First Term Options   for three sample selections.


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