Subject Guide 2011 Overview

The new Language B Subject Guide is available on the Online Curriculum Centre (OCC) website.

This was first posted as a 'pre-publication' version, and only achieved definitive, official publication in February 2011. It might be wise to check that you have the definitive version.

This section of the Eng B website is intended to provide on-going, detailed commentary on what the Guide says, and what this means for the teaching and examining of English B.


The new Language B Subject Guide has been described to me by an IB insider as 'topic-based'. This means that a list of subject areas is provided (see pages 17-21); and these subject areas are divided into 'Core' (subject areas that have to be addressed by all students), and 'Options' (which the teacher selects). Each of the various assessment components is linked specifically to either Core or Options (see the Assessment Outlines - SL p.27, HL p.28).

Another view expressed to me is that the 'Intercultural Dimension' is "at the heart of the new programme". What this means is explained under the heading Intercultural Dimension (p. 22), beginning with the sentence "Plurilingualism and intercultural understanding are major goals in language teaching and learning".

Literature returns as a mandatory element at HL, and as an option at SL. See page 21.

Significant changes in the assessment process are :

  • the Written Response in the current Paper 1 disappears ... but a 'Personal Response' is introduced in the new Paper 2, at HL only (see p.41 - 'Section B')
  • a wholly new Written Assignment is introduced - at HL, this is based on one of the works of literature studied, at SL on three texts selected by the teacher and related to one of the Options (HL - see pages 41-43; SL - see pages 33-34)

NOTE : the description of the Written Assignment above will apply until the Nov14 exam session ... but a NEW Written Assignment procedure will apply from the exam session May15. Changes particularly apply to the SL WA - see the page New WA for May 2015 and related pages.

  • the Oral Individual Interview is based on a photograph, related to one of the Options, as a stimulus, leading to a discussion (see HL - pages 59-60; SL - pages 52-54).
  • And of course the marking criteria have been re-written, to accomodate the new elements in assessment.

Practical implications

The new Guide sets out to encourage good language teaching, and so good practice under the current Guide will still apply - the Core topics, for instance, are subject areas that many teachers will already deal with anyway. However, it is clear that the changes noted above will require some adjustment to the way that Language B programmes are organised and taught.

Here is my check list of issues that need to be addressed :

> planning a course around the topics (+ Literature at HL)

At least two aspects of three Core areas and two Options mean that at least ten 'modules' need to be considered - along with space for Literature (two texts at HL; at SL, one text may replace one of the Options). [See New course sample outline ]

> deciding what one wishes to achieve by dealing with the topics

The Language A: Language & Literature Subject Guide specifies 'learning outcomes' at the head of lists of "Areas to be considered" - the Language B Subject Guide leaves such 'learning outcomes' up to the teacher. [See The thematic approach in the page  About topics for a discussion of key factors in using a topic-based approach.]

> interpreting the Intercultural Dimension

The Guide recommends that "cultural prototypes be identified, rather than stereotypes", and that students should "develop an intercultural engagement" ... so teachers will have to consider what these terms mean, and how they will achieve these goals. [See Intercultural dimension ]

> teaching for the Personal Response

The Personal Response task (HL paper 2, Section B) should be "in the form of an essay" ('pre-publication' Guide, p.41) - but what sort of an 'essay' can be produced in a maximum of 250 words? Appropriate style, register and approach will have to be considered. [See Paper 2 changes ]

> preparing for the Written Assignment

The Written Assignment (will 'WA' become the jargon? ... 'WAAAH!') will require an approach to writing not currently assessed; and the detailed procedure for producing the WAs is laid out carefully and clearly in the Guide. [See Written Assignment ]

> deciding how to handle the Individual Interview, and selecting photos accordingly

The teacher has to select the photographs that will form the stimulus for the students, and so needs to decide which aspects of the Options studied in class should be used as the basis for discussion. [See New Oral Interview ]

> assimilating the new Marking Criteria, and any changes of priorities involved

While the new Criteria cover much of the same ground as the current ones, there are changes in emphasis and organisation - and of course the WA Criteria are completely new. [See Criteria, distilled ]

Note that it appears that Teacher Support Material will be produced to amplify and further define the instructions given in the Guide. That such material should have appeared even before the teaching of the programme was due to start is a welcome innovation on the part of IB. The first of such material appeared in May 2011.

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