How do we help students learn?

If the individual IB subject guides inform us about what to teach and learn the Approaches to Teaching and Learning Guide describes how to.

This page is designed to help you understand the nature of the IB approaches to teaching and learning, focus on some of the details and think about how it can be used. There is a web section linked to the IB approaches to teaching and learning documents on the OCC. I do recommend that you visit and have a read.

The following pages (on approaches to learning and approaches to teaching) have been designed in the form of workshops you can use with staff.

Professional inquiry

  • What are the written and unwritten rules of my school’s ATL culture? Why is it useful to consider this perspective? 
  • What does the IB consider to be effective teaching and learning?
  • What are the essential elements of an IB approach?
  • How can the IB approaches to teaching and learning be reviewed, evaluated and improved?


Read the following aims of approaches to teaching and learning. Which is/are the most powerful? Which challenge you the most?

  • empower teachers as teachers of learners as well as teachers of content
  • empower teachers to create clearer strategies for facilitating learning experiences in which students are more meaningfully engaged in structured inquiry and greater critical and creative thinking
  • promote both the aims of individual subjects (making them more than course aspirations) and linking previously isolated knowledge (concurrency of learning)
  • encouraged students to develop an explicit variety of skills that will equip them to continue to be actively engaged in learning after they leave school, to help them not only obtain university admission through better grades but also prepare them for success during tertiary education and beyond
  • enhance further the coherence and relevance of the students' Diploma Programme experience
  • allow schools to identify the distinctive nature of an IB Diploma Programme education, with its blend of idealism and practicality.

(Quoted in Extended Essay Guide 2017, IB, p19)

What are IB approaches to teaching and learning?

“ATL can often provide the common ground between national programmes, IB and a range of qualifications.” (Sara Woodcock, IBEN workshop leader)

“An IB education places particular emphasis on “learning how to learn” and on developing attitudes towards learning which students will retain throughout their lives. The opportunity for “learning by doing” rather than “learning by receiving” is an integral element. This begins in the Primary Years Programme where students are actively involved in inquiry and continues through to the Diploma Programme where, for example, students practise the arts rather than learn about them, where mathematical investigation is a key part of this subject and where during philosophy classes, students practice philosophical reasoning.” (Seefried, M., The IB, educating hearts and minds to meet the challenges of today’s world, IBO, 2008)

"What is of paramount importance in the pre-university stage is not what is learned but learning how to learn.... What matters is not the absorption and regurgitation either of fact or pre-digested interpretations of facts, but the development of powers of the mind or ways of thinking which can be applied to new situations and new presentations of facts as they arise." (Alec Peterson; Peterson, A. 1972. The International Baccalaureate: An experiment in International Education. London. George Harrap

The Approaches to Teaching and Learning Guide describes what the IB believes is effective teaching and learning. I think it is a really clear guide and an excellent pedagogical think piece that provides a clearly articulated rationale for its approach to both teaching and learning. It is not intended as a box ticking exercise. Instead in the hands of teachers it could be a very helpful stimulus for discussion about the art of teaching and learning.

If you look at the Diploma Programme model Approaches to Teaching and Learning are drawn right around the Learner Profile. This illustrates the IB belief that if you teach explicitly through approaches to teaching and learning you can help students develop the attributes of the Learner Profile.These approaches also inform the new subject guides.

Approaches to teaching focus on the pedagogical principles that underpin the Diploma Programme (as well as all other IB programmes) and provides strategies for use in the classroom.

Approaches to learning are all about the skills that students should develop. These skills provide a solid foundation for effective learning.They help students take responsibility for their own learning. Consider the time that is spent explicitly teaching the skills and students intentionally practicing and reflecting on them. There are five approaches to learning.


The IB have designed a good range of resources to support teachers. They can be found on the Online Curriculum Centre.

  • Case Studies
  • Interviews with leading thinkers on approaches to teaching and learning
  • Videos from classrooms around the world
  • Unit planners The IB have provided a number of templates which you could consider using. It is important to note that these are not compulsory. Schools already have excellent practice. Whilst it is useful to reflect on these unit planners they are not intended to replace already existing excellent practice.However, they do provide some helpful guidance on what you may like to include:

    Approaches to Teaching: inquiry, key concepts (essential understandings), learning processes (including collaboration), differentiation, assessment (formative/summative)
    Approaches to Learning: thinking, social, communication, self-management and research skills
    TOK connections: personal and shared knowledge, ways of knowing, areas of knowledge, the knowledge framework
    CAS connections
    Professional reflection
  • Workshops: a range of workshops including a Category 3 workshop which allows participants to focus on implementation of the ATL in their own school context and/or provide opportunities to focus in depth on any one of the approaches.
  • Resource Materials:
    ATT in the IB Diploma: A literature review of teaching practices for effective teaching, King, L. (2013)
    ATL in the IB Diploma: A literature review of the key skills of effective learning, King, L. (2013). The introduction (pages 1-5) makes the case for the importance of directly teaching learning skills: it leads to effective learning, a higher level of engagement in learning as well as developing skills students will need when they leave school (multiple studies are quoted within the educational and business spheres). The document then (pages 5-9) provides clear definitions of metacognitive, cognitive and effective skills: metacognitive skills focus on the executive function of thinking, namely the self-management of learning - planning, implementing and monitoring learning efforts; cognitive learning interventions focus on the development of specific skills necessary to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge or skill; affective skills are those connected with motivation, self-concept, emotional management and resilience. The remainder of the document takes each of the five IB DP approaches to learning skills, breaks each of these down into their composite skill set and provides strategies for their development within the curriculum. This is a really useful document to use alongside the official IB ATL Guide.
    Approaches to Learning: Literature Review, Na Li, IB research paper.

Selected Pages

How to teach thinking skills 5 May 2021

How do you teach and create environments for creative and critical thinking?This page provides a quick overview to IB guidance...

ATL skill progression - how to plan for it? 5 May 2021

The IB approaches to learning (ATL) are an essential element of ALL IB programmes. Each programme has the same five categories...

IB ATL: Thinking Skills 17 April 2021

'Thinkers' is one of the IB learner profile attributes. It is defined "in terms of exercising initiative in applying thinking...

Establishing an ATL culture 16 April 2021

The IB approaches to teaching and learning are central to delivering on the IB mission. If IB schools are committed to nurturing...

Reflection 21 March 2021

Reflection is not an extra activity but a different way of learning.A simple definition of reflective practice is to think...

Metacognition 21 March 2021

"All students can improve how they manage learning processes and become owners of their own learning. However, this is not...

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.