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6 Essential Learning Experiences for Every MYP Unit

What does an MYP lesson look like? While every subject, every year group and every unit will have a unique sequence and composition of lessons, and every teacher will have their preferred method of delivery, the nature of the MYP means that there are certain components that should always be addressed regardless of the content covered. In this blog post we will unpack 6 of these key learning experiences - including references from IB documents about why they are important and different ways a teacher could plan for them.

While the MYP does not provide a structured lesson plan template in the same way it provides a template for the subject overview and unit plan, the approaches to teaching are clearly defined and should be present in the design of learning experiences. These are:

Collaborative - promoting effective teamwork and purposeful/productive collaboration

Concept-driven - planning and teaching through concepts that are transferable to new contexts

Contextualized - reaching beyond the scope of individual subjects to establish relevance

Differentiated - providing access to learning for a diversity of learners

Informed by assessment - balanced assessment of, and for, learning

Inquiry-based - provoking curiosity in order to structure and sustain exploration

Further guidance is on page 67 (From principles into practice)

“Teachers should purposefully choose strategies and learning experiences that are aligned with the unit’s statement of inquiry; help students meet subject-group objectives; support the development of effective ATL skills; and meaningfully prepare students to achieve high levels of performance in the unit’s summative assessment. The specific learning experiences and teaching strategies devised by teachers depend on available resources, the content to be taught and on the subjects themselves. Teachers should ensure that a range of learning experiences and teaching strategies is:

• embedded in the curriculum

• built upon prior learning

• age-appropriate, thought-provoking and engaging

• based on the differing needs of all students, including those who are learning in a language other than their mother tongue, and students with learning support requirements

• open-ended and involves teaching problem-solving skills.

Teachers should choose strategies that provide for learning through disciplined inquiry and research; involve communication of ideas and personal reflection; and give students the opportunity to practise and apply their new understandings and skills.”

With these in mind, the following learning experiences should occur at some point within each unit. Note the term learning experience; they may not span one lesson - they could be a starter, a block of 3 lessons or a regular occurrence at several points across the unit.

Learning experience 1: Unpacking the purpose of the unit

Headline: pre-empt the age-old questions of “why are we learning this?” or “when will I ever need this?” by making sure students know and understand why they are studying the unit.

What the IB says:

  • “Statements of inquiry set conceptual understanding in a global context to frame classroom inquiry and direct purposeful learning. Statements of inquiry summarize “what we will be learning and why” in language that is meaningful to students.” (Evaluating MYP unit plans, 2016, page 4).

  • “Inquiry questions are drawn from, and inspired by, the statement of inquiry. Teachers and students develop these questions to explore the statement of inquiry in greater detail.” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 63).

Different possible focuses:

  • unpack the whole statement of inquiry - what are the concepts and context and how are they defined? How can it be rephrased? Can students provide examples of the SOI in action?

  • students contribute inquiry factual, conceptual and debatable questions

  • link to current issues associated with the global context

  • complete activities surrounding provocations such as objects, video clips, articles,

  • check prior understanding of concepts

  • allow students to ask questions or suggest the direction of the unit to make it relevant to them


  • make sure that the statement of inquiry is in student friendly language. There can be unfamiliar terms and this can lead to some factual questions, but make sure that as a whole, the statement is meaningful and not overly complicated.

Learning experience 2: Explicitly developing ATL skills

Headline: identify what broader learning skills would be useful for your students to be able to do in order to engage fully in the unit…then teach it!

What the IB says:

  • “One of the most important changes in the MYP curriculum framework is its clear focus on approaches to learning (ATL), or learning how to learn.” (Further guidance for developing ATL in the MYP, page 4)

  • In reference to unit plans: “include clear descriptions of how skills are explicitly taught and specific strategies are practised” (Evaluating MYP unit plans, 2015, page 6).

  • “ATL skills can be learned and taught, improved with practice and developed incrementally. They provide a solid foundation for learning independently and with others.” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 20).

  • “All teachers in MYP schools are responsible for integrating and explicitly teaching ATL skills.” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 21).

Different possible focuses:

  • Utilise class “experts”. If there are students who already demonstrate the skill well, use them.

  • Give expectations and set developmentally appropriate targets

  • Model at the different levels. Show the difference between below, approaching, meeting and exceeding expectations according to their age level and in the context of your class.

  • Direct instruction of a strategy. If the ATL strand for an MYP1 is to “give meaningful feedback”, teach them how to use a smiley face system against a rubric and rewrite one of the “sad face” strands as a target. Provide opportunities to practice and develop with feedback.

  • Create a rubric as a class. This could be a checklist for a specific task or product.

  • Activities to develop skills and reflect on progress. Harvard thinking routines are particularly useful for this.

  • Plenary on what students learnt that lesson and how they learnt it. Did students better understand a concept because of group discussion, clear notes, a demonstration, video, asking questions etc. What does this tell them about how they learn? If students didn't understand, can they suggest an approach to try next?

Guidance: don’t be scared to step away from the content if you think of an activity that really works. There is plenty of literature about metacognition, or learning how to learn - read if you are looking for inspiration.

Learning experience 3: Explicit instruction

Headline: As teachers we are (hopefully) knowledgeable in our subject. So this teacher-led approach uses explaining, modelling, scaffolding and practising to go beyond just lecturing to also questioning and responding.

What the IB says:

  • “Not all approaches to teaching in the MYP will take place in an inquiry setting. The MYP promotes balance and a meaningful choice in teaching strategies that can include lectures, demonstrations, memorization and individual practice.” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 74).

  • ““Front-loading” content (efficiently building background knowledge) can be important, introducing a base from which to teach skills or practise critical thinking. Effective inquiry often is not possible without facts and prior knowledge.” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 66).

Different possible focuses:

  • Developing a skill through deliberate practice.

  • Introducing a concept using a concrete to pictorial to abstract approach.

  • Silent modelling (no questions or explanation).

  • Gradual release of responsibility method (I do, we do, you do).

  • Use of technology (e.g. videos) in a flipped learning context.

Guidance: explicit/direct instruction is not new so feel free to use resources developed for other curriculums and focus on planning formative assessment, differentiation and questions.

Learning experience 4: Inquiry-based learning

Headline: As teachers, we are not the holders of all knowledge. We have a facilitator role to support students in questioning, discovering, making conjectures and reflecting on conclusions.

What the IB says:

  • “Learning experiences and teaching strategies use a variety of inquiry-based approaches for teaching and learning that help students connect factual, conceptual and procedural knowledge” (Evaluating MYP unit plans, 2015, page 8).

  • “Inquiry, interpreted in the broadest sense, is the process initiated by students or the teacher that moves students from their current level of understanding to a new and deeper level of understanding. With inquiry there is a greater focus on the student starting from a position of knowledge—they already bring knowledge and understanding with them...” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 73).

Different possible focuses:

  • Provocations used to inspire questions which are gathered.

  • Inductive reasoning/teaching - looking at specific examples then seeking to generalise.

  • Conceptual and procedural variation - if we change this, what do you think will happen, what does happen, will this always be the case?

  • Using prior knowledge to make predictions and hypotheses.

  • Letting students choose their own lines of inquiry or topic for exploration.

  • Encouraging students to look for connections between their learning and other subjects or interests.

  • Low floor high ceiling tasks.

  • Experiments, research or data collection.

  • 3 act tasks (for maths).

Guidance: inquiry does not mean sit back and let the students do whatever they want, especially in the early days. Know your class and plan for the level of inquiry (structured, controlled, guided, free) most appropriate for them. Spark curiosity, facilitate the gathering and selection of questions, form groups mindfully, differentiate, scaffold, regularly check in, let them share findings, and regroup the class as appropriate.

Learning experience 5: Real-world application

Headline: Let students understand how what they are learning can make a difference in their lives or the world around them.

What the IB says:

  • “The context, therefore, should have a relationship to the learner, the learner’s interests and identity, or the learner’s future. Learning that occurs out of context is often shallow and short term in character.” (From principles into practice, page 17)

  • “the IB’s commitment to teaching and learning through practical, real-world experience.” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 11)

  • “Students at the MYP age range learn best when their learning experiences have context and are connected to their lives and to the world that they have experienced. When learning becomes meaningful and relevant, students are more likely to be engaged.” (From principles into practice, u2021, page 18)

Different possible focuses:

  • Mind map where the unit’s content is seen in the real world.

  • Focus on the specific global context in the SOI.

  • Plan a related trip.

  • Explore relevant school to career pathways.

  • Plan a service as action activity.

  • Use international mindedness as a lens to consider the learning in different contexts.

  • Authentic assessment - research background information for a summative task.

  • Find out more about the “big players” behind the content/context.

Guidance: if incorporating research, give sources of information that are age appropriate. Younger students should be directed to specific documents/artefacts, middle years could have a bank of appropriate sources to choose from and older years should be better at leading their research as they should be able to critique if a source is reliable. If you’re struggling for authentic ideas and students are also unsure of a direction to go towards, look at "project based learning" resources as a guide.

Learning experience 6: Summative assessment preparation

Headline: ensure students have had access to all the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to be successful in your designed summative assessment.

What the IB says:

  • In reference to the e-assessments: “use the topic lists, key and related concepts to structure revision activities…practise with unfamiliar situations…review the criteria… understanding the command terms.” (Further guidance for concept-driven examinations, 2020, page 7).

  • “Students need to understand assessment expectations, standards and practices, which teachers can introduce early and naturally in teaching, as well as in class and homework activities.” (From principles into practice u2021, page 79).

Different possible focuses:

  • Look at the criterion strands, differentiating between bands, understanding the command terms and their development (e.g explain vs. justify).

  • Create concept maps to link topics and establish understanding.

  • Reflection activity so that students can self-assess areas for improvement.

  • Review material - retrieval practice, interleaving questions, read over notes.

  • Formative assessment with self, peer or teacher feedback.

  • Creating revision materials - posters, notes etc.

  • Preparing for a long term task e.g. creating a timeline.

  • Check conceptual understanding is strong with higher order thinking tasks.

Guidance: plan the assessment before starting the unit so that you can prepare students from the start. While students should know the skills and understanding required ahead of time, the task or scenario should be new to ensure it is a true assessment and to maintain academic integrity.

If you want to see a clearer picture of what an MYP maths lesson looks like, head over to the curriculum support page to see a subject overview, unit plan and lesson plan.


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