Context! Audience! Purpose! Tackling the IB English B Paper 1

By Kevin Kwok

(ACT, SAT, SSAT, IELTS, General English tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

Blog - Kevin-01

For all you IB English B students out there: Yes, Paper 1 can be hard! Prior to May 2020, the writing paper tasks would give you the text type (e.g. write an article/speech/review) you had to write. However, after the 2020 changes to IB Language B, students must now choose the text type they will use to respond to their chosen writing task.

Consider this example:

  • Many languages are spoken by a small number of people, and some are in danger of dying out. Write a text in which you explain to your peers how and why minority languages should be maintained.

Speech

Blog

Diary

Yikes! I can hear you. You’re thinking out loud: “Why couldn’t I have been a 90’s baby…” But it’ll all be OK if we keep these three (just 3) things in mind…

Context – What are the circumstances?

Any writing we produce is in reaction to the situation we find ourselves in. According to the prompt – what happened? When we can answer that question, we know the situation, a.k.a. the context. For Paper 1, the description of the context is included with each prompt:

Prompt

Many languages are spoken by a small number of people, and some are in danger of dying out. Write a text in which you explain to your peers how and why minority languages should be maintained.

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Context

Some languages that are spoken by very few people could die out.

 

As we look at this example, let’s also think: What’s not been included in our context?

Many languages are spoken by a small number of people, and some are in danger of dying out. Write a text in which you explain to your peers how and why minority languages should be maintained.

That’s quite a chunk of our prompt! It’s useful, but for what? Read on!

Audience – Who are you writing to?

If we refer back to our example, spotting our audience is easy. We see straight away that we’re writing to “our peers”, presumably from school. The important thing is what we do with that information because it tells us so much more than simply who we are writing to.

In fact, the audiences we find in Paper 1 can be categorised into the following:
1. Personal audiences
2. Mass audiences
3. Professional audiences

For each category of audience, our relationship with the audience and the language we use are going to be different:

Personal audiences
Mass audiences
Professional audiences
ExamplesFriends
Family
Yourself
The general public
A group united by something specific (gender, age, shared interest, geographical location, school…)
Your teacher
A local administrator Someone from the government
A business
RelationshipYou know these people well.You may or may not know these people well.Either:
You don’t know these people well.
Or:
These are people of authority.
LanguageYou write to these people using informal languageYou could write to these people using formal or informal language (think about the context)You write to these people using formal language

Now, if we go back to our example, we know that we’re writing to our peers (from school). Based on the info above, we can categorise this audience as a “mass audience”. Great! Let’s hold onto that thought – we’ll need it to decide what kind of text type we use to respond to this task.

Blog - Why-01

Purpose – Why are you writing?

We can answer this question by looking at the verbs in our prompt:

explain to your peers how and why minority languages should be maintained.

Of course, whenever we write something, it’s not just to explain something! We do it for all sorts of reasons – to persuade, to enquire, to request, to complain, to apologise… This absolutely influences our choice of text type – are we going to use the language of a diary entry for a customer service enquiry? What about the language of a business proposal for an apology to a family member? Either way, you can expect to see many of these verbs and more when tackling Paper 1.

But even after you’ve found the basic purpose of why you’re writing, then what? Or, for this example, explain what?

…explain to your peers how and why minority languages should be maintained.

In other words, we need to explain how and why minority should be maintained. Bingo!

Putting it all together

Here’s what we have now:

ContextSome languages that are spoken by very few people could die out.
AudienceMass audience - My peers from school
PurposeExplain how and why minority languages should be maintained.


In our example prompt, we’re given the choice of writing a
speech, blog, or diary. Let’s now consider our context, audience, and purpose when evaluating each three of these text types:

Diary

  • Audience: My diary is written for me! No way I’d want the whole school reading what I write in there.
  • Purpose: I need to explain a perspective, but not to myself! I have to explain it to other people.

Verdict: Next, please!

 

Blog

  • Audience: Sure! I could imagine people from school reading my blog. But is everyone in my mass audience guaranteed to read it?
  • Purpose: Sure! A blogpost can be used to explain a perspective.
  • Context: For all I know, these languages could die out pretty fast. They would then be lost forever. This makes the situation seem urgent and one with high stakes. Is just writing a blog immediate enough?

Verdict: Just OK, but maybe I can find something better

 

Speech

  • Audience: Great fit! Speeches are made for mass audiences
  • Purpose: Sure! A speech can be used to explain a perspective.
  • Context: This solves one issue I had with writing a blog! Giving a speech is more immediate than writing a blog and is better suited to a task that is potentially urgent and that requires attention soon.

Verdict: This looks like the way to go!

And that’s how you can take a prompt, extract the context, audience, and purpose, and arrive at the right text type for you to ace Paper 1. Try this with some other sample Paper 1 prompts to practice, and don’t forget to find us at The Edge if you need more help!


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