New to the IB PYP? Essentials for Getting Started with the IB PYP

If you are one of the many, many teachers who will be new or newish to the IB PYP & inquiry-based learning this year, then this is for you. I want you to feel welcome within our community, knowing that this adventure is going to be amazing! Give yourself grace. Take it one step at a time. This article is FULL and links to videos and additional materials. Bookmark it and take notes. Grab a cup of tea and let's do this. Together.😊

I wanted to put out a list of the essentials for every IB PYP classroom, giving even those of you who, like myself, tend to procrastinate all summer long, plenty of time to prepare. Back to school preparations are in high gear for some and dragging for others.  I tend to fall into the latter category myself…despite good intentions every single year. You know, last minute cramming moments before the kids walk into the classroom? No matter which camp you fall within, I have that checklist of the essentials for your inquiry-based classroom that will help keep you on track. Not to mention, some fabulous tools that will get you off to a confident start and save you so much time! 

Every PYP classroom, regardless of where you are in the world, (2275 PYP schools in 127 countries at the last count, in 2024!), will have some commonalities as I’ve listed below. Your PYP coordinator will be able to provide a printed checklist list for you from your account on the IB website. Entry to this site will require your school code as a password. If you do not have convenient access, you can download this FREE PYP classroom checklist list by clicking here.  

Read on for step by step guidance for each element of setting up your PYP  classroom. And let’s keep in touch! You can subscribe to my blog and follow my store here and stay tuned as to when new IB PYP teaching tips and tools are released.

The Essential Agreements

Although this is definitely something that will be required to be seen in your PYP classroom, it does require the children to be present and active participants in its creation and so IT isn’t possible to have it prepared in advance of day 1. But, it’s a fantastic way to help to establish procedures during those first few days when we are all just getting to know one another, as well as have the children be very much a part of forming our classroom community.

The Essential Agreements are essentially a list of agreements that are important to the balance within our classroom. They essentially consist of good attitudes, reinforce learner profile traits and are quite simply essential to a smoothly running, respectful environment. They are expected to stay up, for all to see, all year long. You can of course, reflect upon and adapt them as the opportunities arise and the year progresses. But, essentially, you want to get those babies agreed upon and up within that first month.  Essential.😉

I like to have each child add their signature to our final list of Essential Agreements before we give it pride of place on the wall. Voila! Class contract completed.

The Academic Language Posters

A set of PYP posters or signs will be required to be in plain sight and easily accessed by the children so that they can constantly refer to them. You will find that this happens  on a daily basis as the academic language is specific within a PYP classroom and we use it all the time.  The posters will need to cover:

  • The Learner Profile
  • Transdisciplinary themes for each unit of inquiry
  • Approaches to Learning skills
  • The concepts (labelling specified and additional concepts within your inquiry)

You can include posters that guide the children in what taking action may look like. It is no longer considered a cycle. ( 2018) These are things that are looked for by IB evaluators and crucial to a working PYP classroom at all levels.

Student Agency: Developing A Sense of Community

Ideally, the children will be part of the creating these signs and posters, evidenced by their own writing and drawings. This is up to you and the needs of your class of course. There are a myriad of great posters out there, not least the ready-made posters that can be found on the resource site of the IB’s own website but I, of course, am plugging my own creations too! 😊

You can link to any of the posters in my store by clicking on the images. Shop around, see what suits your taste and your classroom style. You will find easy prep, print and go posters as well as create-your-own posters 

Create Your Own Posters- a handy packet for all grade levels.

The Learner Profile: The Centre of the PYP

The Learner Profile posters are essential in that they describe the character traits, incorporating the connecting attitudes within each descriptor. Since these attributes and attitudes are being put into practice on daily basis, it’s important that  the children develop an awareness of what it means to BE a learner and are able to see the language of the Learner Profile. 

These collaborative Learner Profile posters, for both lower and upper grades, offer a great start to the school year as the children are required to work together to discuss the attributes and, in the case of the upper grades version, research well-known personalities through the lens of their Learner Profile attribute. This learning experience develops crucial social skills, research skills, communication skills AND raises awareness of the attributes of a learner. Win-win! 

Each unit of inquiry will focus on specific learner profile traits, with attitudes embedded within the descriptors . Check your planners to find out which ones are the focus for each. I like to point a big, bold, red arrow at the traits ( and skills & concepts) that are our focus for each unit. You can find more ideas for bringing the Learner Profile to life in this article. 

Not to be outdone, you can find create your own posters for little ones too. 😊

Involve the children & create your own banners or posters.

A few fun ice breaker tools for the beginning of the school year, reinforcing the attributes of a learner, is The Learner Profile Scavenger Hunt. and also the Guess the Learner Profile Bingo Card Game.

The Concepts

These are a biggie since we teach everything through the lens of the big ideas of the concepts. Your students will eventually know the questions to think through for each of the 7 specified concepts inside out and back to front by the time the year is over. Everything I taught, each curricular area, is through the key concepts. You will be planning and co-planning inquiries with the children through concepts. This is key academic language within PYP classrooms. You can learn more about concept-based learning through my online course, Essentials for Inquiry and my blog. I'll list a few articles that will help to get you started: 

The Transdisciplinary Themes

There are 6 themes. Each theme is what our unit of inquiry will fall under. Thus, these posters are used every six weeks or so; the length of an average unit of inquiry. They can be displayed altogether and pointed out with an arrow during each unit or, you can add them to an accumulative bulletin board that you use for your units of inquiry. Incidentally, when you introduce each unit, its great to point out the key vocabulary within that unit of the profile, concepts, skills and theme by using the posters.

  • How We Express Ourselves
  • How the World Works
  • Sharing the Planet
  • How We Organise Ourselves
  • Who We Are
  • Where We Are in Place and Time

The Approaches to Learning Skills 

Every learner is constantly developing the Approaches to Learning Skills implicitly as part of the learning experiences that you facilitate.  The 5 skills are grouped below and consist of a list of actions and behaviours that fall under the umbrella of one main skill. You can learn more about each of these skills by linking to additional articles that I have shared. 


Finally, when the children are asked to reflect upon their day, or at the end of a unit, they often refer to the skills posters as a kind of check list. 

Student-Led Action


Action. Without it, it’s all just talk. Taking action is one of the five essential elements of the PYP and a critical detail of the process of inquiry. Part of the IB philosophy is to encourage & inspire independent action. This will of course look quite different depending on the age of the child. However, within a PYP classroom, student- led action is taught, demonstrated, reinforced and encourage. Keeping it simple is key, in my opinion. There are so many smaller actions that can be achieved daily than one big action once a year.

Learn more here:

Desks: More than Simply A Place to Sit

Collaborative group work requires space to meet, discuss and think together.

Whether you opt for flexible seating or fixed seating is entirely up to you, but the positioning of the desks is far more important. A PYP class is constantly working collaboratively, sharing ideas, thinking through problems and exploring artefacts and sources of evidence. It looks like a busy, productive factory with bodies moving and voices chatting.  Positioning your tables or desks into groups is the most effective way of accomplishing this. The children can sit beside and opposite one another, they can move around their group, they can all see, hear and access materials far more easily than if they were sitting in rows. Of course, there are times when a teacher has to single out a few seats and separate children in order to maintain management. I totally get it! It can actually work in your favour in order to get the kids back into group work. All part of those developing social and self management skills.😉

The Teacher Table- Our Inquiry Table

Math inquiry: angles, area and fancy fish.

In addition to having my table groups for the kids, I have a kidney shaped table in my classroom that serves as the gathering place for my group work as well as a place for individual groups to work together. I love this table and it usually doubles as my desk since I spend so much time working with the children at that table. I like to have that positioned in a central spot where I can have my students meet me AND I can still see what’s going on all around me. : if you know what I mean! 😉

Working with Multi - Language Children- Making the Room International

Most of the IB schools I have worked in have been truly international schools, with a fantastic group of children coming from all corners of the globe in one classroom. However, depending on where you work, this can vary. And so your Language B will vary too. In order to encourage development of a second language, the PYP classroom will have the basics labelled with both the native language and the second language.- pencils, rulers, door, desk etc. I also like to add a few commonly needed sentences in the second language too, posted around the room where the kids can easily refer to them. Examples:

  1. “Please may I go to the bathroom?
  2. “May I have a drink of water, please?”
  3. "I think....I know....I  wonder..."
  4. "I need help."

These phrases slowly developed as we progress throughout the year, getting to the point that the kids are challenged to ask using the foreign language every time they want to ask. It can often be uncomfortable for some kids in the beginning, but with gentle coaching and firm perseverance, they really do get it mastered and feel immensely proud of their wee selves. You may even find that you are approached with suggestions to add to the repertoire of languages! My trickiest was Hebrew. Amazing what you will learn from your kiddos!

You can find some great strategies for working with multi-lingual children from Maria in this video:

Strategies for Teaching Multi-Lingual Children

Developing Inquirers

The majority of our learning is inquiry based, student led and teacher facilitated and therefore we are constantly provoking wonder, asking questions, investigating & researching. Having the tools handy for all of this is important within a PYP classroom. PLEASE NOTE: It doesnt all have to be in place for day 1.😉

Computers, tablets, books etc. should be kept in  central location in your classroom and easily accessible, encouraging your students to freely reach for them and explore. If you have laptops or tablets, keep them in  cart or on a table. Using duct tape to mark the layout of them is handy, especially to encourage responsible ownership. Desktop computers can be spaced around the room or placed together in a kind of computer area.

There should be a plentiful selection of non fiction books readily available in your classroom library or, if they are sourced with each separate unit, keep them on display and hands on for the children, throughout the unit of inquiry.

I have a selection of good old-fashioned encyclopedias, dictionaries and thesaurus also on hand. Maps or a world globe are fantastic tools too.

I have SO many tools to support inquiry and develop thinkers and inquirers. I'll link a few key resources here that are great for getting started with developing your young thinkers and inquirers. 

Lower Grades PYP Teaching Tools:

Upper Grades PYP Teaching Tools:


I found a really great, 4 minute video on You Tube a few years ago and still think it is one of the best for peeking into a PYP classroom set up.  I’ve no idea who created it but I applaud them and gladly give credit. Check it out here. 


Your PYP coordinator will usually give you a deadline as to when you should aim to accomplish this list. So don’t panic if youre just reading this the night before school goes back! As I said earlier, there are many great tools and resources available to make your life easier for the set up of your PYP classroom. 

In addition, you may be interested in my self-paced, online course Essentials for Inquiry: Getting Started with Student Led Inquiry. Designed to help you get off to a confident start, it has over 12 hours of video-based professional development walking you through the process of student-led inquiry. Take as long as you need to work through it. Once enrolled, its yours to keep. 


Good luck with your new school year and enjoy!

P.S. Let's keep in touch via social media. You can find me, alongside our community, on Instagram @pypteaching and Facebook @PYP Teaching Tools. Pop over and introduce yourself. 😊


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