Inspiring Student-Led Action in the IB PYP

We hear incredible stories of kids, from schools all around the world, taking action and using their knowledge from inquiry to make an impact for the better. But how much of that action is truly student-led? How big does action have to be? Does it even matter if it isn’t student led? And how do we inspire the children to independently take action? Are those some of the questions that pop into your head when you hear about such wow-factor action? 

Well, never fear…..I’m here to shed some light on the matter and to dispel some of the doubt (and dare I say cynicism?) that may be whispering in your ear. I have an action plan ( and some free tools) to develop and inspire your class of future heroes! Read on…… 
Action, ideally, is the voice of the children. It is student agency at its finest. Action promotes a connection to learning. It’s a transferrable process that, surprise, surprise, needs to be developed over time. Without structured modelling and guidance, your student-led action will be at best haphazard and at worst, non-existent. So please, embrace the process, surrender to the time it takes, give up comparing your class to others and work towards developing student-initiated action with your little darlings.

Action is one of the Essential Elements of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme. I don’t feel it is any more or less important than the rest of the Essential Elements, but I do believe that it is one of the most empowering elements, where the children can see the accumulation of all of their knowledge, skills and progress as learners coming together to make a real and tangible difference.

The Action Cycle vs. The Action Process

It used to be a cycle (CHOOSE-ACT-REFLECT) but has since been recognised as a process. This is not to say that the cycle no longer has any worth. I would recommend that the reflection cycle is used as a method of teaching the process of on-going action. 

The Purpose of Taking Action

Our aim is, through inquiry, to have the children come up with responsible, thoughtful and meaningful action that will make an impact. This impact does not have to be earth-shattering for the world. It does have to connect with their learning, giving a sense of purpose to their learning  through experience and enabling their voice to shine through. This is extremely empowering. Think about the impact that taking action has on yourself; from checking off your daily to-do list, to accomplishing a marathon event. ( or a marathon! Haha! )  The impact begins with how you feel about yourself and, depending on the action, can have a domino effect in that it affects others in your immediate community, wider community or even globally. Regardless of the extent of the ripple effect of your action, it becomes empowering.
So, how do we transfer this to the children?

Making it Happen The best way to encourage student action is to begin by giving  children the knowledge of what action looks like. We want them to be able to identify appropriate action. I like to narrow it down to two forms:

  • Personal Action – What can I do for myself to make a change that will benefit me?
  • Action for Others – What can I do for others? (local community, wider community, global action)


    Ways to Take Action posters

Then, I want to start with a structured approach that models what action looks like. Keep it simple to begin with.

*Combining Action with Goal Setting*

By combining action with goal setting, the children make the connection that it takes steps to accomplish anything. This brings in the action cycle:

choose – act – reflect.

We want the children to see this as a step-by-step process that they can use daily to benefit themselves and others. Taking action doesn’t have to be done separately and can be easily integrated into your days.

Structured Action: (Also known within the IBO as Teacher-led action and Teacher-initiated shared action.) Provide time to take them through the steps of the process.

  1. identifying the problem/issue
  2. setting the intention/goal,
  3. planning the steps towards meeting the goal,
  4. taking action on those steps,
  5. reflecting on the success of the action taken

I like to set our initial goals as we unpack our unit of inquiry. These goals can be related to the Learner Profile, skills, a line of inquiry or to learning objectives for the week. As you progress through the inquiry, have the children reflect on their progress with their goals. 

Developing an understanding of action.

Ideas for structured action may include:

  • Setting a goal to structure a paragraph correctly
  • Planning ways to keep our class library tidy
  • Organising a class canned goods drive for a local food bank
  • Arranging a visit from a police officer to share the importance of safety when crossing the road.

Then, you want to reflect on the process.

  1. reflecting on the intention/goal
  2. reflecting on the steps taken
  3. evaluating how well the steps worked 
  4. analysing who was impacted by the action. ( myself or others or both?)

Do this reflection periodically depending on the goals. And certainly include a reflection of their action at the

Third grade wanted to raise awareness of ways we can share responsibility for our planet’s wellbeing. They came up with the ideas and I guided them through their drama/musical performance.

Guided Action: This can be teacher-initiated OR student-initiated and teacher/community led. Ask them, from what they are learning, do they have other ideas for taking action? I may use some of those ideas and have the children work collaboratively within groups to plan their action. This will  also be guided action. Ideas for guided action may include:

  • Asking for magazines to be brought into class to use with a project.
  • Setting goals to keep our handwriting neatly on the lines
  • Working towards improving how we walk in the school halls for a week.
  • Setting out to pick up trash in the school playground
  • Creating anti-bullying posters as a class, to share around the school.
Make their thinking visible with a P.L.A.N This resource comes with the Taking Action Posters, found in my store.

Student-Led Action: As the children develop higher level reflective thinking skills, they become more attuned to themselves as learners. Continuing the process of reflection involving setting goals and taking action, encourage the children to find ways to help themselves towards solutions through critical and creative thinking, communicating with others and through research.

I like to use the acronym PL.A.N. to help with this thinking.

  • Problem: identify and define the problem/issue
  • List ideas for solving/helping the issue
  • Action: create an action plan
  • Notice: Reflect upon the action taken and the impact created.

And yet, even with some forms of action, the kids will still need adult guidance. This level becomes evident by the time the children are ready for the PYP exhibition. Examples of Student-Led Action have included:

  • Collecting artefacts related to our unit of inquiry, to share with the class
  • A school wide collection of hats and gloves for a homeless shelter
  • Planning a musical performance to the school community, raising awareness of the effect of global warming on our environment.
  • A march in the local park, demonstrating the children’s views for installing a cross walk by a local road

Understanding how to develop student-led action will hopefully encourage you and remove some of the overwhelm, as you recognise that the actions can be as simple as bringing in materials to share in class and as grandiose as a local community demonstration. And sooo much more in between. So breathe deeply my friends…’ve probably got a lot of student-led action already. Now let’s develop it further.

If you would like a copy of the FREE Ways to Take Action posters, I’ll gladly send them to you. Just drop your e mail in the box and they’ll be winging their way to your inbox.


You can find a complete set of posters in my store.


P.S Share your own superheroes with me! I love to hear what’s going on out there with IB Action. Post on our Facebook or Instagram and tag me @pypteaching. You can link below. Keep in touch!


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