Approaches to Learning (ATL)

Approaches To Learning (ATL) Skills

ATL: Summary

Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills are deliberate strategies, skills and attitudes that permeate the IB teaching and learning environment.

ATL skills supports the IB belief that a large influence on a student’s education is not only what you learn but also how you learn

ATLs consist of Five categories of interrelated skills and associated sub-skills that support students of all ages to become self-regulated learners.

Teachers collaboratively plan for implicit and explicit opportunities using a variety of strategies to develop ATL both inside and outside the programme of inquiry.

Source: D Y Patil International School |

ATL Diagram

PYP ATL Poster

Click/Tap on Image to View/download PosterSource: Chris Gadbury
** Arabic ATLs - Source: Fatma Trabelsi

PYP ATL Poster

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Source: Sonia Bouchard - Facebook

PYP ATL Poster

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Source: Managebac

Purpose of ATL

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Source: Sheeza Ali Facebook

What to Teach?

Click/Tap image to view/download posterSource: Toddle

Detailed Explanation of ATL Skills in Eight Podcasts

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These episodes by IB Matters are part of a series on the IB Approaches to Learning Skills known as the ATL’s that are at the core of all four International Baccalaureate Programmes. John Harvey and the host will, in these eight episodes, try to give you a coherent, sustainable, values aligned strategy to implement ATL Skills in your school. They want to help you build your team of coordinators, teachers, librarians, and support staff.

(You can check out all the IB Matters Podcasts Here.)

Guide to Understanding ATL

Click/Tap image to view/download 34-page guide
Source: This is a Section of the document - A Visual Guide to The PYP - by Cindy Blackburn. - 34 pages.

ATL Alignment

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Source: Alison Yang


This set of five ATL skills playbooks, produced by Toddle, is designed to help you target specific skill indicators in your teaching and learning processes. The playbooks collate exciting ideas for skill-based activities that can be aligned with subjects or used independently for homeroom and other learning spaces.

How to Use the Playbooks

Each playbook contains printable strategy or activity cards aligned with 50+ skill indicators within the five ATL skill clusters

Cards are written in student-facing language and also link to templates, worksheets, and graphic organisers students can readily use

Each card also indicates a learner profile attribute that can potentially be developed through the activity; educators may encourage students to reflect upon the same.

Source: Toddle
Click/Tap image to view/download playbookCommunication skills playbook helps develop the ability to express one’s ideas clearly and in diverse ways, to listen to multiple perspectives and to collaborate with other individuals effectively.
Click/Tap image to view/download playbookResearch skills playbook helps develop the ability to critically evaluate and effectively use credible information and media.
Click/Tap image to view/download playbook

Thinking skills playbook helps develop the ability to think critically and creatively, and transfer knowledge across disciplines.

Click/Tap image to view/download playbookSocial skills playbook helps develop the ability to collaborate with other individuals within a classroom setting and beyond.
Click/Tap image to view/download playbookSelf-management skills playbook helps develop the ability to reflect on one’s own progress and set goals to meet expectations.

ATL Descriptors: EY-G12

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Source: Lydia VanBerkhout - Facebook

ATL "I Can" Statements: EY-G6

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Source: Mary Collins - Facebook

ATL "I Can" Statements

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Source: Suzanne Kitto

ATL Continuum Example

Primary - Gr 8 ATL Continuum Example

Student Personal ATL Learning Plan Example

ATL Resource Toolkit

Here are some strategies that can help to build ATL skills curated by Alison Yang. While the Toolkit is targeted for MYP teachers, you will find that many of the resources are very applicable to the PYP, especially upper elementary. Select each ATL by selecting a tab at the top of the spread sheet. It's truly a bountiful resource!

Note: The skill indicators are merely suggestions by the IB. These skills are not the definitive or exhaustive list of ATL skills. Schools are not required to cover them all. Instead, the important point is for schools to consider their own contexts, reflect on their school missions and develop their own continuum of approaches to learning skills that can prepare students for the future.

Strategies must be used intentionally and practice deliberately. When choosing the strategy to explicitly teach specific skills, we need to consider our subject-specific objectives, the complexity of summative assessment, desired learning outcomes, and age appropriateness.

Also see another version by Lenny Dutton

Thinking Sub-Skills Check List

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Source: Suzanne Kitto

ATL Place Mat

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Source: Unknown

Podcast: Interview Sonya Terborg About the Approaches to Learning (ATLs)

Podcast - Approaches to Learning - Sonya Terborg.m4a
Created by RACHEL FRENCH FRENCHSource: Professional Learning International - 58:45 - Jan 8, 2019

Angeline Aow interviews Sonya Terborg about the Approaches to Learning (ATLs). Sonya has been a PYP educator since 2003 when she began working with 2nd Grade students at Bonn International School and has since worked as an art teacher, homeroom teacher, and technology integrator. Sonya is currently teaching MYP Design at Nanjing International School. Sonya is a PYP workshop leader and has worked with the IB on developing the PYP Blog and on several projects in relation to the PYP Enhancements. Her interest lies in challenging ideas and seeking understanding in how we can best “do school”. To find out more about Sonya and her work, you can follow her on Twitter or check out her website.

PYP Early Years ATL Learning Card Example

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Created by Sonya Terborg - View her blog post

Five Ways to Deepen Student Comprehension

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For the most part, students aren’t good at picking the best learning strategies—in study after study, they opt for the path of least resistance, selecting the strategies that provide an immediate sense of accomplishment. Check out these simple, in-class activities—drawn from recent research.

The Importance of Teaching Empathy as an ATL

Prior to the Enhanced PYP empathy was an "PYP Attitude" attribute. In the Enhanced PYP, it has been subsumed into the Learner Profile under "Caring". Since empathy needs to be explicitly taught, I encourage PYP teachers to consider teaching empathy as an ATL skill under "Social Skills" (as it is in the MYP). Learn more about the importance of teaching Empathy.

The Importance of Differentiating Instruction & Assessment

It is critical to incorporate differentiation and assessment strategies during collaborative planning and teaching for implicit and explicit opportunities for all students to develop ATL skills both inside and outside the programme of inquiry. Learn more about Differentiating Instruction and Assessment.

What Is The 3-2-1 Strategy And How Can It Be Used For Critical Thinking?

What’s the 3-2-1 strategy? The 3-2-1 strategy is simply a format that can frame–well, really anything. Great for stimulating critical thinking and ATL understanding.

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Click/Tap on Image to view/download 1-page document. Source: TeachThought Website

Examples Of The 3-2-1 Strategy

It doesn’t even have to be about about teaching and learning. You might ask someone to name…

  • 3 of your favourite genres of music, 2 of your favourite songs, and 1 pattern you noticed making that list of genres and songs

  • 3 cities you’ve visited, 2 of your favourite memories of those 3 cities, and 1 place you’d like to go next

  • 3 causes of pollution, 2 solutions that could help address those causes, and 1 thing a person can do every day to help immediately/have an immediate effect

3-2-1 is a tried-and-true way to frame anything from a pair-share or journal entry (e.g., ask students to write 3 things they think they know, 2 things they know they don’t know, and one thing they’re certain of about a topic) pre-assessment to a post-assessment (e.g., list three ways your project or learned skill reflected mastery of skill X, two ways skill Y still needs improving, and one way you can make your presentation stronger in the next five minutes) to a reflection of the post-assessment.”

The most common use of 3-2-1 is in response to a reading or lesson–usually 3 things you learned, 2 things that made you curious or confused, and 1 most important thing you learned or should do with what you’ve learned.

Using The 3-2-1 Learning Strategy For Critical Thinking

Note that these are just rough examples of using the 3-2-1 for learning. Feel free to take any of these and improve them or create your own based on an idea you get reading them.

Also note, the use of vague or imprecise words like ‘thing’ and ‘name’ and ‘could have’ and ‘might have.’ This is done to make it general enough to be plainly useful to a range of grade levels of content areas. The ‘thing’ can be anything from fractions or the water cycle to a discussion about Shakespearean sonnets.


  • 3 differences between metaphors and symbolism, 2 things they have in common, and 1 general effect on a text that they each have

  • 3 underlying assumptions of democracy, 2 common misunderstandings of democracy, 1 reason democracies have endured as a form of modern government

You could also have asked students to name 3 strengths of democracy, 2 forms of democracy, and 1 way it might have to evolve to maintain relevance in a changing world (misinformation, deep fakes, propaganda, partisanship, etc.)

  • Write 3 questions at the recall or understanding level, 2 questions at the ‘apply’ level, and 1 question at the evaluate level


  • 3 ways you agree, 2 ways you disagree, and 1 thing you learned (or that surprised you) during your conversation

  • 3 things they said, 2 points they made, 1 thing you’d like to know more about


  • 3 things I know (generally) about mindset, 2 examples of the effect of mindset (generally), 1 thing I’ve noticed about my mindset today/before or during this lesson/recently, etc. (specifically)

  • 3 ways my thinking occurs easily or naturally for me, 2 ways my thinking requires focus or effort on my part, 1 adjustment I can make in response

  • 3 things I remember thinking during the lesson, 2 things I remember doing during the lesson, and 1 thing I could’ve done but didn’t


  • Spend 3 minutes summarizing, 2 minutes clarifying, and 1 minute writing one sentence that concisely summarizes the ‘thing’

  • 3 things I could do with what I’ve learned, 2 things that other people do with this kind of knowledge or skill, 1 thing I am going to do with what I’ve learned

  • 3 similarities, 2 differences, 1 question-to-guide-future-learning

  • 3 things I learned, 2 things that were a bit confusing, 1 ‘big idea’ that sums up the relevance of it all

  • 3 open-ended questions, 2 closed questions, 1 deepening question

  • 3 clarifying questions, 2 probing questions, 1 contextualizing question

Reading Response Prompt Examples

  • Non-fiction text/simple: Name 3 things you remember or learned from the reading, 2 things that made you confused or surprised, and 1 thing you’d like to learn more about

  • Non-fiction text/less simple: Name 3 examples of text structure, analyze 2 ways that structure affected its meaning, and name 1 claim that the text seemed to make that was or was not well-supported

  • Fiction: Describe 3 ways the author developed the protagonist over the course of the book, describe 2 ways that development affected the plot’s development, and identify and explain 1 change the author could’ve made in that development and how that change would have affected the meaning of the text/your enjoyment of the text, etc.

Using 3-2-1 To Guide Inquiry Examples

  • Identify 3 places your inquiry could ‘start,’ identify 2 pros and cons of each, then create 1 driving question to guide your inquiry

  • Write 1 question, 2 answers, and 3 follow-up questions

  • Write 1 question, 2 revisions of the question, and 3 effects of those revisions

  • Write 3 questions, 2 possible answers each, and 1 implicit idea in either


  • 2 sources for every (1) claim

  • 3 sources, 2 media forms, 1 recent study

  • 3 sources published within the last 5 years, 2 sources published between 5 and 20 years ago, 1 source published 20+ years ago

Lesson Planning

  • What are three ways I have designed with enough flexibility to meet the needs of a range of learners? What are two questions or challenges I anticipate? If they can only learn one thing from this lesson, what do I want it to be (ideally in one sentence)?

Curriculum Planning

  • What are three most important ‘big ideas’ in this curriculum? (Obviously, this could be any number–six, ten, etc.) How can they unify the ‘less important’ or less broad ideas? What are curriculum planning strategies I can use to promote enduring understanding (or critical thinking, transfer, etc.)? What is one change I can make to this curriculum to make it more flexible for all learners?

Source: TeachThought Website

Characteristics of Critical Thinking Classroom

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Source: TeachThought Website
How do you know if your students are ‘thinking critically’? Of course, the answer depends on a scores and scores of factors, from the grade level and content area you teach to your relationships with students and the nature of your curriculum, units, lessons, and activities. But the graphic above lists some examples that, if witnessed with any consistency at all, might be a good sign that your students are thinking.

Critical Thinking Strategy for Note-Taking

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Webinar: Developing and Implementing High-Quality Success Criteria

How would your students respond to the question, “How will I know if I have learned something?” When both you and your students have clarity about learning through high-quality success criteria, there is a greater likelihood that learning will happen and that all students will experience success in their learning. Success criteria can be used as a teaching/learning strategy to help students understand and use ATL skills, assessment as feedback, inquiry and developing UOIs. Whether face-to-face, hybrid, or at a distance, this webinar will introduce how best to support the development and implementation of high-quality success criteria.

Run Time: 53:00 - Mar 9, 2021

OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 Project

The OECD Learning Compass 2030, a product of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Future of Education and Skills 2030 project, is an evolving learning framework that sets out an aspirational vision for the future of education with a focus on individual and collective well-being. The compass framework connects well to IB PYP standards and practices through its offering of a broad vision of the types of competencies students will need to thrive in 2030 and beyond.

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These include core foundations, knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, transformative competencies, well-being and a cycle of anticipation, action and reflection (AAR). The concept of learner agency and co-agency are also central to the Learning Compass.

For example, The OECD Learning Compass 2030 distinguishes between three different types of skills: cognitive and metacognitive skills which include critical thinking, creative thinking, learning-to-learn and self-regulation (PYP ATL Thinking & Research Skills); social and emotional skills – which include empathy, self-efficacy, responsibility and collaboration and the ability to communicate, (PYP ATL Social & Communication Skills); and physical and practical (PYP ATL Self-Management Skills) –which include using new information and communication technology devices, daily manual tasks, such as feeding and clothing oneself, but also with the arts.

Helpful Links

The Future of Jobs Report 2020

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The Future of Jobs Report provides timely insights into the skills that will be/are required to orient labour markets and workers towards opportunity today and in the future of work.
Source: World Economic Forum Website

The Sciences of Teaching

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This ASCD article explores four examples of how the pairing of knowledge from psychology and neuroscience gives us insight into popular education approaches, discussing specific findings from each area that can and have guided teaching. The examples include Growth Mindset, Linking New Knowledge to Prior Knowledge, The Importance of Social-Emotional Skills, and Neuroscience and Diversity.

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