The Breadth of Action in the PYP

The Breadth of Action in the PYP

by Emily Graves, Grade 5 teacher

Students taking responsible action from their learning, is at the heart of the PYP; in fact, it is the culmination of most inquiry cycles. However, the word ‘action’ can be daunting for students, parents, and even teachers. They may think action is a grand gesture, a prolonged event, on a scale much larger than can be imagined. This is something the PYP enhancements have sought to clarify and emphasize as the core of student agency.

The IB states that demonstrations of action can include

  • participation – contributing as individual or group 
  • advocacy – action to support social/environmental/political change 
  • social justice – relation to rights, equality and equity, social well-being and justice 
  • social entrepreneurship – innovative, resourceful and sustainable social change 
  • lifestyle choices – eg. consumption, impact of choices.

Exploring action through these five lenses has helped grade five students recognize how small changes and purposeful decisions can naturally shift thinking and evolve into larger actions.

Within our second Unit of Inquiry, How We Organize Ourselves, grade five students took an in-depth look at how people organize for action. With the help of our Service Learning Coordinator, Sarah Urquhart, students were able to see how service is one way of taking action, an important bridge from the PYP to the MYP in which action and service-learning opportunities continue to grow. Specifically, students were introduced to a current senior at YIS whose inquiry into ocean plastics led to her taking a variety of actions. She noticed ocean plastic floating in the Motomachi Canal and began to inquire.  Where is all of this plastic going? Upon finding plastic inside of a large amount of store-bought fish, she decided to take action. She began sharing her findings with others (advocacy), switched to using only reusable bags (lifestyle choice), began a reusable bag lending program in her apartment building (social entrepreneurship), and also hosted a workshop for grade five students, teaching them how to make reusable bags (participation). Each action naturally led to another.

At this same time, grade five students were introduced to the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development giving us an international platform of inquiry and personal action-taking.  Students quickly made connections between the Global Goals and the different ways they could initiate or take action.  However, taking action is not always easy. Sometimes you fail.  Sometimes your voice isn’t heard.  Sometimes it takes a while to plan and organize. Sometimes you wait days maybe even weeks to hear back from an expert or organization you have contacted. This is real-world learning and having the motivation to sustain and persevere through setbacks is part of our learning process.  

It doesn’t matter if all of the student action plans were completed or if all the set goals were met. What matters is students made plans and tried to make changes. They recognized that anyone can be an action-taker and there is no such thing as a small action.

Here are some of the actions planned or taken by grade five students:

  • asking the cafeteria to reduce plastic packaging and suggesting biodegradable alternatives
  • the building and donation of a G.O.O.S. paper bin for collecting scratch paper that is Good On One Side, followed by a demonstration to a fellow class
  • designing, painting, and installing a buddy bench for including everyone at recess time
  • asking parents to drive or take the train instead of flying for winter and spring break


As the PYP Exhibition approaches in grade five, I can only wait to see what sparks inquiry, how thinking evolves, what actions are taken, and how those actions begin to grow.