A Typical TOK Class

So what does a typical TOK class look like? How do you decide on learning activities? How do you link an individual lesson to an overall unit of study? How do you incorporate real-life situations within a class? How should students be carrying out their work? What should the balance be between ‘chalk-and-talk’ from the teacher, and autonomous learning?

The answers to all of these questions depend to some degree on what sort of a TOK course you’re delivering, and this in turn depends on how TOK is timetabled and organised within your school. Some schools treat TOK just like any other subject, giving it the requisite hour or two in the classroom every week; some schools approach it a little more creatively - by choice or by necessity. Here are a selection of different types of TOK classes, with a link to sample lessons that might work in each one, plus an outline of the process taken to create this lesson.

1. Teacher-Led Classes

Teacher-led classes are probably the most typical type of lesson that you will teach. Characteristics of these lessons are:

  • An ordinary classroom environment

  • Lesson duration of between 60-90 minutes

  • Number of students perhaps 20-25

  • Lesson structure involving a starter activity, short teacher explanations (of concepts and instructions), short structured student-driven tasks, interactive discussion, debrief sections, and an exit task

This shows how this works in the context of a lesson that explores the way in which scientific knowledge develops over time. It fits into a unit that considers how new knowledge is created about the world, offering students the chance to compare and contrast the natural sciences with other areas of knowledge. It features a central activity that moves from slide to slide, and consideration point to consideration point. It also draws on a range of engaging media sources.

2. Self-Guided Classes

If we’ve learnt anything from the Covid-19 crisis as teachers, it’s the need to be able to offer effective online learning for our students. For some schools, this isn’t new: they’ve been flipping their classrooms for some time, getting students to learn new material outside of school, and consolidate their findings inside it. To make self-guided classes work, you should:

  • Provide students with a lesson that is inherently engaging, in terms of the ideas it includes, and the media sources used to consider them

  • Ensure that the instructions to carry out tasks can be followed without extra clarification

  • Explain more difficult concepts in a separate support document

  • Be explicit about how the lesson fits in with the rest of the unit

This shows how this works in the context of a lesson that explores the ‘post-truth landscape’. View the support document here. This looks at an interesting concept, and applies it to the very latest situation in the world, making it relevant and interesting for students.

3. Workshop Class

Workshop classes are designed to:

  • Introduce assessment tasks to students

  • Explain the skills required to carry them out successfully, and consider whether these are new or familiar to students

  • Establish a deep understanding of the rubric that will be used to assess the task

  • If it’s a formative assessment task, show the pathway to the summative assessment task

This presentation shows how this works in the context of a class that introduces the TOK journal. See also the instructions and rubric for the task, and an exemplar for students to model their own journal entries on.

4. Debrief Classes

Debrief classes follow on from a workshop class, the subsequent task carried out by students. They help to support students’ reflections on how well they performed, and what they need to do to develop the skills inherent to the task. Debrief classes should:

  • Be delivered alongside useful feedback

  • Draw on exemplars to allow students to compare what they have done to what could have been done

  • Make students feel more confident and secure about the summative assessment task

  • Show students how the assessment tasks link to the course overall

This debrief class is designed for the first practice exhibition task. One of the things it focuses on is how to reach the top mark band for the exhibition, for which it uses a separate document, here.

5. Plenary Classes

Plenary classes are timetabled in some schools to bring together the whole year group. They can be used to:

  • Introduce a new unit, theme, or project, or debrief one that has just been completed

  • Explain, and prepare students for, an upcoming event, such as a guest speaker

  • Give students a taste of a university-style lecture (although the learning experiences should be more structured and interactive)

  • Enable students to share ideas with a wider range of students and perspectives

The attached lesson shows how this could work with a class based on an exploration of confirmation bias. It sets up two ‘breakout’ tasks, that students carry out by finding their own place within a large classroom environment, such as a large theatre or assembly hall. It draws on a ‘cold reading’, which can be viewed here.