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Creating a TOK course outline

Putting together a course outline is one of the first jobs for a TOK coordinator, and is an excellent way of fully understanding the nature of the course. In the process of designing your course, you will answer questions such as, ‘What are the aims and purpose of TOK?’, ‘How do you develop the skills required to carry out the assessment tasks?’, and ‘How do the different elements of the course integrate?’ All of this will take you a long way along the path towards ownership of TOK.
Here is a diagram of the suggested steps you should go through in creating your TOK course outline. Underneath the diagram, we discuss each step in more detail. Consult our exemplar course outlines to see how this all looks when you have followed the different steps.

Step 1: Decide whether the units of your course will be based on the elements of the course (a), or questions (b)

The more traditional way of organising the TOK course is to create units of study that are based on the elements of the course (so with titles that are the same as the AOKs and Themes). This is the approach followed in many textbooks, and is more straightforward to organise.
However, you might want to follow a more integrated, imaginative approach, organizing units into questions that are explored via multiple AOKs and Themes. This requires you doing a little more thinking, but we have suggested one way of doing this below.
For a longer exploration of this issue, see Choosing the Right Unit Titles section of Part 2: Introducing Excellence into your TOK Department.

Step 2a: Decide on the order of your units

This is subject to many variables - how your school has always done it whether there’s a pre-planned event or guest speaker to embed, and what you think works logically.

Step 2b: Decide which themes and areas of knowledge you will use to explore your questions, and the order that these will appear

If your unit titles are based on questions, you need to decide which AOKs and Themes you’ll use to explore these, and the order the questions will appear during the course.

Step 3: Decide on an appropriate time span for each unit of study

Depending on your school timetable, a unit length of 4-5 weeks is about right, assuming approximately 1 ó - 2 hours of TOK per week, in a 4 term academic year. Note the following points:
  • You’ll have less time in your second year than the first, because of study leave, final exams, and the TOK assessments.
  • The TOK course has to be completed in either April or October, depending on whether you are a Northern or Southern Hemisphere school.
  • You need to ensure that you are hitting the requisite amount of time stipulated by the IB, which is (at least) 100 hours.

Step 4: Decide when you will provide time for both practice and actual assessment tasks

It’s important to build in time on your TOK calendar for the students to create at least one practice essay (or essay plan) and exhibition.
  • Whether you have allocated enough time for the final essay and exhibition. Students should be given plenty of class time for this, allowing them easier access to you for the assessment interactions.

Step 5: Incorporate events or guest speakers in your calendar

Many schools have TOK events pre-planned in the calendar, so this could inform your course outline.
  • If your event is based on a particular aspect of the course, then obviously your students will need to cover that AOK or theme beforehand.
  • If your speaker is a specialist in a particular field, then you should provide your students with relevant knowledge before the talk to scaffold their understanding.
  • Consider other school events (ie trips, mock exams, etc.) Before you assign actual dates to your TOK course outline, make sure you have taken into account any activities that might take the students out of school for an extended period of time. These might include subject or year group trips or mock exams for the Diploma.
  • You should also consider the deadlines for internal and external assessments of other subjects when you decide when they will present their exhibitions (in Year 1), and submit their essays (in Year 2).

Step 6: Create your course outline

Now you’re set to add your units of study to the school calendar. At this point, all you need to do is simply schedule your units, without thinking too much about individual lessons, learning objectives, and so on. Here's one way of structuring the course, as found on

Step 7: Start creating your unit and lesson plans

Writing these plans is an ongoing process that you will probably only complete when you have finished your first year as TOK coordinator, and it will likely continue to evolve beyond this. However, you should have an idea of where you are taking each unit before you start teaching it, and how the learning objectives of individual lessons fit into these units.