The Mechanics of a Great TOK Lesson

A great TOK lesson should be similar to any other great lesson - have a clear learning objective, be well structured and organised, contain varied engaging assessment tasks that can all be measured and which are aligned to the learning objective, and fit in clearly with the theme or topic of the learning unit. The 6 Approaches to Teaching prescribed by the IB are worth bearing in mind to guide you in this respect. There are considerations that are specific to TOK, but they dovetail very neatly with these 6 ATTs, as you can see below.

  1. TOK can be a concept-rich, challenging, and unfamiliar course. It’s vital to make individual TOK lessons digestible and approachable, so that students can move confidently towards an understanding of the bigger concepts (such as perspectives, context, implications, and so on). It’s important to build in questions and activities that are answerable for students, particularly at the beginning of lessons, so that you enfranchise students quickly and effectively.

  2. There’s no concrete curriculum in TOK, so you can be more creative with what you deliver. Although this undoubtedly presents you with an opportunity, it can also be a burden - first, you don’t have anything quite so specific as an exam to aim at; second, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you bring into the lesson, so you can never justify your learning tasks or sources with the excuse, “It may come up in the exam, so you have to know this”!

  3. The heart of TOK is second-order knowledge - how we know about the world, rather than what we know about the world - and failing to get this across to your students can give them the wrong idea about the nature of TOK. Sometimes teachers who are accustomed to non-TOK teaching can have trouble reprogramming their brains to fully realise this difference. So, debating the pros and cons of euthanasia, asking students to research how the brain perceives colour, considering the key moments in the history of philosophy; all of these activities are interesting, but only relevant to TOK if they lead on to a consideration of how we form our ethical views, whether cultural perspectives shape the way we see reality, and the role philosophy plays in artistic expression (or second order questions along these lines). For more advice on second order knowledge, see our guidelines to Knowledge Questions.

  4. Every statement or argument made in TOK by both you and your students should be supported by examples, which come in the form of real-life situations. These should be as fresh, original, and as engaging as possible, which means, ideally, not just taking them from a textbook. You should constantly be encouraging students to justify their opinions and ideas, which is not only important for the assessment tasks (and TOK as a whole), but life in general.

  5. Students’ own experiences are a key part of TOK. They should be bringing in their experiences based on IB Diploma lessons, CAS projects, researching and writing their EE, and also life beyond the school gates, such as cultural experiences, reactions to local and global news, and formative events. The more you give them an opportunity to include their own take on the world, the more engaged they will be, as well as realising that they are the knower in the centre of the TOK diagram! This factor is also a great reason why you should consider running TOK events in your school, something we discuss here.

You can see all of these points in action in this TOK lesson presentation. You’ll find annotations to explain how this was crafted.