8 Big Questions

The 8 Big Questions: TOK rebooted


Limitations of traditional TOK

TOK is a hard course to deliver, and the traditional way of approaching it – structuring a scheme of work around the different ways of knowing and areas of knowledge – often fails to achieve its seemingly impossible and contradictory range of demands. Resources for TOK hardly help the matter, given that even the best textbooks are out of date as soon as they are published. In the summer of 2016, we set ourselves the challenge of rethinking the way TOK should be taught, with 6 specific aims:

  1. To make ToK more engaging and relevant, using issues and events going on right now as the basis of lessons.
  2. To connect ToK students more thoroughly with the most influential thinkers and ideas from both today and the past.
  3. To create a more integrated ToK course, so that ways of knowing and areas of knowledge are never dealt with in isolation.
  4. To make the course question-driven, so that students gain an understanding of second-order knowledge from the very beginning.
  5. To increase the inclusiveness of the course, so that non-ToK teachers can become more easily involved in it.
  6. To prepare students more effectively for the ToK essay and presentation.


Our solution – the 8BQ Framework

By the end of 2016, we had created a new ‘framework’ for TOK, based around 8 ‘Big Questions’. Each BQ was designed to be explored via a pathway of multiple (and interlinked) ways of knowing and areas of knowledge. BQ 2, for example, asks, ‘What is the purpose of knowledge, and how can we assess its value?’; Our suggested pathway for this question is via the natural sciences and indigenous knowledge systems. We also think about the ways of knowing that help to provide knowledge in both these AOKs.


Lessons are driven by the latest real life situations, and draw on the ideas of the most influential thinkers from the past and present. BQ 2 looks at the ideas of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Wade Davies, Carl Sagan, Stuart Firestein, and Albert Einstein, and gets students thinking about issues such as the global pressures on peer review, biopiracy, the consequences of underfunding science, data dredging, and the effect of bias as we evaulate unfamiliar cultures. Each lesson is tightly structured around a starter and exit question, perfectly aligned assessment tasks, and beautifully designed Google Slides presentations. We even help you to promote TOK within your school by giving you introductory presentations for non-TOK teachers, and visual displays that provide an outline of the Big Questions, so that staff and students are fully aware of what’s going on in your department.

Craft your own lessons

But this is far from being a prescriptive resource. If you would prefer to create your own ‘pathway’ for a BQ, we provide you with links to around 400 articles and videos that you can use to craft lessons based on alternative ways of knowing and areas of knowledge. Combine the 8BQ framework with the TOK newsletter, and you’ll have an organic, constantly evolving resource that keeps your students hooked up to the most important knowledge debates going on in the world. This is in stark contrast to relying on textbooks that are updated every few years (read more about why we think you should never use a textbook for TOK here).

How do I gain access to the 8BQ?

Give your school instant access to the 8BQ by choosing one of our membership options. Choose to have access to the 8 Big Questions on their own, to the newsletter, a combined membership featuring both of them, or go for our Full Access option, enabling you to use all the resources we have ever produced for TOK. You can find these more information here.

Download some sample content

Download a sample selection of lessons from the 8BQ framework, and see how it all works. Click on the images below to access the Google Slides and Docs that are used to deliver the course, and join the revolution!

DP integration

Each BQ includes a ‘faculty presentation’ for non-TOK teachers, to integrate your school’s TOK course with the rest of the IB Diploma. The BQ framework allows non-TOK teachers to get involved with TOK at any time during the course, not just when a WOK or AOK related to their subject is being covered.

Clarity of delivery

Each BQ comes with an outline document for the students, which gives them an explain of the Big Question, an overview of its context, and links to relevant RLSs. Click on the image to the left to access both the faculty presentation, and student outline, for BQ2.

A comparative approach to TOK

Every opening lesson to a Big Question involves students in considering different parts of TOK in a comparative way, and gets them to write an essay-style introduction. Click on the image to view the introductory lesson documents for BQ 2.

Preparing students for the essay

Similarly, the last lesson of each Big Question asks students to write an essay-style conclusion. Once again, this helps to fully prepare students for writing the TOK essay. Click on the image to view the concluding lesson documents for BQ 4.

RLS-driven lessons

All lessons are driven by real life situations, with many using multiple articles, videos, and ideas from key thinkers. If you are not following our suggested pathway for a BQ, we provide dozens of alternative RLSs that you can use to craft your own lessons, based on different WOKs and AOKs. Click on the image to see a lesson from BQ 2 that typifies this approach.

Promoting critical thinking

The 8BQ framework also consists of an introductory unit, that asks students to critically consider the aims and the point of the TOK course, how it is assessed, and the way it is structured. It also looks at the nature of knowledge, and some of the key thinkers who have tried to define what knowledge is. Click on the link to see an example of this from the introductory unit.

Extensive support for the two assessment tasks

It also consists of a unit on how to write the TOK essay (involving 4 different lessons), how to create a presentation, and ideas for formative assessment tasks. Click on the image to take you to advice on how to start the process of TOK essay-writing.


Contact us

If you have any questions about the Big Question framework, how to purchase a theoryofknowledge.net membership, or any of our services for TOK, drop us a line by using the contact form below.