Tok Essay Diagram

The following Theory of Knowledge (TOK) presentation structure has been designed very carefully. (It’s taken about 2 years of conversations!) It’s easy for you to follow and ticks all the boxes. It tells you how many slides to have (eight), what text should go on each slide and what you should talk about while each slide is up. A clear structure like this is essential because it helps the audience follow what you’re saying. It also keeps you from wasting time, both during your presentation and in your preparation phase. (This is also done for the TOK Essay, here).

There are a few things I need to go over before we get into the slides.

The Development Section

When you get into the Development section (where the knowledge question is explored and analysed with reference to the AOKs and WOKs), you’ll see that we use a Claim, Counterclaim, Mini-Conclusion structure. We do this (claim, counterclaim, mini-conclusion) for each of your developments (AOKs or WOKs), so we do it 3 times in total.

Here’s an example, for one of your developments:

-Your claim might be that all art is ethical and you show this using some theory (evidence) from the course.

-Your counterclaim is a problem (a limitation) with your claim, or an opposing idea in the same perspective. It might be that art can be viewed in a different way, which would show it to be unethical. You show this using (as evidence) an example from your own life experience or knowledge referenced material or material studied in some other theory from the course.

-And then, in the mini-conclusion, you basically have to find a way to draw together the two opposing sides. You have to somehow synthesise these two insights to arrive at a more insightful understanding or some kind of summary. So you might say that art can be both ethical and unethical at the same time, depending on the perspective taken and then explain how that might be true. So the MC is a possible conclusion to your KQ (Knowledge Question).

In the final conclusion of the presentation you will try to combine (draw together/synthesise) the insights of this mini-conclusion as well as the other ones (from the 2 other development sections) to show a really sophisticated/developed answer to your KQ.

Using Evidence

Use evidence for each of your claims and your counterclaims. It will make your talk much more compelling.

Evidence can be:

-Examples of from the course or from your research. For example, stories of real scientific experiments or how society responded to a certain piece of art.

-Personal examples. Specific and realistic examples from your own life experiences are highly valued in this course. So you might tell us about something that you did in IB Biology class, or when you suspected a classmate of cheating.

Now let’s go through the structure of your presentation, slide by slide. (The suggested timings in green are assuming you’re in a group of two.)

The TOK Essay Structure

Slide 1: Title Page(1 minute)

Text on this slide:
-Title of your presentation.
-Your group members’ names

What to say:
-Explain what you thought about the real life situation (RLS) when you first encountered it.
-Explain why it’s significant to you.

Slide 2: Decontextualization(1 minute)

Text on this slide:
-Some of the thoughts or questions you had about the real life situation. Start explaining the situation in a ToK sort of way –using some of the key terms from the course.

What to say:
-Explain a few of the things we can know about the RLS and how we know it. For example, our senses may provide some insights, while emotion provides other ones.
-Explain that there may be limits to what can be known about your RLS.

Slide 3: Knowledge Question(1 minute)

Text on this slide:
-Write down your KQ
-List the AOKs and/or WOKs you will use to explore your KQ and how they are related to your KQ

What to say:
-Mention 2 KQs that you considered and the one you are investigating.
-Explain how this KQ will help you to explain the RLS.
-For each of your AOKs/WOKs, preview how they can help to answer your KQ.
-Explain any assumptions you’ve made about your KQ (if any).
-Explain any key terms that need to be explained in order for us to understand your KQ.

Slide 4: Development #1(3.5 minutes)

On the slide:
-Very briefly, state your claim for WOK/AOK #1 (see development example above). State how it is supported by evidence (i.e. a scientific theory).
-Very briefly, state your counterclaim for WOK/AOK #1 (i.e. an opposing idea in the same AOK/WOK). State how it is supported by evidence.
-State your mini-conclusion.

What to say:
-Explain the claim and how it is supported by evidence. Make it clear how it would answer the KQ.
-Explain the counterclaim and how it is supported by evidence. Make it clear how it would answer the KQ in a different way than your claim did.
-Explain your conclusion and how it ties together the claim and counterclaim.

Slide 5: Development #2(3.5 minutes)

On your slide:
-Very briefly, state your claim for WOK/AOK #2. State how it is supported by evidence.
-Very briefly, state your counterclaim for WOK/AOK #2. State how it is supported by evidence.
-State your mini-conclusion.

What to say:
-Explain the claim and how it is supported by evidence. Make it clear how it would answer the KQ.
-Explain the counterclaim and how it is supported by evidence. Make it clear how it would answer the KQ in a different way than your claim did.
-Explain your conclusion and how it ties together the claim and counterclaim.

Slide 6: Development #3(3.5 minutes)

On your slide:
-Very briefly, state your claim for WOK/AOK #3. State how it is supported by evidence.
-Very briefly, state your counterclaim for WOK/AOK #3. State how it is supported by evidence.
-State your mini-conclusion.

What to say:
-Explain the claim and how it is supported by evidence. Make it clear how it would answer the KQ.
-Explain the counterclaim and how it is supported by evidence. Make it clear how it would answer the KQ in a different way than your claim did.
-Explain your conclusion and how it ties together the claim and counterclaim.

Slide 7: Conclusion(3 minutes)

On your slide:
-Write down your conclusion.
-Write down a possible flaw in your conclusion.

What to say:
-Explain your conclusion.
-Explain how this conclusion is supported by the insights you’ve drawn along the way (in your mini-conclusions).
-Explain the possible weakness or a flaw in your conclusion.
-Explain an example of someone from a different perspective (a different gender, age, time, or culture) who might disagree with this conclusion.

Slide 8: Link back to the RLS(3.5 minutes)

On your slide:
-Write 2 interesting ways that your conclusion applies to the RLS.
-Write down two other real life situations (which are perhaps related). If possible provide pictures for these two other situations, so they can be quickly understood. One of these should be personal to you (something one of you encountered) and another which is more of a shared experience.

What to say:
-Clarify how your conclusion applies to the RLS.
-Explain how this conclusion can help to explain 2 other real life situations you have on your slide.

Of course you are not required to follow this structure (unless your teacher says otherwise), but it is recommended. Everything in this structure is there for a very good reason.


I also recommend that every slide from #3 onward should have your KQ written on the bottom of it, as a footer. This will make it easier for the audience to relate your various insights to the knowledge question.


Finally, to help to make sure that the person marking you gives you full credit, it’s useful to do what we call signposting. This means, using the exact key words the marker was trained to look for. Professionals do this all the time. Their use of specialist language signals to their colleagues that they know what they’re talking about. So try to speak like a TOK teacher basically. In this case, your marker will respond favourably if you use a fair amount of terminology you learned in the course. For example, use the term perspective. So you might say, “from the perspective of a historian..” rather than saying, “Historians believe that…” –just to get that word in there.

That’s it!

Thanks for reading and good luck with everything!

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How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay

The following structure is a very good, step-by-step method you can use on any ToK essay to get very high marks. 

Here are the main things to keep in mind when you're using this method:

    1. Your #1 priority is answering the prescribed title. If you somehow follow this method, but don't answer the question you won't score well. So make sure you keep linking back to the question as you go. 
    2. Try to use original, interesting evidence. 

(I have a full a lot of helpful advice, tutorials, evidence videos in my online ToK course, which you're welcome to join if you like. Or, if you just need some TOK Notes you can get those here.)

And I've also made a help page (similar to this) for the TOK presentation, here.

Okay here we go...

The structure on this page will give you a strong foundation for your essay and then we're going to make your essay as insightful as possible.

First, choose your PT and KQ

Before you can begin your real/final essay, you’ll want to look at the Prescribed Title (something like: “What is it about mathematics and science that makes them so convincing?” and think about it.

Get some of your initial ideas down on paper.

Second, choose 1 WOK and 2 AOKs

Now, take your prescribed title and choose two AOKs to explore it with (here are my notes: Mathematics, Human sciences, Natural Sciences, the Arts, Ethics, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Religious Knowledge Systems, or History). Or you can use WOKs: (again here are my notes: Emotion, Faith, Sense perception, Reason,  Imagination, Intuition,  Language, Memory). Then you can explore these aspects in your essay.

I normally recommend exploring just  2 AoK's in the main body of your essay and then include a few insights into WOKs around the edges (more on this in a bit).

The essay contains two body sections (or "developments"). Each body section will look at a certain area of knowledge or way of knowing.

To explore the question we chose above, it's pretty easy to choose our AOKs because they are actually listed in the question. We'll be using  Mathematics and Natural Science. 

The courtroom analogy

The TOK essay is about knowledge (how we come to know things). It helps to think of the essay as though you're showing the most interesting bits of a conversation between two smart people, about how we know things. 

Or you could think about it like presenting two sides of an argument, in front of a judge. Each side needs to present evidence. 

One lawyer is saying YES (i.e. reason is reliable, with examples) and the other is pointing out the weaknesses in what lawyer 1 is saying (i.e. reason is often not reliable, also with examples).

Your lawyer will make the case that you can’t be guilty of robbing the bank (her thesis), by using several arguments (claims); she’ll show that 

  1. You weren’t there
  2. You’re are a moral person and
  3. You don’t have the technical knowledge to pull off a job like that.

However, if your lawyer was a ToK student they would also be explaining reasons why you might be guilty (the counterclaims).

  1. Someone said they saw you there,
  2. You admitted to lying to your mom about candy one time and
  3. You are pretty good at computers.

The lawyers would use evidence to support each of these claims and counterclaims.

Making sure your evidence actually supports your claim is one of the toughest aspects of the essay.

The step-by-step method

The method has 4 sections and 7 paragraphs overall and specific aspects need to go in each.

First, write your introduction, using 150-200 words

Paragraph 1

-Say 2 interesting things about the prescribed title. "Many people find Mathematics and Natural Science very convincing. However, many of these same people would say that they don't have a strong understanding of either of these two fields. Both of these fields rely on rigorous methodologies."

-Define one or two of the key terms in the title. Here I might define Mathematics and Natural Science. (I would also look up the term "convincing". I might not include that definition in my essay, but I would like to know whether there are any conflicting definitions. That might help me say interesting things later on in the essay--for example in the conclusion.) 

-Narrow in on one aspect which is particularly interesting. "This essay with focus on the link between replicability of results, as a source of reliability." 

-State your thesis. What is your short answer to the prescribed title, your thesis. (You might decide, by the end of your essay, that your initial thinking was wrong, but you should know the point your claims are going to be supporting). 

-Give us a roadmap, a sentence that gives us a preview. This shows us what you’re going to do in your body paragraphs (your "developments"). Tell us AOKs you're going to use and which WOK you will be focused on most. This will make it easy for the marker to know what to look for. An example: “Mathematics can be seen as more reliable because it uses reason. Natural science can be less reliable because it relies on observation. ”

Next write your first development. 2 paragraphs totalling 600 words

Paragraph 2

-Claim. A claim a topic sen­tence that outlines your argument about the prescribed title. For example you could claim that, “Mathematics can be relied on because it is a purely logical system.”

-Explain. Elaborate and clarify your claim. “Mathematics is axiomatic and independent of subjective experience.“

-Example. A real life example, to clar­ify and sup­port the claim from your own experience. Examples should be personal, specific, precise and real. Did something happen in your Science class? Did you have a conversation with your or hear a story from your grandfather? These are evidence from your own life rather than examples from Darwin or Lincoln. So you could talk about how, “In mathematics we learned that the inside angles of a triangle, in Euclidian space, sum up to 180 degrees.”

Paragraph 3

-Counter-claim. Argue against your claim above. “However, it is possible to come to different conclusions using different systems of mathematics.”

-Example. An example that supports your counter claim. “There are different It is not possible to demonstrate that the interior angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees in Euclidian space, this cannot be proven within other systems, such as spherical geometry or hyperbolic geometry.”

-Link to prescribed title. Quickly sum up the (complicated) insights of this section. “It is therefore clear that mathematics is reliable to an extent, but often it can only show something to be true within one fixed system or approach.”

Now, write another two body paragraphs, looking at your second AOK. Use the same approach you saw in paragraphs 2 and 3. 600 words

Paragraph 4




Paragraph 5



-Link to prescribed title.

Finally, write your 'conclusion'. Two paragraphs, totalling 200-250 words

Paragraph 6

-Your conclusion. Explain what big, general insights have come out of this--your conclusion. 

Implications and significance. Also tell us why it's important that we know this. When and how does it matter that we understand this lesson?

Paragraph 7

-Perspectives and extensions. If you can, try to pull in a very different perspective, on your conclusion. Perhaps you can recognize a very different way of approaching the question, which could have resulted in quite different insights than those you included in your essay. Or you could also mention one or two unresolved questions that this essay has revealed. You could also think of this as explaining some "limitations" or a weaknesses of your essay, but it's also about showing that the conversation isn't over yet. There is more to the question than you've had the room to explore.  


Obviously there is a lot more depth that we can go into about what makes a really great TOK essay, but this structure will get you started.

Here are some more ToK Essay tips you might want to consider or you can join my online program if you like



Cite this page as:
Woods, Tim. “How to Structure a Theory of Knowledge Essay” IBMastery. IBMastery, 1 Jan 2016. Web. TODAY’S DATE <>

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