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Oral Presentation Suggestions For IB Theory of Knowledge Classes




Check out Part Two in this series, too!

An Oral Presentation is a big component of IB Theory of Knowledge classes and, based on what I hear from TOK teachers, there continues to be a fair amount of confusion about how to do them, which is not particularly helped by ongoing changes that IB makes in their guidelines and rubrics.

I’m confident in the fairly high marks that many of my students receive in their Oral Presentations, and thought that readers might find it useful to see what I, and they, are doing. That does not mean I don’t think I can do better – I hope to hear critiques from other teachers and would love to hear how you do it.

You can see a whole bunch of materials at our class blog, including student-completed outlines, downloadable planning templates official Presentation Planning documents, and videos of presentations themselves. In addition, as I’ve shared before, here is the typical schedule I use.

I first have students pick a general topic they are interested in exploring. Then comes the hard part — their identifying a “primary” knowledge question. Student groups develop this primary knowledge questions, and then three “secondary” knowledge questions that will help them develop an answer to their primary one. Since most groups are comprised of three students, this kind of division works fairly well.

As I mentioned, though the tricky part is always identifying the primary knowledge question. At first, students almost always come-up with a terrible one – very literally connected to their “topic.” For example, one group yesterday had chosen bullying as their topic and began with a primary knowledge question of “How can we stop bullying?” I pushed them to consider that bullying was a symptom of something, to talk among themselves about what might the “disease” or “cause” might be, and to base their primary knowledge question about that. Ultimately, they developed this excellent one: “How does power influence how we treat each other?” They will then develop their secondary ones, and they will be able to use bullying as an example in their exploration of all of their questions.

You can also see a model that I use with students showing initial drafts of knowledge questions and claims alongside students’ final versions.

Here is a sample list of “Topics” and related “Primary Knowledge Questions” that some of my students have used, or are using now:

Bullying: How does power influence how we treat each other?

Morality: What are the major factors that influence humans deciding what is right and what is wrong?

Ghosts: To what extent does belief in the supernatural benefit or hurt our society?

Online Privacy: To what extent should we sacrifice our freedom for security?

Religion: When we have faith in religion, does it demonstrate weakness or strength?

Mystery: What role does mystery play in human existence?

Childhood: How does one ethically raise a child?

Society’s Standards: What determines the standards of being “normal” or “accepted” by society?

Morality: How does our view of the world influence what we consider to be cruel?

Media Censorship: How does language allow people to manipulate information to their advantage?

Human Sexuality: There are plenty of differences between people, but what determines which ones are upsetting to large numbers of them?

Madness: Does madness exist?

ADDENDUM – Here are a few more from this year’s students:

After-Life: To what extent does belief in the after-life benefit or hinder our society?

Child Abuse: What drives some people to want to use power for good and others to use it for bad?

Technology: How do human relationships with technology affect society?

Abortion: Who decides morality in society?

Money and Happiness: What does it mean to be happy?

Transcendence: What are the factors that allow people to “spiritually transcend” to what some call a “higher realm?”

Gay Marriage: Why and how does society view different sexualities as being a result of either nature or nurture?

If you’re a TOK teacher, please let me know how you think I can improve our work on Oral Presentations!

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Dear Larry,

    Thank you for sharing this!

    One of the IB expectations is to strengthen the links in the core, i.e. TOK, CAS, and EE. I’m a CAS Coordinator and ESL Teacher. I’ve been closely following your blogs and only now found the courage to ask you a question. Out of curiosity, I’d like to know how you incorporate students’ CAS experiences into your TOK lessons.

    Hope to hear from you!

    Best regards,

    • Hi, Mariko,

      For better or worse, the only connections I’ve made between TOK and CAS is to carve out a little time each month during TOK class periods to discuss CAS projects and to now give students a little time to write reflections about what they’re doing related to CAS. I’ve got my hands full trying to cover all the TOK topics, especially since they expanded the number of Ways Of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge last year.


      • Thanks, Larry! I think you’re way ahead in making connections by giving your students time for CAS reflections and discussing CAS projects. These allow them to apply TOK thinking skills and encourage them to see their relevance by considering their personal experiences!

        Hope to read about this on your next blog post!

  2. Hi Larry,
    Thank you for sharing your materials. I really love them 🙂
    I was wondering about the list of primary KQ at the end though – to be honest I would not allow some of them as they seem to be more psychology questions than TOK. What I do with my students – I give them a TOK Glossary – a list of TOK concepts – and ask them them to think which one their RLS is related to and them use it in the KQ so that all the questions will be coached in the TOK terms.
    However thank you for your constant sharing of experience 🙂 (and thank you for linking my prezi presentation :))

  3. Hi Larry,
    I usually use this one:
    But there was also a nice list in one of the TOK books (in the Language as a WOK part) but I cannot remember in which one right now. However the one that I linked is quite broad and thus nice for the students to find connections 🙂

  4. Those knowledge questions are great, Larry. As you say, the first attempt usually relates directly to the real life situation under consideration and the students find it difficult to write something about knowledge rather than about the topic.

  5. Hi Steve! Teacher Doug Hart from Riverside School in Prague here. I’m talking to a student who’s interested in tackling this “Does Madness Exist?” question. Based on the presentation done in your class, can one make a compelling argument that it does not exist? Seems difficult to me, but maybe I’m missing something. Thanks for your insight!

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