Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

March 22, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

The BBC’s “A History Of Ideas” Video Series Is Great For TOK Classes

history of ideas

You may, or may not, be familiar with the BBC’s “A History of Ideas.” It’s a show with 72 one-hour podcasts and 48 accompanying short video animations about philosophy.

You can access all the podcasts and videos on the BBC site, which is particularly nice since a lot of the other material on the BBC won’t play in the United States.

All the video animations are also on YouTube.

I’ve previously shared some of the videos. Here’s one:

March 21, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Classroom Instruction Resources Of The Week

Each week, I publish a post containing three or four particularly useful resources on classroom instruction, and you can see them all here.

You might also be interested in The Best Articles (And Blog Posts) Offering Practical Advice & Resources To Teachers In 2015 – So Far and The Best Resources On Class Instruction – 2015.

Here are this week’s picks:

The Value of Using Podcasts in Class is from The Atlantic.

How The Language Of Special Education Is Evolving is from NPR.

Four great strategies for working with students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. is from Scholastic.

Lincoln, Power, and the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is from Right Question. I’m adding it to The Best Posts & Articles About Asking Good Questions — Help Me Find More.

10 Cool Ways to Teach with Word Clouds is from Middleweb. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About “Word Clouds”

The Spring, 2016 issue of The American Educator has several important articles on performance-based assessment. I’m adding them to The Best Resources For Learning About Performance Assessment.

Lesson Plan | I Remember: Teaching About the Role of Memory Across the Curriculum is from The New York Times Learning Network, and is great for IB Theory of Knowledge classes.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Unmotivated Students is from Cult of Pedagogy. I’m adding it to Best Posts On “Motivating” Students.

What is 20 Percent Time? A Conversation with A.J. Juliani is from Cult Of Pedagogy. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Applying “Fed Ex Days” To Schools.

March 18, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

NPR Videos On Serendipity In Science


When we study science in IB Theory of Knowledge, one of the ideas we consider is that not all scientific breakthroughs come through rigidly following the scientific method.

NPR recently did a short series of videos examining just this: “modern examples of serendipity in science – happy accidents/mistakes/coincidences from the last few years that have led to discoveries and insights.”

They’ll be useful in TOK class, and here they are:

March 18, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

“Unfiltered News” Visualizes Most Popular News Topics In Different Countries

unfiltered news

Unfiltered News, which only works in Chrome, provides visualizations of the most popular news stories in each country. In addition, you’re provided a list of less popular stories that you can click on to see where they’re being most covered.

Thanks to Flowing Data for the tip.

I’m adding it to The Best Tools To Help Develop Global Media Literacy.

March 15, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Great Idea From Adam Grant: Student Mini-Talks That Challenge “Conventional Wisdom”


Adam Grant is one of my favorite writers and thinkers (see my Ed Week interview with him, Teachers As “Givers, Takers & Matchers”: An Interview With Adam Grant).

He has a new book out now on creativity, and you can read two interviews with him about it:

Educating an Original Thinker appeared at the Atlantic.

How Adults Can Encourage Kids To Be Original Thinkers is at NPR.

I was particularly struck by some ideas he shared for teachers in the NPR interview, including this lesson he does in his university class:

I assigned them to work on their own mini TED Talk in pairs. Every student had a partner. They were supposed to film a video of five minutes or less on an idea that they believed in that went against the grain or challenged conventional wisdom.

They can pick any topic in the course, but they had to champion a message that was counter-intuitive, and you know, bring some evidence and experience to bear on it. And I was blown away by how interesting and novel their ideas were.

I do some assignments already in my IB Theory of Knowledge classes that I think promote creativity, like having them do a “What If?” History Project (see The Best Resources For Teaching “What If?” History Lessons) and asking students to write and talk about a time when they challenged a widely accepted assumption or rule.

I think Adam’s idea would be another great one to add, and I think I’ll try it as a year-end assignment.  I’ll let readers know how it goes, including sharing some of the videos.

I’m adding this post to The Best Sources Of Advice On Helping Students Strengthen & Develop Their Creativity.

March 4, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

Part Two – Oral Presentation Suggestions For IB Theory of Knowledge Classes


My post last week, Oral Presentation Suggestions For IB Theory of Knowledge Classes, turned-out to be fairly popular.

In it, I explained my process for working with students on their Oral Presentations, and shared a sample of what I called “primary” knowledge questions. As I shared there, I have students first come-up with a topic they’re interested in, then develop a related primary question and, then, develop three more “secondary” ones whose answers would help them answer the primary question. Since most of my students work in groups of three, it works out quite well, and serves as my new versions of the old “linking questions” that used to be used.

This year’s students (and I have about sixty of them – as regular readers know, I recruit many non-Diploma candidates to join Diploma candidates in my classes) have now chosen their topic (which they convert into their real-life example), primary knowledge questions, and secondary knowledge questions. I thought readers might be interested in seeing a few of them all-together. Some are obviously better than others, but I think all are viable.

Take a look, and please give me any feedback. I found the comments left in the previous post very helpful:

Topic: Bullying
Primary Knowledge Question: How does power influence how we treat each other?
Secondary Knowledge Questions:
* Under what circumstances does the way others perceive you affect the way you value yourself?
* How can culture and religion influence our ethical interaction with others?
* To what extent does a intuition control the way we treat others?

Topic: Euthanasia
Primary Knowledge Question: What informs a society’s decision on what limits or expands human freedom?
Secondary Knowledge Questions:
* What role does intuition play in making decisions about what is ethical?
* In what ways are language and one’s actions limited by history?
* To what extent do religious beliefs influence our perception on the world?

Topic: Society’s view on various sexuality and whether it is accepted or not.
Primary Knowledge Question: Why and how does society view different sexuality as being a part of nature or nurture?
Secondary Knowledge Questions:
* To what extent do/did indigenous communities accept different sexuality compared to modern society/communities?
* For what reasons does dominant society sometimes view heterosexuality as normal but other sexuality such as homosexuality not normal?
* How does sexuality affect society and our identity?

Primary Knowledge Question: To what extent does belief in the afterlife benefit or hinder our society?
Secondary Knowledge Questions:
* How is our society’s perception of the afterlife affected by our knowledge of natural science?
* How does our perception of religion affect our faith in the afterlife?
* How do languages in the indigenous cultures speak of the afterlife differently compared to the western industrialized countries and how do those differences shape their actions?

Topic: Racism
Primary Knowledge Question: Under what circumstances is hate stronger than love?
Secondary Knowledge Questions:
* To what extent can verbal abuse be able to separate friendship?
* How do racial perceptions affect communication?
* How does emotion play a role in making decisions?

Topic: Money & Happiness
Primary Knowledge Question: What does it mean to be happy?
Secondary Knowledge questions:
* How do people relate money and happiness?
* How do indigenous society view happiness as compared to western industrialized society?
* What is the role of imagination in happiness and how people relate it to themselves?

Topic: Ghosts
Primary Knowledge Question: To what extent does belief in supernatural benefit or hurt our society?
Secondary Knowledge Questions:
* How can imagination affect our minds?
* How does our perception make illusions?
* To what extent does faith and religion make us believe in what we see?

Topic: Religion
Primary Knowledge Question: In what ways are humans affected by the possibility of non-human existence?
Secondary Knowledge Questions:
* To what extent does faith in religion make you weak or strong?
* How does the history of alleged extraterrestrial evidence affect humans emotions about alien life?

February 27, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

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!

Skip to toolbar