Tok essay building: Groupwork exercise



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  • You'll be working in groups with one of last year's essay titles. During this exercise, I'll familiarise you with one way of approaching the production of a TOK essay.
  • Step 1: Choosing a title
  • Consider all the titles carefully before choosing: read and discuss each one in your group before moving onto step 2. Discuss each essay title in turn, and don't dismiss any of the titles until you've discussed them all.
  • When you've chosen your title, write it down.
  • Step 2: Recognising key words/concepts
  • What key concepts does the title invoke?
      • Make a list of the important words/concepts in the title
      • Are all these concepts clear and unambiguous, or are some of them open to different interpretations?
      • Will any of the concepts need “unpacking” in the essay?
  • Step 3: Recognising the main KQ
  • The title may make the KQ very clear, but it may not. Either way, it is always worth putting the main KQ into your own words.
      • What does the title ask about the process of gaining/evaluating/using knowledge?
  • Step 4: Recognising related KQs
  • What other KQs do you think will need to be addressed when responding to the main KQ that you recognised in the last step?
  • Step 5: Considering different stances that can be taken
  • Make a list of all the possible stances that you could take in response to the KQ that you recognised in step 3.
  • Step 6: Arguing each stance
  • For each of the possible stances that you have listed, collect arguments in favour of that stance.
      • How can I justify this stance?
      • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each argument?
  • Step 7: Choosing your stance
  • Now that you have recognised possible stances that could be taken, and listed possible arguments, you should choose the stance that you wish to take in your essay.
      • Which arguments are the most convincing?
  • Rearrange the notes you took for step 6 to help you compile two lists:
      • One list of the arguments that you will use to help you justify the stance you are taking
      • Another list of counter-arguments (i.e. the lists of arguments you just compiled for different possible responses to the title)
  • Step 8b: Assumption checking
  • Critically evaluate the arguments you have just compiled, and ask, for each one, the following questions:
      • Does the argument rely on an assumption that needs to be justified? (The classic example of this is saying something like there can be no such thing as artistic knowledge, and using, as an argument, the “fact” that art is entirely subjective, which of course is merely an assumption that needs to be justified.)
      • How can I justify that assumption?
  • Having recognised counter-arguments now leaves you with a potential problem:
    • How will you justify your dismissal of the counter-arguments?
      • Can you provide convincing reasons?
      • Can you provide statistics/evidence?
      • Will recognising differences between AOKs/WOKs solve the problem?
      • Can you specify the definitions of key terms in order to reconcile the conflicts?
      • etc.
  • Step 10: Planning your approach to the essay
  • Now you need to consider how you will approach the arguing of your stance:
      • Will you respond to the question in the context of a couple of Areas of Knowledge? If so, which ones?
      • Will you instead look at Ways of Knowing? Why?
      • Would it be better to respond by examining a central TOK concept, such as truth or evidence?
  • Make a list of possible examples that could be used to illustrate the arguments in your essay.
      • How does each example illustrate your point?
      • Are the examples real and specific (rather than made up, vague and hypothetical)?
      • Are they original and interesting?
      • Are some of the examples from your own personal experience (e.g. IB subject lessons)?
      • Is there variety in the kind of examples you have?
  • Step 12: Writing
  • Now you're ready to start writing. The groundwork you've laid during these preparatory stages should make life a lot easier for you.


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