Deep Inquiry in Writing – ToK Essays and the Extended Essay

‘Inquirer’ is one of ten IB learner profile traits, attributes valued by IB schools worldwide that can help individual and groups become responsible members of communities.  “Inquirers develop their natural curiosity. They acquire the skills necessary to conduct inquiry and research and show independence in learning. They actively enjoy learning and this love of learning will be sustained throughout their lives.”  Deep inquiry is an integral part of an IB education and can be found across course assessments as well as approaches to teaching and learning in the Diploma Programme but also at the IB Core in both the Theory of Knowledge and Extended essays.

The IB DP curriculum foregrounds inquiry as a central value and thus emphasises pedagogies that require open-ended, questioning, authentic and collaborative approaches to learning. An illustrative case can be found in the dedicated unit ‘Extended Essay’ where clear and strong statements on the value of inquiry are made. Further, the curriculum takes on a deep inquiry approach that ensures breadth and depth of knowledge through the unit Theory of Knowledge.

-Approaches to Teaching and Learning in the Diploma Programme

Theory of Knowledge Essay

Theory of Knowledge (ToK) is a component of the IB Core that encourages students to think more deeply about things we might not normally give a second thought.  Thus a key aim of Theory of Knowledge is for students to, “critically reflect on their own beliefs and assumptions, leading to more thoughtful, responsible and purposeful lives” (“Diploma Programme”).  One of the IB assessments for Theory of Knowledge is the 1,600 word ToK essay where students are asked to think critically and analyze an essay prompt, known as a title.  This year’s titles that East & West seniors grappled with and wrote on are listed below.  What can you make of them?

1.“The quality of knowledge is best measured by how many people accept it.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge (AoKs).

2. “The production of knowledge is always a collaborative task and never solely a product of the individual.” Discuss this statement with reference to two AoKs.

3. Do good explanations have to be true?

4. “Disinterestedness is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

5. “The production of knowledge requires accepting conclusions that go beyond the evidence for them.” Discuss this claim.“One way to assure the health of a discipline is to nurture contrasting perspectives.” Discuss this claim.


Extended Essay

One of the most challenging, and rewarding components of the IB Diploma Program, the Extended Essay (EE) is a required task for Diploma Candidates, but may be undertaken by any student. Students explore an area that they have a personal interest in while they learn how to organize their thoughts (and properly cite the thoughts of others) as they construct a 4,000 word essay. Each year, Sturgis grads return with stories of how writing the EE helped them handle the workload and writing assignments at University. The EE is just one of many challenges that help our students grow as they continue their journey of life-long learning. Congratulations to the class of 2019; you are well prepared for the future!

Below you’ll find a 2019 snapshot of Senior Extended Essay research questions along with excerpts of their final reflections. As always, research questions were student-selected and varied widely in their scope of topics!

2019 Senior Extended Essay Research Questions

How does George Lucas use theatrical and cinematic techniques in his Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi to portray his political beliefs about the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975?

To what extent was Truman’s policy of containment effective in preventing further escalation in the Cold War?

What are the causes behind the increase in prevalence of food allergies in Western countries over the past twenty years?

To what extent can the Save Right Whales Act of 2018 allow North Atlantic Right Whales to recover from their current status as an endangered species?

To what extent did Fidel Castro achieve gender equality in Cuba from 1959-2008?

How does euthanasia play a role in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men?

To what extent are historic values of ancient Mayan religion present in the visual arts and social norms of the Tzotzil tribe today?

How do intrinsic and extrinsic motivation affect an athlete’s performance and enjoyment in sports?

Why did Cape Winds fail and Vineyards Winds succeed?

How can Ramsey Theory be utilized in order to draw conclusions concerning social relationships within groups of people?

To what extent are different brands of antacids cost effective and efficient in neutralizing simulated gastric acid?

To what extent has Amazon’s market share and market revenue growth been a product of successful innovation and customer experience?

How did Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s show the progression of the sexual revolution and views on women?

To what extent do the diets of vegetarians and omnivores in 21st Century America differ in reference to high cholesterol and heart disease?

Senior Reflections on the EE Process

  • The writing period taught me how to handle stress and a seemingly insurmountable task at first.
  • I learned how to manage my time more effectively and pick out reliable sources.
  • I also learned a lot about time management as I learned how to structure my time early on to insure I would have it finished.  
  • I’ve learned that I work well when I am able to organize my thoughts and create outlines. It is hard for me to picture or visualize what my essay will result in without physically writing down an outline and verbally brainstorming the organizational aspects. In the future, I might work harder to manage my time more effectively at the beginning of the essay writing process. This way, there would be less of a time constraint and the process would be more relaxed.
  • I found that the extended essay is much easier when it is spaced out over a long period of time.
  • The skills that the Extended Essay strengthened mostly was my ability to compile research and use sources strongly in supporting my thesis. If I had to change anything about my research practices, it would have to be to just begin as soon as possible.
  • I would advise someone starting to work on their EE to make sure they like their topic and that it’s okay to change your question or other things in your essay as long you’re happy with the final product.
  • I felt everything about the Essay was rewarding and, surprisingly, I actually enjoyed the research and was very happy with what I learned about the construction of a research paper.
  • I was able to increase my knowledge of the topic and actually how it can be used in many different scenarios.
  • Overall, I enjoyed the process of my research and was surprised by how quickly the research built. I am very happy with my essay and proud of the progress I made.
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