Featured, Inquiry, Science

Talking Inquiry: Making a Wonder Wall

Wonder Wall, Provocation Table, Knowledge building circle, Inquiry….WHAT??? So I will start this blog post with an interesting story.

I returned from my maternity leave last January right in the middle of a pedagogy change.  We were learning how to teach using an inquiry approach instead of a teacher directed approach.  To be honest this was not completely new to me previous school I had been teaching in had adopted this early so I was familiar with the concepts but the words being used to describe different tasks were different.

Sometimes it felt like the people around me were talking in a different language.  I thought seriously about creating a teaching lingo of the past with teaching lingo of the present comparative dictionary to help me understand what people were saying.

The most ridiculous thing I heard (or so I thought at the time) was the term provocation board which as shown to me involved a table with random artifacts and the facilitators asking us to pretend that we are students and “wonder” about the objects on the table.  (ps…I hate when you ask me to pretend I am a student…) I was so annoyed at this activity as I left being so confused and really I couldn’t see how this activity accomplished anything about inquiry.

Ok so as time passed I asked a lot of questions about this concept of a provocation board.  When talking to my principal one day he helped me to frame it so that I understood the reasoning behind it. Or perhaps I was just ready to hear it.  “It was about sparking interest, curiosity, and giving them a jumping off point so that they were in control of their own learning, but (and this is the big ah ha moment) it didn’t matter how you did this”

Finally I understood, I could use what worked for me and my teaching style to inspire enthusiasm, creativity, and interest in what we were doing.  So my next unit I tried what worked for me and out came my Wonder Wall.

This is an example of the board that I use for my wonder wall.  It is a trifold board.  One side is for my fourth graders and the other side for my fifth graders.  Sometimes I use these trifold boards and other times I just use my bulletin boards but this is great if you are lacking wall space and it also works to move around the classroom for students to use when you are working with them.
Instead of artifacts most of the time I use pictures that I print out in colour.  If I have easily accessible artifacts like my rock collection or some small appliances from home I might use those as well.
Another thing I learned while implementing my wonder wall is that when students ask questions I really really want to answer them.  I want to share my knowledge and have them soak it all in and teach them something.  I am a teacher!! this is what I do!! I know stuff and teach about it!! STOP STOP STOP.  I had to get myself to stop!  This was not what inquiry was about.  Sure, I am a teacher, but I am not as powerful or as knowledgable as Google.  I mentally needed to stop myself and concentrate on not answering their questions but to ask them to add their questions to the Wonder Wall and allow them to figure out the answers for themselves.  I  knew that I was going to lead them through my lessons to these answers but I needed to stop just giving them the information.  They would now have to start working for this information because I was not going to give them an easy way out.  Sure later on in the unit we would have discussion on certain topics and I would explain different concepts to them.  BUT we did this together.  I was not teaching them I was facilitating them.  Giving them the tools to let them find the answers to their questions on their own.
And you know what…a funny thing happened.  They started learning faster than I had expected.  They took those questions home and found out the answers to them.  They would read books during independent time and find the answers to our questions.  They were discussing these things with their parents at home.  It was amazing to see how excited they were about learning these concepts which in turn also allowed our discussion at school to become more vibrant and engaging.
Sure there were times when a teacher directed lesson was necessary especially in the technical aspects of the units.  But overall it was great to see them apply their learning in new and interesting ways.  So lesson learned, perhaps I am a convert and the “ridiculous” idea wasn’t so ridiculous.  I learned that opening up my mind, listening and applying what I was hearing to my own style was probably the best course of action.  Lesson learned 🙂
If you would like to see how I made my Wonder Wall for these units check out my Video below
If you would like to get started on using Wonder Walls and Inquiry in your classroom check out my units that have all that you will need to start and make your own Wonder Wall and Inquiry Science Unit check out my two new Science Units below.
Learn more about inquiry.  Next up in my inquiry series


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11 Comment

  1. Reply
    Brain Ninjas
    August 9, 2015 at 2:40 am

    Hi Patti, I came across your blog looking for other Canadian bloggers to link up and discovered your AWESOME wonder board. We also have a 4/5 combined class and so we are always looking for inquiry based tasks that can work with both grade levels. This is SO great. We're going to have to try it.

    Maybe we can link up or touch base on some other ideas about teaching combined classes? Stop by and let us know. 🙂
    ~A & E from the Brain Ninjas
    Brain Ninja Notes

    1. Reply
      August 20, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks so much!! I would recommend that you consider joining some of the amazing TPT product and promotion sites on Facebook. That is a great way to connect.

  2. Reply
    August 15, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing your wonder wall! What a great way to organize your "minds on" part of a unit – introducing and getting the students to activate their prior knowledge of a subject. So simple, yet so useful. =) Love the idea of making it portable too, since you have only so much wall/bulletin board space to keep things posted. The perfect inspiration to get me going on my planning today. Kathy

    1. Reply
      August 20, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks Kathy I am so glad that you found it helpful.

  3. Reply
    August 20, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    This is an awesome idea! I've currently been working on a new unit plan for a combined 3/4 social studies unit and after reading this post I changed my first lesson because this is such a great way to start inquiry! I really like the idea of using a tri-fold board so that you can move it around, and because I have a serious lack of wall space. Even my word wall is on tri-fold boards for portability (and wall space). Last year I had an "I wonder…" window, where the students would put up questions on sticky notes onto the window. That worked well enough but I really like how this wonder wall provokes their thinking. My school has had a huge focus on the inquiry based approach for a couple years now (big time last year) but I hadn't heard of a provocation table. Thank you so much for sharing this approach because I think it will really strengthen my units for this year!

    1. Reply
      August 20, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Wow thanks so much for posting this. I am a total convert to the power of the Wonder Wall. I am glad that you found the post helpful!! Let me know how it works out for you.

    2. Reply
      August 20, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      What won me over last year to inquiry was the power of questioning alone, and like you mentioned not answering the students but letting them find it themselves or discover it together. I think the wonder wall will improve those questions. I just started my own blog so I will most likely write a post about using the wonder wall and will definitely be crediting the idea to you, and will link your button and blog. But that probably won't be until September sometime when I get to use the wonder wall. I am really looking forward to using it. I wish I had this last year and my crew then would have loved it.

  4. Reply
    Kim Owen
    August 28, 2015 at 3:03 am

    Your story was relatable on so many levels. I believe we all can manage a wonder wall now if we are truly stepping back and allowing the students to gain more control over that path. How did you ensure the students stayed on topic? In my experience many students confuse inquiry with random facts they want to know about the topic posted. Would be very interested to see how you structured it. Amazing work, Patti.

    1. Reply
      August 30, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      I often get random fact questions I do try to focus on how to ask questions to ensure that they are deeper questions but the part about inquiry is that if they are asking it then it is generally something they want to know about. Sometimes allowing them to follow the initial random question will lead to more meaningful questions.

  5. Reply
    May 11, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    I'm so glad I came across this post! I'm an intervention teacher who works with Kindergarten through 5th grade! I love the idea of putting wonder walls on trifold boards! I don't have enough space per grade level and this would allow me to pull out the boards unique to each group!
    Your ideas are great and I plan on implementing them next school year. Thank you!

  6. Reply
    June 22, 2016 at 10:54 pm

    Do students use their interactive notebooks to answer there inquiry or wonder wall questions

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